Monday, November 23, 2009

Natural Learning ... our day so far

Lots of accidental, incidental learning is taking place here today.  Here's a summary of our day with some of the hidden learning interpreted, but mostly just jotted down on the run!

At breakfast, the kids talked a lot about Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, making up stories as usual.  Miss 4 told us a big secret ... under our house is only dirt!  Shock horror!  Not secret passages leading to Neverland, as Mr 5 likes to tell us.

We watched Bindi the Jungle Girl on ABC 1.  It was an episode about whales.  Sparked lots of discussion (kids have something to say about everything!)  Sesame Street is back, and the kids said they don't like it but watched anyway while I had a shower.  Mr 5 went around talking about "the triangle of destiny" and the ____ (everything) of destiny.  Dah da dahhhh (insert dramatic music)!  He declared today triangle day, which had obvious implications for the toasted sandwiches we had later : >

Miss 4 got dressed (a big production of choosing) while Mr 5 played with cars.  Mr 5 is still not dressed, but today it doesn't matter.  I reminded him to brush his teeth (the rest of us just do it, because it feels better).

I set up a colourful title page in a Word document, then typed like MAD while Mr 5 told me stories about Neverland.  I learned that a mere mum has NO chance of keeping up with an exuberant child, but I tried and did't kis sto mudh (didn't miss too much).  The bonus was when I showed Mr 5 the mishmash of shorthand I'd produced, I got to tell him about editing and fixing spelling mistakes.  He was highly entertained by the abbreviations and nonsense words I had to translate back into his real words.  We ended up with 4 pages after 15 minutes!  We'll probably end up with a novel ... this came about because I decided that, after a year of telling me about his night time adventures (he apparently flies to Neverland when we're all asleep, and each day tells us about his adventures with Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys etc.), it'd be fun to record some of his tales as a keepsake of his childhood imagination.

Miss 4 was trying to inject her side of the story, but I asked her to wait for her turn.  I couldn't transcribe a dialogue!  We switched on the TV again for Behind the News (tick human society, world issues, environment etc.) then I let Mr 5  watch Peter Pan (did you guess it's his favourite movie?)  Usually they wait until mid afternoon, but it's a rainy day and I wanted time to answer emails.  After a while Miss 4 was bored with the movie, so she and I did some finger painting, rubbing wet fingers on dry paint disks rather than setting up the messy stuff.  It was still plenty of fun despite the easier clean up!

I wrote an essay in response to a friend's question about chores (I like writing, and as I'm currently not working on books, emails and blogging are a good outlet for all those words ... poor, patient friends!)  Then I spent a bit of time thinking ... why am I not writing books?  

I used to write a lot (I have between 20 and 50 unfinished stories) but stalled a couple of years ago when I wondered "What's the point?  There are already so many."  I couldn't waste my time without knowing WHY (despite the fact I waste time reading, doing number and word puzzles ... in which case just relaxing and exercising my brain are good enough reasons.  Dodgy logic?)  Then I thought, what's the point of blogging?   Self expression, encouragement, inspiring, informing ...?  These are also good reasons to write books (I write picture books and children's novels).  There's the minor factor (ha ha) that I'm with little kids for most of my waking hours, so it's hard to get a run on anything.  But maybe I'll give it another go.

While I made lunch Mr 5 looked at a book about racing cars and led a detailed discussion about their relative sizes (tick the box next to 'measurement' vocabulary).  Then the kids moved on to playing shops (handbags for sale today, tick 'money').  Next time I looked they were playing vets or doctors.  An invisible character, Invisible King, and his servants (Miss 4 and Mr 5) played in the lounge room.  The servants had to rescue slaves from the cruel king, who made them work all day with no food or drink (no psychological interpretations please, my kids are well fed and respected citizens).   The kids wrestled, played hide and seek and smelled the rain.  How do they cram so much fun into one day???

P. called to say he may have to work back tonight.  This means I won't have the car to get Miss 4 to ballet this afternoon.  She asked me not to call a taxi, as she's SOOO tired.  The truth is she loves dancing at home but finds her ballet class boring, and won't be going back next year.  At this stage she'll be 'sadly unable to make it today' (see her grin?)

Now it's 2:30pm, the kids are packing up the handbag shop while I scramble to finish this enough to publish ( I declared it a race, them tidying versus me typing) ... I wonder what we'll do next?   Miss 4 wants to do Reading Eggs on the computer, and Mr 5 wants to do boxing.  I hope he'll settle for cricket instead! 

P.S. I've won the race.  I wanted the kids to win, as the clean room was the prize I really desired.  But the kids have gone crazy and plastic coins are all over the sunroom.  Wish I had some chocolate to award myself as a consolation prize!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Loving Nature

It must be Nature Week for my family.  We visited stunning beaches, coastal board walks and lagoons during our weekend away.  We returned to knee high grass and a garden fertile with flowering shrubs and insects.  Regarding the creatures which share our yard, you could say I'm a bit jumpy.  

I'm in a pickle, because I want to raise adventurous kids, and do all the fun things like camping and bushwalking with them, but I dread encounters with ants and mosquitoes.  It doesn't help that we're all sensitive to bites, which cause excessive swelling and bruising.  Anyway, I'm trying to be philosophical and use these encounters as opportunities for learning.

Our resident Blue Tongue lizard has returned to our backyard after an extended holiday, wherever it is that lizards go for a break.  The kids know to keep a safe distance away from him, as last month we watched some you tube clips of people getting too close and being told to go away.  In lizard language this is communicated by a swift nip.

On a nicer note, we found a stick insect camouflaged on the brush screen wall of bush fort (cubby house).  The kids enjoyed watching him for a while as I read about stick insects from a handy book.  They were amazed to learn stick insects can grow a new limb if one is lost.

First photo in this blog ...  Miss 4 with the stick insect in a bug catcher just before we released him back onto the cubby house wall where we found him.  See our new hanging baskets?

We have just potted 5 hanging baskets with varieties of cherry tomatoes and strawberries.  We did this in the sun room, to avoid the ants which populate our back pavers.  I am hoping that by putting the kids in charge of watering, I will give these plants a shot at survival.  My record with potted plants is atrocious, perhaps due to my reluctance to spend quality time in the garden.  Nevertheless, I am determined to let my children have the pleasure of growing delicious, fresh fruit.  They already love picking lemons for our drinks.  Citrus trees seem to be more forgiving than vegetables :)

Back to ants, busy little creatures that give me the creeps ... we've removed 3 huge bull ants or jumping jacks from the backyard this fortnight.  They live at the start of the bush trail across the road.  I discovered this when one attached itself to my leg several years ago.  Green ants are breeding in the back yard somewhere, so its a quick dash to the swings for the kids, and hanging washing is very scary for me.  The kitchens in our holiday cabins last week were both sprinkled with little black ants.  Arrrrgh!

I have a love-hate relationship with nature.  I love looking at it.  I want to be in it but hate when it hurts me.  Can we happily coexist?  Will my children continue to love nature, as they now do, or succumb to the same paralysis as me, limiting their interaction to the audio visual and behind glass variety?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holidays and home

We had a great holiday, but also came back with a greater appreciation of home!

The trip north was fairly short, but you wouldn't think so for all the "are we there yet?" comments.  'Happy Hallidays' holiday park is a couple of km from the beach, but the surf was too cold to swim in anyway.  It's totally set up to be paradise for kids (under 8s for sure, though the teenagers we saw were also having a great time with badminton, footballs etc and on the jumping pillow).  The Kidz Nook play room was a big hit!  We sometimes pay to go to smaller play centres.  The tropically warm (solar heated) pool has a beach-like wading pool, fountains and a channel under a bridge.  Mr 5 played tennis with Pete for ages while Miss 4 enjoyed the outdoor adventure playground a few steps away ... flying fox, giant jumping pillow, monkey bars etc.  There was also mini-golf which we didn't get around to, and a 'train' ride (tractor and trailer) around the site for thrill seekers.  Lots of fun right there for the taking! 

Our cabin was pretty comfortable.  We would've stayed for longer but they were booked out.  On Saturday we packed up and moved to Port Macquarie, and set about finding somewhere to stay.  We unfortunately forgot our plans to stay in a nice resort, and ended up in a dodgy cabin in our haste to resettle.  Dust, ants, dead bugs on the floor ... I'm sad to admit I'm a germ snob, and it was torture, I felt sick about being there!  The kids didn't notice, except for picking up on my phobia, and thankfully the pool was clean.  We went to the beach for a dinner picnic with a group of local friends and my brother.  Early the next morning we walked out on the break wall, on which all the rocks are individually painted.  We're now trying to design our own family rock!  Some men were paddling kayaks against the strong current through the heads, and one kept overbalancing.  Glad it wasn't me in the water ... I'm sure there'd be sharks in there just waiting for breakfast!  They made it around to the next headland before we turned back.  

We cruised around to some coastal lookouts and boardwalks, and spotted a distant whale, before heading back into town for church.  The Revival Fellowship in Port is quite small, with only a dozen or so regulars, but a carload from Coffs Harbour and one from the Central Coast, plus our little tribe, boosted their numbers nicely!  We saw a slideshow of photos from Vanuatu and our friend told us about the miracles he's seen over there in the past five years (during several trips a year to outreach) when they've prayed for people in villages, the hospital and jail.  Things like blindness healed (both a baby and an old lady), a brain damaged child restored almost back to normal, a man and lady suddenly walking after years of lameness due to back injuries, and many others.  There were baptisms, people receiving the Holy Spirit and lives changed.  I went to outreaches in Vanuatu in 2002, and to Papua New Guinea in 2001, and it brought back memories of such happy, friendly people.

After lunch we started the trip home.  It was a long trip, as we had to stop for hours because Pete was sick.  He thinks he had food poisoning, and was better by late afternoon.  The kids played in parks while he laid on a rug in the shade.  Finally then, home!  

After a holiday I always feel like my place is a luxury resort (despite the inevitable unpacking and washing).  Yesterday was recovery day.  Pete had a roster day, so he did all the washing, good man, while I did the grocery shopping and spent hours at the gardening, hardware and auto stores.  The kids were content to be home and play.  

Today I plan to work like a cyclone ... vacuum, bathroom, wash floors, more washing, kitchen, dusting.  Then I can get stuck back into my projects, and pot the plants I bought yesterday. 

P.S. One day I'll get around to posting photos, but for now you're stuck with verbose descriptions, sorry!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A relaxing home day

The kids just cruised along today, a nice break from their crazy running around lately! 

Here's what we did today:

Bindi the Jungle Girl was a highlight of the morning shows on ABC.  They also watched The Jetsons on video. 
I drew a timeline to answer Mr 5's questions (eg. Have you lived in this house forever?  Were Grandma and Grandpa born during the war?  Did they see bombs drop?)  

We finished sorting out half of the children's books, a 2 day project (yesterday they set them up all over the dining room in a bookshop first, then a library).  

Walked to a grassy spot around the corner and played frisbee ... only saw one neighbour on the walk home, so we stopped to chat while she pulled weeds from someone else's front-yard vege patch (what a sweetie).  

The kids spent an hour or two on the computer doing Reading Eggs.  They helped with each other's lessons (cooperation, cool!) and played a few games. 

The usual playing on swings, water games and cubby house out the back.

Cricket in the garage and packing for tomorrows natural learners picnic, and our holiday which starts the next day.

P. and I cooked minestrone for the first time.  Yum!

Miss 4 sang us several stories, made up as she went, using picture books as pretend song books.  

Delightful and relaxed!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Project time!

I love the energy around here at the moment!  We're all in the midst of various creative projects, and whilst it has seemed for ages like nothing will actually get finished, I can now see things coming together.  Hopefully what I'm doing will be finished by Christmas, as the biggest gifts for my kids this year will be homemade!

My projects:
•  Refurbishing a dolls house, built for me by my great uncle.  It's floor plan style and only just fits under a single bed when not in use.  Needs a new base, fresh paint and I have grand plans to make all kinds of furniture, linen, treehouse in the side yard.  Miss 4 has had my Strawberry Shortcake dolls for a year already, but this will be their new home.
•  I've almost finished making a highchair for Miss 4's cabbage patch doll.  This isn't a secret as she's watched me do most of the work.  Today she said she wants two highchairs.  Ha ha!
•  My husband doesn't want the fridge to be scratched by magnetic toys, and the magnetic  whiteboard easel is pretty small ...  so I'm looking for the right piece of metal to attach to the end of the breakfast bar.  Then we can have fun with magnetic letters, words, play scenes and a fantastic motorised set of cogs.
•  Making a chalkboard for the cubby/ bush fort we made earlier this year.  While we're at it, I also want to repaint the slippery slide, paint a compass on the floor and pot some flowers.
•  Use offcuts of wood to make signs for the yard ... a black and yellow 'work site' sign for Mr 5's gravel quarry, set of traffic lights, stop sign etc, orchard signs for the citrus trees.
•  Extend Mr 5's wooden garage (made by my brother), to have a multi-storey car park.  This may be beyond my engineering capabilities and patience, we'll see!

What Mr 5 is up to:
•  Making a papier mache landscape, either for dinosaurs, animals or soldiers, depending what he's thinking about at the time.
•  Cutting up lots of pictures which he will apparently then make into wrapping paper for Daddy's present.
•  Playing as much cricket as possible, in the garage or at the park.  He's always been terrific at bowling and batting, but I help him practice catching.
•  Drumming, strumming and singing!  Playing for hours with matchbox cars on his car carpet, building with lego.
•  Telling us ever more elaborate tales about his trips to Neverland (he's hooked on Peter Pan).

Miss 4 has been:
•  Making books with me, then reading them aloud to Daddy.  Joyfully doing Reading Eggs lessons on the computer.
•  Colouring in and drawing, cutting out pictures and telling stories about them, playing with Polly Pocket dolls, making creatures with playdough.
•  Giving us live action replays of her ballet class.  Brushing her hair, carefully choosing outfits to wear, arranging things on her dressing table.  

That's some of what we've been doing in recent days.  There are no school routines at present.  Our educational methods seem to mostly fit into what's called Natural Learning.  We weren't very schoolish to begin with, so it's been a subtle change.  I love strewing (leaving material of interest around for our children to discover, as defined by Sandra Dodd).   Mr 5 and Miss 4 are still as keen as ever about everything to do with reading, art, music, maths, but less interested in writing.  They love everything related to science, the world and people.  Mr 5 was today telling me information about the earth's core, before he asked me about space.  

Life's good!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thinking time ...

We've had an abundance of social time this past few weeks, despite the fact that there are numerous people we haven't seen for ages (and would like to).  Adding trips to the pool and beach into the mix has been a treat.  I love the arrival of warm weather!  Miss 4 and Mr 5 are apparently loving it too and seem to have endless energy.  

In the moments when nobody needs my attention (rare) I've spent a lot of time thinking and reading ... about discipline, natural learning and intelligence, mostly.  It all comes back to an intense need to believe I'm raising my children in the best way I can (I say 'I' because even though P. and I are happily in it together, it's me who complicates everything with over-thinking ... P. just gets on with things and doesn't seem to get caught up in the why, how and what ifs of life).  How to raise children, or even how to live my own life, involves so many variables, and the choices are so many, that my head spins until I realise ... I've once again overcomplicated everything.  I need to simplify things and decide on what really matters.  I'm so grateful that I have a compass in life, which is my faith in God and an eternal purpose.

Now that I've realised Natural Learning isn't just about sitting under trees all day looking for bugs (excuse my naivety, although that could be fun if I didn't feel so creepy about crawly things), I'm enjoying the even greater freedom we have.  Raising children without school is liberating for a start!  And my approach to homeschooling was pretty eclectic anyway (relaxed, tidal, etc.) so Natural Learning is really just another small step away from conventional, packaged education, and diving further into interest-based, intrinsically motivated learning.  

The philosophical jump related to accepting any label however, is one that's involved a lot of thinking for me.  Particularly one so different to my educational experience and teacher training as Natural Learning.  Am I rejecting the validity of textbooks, flashcards and phonics programs?  No, we'll use them when they seem like the best way or anytime the children want to (I think Miss 4, like me, will actually enjoy written assignments, whereas Mr 5 is inclined to be workbook-phobic).  I will continue to have ideas of what I think my children need to know next in maths.  It's not so much about rejecting anything schoolish, but more about elevating the status of 'unlabeled learning', celebrating accomplishments that don't fit neatly in a curriculum box, and having room to explore outside grades, subjects and year levels.  Maybe the added sense of freedom comes from confirming my belief that we, children included, learn all the time, sometimes purposefully, randomly or deliberately, perhaps by accident, through play, imitation or by watching a TV program.  We might seem to take dolly steps for ages then go ahead in leaps and bounds, but in fact what we did during the quiet time paved the way for the noticeable growth spurt.

I feel like this is a big sigh of relief.  I don't have to make my children tick all the boxes.  We can enjoy their asynchronous development rather than fear it.  I'm still working out what this means in terms of routines.  A sense of rhythm is still evident in our days even though we don't call any particular time 'school time' (unless we're playing schools, which the children actually love in small doses!)  Next year I'll have to work out how to articulate what we do and why, for the purpose of registration.  I'm looking forward to it ... just like a uni assignment, but with more heart!