Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas greetings

This year my clever Mum made a beautiful advent calendar for us.  It's a quilted wall hanging, over a metre tall, and is so lovely!  Each pocket contains 2 treasures, such as ornaments, stickers, chocolate or candy canes.  The children take turns unbuttoning a pocket each day.  Each button is special too, I love the details.  Elijah opens the even numbers (as he's 6), Jasi the odds (as she's 5).

Don't get me started on all the maths the children have done with this calendar, just as they chat ... it's brilliant!

We will be away on and off for the next few weeks.  We'll have Christmas morning at home, just us four.  Lunch with Pete's huge family, afternoon and dinner at Mum's with our growing family, then traveling early on Boxing Day, stopping for lunch with my Dad, E. (his wife), Popo (E.'s mum) & my Nanna (the kids call her Oma) on our way south.  Nanna will be giving the children custom made clogs, to paint and enjoy their Dutch heritage.  I'll post some pics when we decorate them.

We're very excited about Christmas camp, where we'll feast on fellowship, daily prayer meetings, a study of Hebrews 6, hear lots of testimonies of what the Lord has been doing in people's lives.  I guess we'll also enjoy the catered meals, living in a bunk cabin, watching the kids play freely with their friends, and walking down to the beach each day.  It's a hard life!

So far, we're half packed.  I've borrowed a stack of audio books from the library, to help the time in the car pass peacefully and pleasurably.  The kids will also each receive a new CD before the trip, to add to the music collection.  I can't wait to get going and start listening!!

Pete starts his holidays tomorrow afternoon, and I will take a break from the computer whilst he's with us (for three weeks, hooray!!)  Well, I might drop in occasionally.

Wishing you all ....

*  A delightful Christmas, hopefully spent with the people you love.
*  Safe travels ... and for some lucky stars, happy cruising and flying!!
*  A very happy, healthy, fun year in 2011.  


Monday, December 20, 2010

Kindergarten questions

My darling daughter wants to try Kindergarten next year.  She told me tonight in bed, with lots of questions and bright-eyed nervous excitement.  Of course, we parents will take our time and decide.  In the meantime the whim may pass, not to be mentioned again, or Jasi may change her mind when she weighs up the options.

The conversation went something like this:

J:  Mummy, I want to see my friends more often.
V:  Sure, we can see your friends more often.  We can invite (list of friends) over more.
J:  But I want to see the same friends.  Is (home ed. friend) going to my school next year?
V:  No, she's going to another school, too far away from here.  We can't take you there.  We don't know anyone at your school yet, but you would meet other girls and make new friends.  Elijah and I would take you there to meet your teacher and friends, and we'd kiss you and wave goodbye ...
J:  And hug!
V:  And pick you up in the afternoon.

Jasmine pauses for a moment, thinking, grinning.  Then more questions flow:

J:  Is gymnastics on while I'm at school?
V:  Yes.
J:  Do they do tennis at school?
V:  No, you could do that after school.
J:  Do I go there all day?  Lots of days?  And you ring the school if I'm sick.
V:  Yes, but you don't get sick very often.
J:  What do they do in Kindergarten?
V:  Well, they write and do craft, some maths, games, the teacher reads a lot of stories, there's music and dancing, sport, art ...  (J is grinning again).  Does that sound good to you?  (J nods).
V:  We do those things at our homeschool too, you know.  We'll do writing, and read stories, lots of games, maths, science, history, lots of art ...
J:  That's boring.

Then without wanting to burst her bubble, I thought some reality checks were important, such as:

V:  You know the uniform is red and green (J. is VERY particular about what she'll wear, and free-choice is something she's always loved about home schooling) ... but that's ok, bright red suits you well.
J:  Will people think I look silly?
V:  No, all the children wear the same thing.  You'd be fine.

And so it went on.  This is my lovely girl who often blushes and turns away from people (even those we know very well, like close relatives and church friends she's seen weekly her whole life!!).  She wants to go and meet new teachers and friends.  IF we agree, and IF she decides to try it, I'm sure she'll be fine.  She's ok with Sunday school teachers after the first quiet 5 minutes.  She wants to try it for a day, but I said since we'd have to buy a uniform, perhaps a month would be more reasonable.

She informed me a few times during the chat that she hadn't decided yet.  I reminded her that Daddy and I would make the decision.  Of course what she wants is important to us.  We always thought our kids 'might' want to try school at some point, especially Jasi as she didn't try preschool (she wanted to in Term 4, but when I finally looked there were no vacancies anywhere for months) ... and Kindy seems like a kind time to try it in our opinion, mostly fun and supportive and free of pressure.

As I tried to persuade her to finally get some sleep, she informed me that she'd decided ... she wrote in large, capital letters in the air I = S (I equals S, for school, I eventually understood).

We'll see what the coming days and weeks bring.  We'll talk and pray about what's best for Jasi.  I think perhaps that she needs this curiosity satisfied.  We'll know if she brings up the subject again.  There's a real possibility she'll love school ... she likes doing work and would probably be one of those children who adores her teacher.  I expect she'll be good as gold there, no sign of wild emotions we see at home.  I've heard the local public school is one of the best around here, but I've never seen inside the gates or met the teachers.  I'm as new as Jasi.

I'm not totally against school, if it's right for any particular child or at some time.  I just love home ed. for the freedom, opportunities, family-friendliness, uninterrupted learning and respect of individuality.  If this interest lasts a week or a few years, only time will tell.

Elijah, on the other hand, is still very excited about homeschooling, looking forward to all that we've planned for next year and all the spontaneous free fun we have in between.  No way would he want it interrupted by school!  Tonight he was pleading with me "Can we do schoolwork tomorrow, even though it's the holidays?"  He's still obsessed with Knights, and brandishing Volume 4 of our Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World, he informed me that tomorrow he wants to "study the armor and weapons that Knights use for jousting."  Umm, ok.

IF we do the school experiment, I have no idea how to actually go about it.  I'm pretty naive considering I'm a teacher.  I've just never thought about that side of things.  And I didn't really expect to, even though schools are one of the resources available to help us educate our children.  Would the school allow Elijah to be with me if I want to help with reading groups?

If we DON'T, I wonder how we'll juggle the demands of a sociable and demanding 5 with the academic appetite of a suddenly studious 6.

Stay tuned!

P.S. I've had a few much better days this week.  Today I tackled a huge amount of housework, cooking and conversation without collapsing.  Thanks for the kind comments on my other recent posts, I really love reading those messages! 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lots happening

I'm feeling odd at the moment ... my mind is all over the place, and my body is pretty much on strike.  I've had more tests, and more are to come, but there is no definite diagnosis or easy fix.  Even though Christmas is food season, I'll be more diligent about following the advice in Dr Sandra Cabot's books (eg. liver cleansing, thyroid problems solved) to restore balance and energy.  And more importantly, I'm praying for the Lord's healing, as only He knows what's wrong.

I had wanted to continue school work up to Christmas, especially phonics, maths and projects, since we were on a roll after a pretty casual year.  But I'm barely coping with each day without the added guilt of only doing a fraction of what I plan.  There's a time for everything ... so I declared the holidays officially started last weekend.  The kids don't mind!  Our impulsively started 'Knights and Castles' unit study/ lapbook is in a folder, ready to return to whenever we get the urge.  Christmas themed work/ fun is photocopied, but if we don't get to it, it will keep until next year.

Now it's full steam ahead with preparing for Christmas and our church camp.

The kids Lego collection has suddenly expanded dramatically, as my brother moved house and found our boxes full of bits from when we were children.  Hooray!  Have you ever cleaned lego, piece by little piece, with detergent, a toothbrush, nailbrush and baby wipes?  It's rather time consuming.  I estimate I have only 15-20 hours work remaining.  Meanwhile, the kids are gladly playing inventing all kinds of vehicles, homes and mini-worlds.

I want to write about so many things, but it's not likely to happen if I wait to write detailed posts or put helpful links ...

Brain explosions (a good thing in children) in literacy and numeracy.  Elijah's 2 bottom teeth which fell out in one day, leaving him with a cheeky (or cheekier) grin and a lisp.  Jasmine's delights and dramas.  How much their swimming has improved.

The kids are suddenly both excited about writing ... in their journals, letters or just as part of their games.  It's happening so naturally that I'm careful to stay out of the way unless invited to help.

Book reviews.  I've been captivated by Mao's Last Dancer.  Inspired and touched by The hospital by the River (about a fistula hospital in Ethiopia).  Delighted by We of the Never Never (read with extra interest as my husband may be a descendant of The Fizzer, the outback postman).  Amazed at the snippets Pete shares from The Snowball - Warren Buffett.  I'm a really fussy reader ... nothing scary, evil, violent, graphic, suspenseful, rude, boring ... but have recently managed to find a few other books which have provided entertainment and escape.  Though sometimes leaving me haunted, after reaching into parts of my mind best left untouched.

Our bloggy homeschooling friend Dana (of Roscommon Acres blog), whose family is hurting so much.  Their beautiful little boy is gone after a tragic accident in the home.  They've been in my heart and prayers since I read that terribly sad message.

How kind and helpful the kids are when I most need them to be ... praying for me, making their own lunch, folding washing, playing quietly.  How they must have a radar which senses the moment I have energy, so that they can fight, be demanding and willful again!

Lovely homeschool friends.  Online inspiring, sharing, listening.  In real life caring, laughing, enjoying the journey together.  Locally we've had play dates, a pool party and presentation day.  I'm being deliberately vague about plans for next year, waiting to see what our needs and desires are, as the kids are changing ever so quickly ... who knows what the new year will bring?  I'm thankful and excited that God willing, we'll again be homeschooling alongside such genuine, delightful people.


Wishing you and your families a special Christmas and wonderful new year.

Love to you all,

Monday, December 6, 2010

Home ed. with younger siblings

A few people have recently asked for tips about how to get things started, and how to occupy younger siblings.  

Here's some encouragement and tips from my experiences so far:

Tot Trays  .... for the little ones, keen to do their own 'school work', there are a lot of good ideas in the pages of this site which I adapted to our needs. Unit studies, lap books, sharing lots of books and fun maths also worked well.  

My youngest child was keen to 'play schools', which helped immensely when I wanted to transition the kids back to a routine with more structure after a year of mostly unschooling. Jasi's enthusiasm pulled in her big brother, who by 5 was ready for a break from 'work' and wanted to play non stop! I did question all of my assumptions and expectations, and gave him abundant free time. I chose less structured teaching methods to build his basic skills during that phase. Elijah's bouts of negativity dissolved as there was no pressure, and whilst it wasn't always easy to see 'progress' at the time, now we're entering a new phase again, and seeing the fruit of the learning which did occur.

We now have a timetable and routine as a guide, which helps, but is INCREDIBLY flexible. I won't share it here as there's never a day or week when we actually do what it says!
Here are some of the things we do:

... As a fun way to draw the kids in and grab their attention and set a positive tone, we gather for a quick introduction, interesting and full of tasty, quick bites. For example, we pray (briefly, having usually prayed in bed earlier) and read a Bible story or scripture verse, use the whiteboard for things such as date, sentence about the day or other idea, sometimes weather, number patterns, brainteasers, interesting words, quick phonics reviews, sometimes a scripture, or a list of some kind (the kids have turns helping write). In my board writing I use words they can read as well as extend and challenge them in a fun and supportive context. 

... Some days we skip the intro. Other days that is ALL we do formally, and the rest is through shared reading, experiences, spontaneous opportunities and rabbit trails.  Natural learning defines so much of what young children are inclined to do, given free time, resources and a willing audience to share their discoveries with. Children are ever changing and amazing!

... With 5-6 yr olds, our sit-down bookwork has usually been only 1/2 to 1 hour a day, low pressure and more about basic skills, habits and attitude. Sometimes I will say what's to be done and why. Other times I will present two options and let the children choose, or the children may suggest a book they'd prefer to do.  If the children ask to do extra, I let them. They sometimes like to read to us or do writing before bed.

... Often "life" changes the routine. We take many opportunities for excursions, play dates, sports and family visits. No worries, as children are always learning, I've learned to see the balance and not worry about missed 'lessons'. Illness gets in the way more often than I'd like. I don't try to force sick kids or myself to work, it's usually a case of one down, all down, and we fall back on natural learning, educational DVDs and read alouds.  

... Lots of hands on activities, shared books, games, variety of resources handy for the kids to select from, or I will choose something to do together.  

... We use the computer as a tool for providing opportunities for 1-1 learning, with the kids free to choose between about 5 options (eg. at times this has included typing in Word, Reading Eggs, Targeting Maths CD-roms, Smart Kiddies, Tux Paint, Mathletics or Skwirk). In theory I can set one child up on the Mac, then spend time with the other. In reality, this is sometimes perfect, sometimes painful, when the one on the computer needs help and whilst I do that, the other gets sidetracked.  

That's part of what it looks like here, with 2 children who are 12 months and 10 days apart. I try to keep it positive, understand each child, and go with the flow.
Someone on AussieHomeschool wrote "Sometimes it is very hard to get them to settle down, especially when there is more important stuff happening (nice weather, racing bikes in the yard, scrounging in the garden for slugs etc) and I have been fairly gentle on this, because of their ages and stages (that is also how they learn.)"

My response to this is, I totally understand, especially about ants in pants. We're still there! I try to understand and respect what's important to the children, and work with them rather than fight the tide. I love seeing the children take charge of their own learning, and watch great things unfold when they decide to 'give speeches' or role play occupations. Sure, it's not always so tidy, as they also choose to be cooks with garden litter, wash the floor with a tea towel, or hijack all the chairs and cushions for a bus ... but that's part of childhood.  

Next year my plan includes "The Australian Book Traveller" by Michelle Morrow (her website is, "The Wonderland of Nature", by Nuri Mass (also from Michelle), additional eclectic science, LEM phonics, eclectic Maths (using what I have on hand) and lots of other fun!  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Decisions, decisions

The time has come, the walrus said ... to take all the good things I've learned from so many approaches, and DO what I think is right.  Without worrying about what other people think.  I love that each of my home ed. friends has a unique approach to nurturing their children.  I enjoy the debates we have about benefits of each viewpoint.  I need to stop agonising over choices so much and get on with it already!!

Today I read a very wisely written post , which expresses eloquently WHY curriculum/method decisions are so emotionally charged, and how to think rationally about it.  It's the "what, why and how" of one homeschool family.  I love it.

For a few months I have been drifting home to my favourite, eclectic mix of approaches.  I've dabbled with a mix of my existing resources, most of which are left-overs from my teaching years.  Picking and choosing, experimenting, observing, thinking.  Researching new resources, buying secondhand, borrowing and trying.

For our home school (and life), I want

... flexibility and routine, sparkiness and diligence
... to ignite interests, fuel imaginations, have adventures
... wholesome, quality, faith-building content
... challenging, creative, invigorating, interesting

I've spent many hours this term reading reviews and comparing curriculum choices for each subject in our homeschool for next year.  For each subject there is such a mind-boggling range of methods, philosophies, depth and breadth of content, price range and ... so many CHOICES.  The outcome, my plan, is eclectic and tailored to our children and family life.  I'm not striving for unattainable perfection, but am seeking to do my best.  I know plans change and reality looks different to imagined reality.  I can live with that :)

In the post I linked to earlier Jess summed up her goal so nicely, and it expresses what Pete and I want too ... "a loving, positive family home that equips our children with a love of the Lord and a love of learning."  

Jasi is begging to have her turn on the computer.  She's desperate to do her maths!
She's said, "Can I do it now?" about 27 times.
Guess that's my cue to get out of the way.  Bye for now!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quick Update

On my writing blog, Ink Island, is a summary of some things which have been keeping my mind and pen busy lately.

Aside from that, I've been drafting some posts about our home ed. plans and possibilities, and the resources I've chosen for various subjects next year (never 100% sure though, as things change).  They'll be ready to share soon.  This has taken an inordinate amount of time!!  I think I've read a billion reviews and samples, and have scribbled a notepad full of comparisons, pros and cons, and combinations which 'might' work really well for us.

It's quite a challenge at the moment to even attempt to record what our days and weeks have been like ... a fizz-whizzing hazy blur ... but here's a bit of the puzzle ...

*  we're loving the warmer weather, with swimming lessons and boogie boarding at the beach

*  my health is still up and down, but may all be linked to my thyroid (early results point to Hashimoto's Disease) , food allergies/ intolerances and perhaps PCOS ... more tests ahead yet, but then again, I could just be healed by the Lord at any time :)

*  the children are delightful, always industriously playing, talking, singing, making music or running riot, challenging me in new ways every day

*  we are doing 'school' work for an hour or two a few times a week.  Of course plenty of natural learning too, which always excites me to see, but I'm more comfortable when we combine it with purposeful, deliberate lessons ... it's all about attitude, timing, priorities, mutual respect and learning styles

*  this weekend we're going up the coast to support an outreach (and stay in a resort) ... and our Christmas camp (also with church) is coming up so fast I feel I should soon start packing.

That's part of my recent history ... please drop me a hello if you're still around and forgive my infrequent web presence!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Watch for World Diabetes Day

Please watch this delightful clip ... here's why!!

Wasn't that lovely!!  And less painful than a finger-prick test!
Thanks for your support.

P.S.  There are lot's of ideas cooking, things happening and resources being reviewed at Chrysalis Island at present.  I'll update you all soon.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Canberra ... with activity links!

I was quick to put up our snow report following our holiday, but what did we do for the rest of that week?
Here's a glimpse ...

For a few nights we stayed with my Aunty and Uncle, where the children enjoyed playing with resident terriers Snowy and Sally.  One evening we enjoyed a family dinner with my cousins.  Elijah discovered another food he likes ... caviar and smoked salmon blini (small pancakes).  This adds to his favourite foods list of bbq baby octopus and homemade sushi (Makizushi 巻寿司), a definite seafood theme which has prevailed for a couple of years.  I LOVED being in a home with central ducted heating, even if it was sometimes a little too warm ... it was ironic to be warmer in Canberra than I had been for months, the reason being that we only use the gas heater or air conditioner for a few hours a day in the middle of winter.  Frugal and enviro-conscious intentions only!

Of the outings, QUESTACON was our family favourite.  There is so much to do and see, touch, experience, learn, wonder about ... the kids had fun in Mini-Q, the 0-6 yrs play zone.  Mini-Q featured an impressive water play setup which I'd love to replicate if I had a spare sunroom.  We loved watching a very clever live science show, "Invasion from the Planet Fwah" The BOC liquid nitrogen show.  We didn't try free-fall (a vertical slide), but I did go on the earthquake simulator (it was ok) and Track Attack, a rollercoaster simulator (awesome, even if I'm biased because my Uncle built it).  Jasmine was very upset (like totally traumatised) by the pretend guilotine and the accompanying sound effect ... we saw it as we explored a sideshow exhibit, then every time she heard it operating (even from other rooms) she would shake with fear.  In the end she practically dragged me through the exit doors, but thankfully didn't mention it again once home.  How I wish we lived closer and could go to Questacon more often (though at least we've seen their traveling exhibits when they've been in town).  See what you think of Questacon online, there are lots of activities (for kids and big kids like us!) to try, at  Perception Deception and ScIslands.

We drove on the public road to a lookout inside Duntroon.  A bunch of military trainees were hauling heavy packs up the huge mountain.  I was more interested in the immediate surroundings than the view of Australia's capital city, as it gave me a glimpse of the life path I didn't commence at age 17 (of the two cadetships I applied for, I accepted the offer from BHP Information Technology, and thankfully missed out on becoming an air traffic controller with ADFA at the last stage of selection ... their wise psychs must have realised I wasn't made of tough enough stuff) ... whew!  

Cockington Green minitature village was a big hit with the kids, and we walked around for hours listening to them say, "Look at that!" as they noticed every little detail.  In the International display Elijah wanted to quiz me about every country and type of building ... I wished I was a walking encyclopedia.  If we go again I'll see if we can have a guided tour with an expert!

Our next venue was the National Dinosaur Museum, which was a bit of a fizzer.  Perhaps on it's own we would have seen it in a more exciting light.  It was kind of small, and the tired children just wanted to zoom around, buy unnecessary 'stuff' in the gift shop, and go out for icecreams.  Elijah and I preferred the Australian Museum in Sydney which we visited last year.

We saw Parliament House from various angles as we drove to other places, but will save the proper tour until the children are a bit older.  They are pretty interested in government and followed the recent election with us.  They talk about Kevin Rudd, and weave Julia Gillard into their play conversations in amusing ways (such as once, she was telling Barbie she would pass a law to allow boys to go to hairdressers ... is that a hint of discontent about MY home salon skills?)

The Australian War Memorial was the place Elijah MOST wanted to see, but we didn't get there.  Time just ran out and we decided it would best be left until next time.  Until then we can use their Kids HQ website to learn more about our history.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mental health ... choices, attitudes, perspective

The way we think is a choice.  I'm writing myself a pep talk today (well last week I started, but am getting back to it today) about positive thinking and how perspective can change our self perception.  Do you struggle with your mind and drive yourself crazy at times?

I do.  Sometimes mental health issues take us beyond the point of reason, to a point where we feel helpless and lost and resigned to riding the downward spiral.  I've been there and I'm not talking about that this time.  I don't think I have bipolar disorder, not that I'm sure, but from what I've read I don't think I'm that extreme.  Still, times like this are scary, and I feel for friends who share this challenge, whatever form or depth it takes.  I don't want my struggle to sound bigger than it is, knowing so many people face so much harder challenges, life threatening illness, natural disasters, major losses etc.  And please don't think I'm oversimplifying these issues ... I'm just sharing a small glimpse into my recent rollercoaster rides.

The ups are exhilerating, I'm soaring and energetically zinging through the universe doing great things.  The world is my oyster.  I have so much to offer and can't wait to get into it ... all at once!  Balance is out the window, but I can forget that for a while.  I brush off suggestions to slow down and can't understand why everyone else is moving at a snail's pace.  But as long as I can get on with my quests, that's fine!

My down times are infuriating ... days of being hardly able to get dressed before lunch, don't know what to feed the children.  I feel like a homeschool failure.  A parenting and marriage failure.  I feel sorry for my family, having to put up with me.  It's hard to start anything, let alone finish.  I try to smile, keep up appearances when I have to, but being awake is stressful.  Jobs pile up.  Even on 'good' bad days I waste time and get lost in my own world.  I'm glad to be alive but wish I was asleep.  The Lord and my family are my lights in the distance, encouraging me to step, towards the end of the dark tunnel.

Perhaps contributing to all of this are our recent trials with death, family illness and parenting challenges (which I haven't much written about).  And I've been physically unwell and hate to acknowledge that and give it any place in my life.  I don't plan to stay sick.  Still, at times it's hard to deny, and last week I actually answered honestly when people asked how I was.  Winter coughs and sinus left me feeling like I had broken ribs for months (perhaps I did), but that's improving now that Spring is here.  My doctor is also investigating the cause of some long term women's problems, and it comes as no surprise my iron levels are low, but we also found my thyroid is out of whack.  Though I'm yet to see her to find out what it means, but this new clue gives me hope that I won't need more tests and various cures which sounds worse than the problem.   Thyroid problems can cause hormonal problems.  I'm reading a book by Sandra Cabot to learn how diet can help.

My advice to myself (and anyone else feeling less than competent and confident at the moment):

*  baby steps ... break goals down into small tasks.  If I'm not up to making the whole house shine all at once (who ever is?) at least I can clean a window or tidy one shelf.

*  momentum ... if I can just start something, before I know it I'm on a roll and have done more than I would have if I'd thought, worried and procrastinated.

*  ask for help ... I find this really hard.  Like I said I don't want to acknowledge there's a problem.  I can ask the Lord, and read the Bible to remind myself He's promised to help me in so many ways.  If I tell my husband, mum or friends I'm struggling, that's being humble, honest and genuine, rather than my unkind self-perception that this is weak, burdensome and ugly ... I wouldn't think that of a friend who asked for help, so why judge myself so harshly?

*  likewise, accept that I'm not perfect.  Not that I won't try and be better.  But I will try things even if I risk failure or imperfection.

*  write in my journal to figure out what's out of sync ... what, within my control, can I do to fix this imbalance?  This time, my reflections have revealed that I need to get organised, redirect my mental energy into a new challenge, and grow up in terms of being disciplined with my housework, home ed. and other responsibilities.

*  recognise that I have choices.  I can't choose when my hormones or tiredness might try to sabotage my energy or mood, but I CAN choose to eat well, pray, sleep enough and make it a habit to think positively and trust the Lord.  I can choose to learn and find ways around my limitations.  I can choose to live and love, and to grow through this.

*  learn, imagine and dream.  Believe that anything is possible.  Enjoy life and look forward to heaven.

Today I'm pretty level headed.  I accept the highs and lows, though I believe God wants me to be moderate and sober ... for the record, since some of you don't know me, I should say I don't drink, smoke or use any drugs ... unless you count books and an occasional coffee or chocolate or smelling the citrus trees in bloom!

That's it.  I'm just sharing part of my journey of trying to live my best life.  I know other people struggle too, for a time or throughout their lives.  Maybe my openness will help someone.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Snow Holiday

One big highlight of our holiday last week was a quick trip to the snow.  The children have looked at snowy travel brochures, stories, weather reports and websites for a couple of years, so this was a much anticipated experience!

We stayed at a resort in Jindabyne, and drove into the Kosciuszko National Park twice, to the snow fields at Perisher.  Despite being the end of the season, there was plenty of white stuff to play in ... just a little icy and slushy at the base of the hill.  The roads were clear and dry, not crowded, which made the trip a 20 minute breeze compared to Pete's tales of 3 hour bumpy rides using chains in a crawling stream of traffic.

The children built snowmen.  Elijah threw snowballs for us all to dodge.
Elijah's snowman video on YouTube

Pete tirelessly dragged the toboggan up the mountain, again and again, sometimes with Jasmine onboard!
Jasmine's toboggan ride on YouTube

I haven't skied before, and I'm not sure whether I want to!  Pete thinks I'll be a natural at it but I'm scared of the sliding sensation and the momentum ... so we'll see.  The toboggan was incredibly fun!  In a year or two we might all return for a week, for the whole kit and kaboodle of ski hire and lessons.  This will thrill Jasmine, who was begging to join the snow school we saw.

Driving through the country between Canberra and Jindabyne was delightful for me (aside from the good old 'are we there yet?' chorus ... partly alleviated with new CD's and audio books from the library).  So much about the countryside really tugs at my heart and makes me reflective and dreamy.  And I loved being on an unfamiliar road and seeing new sights, like these rock formations in the middle of sheep paddocks!!

It probably doesn't look that exciting, but I find rocks and farms aesthetically appealing and inspiring.  While Pete drove, I jotted down verses of country ballads which I might sing, if I was that way inclined!

It was warm enough for us to set up camp in the carpark for the day, right near the snowplay area ... a convenient spot for dressing, snacking and resting.  After an active morning, Jasmine and I stayed in the car the second afternoon, as she was tired and had enough of being wet.  We played connect four, and she even did some school work in the car!  That wasn't my intention when I threw in a few workbooks for the trip (mostly out of guilt about our recent month off "school"), but Jasmine seemed relieved to do something familiar, and I was glad as she stopped complaining.

Meanwhile, the boys were on the mountain and Elijah became fearless on the toboggan!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Out of touch

I have been out of touch lately for a few reasons.

Supportive ... of Pete and his family, missing his Dad and learning what life's like without him.  I feel it too, but seem to process emotions in waves.  It seems not real, yet also normal.  The peace of the Lord has helped us all so much.

Sickness interrupted my Spring-cleaning spree ... a rotten sore throat, head, cough, sinus infection, glandular thing.  Mostly Elijah and I, but Jasi has been snuffly and needy too so it's been full on.  I should have been in bed, and have had naps when I could, but have been busy nursing and nurturing.  Happier that way anyway!

Away on holiday ... starting today.  We're getting better, I hope!!!!  We've delayed for a day to try and be germ free and energetic.  So we're hitting the road for the national capital to see the sights, and spend a couple of days playing in snow!

Offline ... our connection is dodgy, dropping in and out.  That's ok because words have been elusive.  I've also been reading some inspiring books, which I'll write about when we get home.  I have written comments for your blogs but don't always get around to posting them because my inner editor is speaking too loudly and needs a tune up!!  Just know I care.

So ... I'm going to hit "publish" now, pack a few more things and head off into a fun family adventure.  See you when we return!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reading - our style

I don't think there's any single, best way to help children become readers.  I think Love, patience, time and fun are the keys to encouraging a child's natural interest in stories, and their desire and ability to read will flow from there.  

We haven't followed a specific learn-to-read program.  I've borrowed ideas from all kinds of approaches, including phonics (LEM), sight words (eg. Dolch) ... and our home is a playground for whole language!  Step by step programs have worked for some of my friends, combined with the other essential ingredients I mentioned above.  

Here's our story so far, from 0 to 6 years:

From the early days of babyhood the seeds of reading were planted.  We played with words, read aloud ten zillion books, bought books, visited the library often and the kids chose books to borrow on their own cards.  When friends and family would visit, the kids would toddle up and hand them a book to read out.  

Elijah loved books from day one (well, day 8 when he came home from hospital).  I thought Jasmine was going to be different.  She would wriggle and squirm away ... but by 9 months she was just as hooked on books as her big brother!

Here are some snapshots of the fun we've had with reading in the pre-school years ...

This was Jasmine on her 2nd birthday (Elijah was just 3).  
Pete was a home Dad ... each he day wrote a sentence or two on the chalkboard, and the kids would 'read' it to find out what exciting plans he had ... words like icecream, park and swim were very popular!
We now use a whiteboard, but this habit has stayed with us, and now the children help write the days of the week, sentences or activity lists.

With toddlers, Superdad also made up flashcards with words the children were interested in, and they would play games to win cards by being the first to read them.

We played games and more games ....

We made up rhyming word lists (some with nonsense words) then phonogram-based word lists (based loosely on LEM phonics).  The kids initially read these to earn pez lollies!   

We have a range of flip-books (bought cheaply), free, photocopied or printed and laminated games, word rings, word and letter puzzles ... these are not regarded as greater or less than any of our other resources and toys.  It wasn't so much 'school' at age 3-5, just something fun we did together.  
It hasn't changed all that much.

We also go through phases of using flashcards for 'sight words', blends and phonograms.

I sometimes make up a game, like this 'ar jar' for the phonogram ar ("ah, or, the car had a war") we made 2 years ago.  We thought up the words together, I wrote them on cut up Christmas cards.  4-6 cards are placed face up at a time, I say a clue (eg. it can start a fire) and the kids find the word which says the answer (spark).  They may work as a team or compete for the most cards.

Word wheels don't get much use here ... they look good and are a bit of fun, but aren't as good as reading in context.

Both kids do ABC Reading Eggs, whenever they want (if the computer is available), which averages out to 1-3 one-hour sessions per week.  When they were younger the kids also liked the free lessons and they still like the printable books at

Jasi and Elijah pretend to read to each other (making up stories about the pictures) ... role playing librarians, teachers, mums and dads.  Likewise, they use story books as pretend music books, from which they sing (making up songs as they go).

We have many 'traditional' reading tools too, around the house including many posters.  I holepunch posters in the top corners, thread 5-6 posters onto 2 curtain rings, then hang the set on hooks I've set up around the house, such as on the back of the toilet door.  They're easy to flip, or swap for a different set.

We've ended up with an eclectic range of 'early readers' at little expense, bits and pieces of many series, from school throw-aways, book stalls, home made books, free printable books (eg. from and Bible story early readers.  
We borrowed Fitzroy Readers from a school Mum worked at last year, and the kids hated them!    
Elijah now reads Dr Seuss to us, along with various library books and others from his shelves.

Magnetic word kits, sentence makers and phonics work books 
 are often done just for fun, usually whenever the kids want ... such as bed time!

Living in a book-lovers paradise, with so many tools at our disposal and some deliberate instruction through conversation, games and 'playing schools' ... 
Have my children become amazing readers at an incredibly early age?

No and yes.  It hasn't all been plain sailing, but on the whole, it's been positive.  The children have been at times far ahead of their age-expected levels, then other times they cruise, forget sounds and sight words and fall behind to a more 'average' level for their age.  They have vocab and comprehension beyond their years.  Most important to me, they are interested, self-motivated and enjoy their experiences with words and books.

Our shared reading time is still plentiful and precious, and includes picture books, chapter books, science, maths, geography and history references.  We 'do' the Premier's Reading Challenge, just because we read the books anyway, so may as well get a certificate to show for it. 

I photographed our bookshelves ... but there are enough photos here!  Just imagine bookshelves, baskets and stacks all over the house, add up to 90 library books at a time, and that sums it up.

If it's mixed with cuddles, it's all good!  

Lost for words

It's been a tough week.  There is a time for every purpose under heaven, and this has been a painful time.

My wonderful dad-in-law died last week.  He was in hospital with chest pain, and Pete thought he'd be out within a few days.  Perhaps he'd get another stent put in.  He survived a heart attack 20 years ago, so has had a lot of fantastic "extra" years to spend with his big family, doing the things he loved.  He was talking to a nurse about the next adventure he had planned (a trip somewhere with his beloved wife Val) when he went suddenly.  We're glad he didn't suffer for long.

The children understand that they won't see Grandpa again.  Elijah's first comment was that he won't be able to go fishing with Grandpa, when he gets his first rod at Christmas.  Jasmine found her twin lavender bears, to give to Grandma to help her feel better.  She says the one a few millimetres taller is Grandpa, the short one is Grandma.  Their understanding of death is calm, logical, innocent and faithful.

Last week, time stood still in some ways.  But we carried on with activities like FBI, gymnastics, playdate, housemeeting (church home-group), a birthday party, and I helped Pete for his turn teaching Sunday school.  The kids have kept us moving and positive, when we could have just curled up.  Pete has dealt with it in his own quiet way, and I've been there with all the hugs he needs.  The Lord has held us up through the emotional and mental pain of loosing someone so special.

Words have been hard to find.  Mostly, I just physically hurt for the people I see hurting around me.  Max's children, grandkids, his best mate.  My thoughts swirl, peaceful but persistent until my head hurts.  Even in 'normal' times I struggle with the temporary nature of our existence, the paradox of a purposeful yet vaporous, vain life.  As always, I'm trying not to dwell on unanswerable questions which could easily consume my mind and time.

But life goes on and is a gift from the Lord, which I'm thankful for, and I will follow where He leads.  The sun is shining, the breeze is warmer than last week.  Pete is planning our upcoming snow holiday and discussing whether we'll also go camping in the bush or near the beach before summer, or both.  I'm reading Jessica Watson's book about her amazing journey, marveling at her clarity and determination, and wondering what goals my children, Pete and I, will set for ourselves in the future.

I spoke to my own Dad last night.  He too had a heart attack a few years ago.  When it started he asked a workmate to drive him to hospital, and calmly walked in.  He didn't tell us about it until a week later, after he'd recovered (or perhaps we found out by accident, I forget) ... no need to worry anyone he said!  He's good now but still working too hard.  I'm glad for his friendship, and a zillion life lessons and skills he's shared with me over the years.

As usual this week, I've read blogs, familiar and new, which have been as always, inspiring, touching and interesting.  I just haven't commented much.  I joined facebook, for the second time, and will probably, again, close my account before I get caught up in the vortex.  I'm just not good at small-talk or brief bytes of conversation, it makes me nervous.  I can see why many people like it though.

For someone "lost for words" I've written a lot.  Hope I haven't rambled.

Time to get dressed and play in the sun.
See you again soon!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

50 word challenge

We have an education savings plan with ASG , and were invited to complete a quick survey then enter a competition to win an iPad.  The challenge was:

How do you keep your child engaged in learning (in fifty words or less)?   
Prizes are awarded for the most interesting, original or thought-provoking entries.

We were allowed to submit one entry per child.  Here are my 50 words per child:

Our son is home educated using diverse approaches tailored to his learning style, abilities, strengths and passions.  He is building a strong foundation for lifelong learning through meaningful work, conversations, mentors and inspiring experiences.  We actively pursue educational enrichment opportunities within the local home education network, community and the internet.

Miss 5 is learning and thriving in a loving, delight-driven, resource-rich home school.  Like a seedling she is intrinsically driven to learn and grow … her slender stalk reaches skyward toward opportunities, branches explore dreams, leaves absorb inspiration as roots sink deeper to face the challenges our precious flower seeks.  

I found it a fun writing exercise, even if my simile lead me down the garden path!

How would you answer the question?

Please post your response in my comments ... I can't promise an iPad, but would love to hear your thoughts.

:)  Vanessa

P.S. I hope I'm not breaching any copyright rules by sharing the great question ASG posed ... and it's free publicity for them.  It's a great way to be prepared, if you think your children might go on to tertiary studies, and the younger they are when you sign up the greater the long term benefits.  
P.P.S. I'm not commissioned to say this!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Learning between the lines

If you asked me during the day yesterday what we were doing, I would probably have answered 'not much' or 'just the usual'.  As usual, I started with a vague idea of how the day might go ... an easy day at home, a bit of school work, reading together, lots of play (inside as it's raining), and as always going with the flow and having a lot of fun.

It didn't seem like much, just an ordinary home Monday, as much as any day here is 'normal'!  Looking back I'm amazed by the scope of what went on between the lines, during our 'ordinary' day:

5:15am     Snuggly little ones in sneak in with me after Pete left for work, neither of them sleepy ... we talk and pray about what we're thankful for.  Jasmine starts a Sudoku puzzle from my bedside table - needs a lot of help, but she has the general idea.  They start a debate about pets ... Jasmine wants a white rabbit, Elijah wants a turtle ... though they know we are not likely to become pet owners any time soon!  I half-sleep, half listen as their thoughts bubble out about care, habitats, natural environments, food (I'll grow carrots, said J.), temperature regulation, cleaning etc ... the possibility of further sleep melts with the rising sun.  Around 7am we drift out to a sunny dining room.

Breakfasts are made to order ... toast with all the colours of the rainbow for Jasmine (a rectangle each of jam, vegemite, peanut butter and honey), a banana sandwich for Elijah, toast for me.  The kids eat and watch cartoons from 7:35 to 8:30am, while I shower, check emails, read blogs, wash dishes ... away from the screen, kids dress, make beds, brush teeth and play.

The kids play variously with dolls, books, bikes and scooters and a big cardboard box, which they wallpaper with paintings done last week.  This ends in tears later in the day, as some paintings rip during removal.  Meanwhile, I start a new blog, Ink Island , to write more about writing, and I write my first post.  It's fun playing with layouts, background pictures and words.  I also finish my previous, jumbled blog post for Chrysalis Island.  My mind is a bit clearer after getting these thoughts down!

We come together for morning tea (fairy floss and nuts) and read about Sarah and Abraham's baby and their praising, from The Little Girl's Bible .  I write Psalm 34:1 on the whiteboard.  The kids copy the verse into an exercise book and draw and label what they praise the Lord for.  Jasmine makes hers sparkle with glitter pens and glitter glue.  Elijah's picture spreads to the next page as he tells us a story as he draws.  He writes on the whiteboard - sunny (Jasmine wants an 'e' on the end, but reluctantly trusts me that it must end in 'y' like baby and puppy).  Elijah draws boxes for a checklist and labels the first one 'litrse' (literacy).

Jasmine does a page of a spelling textbook then starts colouring in and doing patterns inside bubble-writing.  I ask Elijah if he'd like to write about pets or knights, but he says chocolate!  He tells me a title, which he copies from the whiteboard (Chocolate Flavour Inventions).  He narrates a bit while I write (the new chocolates will be sold to raise money for poor people), then he draws and labels some new flavours, which somehow turn into icecreams along the way!

Around 1pm, Pete arrives home and we have lunch (he's home early as today's work was overtime on a rostered day off), toasted sandwiches.  He offers to clean up, so the kids and I sit on the lounge to continue our informal (make it up as we go) unit study learning about Poles and Polar Bears.  We've watched DVDs over the years, and read a few books recently, like Polar Bears Past Bedtime , by Mary Pope-Osborne, and parts of Horrible Geography: Perishing Poles .  We talk about (and I record) what we know and what we want to know .  It's fun and I'm impressed!  We look at the globe and wall map, to see Antarctica and the Arctic.  Then we re-read a picture book, Antarctic Dad , share a few pages from non-fiction Antarctica , and a new picture book Over in the Arctic .  We take a long time to read, as each page is fuel for discussion, dominated by Master E.!

The kids put away a stack of about 30 books they've been browsing.  Jasmine plays boxes/ dots with Pete while Elijah 'reads' Knights and Castles .  From 3-4 pm the kids watch ABC TV (playschool, cartoons).  Pete starts our tax returns, and I read in bed!

While Pete has a well earned rest I keep the kids quiet with a game of Rummikub .  It's their first time playing, and I'm surprised by Jasmine's patience and by how interested and eager they both are.  We play open hands, but by the end they can make their own moves if I give a small clue.  At 5pm the kids call Pete out and we all watch Survive This! on ABC ... an adventurous Canadian survival show for kids.

The kids take turns doing dot to dots in a booklet of A-Z and 1-30 puzzles, easy but fun, and play 'memory' with a deck of picture cards.  Dinner (chicken schnitzel, mashed potato and veges) sparks talk of volcanoes (as Elijah's mash mountain erupts with sauce), and is followed by the final few chapters of our latest chapter book, The Littles and the Lost Children by John Peterson.  Together the kids quickly do a set of Maths Mentals from New Wave Mentals B , and Elijah asks to do more.  They find it fun because it's new today, but I'm thinking "it's too easy, even the next book is too easy, what's the point?" but I do want them to have quick recall and some 'schoolish' skills in case they ever decide to do maths tests, competitions or need to slot into a classroom at some stage.  I have always done maths just for fun, and my kids do seem to be wired the same way.  We'll see.

Time for pyjamas, tooth brushing, tucking in, chatting and praying.  Pete read a chapter of the next book, The Littles go to school .  Then the kids play in bed, read and colour in until about 8pm when they fall asleep.  I go online to renew library books and update the kids' book lists for the Premier's Reading Challenge (both are now finished, Jasmine's first and Elijah's second year).

In bed at 10pm, I'm too tired to read for once (aside from a quick scripture), but I can't sleep.  Several times I flick on the light to jot down notes to myself.  I finally do some maths (double 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc) to switch off my meandering mind, and drift to sleep trying to double 16384 ... finally .... zzzz

Sunday, August 22, 2010

You've got mail!

Hi everyone,

I'm writing you a letter this morning, just for a change.  First of all I wanted to say thanks for all of your comments, and for sharing your time and thoughts with me.  Sorry I don't always leave comments on your blogs ... even if I want to sometimes I just can't put thoughts into words in the time I have.

Chrysalis Island is a bit eclectic, like everything I do, and is about more than homeschooling, though home schooling does absorb a lot of my time, energy and is a veritable playground of discovery, challenge, inspiration and creativity.  On here, I try to usually write something which neatly fits into a box or answers a specific question or explore a certain topic.  This is a messier post ...

I had good intentions to write helpful, practical home ed posts recently, and whilst I could (since I live it and have many ideas I'd love to share), I also couldn't because I might write too much (and you'd fall asleep mid sentence) or too little (and it would be nothing new) or somewhere in between ... besides, every day shines a new light on things, and how do you paint when the colours are always changing?

Lately I've been scatter-brained, forgetful, daydreaming, preoccupied, off with the fairies ... the other day I tried to phrase it nicely ... so perhaps I'm an absent minded professor.  Now that sounds fun!  Never mind that I'm not actually a genius, I can still have the eccentric trait, right?  An acceptable way to excuse my shortcomings?  I do wish I could be more realistic at times, instead of idealistic and vague.

Some of the tangents I've been on lately include brain teaser and IQ websites, the theory and practicality of gifted education, science, especially chemistry, Sunday school coordinating and as always, reading a variety of thought-provoking books.  I'm also studying what the Bible says about thinking, to try and resolve a few philosophical questions I've been wrestling with.  It's helping put a lot of recent challenges into clearer perspective.  But I still feel like I need a few days of strenuous bushwalking to force me to focus on reality and practicality!

I've been thinking about why I don't write more on my blog.  I have plenty more to write about than actually makes it to the page.  Some of it would probably interest, help or inspire some people.  So what holds me back from writing more?

  • I tend to avoid controversy and conflict ... on the other hand a lot can be learned from diversity and debate.  I hesitate to write about 'loaded' topics for fear of seeming too introspective, intellectual or opinionated, yet these are also the ones which I question, most want to understand and would welcome debate about.  So I might get there yet!
  • Deciding what to share here, and what is better kept in a private journal.  Will my children be upset with me for sharing their trials, triumphs and quirks?  Online is fun and convenient, but if in doubt, I'll leave it out.
  • Every topic is so wide and deep that it's hard to declare anything 'ready to publish'.  'Finished' is an arbitrary, subjective word.  Not that it matters anyway!!
  • Trying to protect the 'precious present ' from slipping away while my mind is occupied writing.  The average post takes me 1-2 hours to write and rewrite, and whilst I want to write, I don't want to rob my family of time.
  • Self-doubt ... if I can't write confidently for a diverse audience of 13 (subscribers I know of), how will I ever finish any particular book for a potentially much wider audience?!

Anyway, what do you think about this blog?  I originally started it as my thinking space, but have used it mostly for home ed. related subjects.  I have just started Ink Island to blog about my writing hobby.  Should I further separate my home ed entries from my other thoughts, or keep Chrysalis Island as is, complete with these sometimes diverse musings?

I look forward to hearing what you think.  Either way, I'm just me and I'm glad to know you!

Best wishes,