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!