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!