Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 wrap up

It's Summer here, but you wouldn't know it.  It's mostly rainy and cold, but we don't really care much.  Life goes on, albeit with less swimming than is typical for December.

We haven't declared the year over yet, though this week we've shifted into holiday mode ... baking, visiting, playing, enjoying the company of those who have finished work and school for the year (as of today, that includes my hubby, hooray!)

I didn't have a big scramble to finish curriculum for the year in order to be ready for the next year or to tick off the current year.  We don't care much for school year labels or stopping and starting on particular dates, though we do generally change our pace to be available when friends have free time.  I'm always vague about time, days and dates, and even though the calendar says the year is over already, I find it hard to believe ... I feel like its just beginning!

Before I get all philosophical about time, here are some recent happenings and reflections:

*  We met Beverley Paine, who in Australia is a home ed pioneer and veteran, ideas person and somewhat of a guru, especially in Natural Learning.  She has also perfected the art of inspiring and building up people's confidence.

*  Elijah is still enamoured with books about Knights, and has tackled his first few chapter books ... Adventures in Odyssey - Revenge of the Red Knight, a couple of books from the Toby Digz series and totally unrelated Club Penguin choose your own adventure books.

*  Jasmine adores ABC Reading Eggs, and manages to pass the quizzes at the end of each map BUT has reached a level that she finds hard to do alone.  She refuses to repeat any activities, and insists on continuing on to harder lessons.  Her persistence, frustration and desire to read create an interesting tension at times!  I try to figure out when to help and when to stay out of the way.

*  Life of Fred has been a BIG hit in our home.  I've been reading from the first books, Apples, which covers very basic maths, but I didn't want us to miss any of the fun bits and interesting tangents which make the series so appealing (Archimedes for example).   I've also just started the 4th book, Dogs, with Elijah, for a bit more substance, but he will also listen in as I keep go through Butterflies and Cats with Jasmine.

*  Maths wise, most of the real learning happens incidentally (counting money, measuring, games, travel etc) but for various reasons we choose to use textbooks a few times a week ... Targeting Maths books, and CD rom 'labs' (which are a lot of fun) and Singapore Maths text and workbooks, easy to work with and useful and tolerable.  If I needed a program right now, I'd probably buy Go Maths (comprehensive, challenging, fun, relevant), but I just can't justify it with all that we have, and the eclectic mix we have offers the diversity and freedom we seem to need :)

*  I finally bit the bullet, though, and bought All About Spelling.  We had been 'using' LEM Phonics, but when you have as relaxed a routine as we do, it's not ideal to have a program which needs a regular, solid block of time each day.  So far we like AAS a lot.  Why?  It's quick, easy and fun, and I love that it doesn't zap all the desire to write out of the kids, so they still want to ... Write!!!

*  Real writing that they choose to do (sometimes with a gentle nudge) ... lists, journals, copied Bible verses (we call treasures), letters, cards, game clues.  For my own inspiration, I love the 'Kid Writing' concept, free ebooks full of tips and ideas at the Nellie Edge website and Nurturing the Write Relationship - Developing a Family Writing Lifestyle and Traditions, by Mary Ann Froehlich (bought through Heart of Wisdom)

*  Speaking of Heart of Wisdom, the website and ebooks have been a great source of inspiration and ah-ha moments for me recently.  The Bible first approach at the core of it articulates so well what I was trying to figure out this year.  I knew what I didn't want, and had a fair idea of what I did want, but the Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach helped me fill in a few gaps in my understanding and simplify my (very complicated) picture of our ideal homeschool.  The free guide to choosing and using resources renewed my confidence in my choices of what to read and not read with the children.  I am adopting the HOW concept, but am not following Robin's 4 year plan or using the unit studies.  What we are doing, I will write about more next year, as it's a work in progress.  In the eyes of the kids, it will flow on well and look similar to this year, but in my head and on paper, it's somewhat tidier :)

I don't have time to write about all the other resources we've loved or abandoned this year.  As far as explaining the always changing, always learning way we do things here, Renelle said it better than I can right now.  It's all a blur as I'm excited about what's happening now and what's in store.  I have rambled today.  Hope I haven't put anyone to sleep!  

I hope you enjoy this special season with the people you love.

All the best,

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Holiday Snaps

A fortuitous find during the long trip north ... and inside were REAL suits of armour (with real price tags $$$).  A certain boy was incredibly excited, even though our stop was brief as we had a ferry to catch.

 My island home ... I've been going to Stradbroke Island to my Aunty and Uncle's place since I was a child, and was delighted to finally be able to share it with my family.  The island was every bit as beautiful as I remembered.

Our next home was a self contained unit with beach access.  The the sky scrapers of the Gold Coast at the far end of the beach, barely visible in the salty haze, could be Paris in a little girl's imagination ;)

None of us minded having this view from our balcony, either.  

Moving into Sea World resort was pretty cool because it included unlimited access to wonderful shows like this.  We also had a lovely lagoon pool right outside our door, which is good as the room was tiny.    

A highlight was when one of the polar bears did lots of backflips in his pool, which we saw from the underwater viewing area.  I didn't have a camera on me that day, but he was enormous, pressed up against the glass right in front of us before he pushed off each time!

The kids loved the fairy penguins and each chose a personal favourite ... based of course on the colour of the ID tags!

My favourite place was in the underwater viewing area at Shark Bay.  This is the ONLY way I ever want to see sharks, but I do find them fascinating.  Late in the day was the best time to see them darting around looking cunning, wild and ready to eat.

We all went on the log ride together once, but only two wanted to repeat the wet and weightless experience.

We ALL loved the gigantic climbing maze at Pirate Cove inside Sea World.  There was also a pirate ship ride where dry people could sail and shoot other pirates with water cannons.  We must have had lots of enemies because we were absolutely soaked by the end.

We did many other things ... so much fun packed into two weeks away!  I might write again later to share some of my reflections on travelling with kids, living in apartments and small rooms, coming home and the scientific results of conducting dietary experiments on small creatures.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Just ducking out for a spot of sunshine

We're heading north for a couple of weeks, for family fun and 'hopefully' sun.

No, not to the Maldives, but somewhere just as delightful ... photos upon my return, I promise!

I have written a few draft articles lately, but none are ready to post yet, so they'll have to wait.  I don't think the blogosphere will crumble due to my short absence :)

Stay well.  I look forward to catching up when we return.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Delicious Disasters!

I love playing in the kitchen, not always following a recipe.  Well, I've reached new heights in experimental cooking today!

Jasmine was keen to bake some heart shaped cookies today.  We mixed a batch of dough using a recipe found in a little cookbook she has.  Satisfied that she was on the right track, I left her to cut out the delicate hearts.

Meanwhile, I set about making a batch of chewy chocolate chip and macadamia (almost gluten free) cookies from a recipe I found on the internet.  Elijah helped measure nicely spaced teaspoons of mixture onto the baking trays.  In no time at all, they were ready for the oven.  As the dough melted, we watched, mesmerised, as the cookies spread and merged into three trays of gigantic cookie monsters.  Maybe the cornflour was an important ingredient, but we'd run out.  Oh well, at least they looked nicely browned.  Still hopeful, I put the trays on the stove top to cool.

Jasmine's hearts were ready to cook.  The oven just needed a moment to cool first ... 

Having allowed my cookie monsters to cool for a minute, I set about 'trying' to cut and re-home them on the cooling racks.  Ha ha ... instead we have two containers of cookie crumbs.  One holds cooked but still soft cookie dough.  The other holds more biscuit-like crumbs.  One baking tray which I experimentally didn't line with baking paper, has, unfortunately danced it's last dance.

Jasmine's lovely hearts cooked in ten minutes, and came out at just the right moment.  A quick test proved they were melt-in-your-mouth delicious, crisp and delicate.  A quick dust of icing sugar, and they were done.  Perfect!

This afternoon I will have to buy a tub of vanilla icecream and a tub of soy icecream.  After a short trip home from the shop, it should be soft enough to transform into cookie dough, choc chip and nut icecream dessert.   Which we'll eat another day, as we've all eaten way too many experimental sweets today.

Jasmine's biscuits are ready to serve.  Splendid and sweet.

Maybe not such a disaster, after all!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beat the home ed blue-bugs!!

Lately a lot of home ed mothers, new and old alike, have confessed that they are plagued by the home ed blues, loss of confidence or niggling doubts about what they're doing.  It seems to be part of the learning process, leading to change in practice or perspective.

Like sandflies, fleas or mozzies, worries seize any opportunity to nip and nibble, and when they've had a good feast, can leave us feeling rather itchy, uncomfortable and desperate for a remedy.

The impish little mites (aka insecurities) are pretty easy to fend off one by one, but when they attack en masse it can be harder to defend the castle.  Here are a few specimens I've come across.  In italics are some quick rebuttals to squash the bugs:

Daily Detail Demanders - often doubling as our staunchest supporters, these are well-meaning people who want to know if we've done our schoolwork for the day.
Whilst many days look unimpressive to an outsider, home ed. success is best measured in monthly or termly summaries, when growth and change are more apparent.  WE know our days are rich in learning and personal development, and some of it is easy to verbalise.  But a lot of it is hard to convey in a brief chat.  Store up handy anecdotes so that when the question is asked, you're primed to share the little victories that really matter.

Pesky Perfectionism - bites too often, when we focus on our faults and judge ourselves as imperfect.   Indeed, we are!  Usually we can handle that truth and see the overall balance.  But sometimes our flaws can trick us into thinking that the alternatives (eg. school) are somehow prettier than our best efforts.
Our best efforts ARE enough.  Our 'survival mode' efforts can usually still be offered in love, with patience and personalised attention.  There may be circumstances which call for change, but generally, we ARE better equipped to nurture our children than the lucky-dip teacher our children may have at school (until the day parents can hand-pick each teacher, and guarantee that the best teacher is going to have a wonderful year, free of disasters and trials).

Acute Questionitis - this often sneaks in when Illness, Depression and Overwhelm visit.   Am I doing the right thing for my children?  Is our life really as good as I happily tell people in good times?  Are the kids truly as blessed and fortunate as they deserve?  Would they be better off in school?
To put a bad day, or season, in perspective, just look at how stressed your children are that you haven't had the energy to implement all your wonderful plans.  Are they?  If they're like mine ...  not a care in the world!  I'm fortunate to have had the energy to feed them most days, or direct them towards something they can prepare.  They have a captive audience, time and ideas galore.  They have enough toys and books to sink a ship (though a big cardboard box would trump them all)!  My 'bad day' is their opportunity to shine.  Hmm ... I'll have to think of a better reason to feel inadequate. 

Greener Pastures Syndrome - the familiar fear that our children will miss out on something, like a quirky maths teacher, inspiring art teacher, whizz-bang science program, being in the choir, debating club.
Our kids WILL miss out on some things.  There are many things we'll be grateful they missed.  But they will also have opportunities that the kids in the pasture next door don't have (like TIME to pursue their interests).  They WILL meet exceptional people, of all ages and various talents, and thankfully they'll have more freedom to enjoy special moments with peers and mentors, unhindered by bell times.

Continuous Compulsive Curriculum Design Disorder - knowing that there might be a better resource than the ones you've just bought after years of comparing and critique-reading, and thinking your children's future success and happiness depends on acquiring it.
True, there may be a better resource.  There always will be.  It may claim to teach something faster or more thoroughly or with more fun.  There's no harm buying excellent resources.  But what REALLY matters is the way we use what we have ... the very reason we chose to homeschool in the first place ... personalised, relationship based, flexible and responsive guidance.  Don't get caught in the trap of spending more time planning, preparing and comparing than doing, playing, loving and being. 


There are many tools which help me defeat the little beasties with a good dose of positivity ... 
(mostly guaranteed to change the pace and mood of the day, if it's been a dull or doubtful one)

*  read extra Bible stories to the kids (they're always saying 'just one more please!')
*  dance or paint or run or play with the kids
*  have a games day or project day or swim day
*  reread a favourite homeschool encouragement book

And here are a few of my favourite online remedies:

Burnout busters at Homeschooling Downunder
Happy to be here with Left to their own devices
Really rich encouragement from Dove's Rest

AussieHomeschool forum my virtual staffroom
Rockpool Homeschool forum another fun group

Overcome adultitis with Kim and Jason

This HAS been a wordy post, sorry!  I wrote it to help myself out of a pit.  And thankfully it helped.  If you've read to the end, I'd love to know what helps you fight off the homeschool blues.
What's your favourite way to get back into the swing of things, to iron out the bugs and get on with the joyful business of raising happy seedlings?

A Delightful Job

Chain mail can be irritating, but this is a little gem that made me smile.  I hope you enjoy it!

A woman, renewing her driver's licence , 
was asked by the woman at Registry to state her occupation. 

She hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself. 

'What I mean is, ' explained the woman at Registry, 
'do you have a job or are you just a .....?' 

'Of course I have a job,' snapped the woman. 
'I'm a Mum.' 

'We don't list 'Mum' as an occupation, 'housewife' covers it,' 
Said the recorder emphatically. 

I forgot all about her story until one day I found myself in the same situation. 

The Clerk was obviously a career woman, poised, 
efficient, and possessed of a high sounding title like, 
'Official Interrogator' or 'City Registrar.'

'What is your occupation?' she probed. 

What made me say it? I do not know. 
The words simply popped out. 

'I'm a Research Associate in the field of 
Child Development and Human Relations.' 

The clerk paused, ball-point pen frozen in midair and 
looked up as though she had not heard right. 

I repeated the title slowly emphasizing the most significant words. 

Then I stared with wonder as my pronouncement was written, 
in bold, black ink on the official questionnaire. 

'Might I ask,' said the clerk with new interest,
'just what you do in your field?' 

Coolly, without any trace of fluster in my voice, 
I heard myself reply, 

'I have a continuing program of research,
(what mother doesn't) 

In the laboratory and in the field, 
(normally I would have said indoors and out). 

I'm working for my Masters,  (first the Lord and then the whole family) and already have four credits (all daughters). 
Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities, 
(any mother care to disagree?) 

and I often work 14 hours a day, (24 is more like it). 

But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers and the rewards are more of a satisfaction rather than just money.' 

There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk's voice as she 
completed the form, stood up and personally ushered me to the door. 

As I drove into our driveway, buoyed up by my glamorous new career, 
I was greeted by my lab assistants -- ages 13, 7, and 3. 

Upstairs I could hear our new experimental model, 
(a 6 month old baby) in the child development program, 
testing out a new vocal pattern. 

I felt I had scored a beat on bureaucracy! 

And I had gone on the official records as someone more distinguished and indispensable to mankind than 'just another Mum.' Motherhood! 

What a glorious career! 

Especially when there's a title on the door. 

Does this make grandmothers 
'Senior Research associates in the field of Child Development and Human Relations' 

And great grandmothers 
'Executive Senior Research Associates? 

I think so! 

I also think it makes Aunts 'Associate Research Assistants.' 

Please send this to another Mum, Grandmother, Aunt, and other friends you know. 

May your troubles be less, Your blessing be more, 
And nothing but happiness come through your door!

Homeschooling Meme

Renelle from Dove's Rest has tagged me for this meme.
(pronounced /ˈmiːm/meem, according to Wikipedia ... I didn't know, and since I read the word once a week or so, it was about time I found out!)

It's going around due to the start of the academic year in the Northern Hemisphere.  Third Term is kind of the start of the year for us too, in that I usually do my planning and program updates in June, and it tends to be when my children, coincidentally, move onto new levels in any schoolish resources they are using.  

I agree with Renelle and Jeanne that the idea of giving ONE answer to each question is simply ridiculous and quite impossible!  Here goes!

1. One homeschooling book you have enjoyed:   
I derive great comfort and encouragement from these two books, which I seem to reread every year:

The Well-Adjusted Child:  The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, by Rachel Gathercole
A thorough treatment of the socialisation question, and full of anecdotes from real parents and children.

The Little Book of Big Reasons to Homeschool, by David and Kim d'Escoto
Outlines the benefits to body, mind and soul, using many scriptures and other quotes to help answer common 'Why Homeschool' questions.

2. One resource you wouldn't be without:

ABC Reading Eggs, Targeting Maths CD Roms, ABC Schools TV
The local libraries, and many books from SO many sources!!
Home Ed communities, both local and online

3. One resource you wish you had never bought:

Hard to say because I forget easily ... ummm ... no regrets really.  If I think of one I'll come back to add it.

4. One resource you enjoyed last year:

The Australian Book Traveller, from Homeschooling Downunder
We LOVED "The Australia Book", which built on what the kids had learned in books we previously read.  Since then, we have since been taking the whole journey very slowly, enjoying rabbit trails which appeal to us.  The free "Wombat Stew" unit inspired a lovely few months of learning all about Australian animals, using picture books we owned and borrowed, and of course nature!

5. One resource you will be using next year: 

Lots of World geography and culture books.  Some titles Sonlight recommends, which I've bought second hand, many books from the library ... maybe tied together using Galloping the Globe.  
I've heard good and bad about it ... do you have anything to add for or against GtG??

We'll continue Real Science 4 Kids.  So far I've used the digital download version of Chemistry, and we're loving it.

6. One resource you would like to buy:

Oh, you know, not much.  Just a large block of land and a MASSIVE shed, to deck out with kid's gymnasium, music studio, art and science lab, library and general space to play, create and have fun!  

Know anyone offering a 95% discount for homeschoolers?

7. One resource you wish existed:

A time control device, so that we can fit in all the things we wish to do each day.  And the energy to put dreams into action.

Renelle:  I have a shocking confession ... I don't know about Dr Who's Tardis ... would it satisfy this wish?

8. One homeschool catalogue/magazine you enjoy reading:

The Sonlight catalogue ... don't laugh!  

It satisfies the teacher and resource-researcher in me.  Even though we don't follow any particular curriculum, haven't purchased anything from them directly, and what we do is VERY relaxed.   I just enjoy having so many resources listed and compared in one place.  It has helped with some decisions.

9. One homeschooling website you use regularly:

Aussie Homeschool

10. Tag six other homeschoolers:

I'm taking the easy option.  I can't keep up with who has and hasn't yet been tagged to join in ... so if you read this, and would like to join in, please leave a link to your blog in the comments and jump onboard!

P.S.  Please excuse the spaced out format of this post ... I think I need to revise some settings :)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lively and Learning

We're out of hibernation.  Hello!!  It sure feels good to see the sun and feel it's warmth, and the air is full of wonderful Spring fragrance and freshness.  Goodbye cold, sick, damp Winter!
Sorry friends who love Winter ... I know it has a good side :)

Anyway, while we were sleeping, a few things happened:

*  We had our registration meeting for Jasmine.  It went well.  The inspector was pretty new to home ed., but very interested and encouraging, and gave lots of positive feedback.  He only saw about 10% of what I could have showed him, and in the final few minutes of his visit he actually got to see the imaginary 6yr old we were discussing!  The little person who had been hiding and scowling and scurrying away when called, finally responded to bribery and upside-down tickles, to show that she does indeed exist and is a perfect specimen of a mischievous, healthy and well-loved child.  Whew!

*  Prior to the meeting, I did my usual voracious reading, curriculum research and intense planning.  Of course it's all theoretical, and subject to change.  But the result is a long term and short term plan I'm very happy with.  It reflects our tidal, eclectic style and my need to be prepared yet flexible.  More on the specifics another day.

*  Learning.  Pretty sporadic and spontaneous, but enough to keep us all happy.  We're loving Real Science 4 Kids, and reading many books for the various parts of HSIE.  Maths and Literacy are going really well ... I'll write a separate post about the resources we're using.

*  Our 'good days' in Winter were mostly spent out with friends, at parks or excursions, or catching up on the never-ending housework.  The 'bad days' weren't so bad, considering we have the freedom to stay home in comfort, snuggle up and read a ton of books together.  Elijah and Jasmine play happily together 95% of the time, so I just let them go with their momentum a lot of days, and enjoy watching the adventures unfold.  It's messy at times, but they're generally helpful enough to more than make up for that.

*  Soccer and gymnastics have been terrific fun.  We're excited that soon it will be warm enough to splash at the beach, surf and swim again.

*  A new neighbourhood 'gaggle of girls' has erupted, and suddenly we have 6 little girls playing on bikes and scooters or in each other's homes, any time any of them are free.  Jasmine is in social heaven, and Elijah pretends to complain sometimes, but always has a lot of fun with them.  Having been a really quiet street, it's been a delightful change!

I have a list of more interesting, catch-up posts to write soon, including features and photos of some special projects.  If you haven't done so yet, please drop in and introduce yourself so I know who I'm writing for :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Overcoming Winteritis

I haven't published a post for ages, nor commented much lately.  Sorry for being distant.  I've been feeling awkward and illiterate.  When I speak or write, often I can't express what I'm thinking.  I'm restless and overwhelmed and uncomfortable and self conscious.  It's just Winteritis again.  It takes all my energy to resist hibernating.  I feel deeply the pain of people close to me who are really hurting at the moment.  I'm sick and cold and tired and sad, and for no good reason ... I have exactly the life I want (minus tropical climate and ocean views), and everything to be glad about!

However, I refuse to let the drop in temperature rob me entirely of my joy!
So, to get the ball rolling again ... some of the wonderful things happening here are:

*  Soccer, Gymnastics, Princess Ballet, Woodwork lessons, Sunday School & lots of play dates and family visits.  A few birthdays and holidays coming up this month, too!

*  A lovely, leisurely book tour using "The Australian Book Traveller".  It's taken us nearly 2 terms just to do 'The Australia Book' and 'Wombat Stew', because we keep adding interesting books, taking time out to follow tangents and research various aspects of Australian geography and wildlife.  We're VERY excited to be moving on to the next stage of the trip this week (partly because the title includes the word 'spear')!

*  Bible stories, Character studies, and a steady stream of books from the library and the postie keep us snuggled up often and give us lots of fresh ideas to think and dream about.

*  I'm getting more organised in the kitchen, putting a weekly menu on the fridge ... stops me worrying about what to cook each day and whether I have the ingredients.  Dinners are planned but flexible, and I write ideas for lunches, snacks and fruit, to remind me what's available.  It also means I shop less often and therefore spend less.  I shop at home first, and use what we have, which means less wastage too.

*  Kids literacy ... both children are taking off and it's so exciting to see!  They're excited too, keen for any hints I can give them, and moving quickly through Reading Eggs.  They're more confidently having a go at slightly more independent writing.  I must tell you about their folders and ladders sometime.

*  I have more peace about the balance of work & leisure, planned & spontaneous, challenging & easy ... and finally a plan I'm happy with for the next year or two in regards to the planned curriculum side of things (always flexible of course, but it is a relief to stop searching for a while).  

*  Pete has built most of the shelves I designed for the dining/ sun/ everything room, and it's immensely satisfying to organise and find homes for our most frequently used resources.  Some smaller units and a desk are still in progress which will bring it all together, and then I have to learn how to paint a kind of lime wash finish.  Photos in a month or two :)

I'm thankful for the safe, peaceful family I've been blessed with.  I'm glad that my peace comes from the Lord, and I'm not at the mercy of my emotions and the troubles and choices of other people.  I'm encouraged by my online friends, many of whom home school, who generously share their ideas and lives, and by doing so provide a lovely, supportive community.

Thanks for sticking by me through my quiet times!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Living Maths - Part One

Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE maths!

Here are a few more confessions to set the scene:

*  I'm interested in metacognition, patterns, and the links between maths, science and art.
*  I like order but am often disorganised, with many ideas and projects buzzing around at once.
*  I love imagining creative ways to do things.
*  My favourite part of teaching is seeing someone's eyes light up when they are inspired and their mind is humming with connections and understandings.

Steps and Stages ...

Since we started home ed., I've often wondered which maths curriculum would suit us now and into the future.  My kids are quite maths-literate, and accelerated themselves through much of K-1 maths before school age. There are gaps of course ... not many people learn neatly according to a schedule!  And we have had great chunks of time spent on Natural Learning, which helps keep things fresh and student-focused.

 I was slightly worried, as in terms of number facts, Elijah has remained at a Year 2 level for 2 years.  But I can see some important connections happening now, and am seeing evidence that he's in another phase of rapid development.  For example, Elijah doesn't have quick recall of all addition facts to 20 and can't be bothered with learning to tell the time properly, beyond the hour and half hour.  His writing is way behind his comprehension, so I've often acted as his scribe.  But he knows how to work out simple percentages (eg. 20% of 1000 or 50% of 40), has a good grasp of some fractions, can count by 2's, 5's, 10's, and quickly understands any new concept we think to introduce.  I have been glad to slow down anyway, not wishing to hasten his acceleration unless it's driven by his own interest and readiness.

The Resources Dilemma ... 

My main problem is that we're spoiled for choice!  I've examined endless reviews, samples, placement tests and articles about all kinds of maths resources.  Some programs which partly suit my preferences include Singapore, MEP, Saxon, Targeting Maths and Go Maths.  They all seem excellent.  But I am never content, so haven't ordered a complete program.  Part of me wanted to find an online solution, but I wasn't fussed with the samples of Teaching Textbooks.  Would Elijah have to prove competence to gain entry to EPGY Grade 3-4, and would it be overly expensive?

Thus far in Maths ... 

I've been using Singapore Maths Textbook 2A with Elijah (no workbooks, just using it as a reader and doing the exercises orally).  I also printed and had bound MEP Maths 2A for him.  Both children have several Yr 1 or 2 textbooks to choose from when they are inclined to do bookwork (for Jasmine, this urge occurs several times a week, for Elijah it's only when I insist) ... Rigby, Maths Plus, Easy Learn Maths, Boomerang and Step Ahead.  Elijah likes the interaction of doing MEP lessons with me, but we don't formally 'do' maths often enough to use MEP properly ... for days we'll play with numbers and ideas in other ways, so that each time we go back to bookwork, he's progressed beyond the lesson we're up to.  I've never stuck rigidly to any textbooks, skipping pages which seem boring, redundant or repetitious.  So perhaps we've been too light on with number drills.  Instead we do sums at the dinner table, counting rhymes in the car.

Whilst some maths programs incorporate a lot of hands on activities, real life applications and motivations, I still find them a bit stifling.  Jasmine likes to do bookwork, but she enjoys the other things we do too.  Elijah definitely prefers learning through stories and conversations, shows, computer games, board games and puzzles.  We've used such a diverse range of resources, it's always a challenge to record them and make sense of the path we've taken.

Ideas ...

I've been toying with the idea of several maths lessons each week being devoted to fun and inspiring ideas, such as looking at M.C. Escher, magic squares, The Golden Section, Bible numerics.  And games.  And hands on, real life problem solving.  Doesn't leave much room for drills and paperwork though.  Do we really need them?  Do I need a 'spine' at all or can we be trusted to cover the 'basics' in unconventional ways?  Will my children be able to fit in if they ever need to go to school?

I'm coming to terms with all these questions, and the answer seems to be:

Living Maths ...

Our best 'lessons' over the years have been experiences such as making a 3D graph of matchbox cars, constructing polyhedra using straws and pipecleaners, counting money as Elijah saved for an electric drum kit, taking measurements for furniture designs, adjusting recipe quantities.

I'm going to TRY to stop looking at Maths Curriculums, and focus more on just 3 factors:
-  being more creative and diligent in RECORDING the incidental maths the kids do in life and play
-  identifying WHAT my children are ready to learn or do next
-  finding interesting printables, stories and manipulatives to ensure they have FUN experiences to gain that knowledge.

I want our maths 'lessons' from now on to be memorable, inspiring, lively, exciting, challenging and real.    I intend to read more on Living Maths and Charlotte Mason and Unschooling websites.  I am excited about diving deeper into Living Maths.  I'm keen to list the many ways MATHS happens in my home, and I think articulating what we unconsciously do will help me let go of my obsession with comparing curriculums!

I already have some great resources, and know of a few more I'd like ... I'm bursting to write about them all, but will have to save that challenge for another day.  I have bookmarked some helpful and inspiring websites, and will also list these and share some links and ideas in Part Two.

If you have any tips to share about studying, doing or recording LIVING MATHS, please share them!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Book Feast

Last week was one of those weeks when I devoured stories every spare moment.  Not that there were many spare moments, with planned and impromptu guests (including a few overnight), a home ed. social day, church sand modelling activity, woodwork lessons, soccer training, Spring cleaning (even though it's Autumn), and we helped a family move house.   We started building our new dining/ activity room shelves too!

So can you see why I needed to read whenever there was a moment to escape?  Some people (including my husband) would say it's crazy to read so much at such a busy time, and that it'd be better to get a proper sleep.  They're kind of right, but I find reading is one of the most relaxing ways to restore my energy.

Here's a sneak peek at some of the books I've enjoyed in the last ten days:

I also read "The Whistling Season" by Ivan Doig, and perhaps others I returned to the library before I took these photos.  Sorry I don't have time to write reviews of the novels.  As for what I read with the children, that'll have to wait for another post.

I'm quite satisfied now.  Like feasting on chocolate, I enjoyed this delicious treat, but feel I've had my fill of fiction for now.  I 'm happily back into to my normal diet of dreaming up fun ways to learn, reading the Bible, catching up on home ed admin and writing here!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Delightful days

We're really appreciating the freedom we have, having had a taste of being part of the system.  What a wonderful life!  

I always enjoy reading 'typical day' messages written by home ed. families.    They are hard to write and impossible to keep short!  A few friends have recently had a go at it, trying to share the essence of their days, and I felt it was about time for me to jot down what we've been up to.  We have very few typical days, so my version is more of an overview of some of our usual activities ...

Elijah's recent interests have included:

-  counting his money to compare it to the price of whatever he is saving for ... last month, after 2 years saving, he reached his goal and bought an electric drum kit.  He also likes being the banker in Monopoly.

-  playing instruments ... he's never had a lesson, but does amazing things with drums and guitar (playing with both since a toddler), adding words to songs he knows or makes up.
-  'reading' an endless supply of non fiction history books, mostly about Knights, sometimes a book about Vikings or Warriors, the Roman Army or other parts of history.  Mostly I think he studies the pictures and labelled diagrams.  He looks at books for several hours most days, on top of our time spent reading together, and is eager to be able to read more for himself so that he won't have to rely on me so much (distracted by cleaning, cooking, phone and computer too often). 

-  Superdad helped Elijah make a bow and arrow from materials in the bush across the road (and string).

-  writing in his self-started 'future book' ... basically planning fun jobs for when he grows up.  So far he has designed a paintball army game centre (asked me to help find camo clothing designs  for the teams on the internet), and a Knights Land (role play for grown ups) with lists of horses, equipment, costumes etc. and a birds eye map of the place.  Elijah usually asks me to write it for him, either on the whiteboard to copy, or in his book to trace.

-  writing in his diary ... self-directed but often asks us to spell words.

-  building a castle using a kit with plaster of paris bricks he makes using a rubber mould.  Also still spends a lot of time building and destroying lego models, and talking to us about what he has made ... the talk continues even without an audience.

-  watching science, geography and history shows on ABC 1 and the internet (Bill Nye), and DVDs such as Leyland Brothers, Grainger's World Australia, and other nature shows either on TV or from the library.

Jasmine loves:

-  colouring in - from a box of colouring books (fairies, Princesses, Bible stories) and sometimes pictures we search the internet to find together (eg. she'll say "I want a water fairy).

-  craft - mosaic sticker pictures (from a few sets rec'd as gifts), bead necklaces and bracelets

-  books about fairies and princesses (mostly Rainbow Magic and The Tiara Club series) ... we read her 3-4 chapter books most weeks, plus picture books she owns (like a Tinkerbell series) and borrows.  As a welcome change from the predictable stories, we found a delightful library book called 'Fairy Foals' which both kids are enjoying ... very arty and imaginative.  

-  writing - a variety of handwriting books, exercise books for sentences and stories, and her own private journals, some locked.

-  Reading Eggs - we had a break for a few months, and Jasmine is glad I renewed our subscription.  The break was good as she is now ready for the lessons she had reached but was finding too hard last year.  100% on today's Map 6 quiz!

-  other computer activities - Targeting Maths Lab 1 CD-rom, Tux Paint, various games we find online, and just plain typing.

-  listening to music and singing along with toy microphone - Delta Goodrem, Jack Johnson, lots of Sunday school CDs, Australian songs etc.

-  playing her guitar or violin ... no lessons, just self-taught and improvised.  I LOVE Jasmine's voice and her way of making up songs as she goes, but I have to be careful as she doesn't like to be observed or adored TOO much!

-  games (like Monopoly Jnr, Mastermind, Jenga, snap, Uno) and puzzles, dolls of many kinds, Dora lego,  listening to stories.

-  people ... always making plans to see her friends, but happiest when it's not in a large group :)

Activities I've strewn/ inspired/ suggested, which have been very well received this year:

-  a new set of watercolours and art book each.  The kids use these freely several times a week and it's always a delight to watch them at work.

-  Australian studies - this mostly involves reading to the children, loosely guided by The Australian Book Traveller So far we've read 2/3 of The Australia Book (Eve Pownell), and it will be a slow but deeper journey, as I keep finding extra wonderful books to enjoy together; like "Lost" a survival story about 3 children lost in the Australian bush in 1860's.  Each chapter is followed by (genuinely) interesting facts about life back then, such as toys, homes, food, clothing.  The kids (especially E.) are very interested in Captain Cook's journey, early white settlement and how it impacted on Aborigines, gold rush, explorers, bushrangers etc. and how things have changed over time.

-  most days we read together a chapter from a Bible story book (currently from a huge, old but well written, 10 book series by Arthur Maxwell)

-  we're using phonics (mostly LEM, a bit of Jolly Phonics and Reading Eggs) to fill in gaps to help both kids read and write more confidently.  We use a variety of methods to keep us all interested!  Elijah is also working through Sounds Right, Read, Write Book 3.  

-  soon Elijah will start in the local soccer team, and Jasmine will again do home ed. gymnastics.

-  Nature Studies ... we've read a little of The Wonderland of Nature, complemented by Bill Nye science clips & Magic School Bus books/ shows, and serendipitous sightings around home.  Mostly though, we're on an Australian animals tangent.

-  most of our maths is invisible, just part of life and fun, but they both do a small amount of textbook or practical work to ensure me that their skills are recorded and progressing.  This is negotiable, in terms of when and where, what (limiting the boring, pointless or tedious), how (practical, visual eg. books and DVD's, answers for textbooks can be oral, written or scribed by me) and we're open to creative interpretation and wandering off the track onto more interesting tangents. 

And ...

The kids also spend heaps of time on the trampoline, bikes, at various pools and beaches, visiting friends and relatives, building cubbies with furniture and cushions and sheets.  They love cooking and watching cooking shows, helping Pete in the yard, sometimes doing jobs inside to be helpful or sometimes for extra money.

Recent requests of things the kids WANT to do, some of which I'll try to arrange in coming months:

-  woodwork (hooray, classes start next week!!)

-  sewing ... with my machine, needlework and handmade toys ... mostly inspired by pictures they've seen in books

-  ice skating (Jasmine) and ice hockey (Elijah) ... perhaps a one off visit will have to do for now, as they also want:

-  tennis lessons (Jasmine), violin lessons (Jasmine) and drum lessons (Elijah)

-  Elijah wants to make real medieval and Roman empire spears, shields, costumes, chain-mail suits, helmets, swords etc, preferably after researching the real materials they should be made from!

-  the kids and I want to learn more about Bush Tucker, and edible plants we might find in real life.

Our weeks are full of fun and learning, only a fraction of it planned.  So far today we've had a productive morning of reading, writing and spelling.  Oh, and I did housework while the kids watched school TV shows like Science Clips and Backyard Science.  We went to the shops, then decided to watch a Barbie Rapunzel DVD during lunch.  Soon we'll read together, play outside and sort out clothes which should go to the op shop.  I have to go out again later, while Elijah and Jasmine play or go swimming with Daddy.  The kids asked to do maths after dinner today.  It seems we all like to mix up the expected order of things a little!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A wild ride!

We decided to ride a roller coaster, knowing it would be fast and possibly dangerous.  We almost fell out on some of the loops and got jolted on the corners.  It seemed like it would never end, but finally we cruised into the exit tunnel.  We limped away, but can now look up at the ride and say we survived.  Most families have no choice but to ride this roller coaster every day.  For some it's a nightmare, for others it's comfortable, thrilling, even fun.  I'm just glad we are free to choose a different ride!

I know I haven't written enough about what's been happening here lately ... it's been too crazy to put in words.  I'll try and bring you up to speed.

Late last year Jasmine started wishing fervently to try school, and after prayer and thought over the break, we decided to give it a go.  We enrolled her at the Public School near our place, where we knew nobody but had heard only good reports.  Despite it being her own wish to go, it's been tough for Jasmine, and she's made that very clear with tantrums and daily changes of heart.  In just 7 days she was late 3 times and totally missed 1 day because she carried on for so long that I wouldn't let her go (and wasn't fit to take her anyway after weathering the storm).  Twice her teachers had to take a kicking and screaming child from my arms, and I had to leave and hide around a corner until I knew she'd settled.  Things improved when Jasmine said she wanted me to drop her off and sneak away (previously hard to do, with her climbing me like a tree).  I spent some days happily teaching Elijah, and a few crying and sick with the stress of the morning.

Our hearts broke as we pick up the pieces each afternoon.  Jasi said the best thing was the work (basic phonics she already knows, and lots of colouring in).  On day two, she started sadly confessing that her new friend had decided to not be her friend anymore, and was telling other kids to leave her out as well.  The teacher said she'd help Jasi make new friends, but observed that she doesn't initiate friendship or follow when the group moves on.

Even so, she's done so much more than we knew she could.  Simple things like asking for an iceblock at the canteen, chatting with the teacher for a literacy assessment.  She was disappointed that they didn't do maths (though maybe they did, but it wasn't what Jasi expected).  We're proud of her courage in just giving it a go.

But we decided enough was enough ... I couldn't handle the tension and trauma, and didn't see that any good could come of continuing.  Jasi wanted to finish this week, but it was sealed for me when the teacher lectured me yesterday for bringing Jasmine late, saying it wasn't good enough and we'd have to get our act together and stop messing around (basically).  She repeated this when Mum picked up Jasmine in the afternoon (I was too sick with anxiety to go in) ... thankfully I'd typed a letter for Mum to deliver, saying thanks and sorry to the teacher, and informing her that we'd be notifying the Principal of our intention to resume home education today.

I was keen to exit gracefully, and hope the carefully written letters to the teacher and Principal will allow us all to end on a positive note.  Now we can get on with our lives without school, and I can salvage what's left of my dignity.

I am SOOOO relieved.  Jasmine is too.  She cried for half an hour yesterday when I told her she wouldn't be going back to school, then bounced back to being a free and happy girl again, grinning and excited about what we'll be doing together.  It is the same relief she expressed when we told her she could leave her stifling and boring ballet class a year ago.

Why did we let our 5 year old daughter enrol in Kindergarten at the local Public School?

Because we thought it was harmless to let her try Kindergarten.  Because I thought 5 year olds would be kinder and easier to befriend than older children in years to come.  Because we could always return to homeschooling, anytime we wanted, and just treat this as an innocent experiment.

Why are we letting her, after 7 days, return to home schooling?

Because we can.  Because I love my daughter and her turmoil each day tortured me, to the point where I felt physical pain.  Because teachers shouldn't belittle parents in front of the class, nor loudly and condescendingly lecture an already frightened child.  Because we believe home ed. suits our children and love tailoring each day to them.  Because home schooling allows us to raise our children the way we believe God wants us to.  Because of the scratchy uniform and the unkindness of mean girls.  Because I don't believe in school enough to force her to go again and again when she's determined not to anymore.  Because we have little trust in the staff, after one week and four different teachers already.  Because we ALL need to have some stability and continuity.  Because we want to get on with real life and learning, not playing the school game.

Was it worth it?

I felt like an incompetent Mum, an unprofessional teacher, inconsistent and too easily influenced by my daughter's fluctuating moods, wishes, strength and vulnerability.  We didn't last the term, as we'd planned to.  I got in trouble ... I've always hated confrontation and conflict.  The teacher spoke down to my daughter.  She won't have the chance to do that again.

BUT on the bright side, Jasmine's curiosity has been satisfied.  She is now keen to have a wonderful year of home ed., instead of feeling deprived and controlled.  We respected her wish to explore.  We had an intense two weeks, difficult in many ways, but have emerged with our love and respect for each other intact and strengthened.  I have learned more about Jasmine's character, learning style and inner strength, and can use this to be a better parent and teacher for her.

Onwards and upwards!  We have had a lot of fun today, together, and the future looks bright.  It'll probably be easier to write about too!!