Sunday, October 3, 2010

Spring, Glorious Spring!

Hi fellow bloggers/readers, again, it's been a while between drinks. Hope you've all been well.

We've had a fun, busy few months, and have so been enjoying the arrival of Spring. From little buds blooming on the occasional plant, to lambs frolicking clumsily in the paddocks, there's been lots of awe, observation, and discussion of the changes amongst us. We've adorned our seasonal table with egg shells, a bird's nest, posies of flowers and other Spring treasures and have been spending lots more time outdoors in the garden and our surrounding area.

We had a great week in Sydney suburbs recently, exploring the bushwalking trails where my Gran lives. She's just alongside the Georges River and bought her home as a tiny shack for next to nothing, years ago on a couple of acres of fertile bushland. These days the house is much larger and more comfortable and the land is probably worth a mint, but she wouldn't dream of selling- we are so thankful for that, as her place is a true sanctuary for us, it's ''home''. I spent my first 4 years there as a child, and every school holidays after that, and have fantastic memories of wandering about with an old saucepan making ''witches stew'' in the bush. Water from the outside tap, a fist full of soil, a few strips of paper bark, an assortment of crushed-up leaves, a sprinkling of camelia petals, and a pinch of maiden hairfern for good measure (or fairy bubblegum, as we used to call it). Now my own kids are leading their own games and exploration, in what seems like a land of infinite possibility. Caves for hiding in, jutting rocks to climb, rainbow lorikeets, rosellas, king parrots and grass parrots to spot... exciting stuff!

Anyway, back to the bushwalking... we took quite a few photos of native Australian wildflowers in Sydney, and plan on taking some more in the bush near our own home, so we can compare the flora and see if we can spot the same species. We've decided to head to Borders this week and buy ourselves a book of native plants and a bird book (hopefully a couple of pairs of binoculars eventually too, as bird watching has become a shared interest.) Between myself and Gran we were able to label several of the natives on our walk but for some we had no clue, so Mr 4 and I have decided to do some research. Here are a few pics from our travels.

Hope to be back soon with more Spring adventures. Til then, take care.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Creature From The Deep

Woops, I've fallen off the blogging bandwagon again, this past few months has whizzed by! We've visited family rural New South Wales & Sydney, celebrated Ms 2's birthday with a party, attended attachment parenting group meets, homebirth group meets, and two blessingways! Plus lots of everyday fun inbetween, for good measure. Whilst it seems to be time for Winter hybernation for most, it's been pretty busy our neck of the woods.

Thought I'd post this picture of Eli dressing up as a swamp monster recently... his own idea and his own doing, I just helped with cutting out the googly eyes. Pretty scarey monster right? The dress-up box has been ''re-discovered'' and both kids have been having a blast trawling through it again of late. Occasionally I'll find a faux fur coat at the opshop or some sequined fabric scraps to toss in, the look on their faces when they discover new additions is priceless.

The kids so enjoyed spending time at the river in my hometown when we visited Poppy recently. Master 4 was amazed that the flotsam and jetsam in the tree branches was put there by flood waters several months back- the heights were more than double Poppy's height! We also paid a visit to the town cemetary that day, walking around at our leisure reading headstones. A visit to a cemetary means lots of questions I've discovered, why are there so many little graves? Why didn't medicine make the children better? Where is out family? Which one is your Daddy, Poppy? Etc. Both children showed such reverence there, I was surprised that my rather brief (and only, thus far) explaination of death seemed to touch them on such a level.
On a less sombre note, we're trying hard to budget for Unschooling Conference at the Gold Coast in September! It looks set to be a pretty amazing few days, with lots of chats, water play, craft, meeting others families.. fingers crossed we can make it I'm especially looking forward to hearing Dayna Martin from the USA speak about her family's experience unschooling. Dayna's youtube videos on the topic are some of the biggest early influences on my decision to persue unschooling.

Sending you all vegie-soup comfort during this bitterly cold weather, hope you're all warm and well!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Maths? Fun? Who'd Have Thought?

One of Mr 4's favourite things to do is cook up a storm (with a little help from me of course). He seems to have a very mathematical mind, and is drawn to any activity that involves substantial measuring, weighing or problem solving, so it wasn't a surprise that he was at my side in a flash today when I suggested we make ANZAC biscuits.

After washing hands and pulling up his stepping stool, Mr 4 measured out the ingredients as I read the steps of the recipe aloud. There were several taste tests of the golden syrup of course, just to ensure we were using quality ingredients! ;o) I observed how particular Mr 4 was with his measuring, how important it was to him to have each spoon and cup full perfectly level.

As we waited for our biscuits to bake, I thought about the way he memorises our local bus routes. His memory of numbers is quite amazing. He knows which number buses will take us to the city, and can spot the bus we catch most often (to the local shopping centre) from such a long distance- often he alerts me to get my ticket ready.

I also thought about the intensity he has when he is counting or organising his toys, whether by colour, size or shape. He sometimes creates ''trains'' out of Magnetix (magnetic ball and cylinder construction toys) spanning the toy room floor, matching the colours, and even going on to match figurines to the trains as passengers, according to the most dominant colour on their clothing!

A couple of days ago, he made a great castle from foam blocks- I'll attach a picture of it. I thought it was interesting that he worked out the friction between the blocks would hold the shapes in place, so he didn't limit himself by only stacking square or rectangular blocks. Curved and triangular blocks were all incorporated. Note the ordering of colour, in usual Mr 4 style!

I never thought I was interested in mathematics or science, but I'm learning that I just wasn't interested in school's version! I actually am interested, when it's at my own pace and I am learning in ways that are stimulating and intriguing. When I first observed Mr 4's interest in maths, I had a moment of fear and thought ''How on Earth can I facilitate his learning of something I am hopeless at, and find utterly boring.'' But I now realise, I am not the one who failed maths. If anything, school failed, and continues to fail me and millions of other children. Maths in the real world is different, and dare I say it, fun :) It's ok that I don't remember much of what I learned in maths class at school. It doesn't mean I am ill-equipped for this journey, there is no rule that says parents should know everything. I'm re-learning (or actually learning this time, rather than simply memorising short-term) alongside my children and I'm actually enjoying it.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Our lovely local bushland

We're lucky to live very close to a pretty vast area of rugged bushland with several walking trails and cycle ways throughout. We regularly go walking, or sometimes the kids ride their bikes, and we spot so many different kinds of birds and insects. After lunch today we decided it was the perfect weather for it so off we went.

Some of the bird calls you hear around this area are beautiful, and the birds often fly into our yard. We wake up to rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras and sulphur crested cockatoos either pecking at the bananas on our tree, or fossicking about in the yard for crumbs the kids have dropped.

During our walk today, Eli surprised me by saying ''I just heard a Whipbird Mummy.'' I'd never pointed out or discussed whipbirds with him before, so I asked where he'd heard / learned about them. He informed me his source was Hi-5, an episode where the characters pretended to be bush animals and made a song from different animal noises. I heard the drawn out call twice more, it was definately an Eastern Whipbird, but try as we might we couldn't spot our little feathered friend anywhere. We discovered later this isn't unusual- according to some later research, it's a shy bird more often heard than seen. And another interesting fact, the call you hear is often a duet between a male and female bird. The long note followed by the ''whip crack'' sound is the male, answered by the female's following notes!

We stopped for a drink and snack at a picnic area and once our ''batteries'' were recharged, I suggested we do some creepy crawly spotting- lifting up some fallen branches and bark to see what we could find. The kids excitedly agreed and almost immediately Eli discovered a fat witchetty grub (moth larva). He held it in his flat palm and watched it wriggle, apparently it felt ticklish. I told Eli that Aboriginal people eat Witchetty grubs, and I have heard they taste like chicken! Unsurprisingly he wasn't keen for a taste himself, and gently placed the grub back beneath his woody shelter. Some later reading told us that Witchetty grubs are named after the Witchetty bush in Central Australia, which they feed on. But in our area, they feed on the roots of River Red Gum, and they are also the larva of a different type of moth than the ones in Central Aus.

Lovely weather at the moment as Summer turns to Autumn... still the sunshine but with a nice breeze. Lots more bushwalks ahead for us! If anyone else in Newcastle is interested, Kahibah Public School has a website with some great info on the local walks and cycleways (history etc) and other cool environmental stuff in Newcastle (this blog site won't let me copy and paste the web address, so please Google Kahibah Public School, and click on ''links'' the ''Kahibah & environs''.)

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cornflour Goop

I'm sure most homeschoolers have tried this out, the old favourite- cornflour goop! We've done it a few times now (including today), and although both my kids start off tentatively, it only takes minutes before they're dripping their hands into the ooey gooey goop with reckless abandon.

The cool thing about this is, that if you touch it firmly, it feels firm, but if you touch it slowly/gently, it seems more fluid, and will run through your fingers! Just in case some readers haven't tried it, I thought I would share the ''how to'' along with a few pics, once I figure out how to attach pics to my blog posts.

All you need is 1 packet of cornflour, and 1 cup of water, plus a few drops of food colouring. You can double or triple this amount, depending on the number of kids participating. Just mix all ingredients in a bit bowl or tray- I'd recommend you do it outdoors, with good access to a hose or tap! Thankfully it rinses off really easily.

Here is the physics on the goop, taken from
''On a microscopic level, the goop consists of small starch particles,
packed close together. Seperating the particles is a thin layer of water that
acts like grease- allowing the particles to slide across each other and
move around, as long as they move slowly. So when you push your fingers slowly
into the goop, the starch slides out of the way, allowing your fingers to slide
in easily. In this situation, the fluid applies viscous drag to the grains,
gently slowing their motion. However, if you try to smash your fist in quickly,
the starch tries to move faster than the water can accomodate and grains come
into contact. Now, the much stronger force of static friction acts between the
grains- as long as they are being pushed together, there is force preventing
them from sliding across each other, and the harder they are pushed together,
the stronger the friction force is!

Almost instantly, long columns of starch grains are pushed together- a
chain reaction of jammed particles that are held together by the stress you're
applying and the frictional forces that stop them from slipping sideways under
your hand like they did when you moved slowly. This ''jamming'' leads to ''force
chains'' through the goop. While the stress is applied, these force chains can
last essentially forever because of the static friction. Releasing the stress
allows the structures to break down, returning to it's fluid-like state.

We're Back!

Wow, after my first and only blog post, I have neglected our poor blog for several months! With the holiday period, traveling, some family upheaval etc we fell off the radar and are only starting to get back involved with our local social and support groups again now. It's good to be ''back!'' I've really enjoyed reconnecting with friends, as have Mr 4 and Ms 1.

We've had a tumultuous few months, alot has happened. Despite my first blog post where I was brimming with confidence about the decision to stay school-free, I found myself losing that confidence and beginning to re-consider school after all. Firstly because my ex partner wasn't very supportive of the idea of home ed in general, especially not natural/life/open learning, and the few times I had raised the discussion it had become quite heated. I didn't think I was up for the ''fight'' it may take to actually be able to go this route.

Also I received a few negative comments from well-meaning friends and family members. The positive reactions to our news were few, and I'm sure it's no coincidence those doubts got to me more when I hadn't caught up with other home ed families in a while! Without community, there's less inspiration, less encouragement, less affirmation, all those things that help self-belief and commitment flourish.

So in view of compromising with my ex partner (his first choice was a private Catholic school) we went and had a look around at a Steiner school in the area. I decided that if we *were* going to go the school route, I wanted for my children a school that would facililate a gentle transition for them, where they could perhaps start a few days a week, rather than the whole 5 day week most schools insist apon from the start. I wanted a school that could offer flexibility and as much freedom and independence as possible, one that promoted respectful, non-violent communication, and approached the child in a holistic way (eg recognised all her/his needs- emotional, physical, spiritual) as being valid and deserving of being nurtured. From the little reading I had done on Waldorf education, I had hope that this kind of school could offer those things. I was also drawn to the focus on using natural materials, and lots of open-ended activities and honouring the seasons and natural environment, as this alligns very much with our beliefs and home life.

The school was aesthetically beautiful, in a lovely bush setting with communal gardens and animals, and the teacher was pleasant, but intuitively I just knew that it wasn't for us. What they offered in kindergarten, in way of activities and materials, were all wholesome but very basic and limited compared to what Mr 4 is used to at home. Eg baking bread each day, wooden blocks, and beeswax crayons. They discouraged the use of computers and the viewing of tv (by children) and although they encouraged time outdoors, the play area was about the size of our yard, and the activities smaller/fewer still. I was hoping that perhaps they could offer rich and wonderful activities that I may not be able to offer at home, especially as a single parent with no car.

But visiting the school affirmed that we are already on the right path- and there's no need to fix something that isn't broken! I realised that Mr 4 does actually live a rich life, and our days are colourful and fun! Despite having no car, therefore being somewhat limited with bad weather or events that are too far away, we still go on outings most days, and as a matter of fact public transport has *opened* doors for us. We've had some interesting chats about what different road and bus safety signs say and mean, why some seats are modified for wheelchair access, counting money for our tickets etc, and we've practised courtesy and politeness many times a week purely through interactions with fellow passengers and the bus/train drivers.

I realised that the wonderful ideas that initially attracted me to Waldorf, I can still utilise and incorporate into our days at home. Unfortunately he will miss out on forming friendships and relationships with the lovely people at the Steiner school, but through our daily life together, he has formed the above with some wonderful people he may have missed out on getting to know had he been in school/preschool.

I realised that this is really the life I want for my children, they are safe, happy, secure and learning all the time in a variety of environments. So yes, this IS worth fighting for!

So, as I said, we've been back involved in groups again, reading books on natural learning, becoming inspired all over again. I broached the discussion with my ex partner once again in a relaxed way and invited him along to meet some fellow home ed families, and to my surprise he accepted the invite. I think meeting them, albeit briefly, his preconceived ideas/stereotypes have been challenged and he was pleasantly surprised. Not all home ed families are religious, not all are special needs, and not all have social difficulties, and not all are ''weirdos''. We're a diverse bunch, and I will quote another hom ed parent ''we each have our own brand of weirdness!'' Haha.

Feeling once again optimistic and excited about our life together, and about the fact that our local natural learners group is flourishing. I look forward to being part of a dynamic community, and for my children to have playmates that range in age and background. Hurrah!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Full Steam Ahead!

Wow, here we are officially (or have offically planned to stay) a school-free family! And I'm happy to be jumping on the blogging bandwagon at last, posting about one of my favourite topics- learning. Oh woops, before I get carried away, I had better introduce the afforementioned family (members) to you :) I'm Blogmum, solo parent to Mr Four and Ms One.

After thoughtfully investigating many avenues of education for Mr Four since his birth, I'm confident unschooling is the best way to go, not only for Mr Four but for our entire family. It's a relief to have made the commitment, now I feel I can relax and enjoy the continuum of our family life. Looking forward to the continuing opportunities for fun, interest and adventure... as I'm sure loads more await us!

I use the term unschooling because ''homeschooling'' and ''home education''' implies that all learning happens at home, that it happens via a teacher/student dynamic, and that it's like school-like in structure. None of the above are true for us. What we do together doesn't replicate school in any way.

Human beings are learning at every moment, and I believe learning happens naturally, so with that in mind I see my role as a facilitator or guide rather than a teacher. It's humbling to say to my kids openly and honestly ''I don't know the answer to that question, but how about we find out together?'' Choosing life learning doesn't mean I perceive myself to be ''above'' university-trained teachers. It means that I trust my kids to learn at their own pace, and in their own ways, and I think it's ok for them to know that no one person has all the skills or answers. We live in a country where we are lucky to have access to excellent resources- individuals, libraries, the internet, nature reserves, education centres, museums, dvds, television programs, workshops and more, so we make great use of these and will continue to do so.

By chosing life learning for our family, I want my children to be able to experience as much of their world as possible. There's a common misconception that most home educating families do so for religious reasons, or to control their child. I certainly don't, nor do the local families I know who have decided to unschool. I feel that by having the freedom to learn from many different people, and in many places, my children will have richer lives.

I think unschooling is especially optimal for Mr Four who is shy and intimidated by group situations. He takes quite a while to warm up and feel comfortable with new people, and that's with me there supporting him. I believe sending him to school alone, for 5 days per week at this time, would be ultimately damaging. His independence is growing slowly, but I see my role as nurturing that in a gentle way, rather than pushing him into frightening experiences.

I learn alongside my kids because I'm inspired to do so, and in turn, our experiences inspire me to continue. I look forward to blogging about our lives and reading about the lives of others, to keep record of the wonderful things we get up to (for personal and registration purposes) but also to help build a strong, supportive network of unschoolers in Australia, and even world wide.

Until next time, wishing you all joyous learning with your families!