The Masterchef

It’s been a while since my last post. Life just happens, doesn’t it? Miss 5 is nearly Miss 6, and is busy making plans for her upcoming birthday. Miss 1 seems to be constantly cutting teeth, and Miss 3 is all of a sudden much more interested in the world around her. She is also entering the stage of non-stop questions that 3 year olds seem to be famous for. Among other things, Miss 5 and I have been entertaining ourselves with the latest Masterchef series on television, and that inspired last weeks Feast Day 😊

I discovered cooking later in life. I grew up in a household where cooking and food were not a priority. I mean this in as much as cooking and eating a meal was viewed as a chore that had to be done rather than something fun or joyous. I guess cooking just wasn’t on the list of passions for my parents, which is fine, but it meant that moving into my teens and twenties, I carried the same attitude.
As Husband and I grew older, our love of food developed, and as our wages grew, so did our appreciation of good food. Truth to tell, we ate out nearly every night, as cooking was still viewed as a “chore”. When Miss 5 came along, and I gave up work, we quickly realised, if we wanted the same type of meals that we had become used to, then I would have to cook them myself 😀 So Miss 5 has lived in a household where I am in the kitchen all the time. She has seen me trying recipes, having triumphs, having miserable failures (😂), she has tasted, and stirred and “helped” me in the kitchen since the day she was born. My learning in this area, has been closely watched and mimicked by her, and as I have discovered a passion for fresh, quality produce and putting together a delicious meal, so has she. When she talks about what she wants to be when she grows up, it is usually a scientist and a chef 😊

A few weeks ago, Miss 5 learned that her Granny was going to America to visit family for a whole month. Miss 5 was a little upset at this, as she loves her Granny, and she came to me and asked if she could do something nice for Granny before she left for the States. Her idea was to cook a “feast”. As Miss 5 discussed her plans with me, she got incredibly excited. She got that look in her eyes, you know the one? That look that means they have just ignited a little fire in their hearts, and the only thing you can do is say yes, and then stand back and watch in amazement 😍

We watched an episode of Masterchef where Heston Blumenthal (a big hit because he is a chef and a scientist!), did a class on how to roast the perfect chicken and potatoes, along with a gravy, and Miss 5 decided this would be the main course. Miss 5 also decided that she would like to add a salad, cauliflower au gratin, and garlic bread. Dessert was to be a chocolate trifle, as she had heard the term, but did not know what it was. When I described a trifle pudding to her, Miss 5 was determined to make one and see if it tasted as good as it sounded.

Miss 5 decided on the menu, she helped write the recipes down, she helped do the shopping for the day, she made menus to put on the table, for the dinner guests. She set the table herself, she decided how the meal was to be served (she wanted the food piled high in the middle of the table Hogwarts Style 😉), and she helped devise a timeline for the day, to make sure that we didn’t forget anything, and that all of the food would be ready at the same time. It was a big day for her, and a day of a lot of hard work. Most adults would be worn out after literally spending ALL day in the kitchen, never mind a 5 year old child. But not only did she do it, but she did it with such enthusiasm and care. I, of course, did all of the heavy lifting and moving of dishes in and out of the oven, but otherwise, Miss 5 did the lot! Stirring, cutting, peeling, chopping! She was amazing! To give you an idea of the amount of work, here is a quick run down of the day;

– she made a stock from scratch, for the base of the gravy.
– she cut up an entire head of cauliflower and par boiled it.
– she made a trifle pudding (she had made the jelly the night before to make sure it was set in time).
– she peeled, cut and par boiled 10 potatoes
– she cleaned, brined and rinsed 2 whole chickens
– she made the cheese sauce for the Au Gratin
– she peeled and sliced vegetables for the garden salad
– she made a garlic and herb butter for the garlic bread, and then made the garlic bread
– she glazed and stuffed the chickens, ready for cooking
– she roasted the potatoes
– she made the gravy, from scratch, with her own stock
– she made me menus for the table
– she set the table
– she started cooking the stock at 9am, and she served her feast at 6pm
– oh, and she also made her own “chefs hat” out of paper 😂

I don’t think Granny and Grandad realised just how much of the credit belonged to Miss 5. As it was truly her day, all I did was facilitate and lift the heavy stuff!
The look on her face when everyone ate her food, and complimented her on a job well done, was just priceless. There was so much pride in her eyes, and I know for certain that she has found a passion, and a life skill, that will follow her for all of her days. As a mother, there is nothing I treasure more, than moments like these.

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So, what do you guys DO all day?

If there’s one question I get asked more than any others, it’s “so what do you actually do all day?” I usually answer with “We live our life”, but sometimes, especially for those who don’t quite “get” what we’re doing, it can be a little hard to understand how living life is actually learning, and how a natural life-education can be related back to the strict confines of a school curriculum. So I thought I’d do a little “day in the life” kind of thing, except our days are so varied in experiences and we don’t really have a strong routine, so I changed it to a weekly snapshot. This is basically how we spend our days, and how I link it back to the curriculum in order to report to the Department of Education. And yes, I do get rather creative when I’m ticking those boxes 😉

Monday
Last Monday was a public holiday here, so we had Husband home with us. I cleaned the house and stayed inside most of the day, to let the girls spend some time with their Dad, one on one. They helped him in the garden, raking leaves and pulling weeds. In our home, we view this as socialising too. Learning conflict resolution, open and honest communication and fostering a healthy relationship, between family members is just as, if not more, important than doing so with strangers, acquaintances and friends. Learning respect, honesty, compassion, empathy and loyalty starts at home. During the afternoon I implement what I call “quiet time”. Miss 1 obviously naps in the middle of the day, and it wasn’t all that long ago when Miss 3 did the same. So for a couple of hours after lunch, in order to allow the baby to sleep, the girls pick a quiet activity that they would like to do. Sometimes they watch TV, sometimes Miss 5 does Reading Eggs or Maths Seeds, sometimes they paint or draw, sometimes they actually choose to have a lay down. As long as it’s a quiet, calm activity, they please themselves. This particular day Miss 5 made some noise about being bored – on a side note, Husband and I refuse to control or structure every minute of the day for the girls. We feel that “being bored” is a healthy part of a learning environment. “Being bored” will encourage a child to think for herself, to act for herself, to practice initiative and get creative. One of the problems with school for young children, is the level of structure. So much so that, after a time, they don’t know how to entertain themselves without someone telling them what to do – so after a little while of being bored, Miss 5 decided to build a rocket ship. She picked up some loose bolts, screws, bits of wire and odds and ends from the garage, wrapped a bottle in foil and added her bits and bobs to it. Today we ticked a box for socialising, science, health, physical exercise (in the garden with Daddy), as well as science, art, design and tech (building the rocket ship).

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Tuesday
As with most state schools, the local primary school had a pupil free day, after the public holiday. Miss 5s best friend comes from a family where both parents work, so to help them out – and because she’s adorable and we love her – Bestie spent the day with us on Tuesday, while her folks were at work. There was lots of cuddles and giggles and general, secret best friend business 🙂 They rode their bikes and jumped on the trampoline (physical exercise and socialisation), they also painted pictures for each other, writing their friends names on their paintings (art and english), they made and decorated their own cupcakes (science, art and health), did a variety of jigsaw puzzles (maths, science, design and tech), and in the afternoon, as we were waiting for Besties mum to arrive, Miss 5 showed off her sewing and embroidery. She then gathered some aida cloth and some embroidery thread for Bestie and showed her how to stitch (which is not only a tick for art, design and tech, as well as developing fine motor skills, but is also a fabulous example of applied knowledge 🙂 )

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Wednesday
Wednesday mornings are kept open for swimming lessons. We are lucky enough to have a local swim school that has classes for all three girls, running at the same time. It makes life so much easier for us. This Wednesday we were a little bit more relaxed than usual, as I was feeling a bit off – all three girls as well as Husband have been down with a nasty clod over the last couple of weeks, and I’m struggling to keep it at bay – so after swimming, we had lunch and Miss 1 and I had a little nap, while Miss 3 played outside and Miss 5 did some reading eggs, and Maths seeds (physical exercise – swimming – as well as English, maths and digital media).

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Thursday
Every second Thursday we get together with a small group of local homeschooling families, all with children roughly the same age and all who are fairly new to this life. It’s a great opportunity for the parents to chat and share ideas or thoughts, or brainstorm and get advice, and it’s nothing but pure play for the kids. They take their bikes, or scooters, they play in the sandpit, they run around like puppies, and while there is the obligatory playground there, there are also trees to climb, a lake to paddle in and ducks to watch/chase/feed (And while we go there with no agenda, no structure and no plan on what will be done, or even how long we’ll stay, for the purpose of reporting I’ll tick off the obvious physical exercise, health and socialisation, as well as design and tech (building in the sandpit) and science (ducks/tadpoles/trees/lakes 😉 ).

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Friday
Friday, Miss 5 decided she was done with her “space theme”, and she wanted to move on. She decided she is moving on to Dinosaurs. This is fabulous news for me, as, when she was Miss 3, she was dinosaur crazy. I have so much on hand in the way of resources, toys, puzzles, games, documentaries, movies, iPad apps and knowledge that I acquired, I really don’t need to research at all!! Watching her when she was 3 was actually the first time I really considered homeschooling her. As I saw first hand just how much information – actual valid, credible and incredible information – could be learned by someone who was so passionate and wholly immersed in what they were learning about. So Miss 5 spent Friday putting away all of her space related books and paraphernalia, and going around the house collecting up all of her dinosaur related items. She also came up with the idea of a dinosaur diorama (she calls it a stage). She found some cardboard cutouts of different dinosaurs and put them together, then cut up a cardboard box, taping into a shape that she was happy with, after that was done, she asked me to scribe the “master plan” so we would know what craft supplies we would need. Miss 5 has determined, that while she is learning about dinosaurs, she will make the diorama her major artwork, instead of doing lots of little art pieces. She also added some more to her embroidery. She is stitching a cross stitch picture, that she plans on adding to some cotton quarters, given to her by a friend of mine, that will eventually become a blanket for Miss 1. (So today we have science, english, design and tech and art – dinosaurs – and design and tech, art and maths – sewing and cross stitch)

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Saturday
Miss 5 and Miss 3 went to a pyjama party disco/movie night with Miss 5s musical theatre and dance school on Friday night, and it was a late night for both of them, so we kept Saturday clear for the recovery, which was just as well, as everybody slept in! I also had plans for a night out with some girlfriends of mine, Saturday night, and Husband was preparing for a trip away for work this week, so Saturday was spent very low key, in our PJs, on the couch and having naps. And I probably could link it to something, but I’m not. Let’s call it what it was, a lazy day off 😉

Sunday
To treat the girls before he is away for a week, Husband agreed to take us to the art gallery on Sunday morning – another aside here, we aren’t pretentious about teaching our children, we don’t do lessons on things like the 20th century Surrealist movement, or Beethoven’s fifth. But we do expose them. We make sure that they regularly see different art. Sometimes we talk about it, sometimes we don’t. I play music all day, sometimes classical, sometimes opera, sometimes punk 😉 The girls hear it, and sometimes they comment, sometimes it’s just background noise. The point is that they have that exposure, and hopefully, when they’re ready, it will lead them to more – so we took a little wander around (art and english) and then we had sushi for lunch at the girls’ favourite Japanese restaurant (geography – talking about Japan and where it is – health and science). The park where we have our homeschool play dates just happens to be around the corner from the Japanese restaurant, so after lunch they had a grand old time running around, playing chasing games with Mummy 🙂 and playing on the playground. And, of course, they ended the day with their feet in the lake and a tree climb (PE, health, science), perfect.

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Monday
There are so many resources and activities available to homeschooling families here in WA. If I were to book everything that was open to us, we’d never be home! Everything from the WA Symphony Orchestra putting on specific performances, to the local ice skating rink allocating a time, and a discount, for homeschoolers. Monday we participated in a session run by the Department of Fisheries, specifically for homeschooled children. The children were able to see the tanks and displays in the departments office, as well as view (in Miss 5s words) “real live scientists” in their labs, going about their business. They were then taken into a room where they discussed what the department did, and how important it is to ensure the protection of our oceans. They were given large tubs of flotsam and jetsam collected from the beach and, in groups, they categorised what they had found. We rounded the lesson off with a trip to the WA aquarium, AQWA, just around the corner. (Science, maths, english, geography).

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Some of the things that aren’t listed here, are things like the reading eggs and maths seeds programs, which Miss 5 does every second day or so. Our reading time, which happens always before bed, and often while they are eating breakfast or lunch or as their “quiet time” activity. Also every Monday I do an exercise class for mothers with small children. The children all play together in the same room, while the mums do a circuit workout. Obviously Miss 5 is the eldest, but she still has fun playing with the little kids and occasionally she joins in on the Circuit with me, which is really great! She also does a musical theatre class on Monday nights, with her bestie, and has, just tonight, informed me that she would like to trial a martial arts class. It’s worth mentioning that we have signed up for some homeschool design and tech classes run by the local Bunnings Hardware, one of which we have tomorrow where the children will build items out of clay, as well as some puppet shows run by the Fremantle theatre company. The most important thing, I think, that is worth mentioning is every two weeks (alternating with the homeschool play day) we meet up with two other families for our newly formed, but much adored, homeschool co-op. The three families have very similar views and very similar ways of learning, so we get together once a fortnight, and offer the children an outing that we think they would enjoy. As parents, we help facilitate the children’s learning experiences, but for the most part, they forge their own path and always come away from the day with something. We have done bush walks, nature play, and a trip to th Landsdale Farm school – which I’ve mentioned before and is one of our favourite places to go. This Friday we are visiting the Children’s Forest in Whiteman Park, where we will endeavour to see how many of the 50 activities we can tick off.

As cheesy as it sounds, we truly are living a very blessed life at the moment 🙂

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A big week in science

Miss 5 has always had a very strong interest in science. She comes from a family of like minded people. There are numerous nurses, a scientist, a geologist, a doctor, a couple of engineers and a high school science teacher in our extended family. Added to this Husband is an engineer and a lifetime ago I started a degree in forensic pathology, so I guess the foundations for Miss 5s interest were always there. Husband and I have always encouraged her to test things, pull things apart to see how they work, experiment and think for herself, rather than give her the answers.

(On a side note, I think it’s amusing that when she was 3 and we did this, we were encouraging and nurturing parents, but now that she’s 5, and “should be in school”, the same people think that we’re “not qualified”). 😉

Miss 5 thoroughly enjoys hands on experiments, and loves nothing more than to “do science” with her sister. And the more theatrical, the better. Because, she’s 5 😀
So we try to incorporate some kind of science based lesson at least once a week. This may be gardening in the veggie patch, where they maintain, fertilise, weed, prune and harvest the plants. It may be finding and catching or observing creatures in the backyard. So far there has been Charlotte the Orb Weaver, two frogs, bees, a spider wasp, cabbage moths (they kept a caterpillar inside a container and watched it build it’s chrysalis and then turn into a moth), and our resident bob tail lizard. They have made crystals and also have a microscope that is often pulled out – and hopefully in the next 12 months we can think about buying Miss 5 her first chemistry set. Miss 5 has a few apps on the iPad that are science based lessons, one in particular My Incredible Body has been a huge hit, and there is usually some way to include something scientific in most of her units of study, if we aren’t already doing it in everyday life.
Keeping in mind that she is 5 and her sister is 3, so we’re not talking quantum physics here, but rather a real world focus on their bodies, the world they live in, how it works, how it grows, and why, as well as giving them the foundations for a life of critical thinking. I want my daughters to be able to think and form an opinion based on facts, and to have the confidence and the ability to question everything.

Sometimes, however, we like to “do science” just for the sake of doing it. Not to tie it in with a lesson, not to underline something that she’s been talking about or thinking about. But for no other reason, than it’s fun. And their smiles and giggles and gasps are just awesome to watch 🙂 So that’s exactly what we did this week.
I get a non-related, weekly delivery that happens to include a small bag of dry ice. So this week, we had some fun with it 😀

With the girls’ help, I set up a couple of dishes, one with warm water and blue food colouring, the other with milk and pink food colouring. We talked about solids, liquids and gasses, and Miss 5 learned that the fog or “smoke” they could see was water vapour mixed with carbon dioxide. She already knows about carbon dioxide, as she knows this is what we breathe out and what trees breathe in. With our previous experiments, Miss 5 is familiar with the terms like observation, hypothesis and conclusion. She initially observed that the ice in the warm water was bubbling and smoking more than the ice in the milk, which was basically doing nothing. Her hypothesis was that the dry ice worked better when it was in warm or hot liquid. She tested this by boiling the kettle and adding hot water to the cold milk. Which set the dry ice off, bubbling and smoking like crazy. I introduced her to a new term viscosity and we talked about whether the viscosity of a liquid might change the way the dry ice reacted. Miss 5 went running to the pantry to find something thicker than milk. She came back with a bottle of olive oil, and then observed that the olive oil didn’t cause the ice to smoke, but it did start to emulsify (or in Miss 5s words “it looks like it’s starting to freeze the oil and make it go hard!)

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Once this avenue of playing with the dry ice had lost it’s shine, we packed away the dishes, and I showed the girls how to make a Dry Ice Bubble Machine! We used a large plastic tumbler, a length of rubber hose, a small funnel, a plastic bag and a bowl of “bubble mixture” – which was just some dish soap mixed with warm water. We poked a small hole through the plastic bag and fed the hose through it, sealing it with sticky tape. We then attached the funnel to one end of the hose, which became the “bubble end”. I added some dry ice and hot water into the tumbler and quickly put that inside the plastic bag, making sure the end of the hose was in the glass, but not in the water. The gas flowed down the hose and out of the funnel, which, when dipped into the bubble mixture, blew smoke filled bubbles. Miss 5 spent a good 10 minutes coming up with theories about these bubbles. From “I think that you could hold them in your hand, without them popping” to ” I think once you popped them, there would be a big cloud of smoke inside”. Some of her theories were wrong, and some were spot on. She had a ball playing with the bubble machine and consequently we burnt through the entire stock of dry ice doing it 😀

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With our dry ice gone, and a little bit of milk left over, I decided to do one last experiment with them. It is one that I have done with Miss 5 before, when she was either 3 or 4, so I figured she wouldn’t quite remember it and would enjoy doing it again. Miss 3 had never seen it before, so she enjoyed it immensely. In a dish I poured some milk, the girls then added half a dozen drops of every colour food colouring they could find in our pantry. They then took turns adding squirts of dish soap. The dish soap reduces the surface tension of the milk and the effect is the swirling and churning of the colours. It looks like tie-dyed milk! Miss 3 claimed it looked like “a beautiful blue sea” 🙂

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All in all, it was a fabulous morning. Miss 5 learned some new words and had a ball doing her science class. Miss 3, who still has a limited attention span, sat at the table and watched or participated when she felt like it, and when she didn’t, she floated off into the next room and did her own thing. We are lucky enough to have some actively supportive friends and family, one of which is a science teacher here in Perth. She is wonderful enough to email me examples of “kitchen science” experiments to try with Miss 5. We have a few saved up now, and Miss 5 is very much looking forward to next time 🙂

The Solar System and the “S” word

Miss 5 has been involving herself in all things space, this week. She has made a model of the Solar System, which is now hanging from the ceiling in our back room. She has read books, drawn pictures, labeled diagrams, and sung songs. Miss 3 has learned by osmosis and can now also tell me the names of all the planets 🙂 If you follow our facebook page you can find a video of Miss 5 talking about the solar system, and some of the facts she has learned.
We took a drive out to The Gravity Discovey Centre a couple of days ago. We went on a small tour of the centre and then spent some time playing with the interactive exhibits, and going on the solar system walk (as well as indulging in a chocolate ice cream cone 😉 ). And while our day didn’t pan out exactly as we had hoped, we are, all of us, keen to go back another day, and next time take Husband too. The space theme seems to be sticking around for now. There are daily questions from Miss 5, that send us to you tube or google for answers. As a unit of study, there are endless avenues to pursue, and Miss 5s curiosity is the perfect motivation.

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There is one thing that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I wanted to share it. It’s a probably going to turn into a little bit of a philosophical rambling, but I’ll try to keep it at least coherent 🙂 It’s about socialisation. The “S” word is such a big part of homeschooling. It’s the first thing that we worry about when we are entertaining the idea of homeschooling, and we don’t know any better. It’s the first stone people throw, when they don’t agree with our choice to homeschool, and it is the first concern that our loved ones have, when they are trying to support our choice, but don’t quite understand it. There is a phrase that I have heard or read, almost daily, since we have started schooling Miss 5 at home, and that is “forced association, is NOT socialisation” and the meaning behind that is basically, putting 25-30 children into a room together and expecting them to “socialise” with nothing more in common than their date of manufacture, is not necessarily conducive to teaching children how to interact meaningfully with others. I’m still sitting on the fence as far as that goes, after all I did make many life long friends at school. But I have made just as many, if not more, meaningful connections outside of school. And it’s that, that I have been pondering the last few weeks, and it’s that, that I want to explain to the friends and family (hi Dad x) who read this blog. I want Miss 5 to learn how to interact with people in a meaningful way. I want her to be able to connect with people and forge friendships based on trust, and respect and compassion, and common interests. I want these things for her, and at first I was worried that being away from hundreds of children in a school would hinder that, but I have come to the realisation that it has no impact at all.

There is a large number of people, Husband included, who say that school was a place of torture. Full of bullies and mercurial social rules that, if broken, would result in being painfully ostracised. In fact, most people that I speak to are quick to say that they either don’t see anyone that they went to school with, or they only see a few people that they went to school with. I have made some amazing friends over the last few years, and apart from one, the most awesome connections were NOT made in school, or with people I knew from school.

So if we are all capable of forging relationships outside of a classroom setting, why is it so many people insist that this is the only way to learn how to interact with other humans? I’m about to get a little sappy, but here is the reason I’m not worried anymore;
When I think of the people who have touched me the most over the last few years I am floored by how lucky I am to have the friendships in my life that I have. I picture my dearest friend, my go-to-girl when I am sad or scared or lonely or celebrating. The amazing woman who has been in my life for more than half of it, who I can call my family as well as my friend, and who is very much my hero. I think of the funny lady that I met only once, but have been “friends” with for 5 years now, on Facebook. I have enjoyed watching her children grow, and I look forward to reading her posts and love the fact that she always makes me laugh, and I know that one day we will share a bottle of wine and giggle about our friendship as internet stalkers 😀 I think about the amazing group of women who came to my rescue when I lost my baby. They came with food and flowers and prayers, and held me when I cried, and I can never repay them for the kindness they have shown me. I think of the time when Miss 1 was born, almost 8 weeks early, and I found myself in hospital, with her in NICU, on the eve of Miss 3s second birthday. I remember the wonderful woman who knew how guilty I felt at not having a present or a cake for my little one, and how she baked a cake and bought a gift and left it on our doorstep for Husband to find, so that there was something for our little Miss to open in the morning. There is my lovely friend in Canada, who I have not seen in person for more than 15 years, who put together a box of Canadian treasures and posted it for Miss 5 and Miss 3 to explore. And most recently there is my new friend, who is also embarking on this little adventure with her son. She is smart and friendly and recognises the need for humans to be surrounded by like minded people, and in doing so has given myself and some other equally as smart, warm and new-to-homeschooling families, the opportunity to create a community and a support network for each other. I think of these amazing people and how my interactions with them are watched closely by my daughters and I know that the “S” word is really no big deal. Daily, my girls are surrounded by people who demonstrate kindness, compassion, intelligence, strength, tolerance, love, helpfulness and caring, and what better way to learn than that?
Miss 5 has a best friend. She is a gorgeous little girl with a huge heart. They do musical theatre together and see each other at least once a week. Miss 5 also has a special friendship with the daughters of a long time friend of Husbands. Again they don’t see each other every day, but they do see each other regularly. She has a particular soft spot for the 3 year old son of a friend of mine, who let’s her paint his nails, and is always super excited when she finds out she will be seeing him. And now she is making some real friends within our little homeschooling community, children who she asks after and enjoys playing with, and shares common interests with. I’m watching her forge friendships of her own, that are as meaningful to her as mine are to me, and I’m no longer worried.

I’m not interested in offering her the type of “socialising” that results in 1000 friends on Facebook. I’m not interested in offering her the type of “socialising” that has rules designed to segregate, and humiliate. I’m not interested in offering her the type of “socialising” that teaches shallow behaviour, bullying and spitefulness. I’m interested in offering Miss 5 the type of socialising that will set her up for a lifetime of support, caring, mutual respect and friendship, and she would not be in a better position to witness more meaningful interactions in a school.

And we are very, very lucky people 🙂

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A little history lesson

Many years ago I was an English Lit major at Uni. I’ve always had a love of reading and a love of words, and a love of how stories are told, in whatever form this takes. I’ve always tried to encourage this in my girls, and so far I’ve been well rewarded. The two eldest both have voracious appetites for books and stories, and hopefully Miss 1 will follow in their foot steps. Our formal lessons focus on practicing reading, sight words, practicing writing letters as well as drawing patterns to help towards pencil grip and letter formation. But the girls learning, the important stuff – the good stuff 🙂 – includes me reading out loud to them (and we do this A LOT). We also sing and use the story stones that we made (the stones have pictures on them, and we take turns pulling a stone out of a bag and incorporating whatever is pictured into our story) which is great for strengthening the imagination and emphasising oral skills with traditional storytelling.
I have been thinking, lately, that I would like to introduce poetry to the girls and I decided to start with the Australian classic, Waltzing Matilda. This is a poem written by Banjo Paterson that was later put to music. There is not an Australian anywhere in the world who can’t belt out a chorus of Waltzing Matilda with pride. It has always been one of my very favourites and, embarrassingly, never fails to make me a little teary!
Introducing Waltzing Matilda to both Miss 5 and Miss 3 has opened up discussions and opportunities for learning that I didn’t expect, and it has been a great week of talking about, not only the words of the song and their meaning, but things like the tone and tempo of the music that it’s set to – Miss 5 and I both agree that the song should be sung slowly and meaningfully rather than like a happy hoedown 😀 – as well as more philosophical topics like did the swagman do the wrong thing by stealing the sheep, and does it make him a bad person (when the story is put into historical context)? It has been a fabulous introduction to Australian history, as we have talked about the discovery of Australia. The colonisation of Australia and how tough life would have been. We have talked about convicts, free men, the economy and the role of women in the colonial period. And, if I’m being honest, listening to my babies sing Waltzing Matilda has been a daily delight for me 😀

To support our talks and singing, I showed the girls how to make Damper Bread. Miss 5 and Miss 3 made a damper roll each, while we talked about the need to have a filling bread that was both inexpensive and easy to make on the road. We used the recipe below, and while damper is traditionally made over an open fire, they did a fine job using the oven.

1 and 1/2 cups self raising flour
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
A good pinch of salt
Combine flour and salt. Add butter and rub between fingers until it resembles bread crumbs. Add milk and on knead into a dough. Cook in a preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius, for 30 minutes or until golden.

As a great stroke of luck, a festival was held in the WA town of Toodyay, celebrating the escapades and antics of a bushranger who plied his trade in the local area, moondyne Joe. Hearing that this festival was taking place, we made the hour long trip, west, to Toodyay. Miss 5 and Miss 3 were treated to a taste of all things colonial. There were street performers reciting bush poetry, singers with their guitars, a pipe band, a man playing the didgeridoo (an indigenous musical instrument), and some dancers. There were also reenactments of Moondyne Joe’s arrest, trial and subsequent escape, with audience participation, which just tickled Miss 5 :D. Miss 5 spent quite a while in the “colonial village” that was set up. She particularly enjoyed the blacksmiths workshop where she watched the Smithy making a handle for the billy can, and the general store where she was able to see old fashioned irons, milk jugs and a Coolgardie safe. She had a ball measuring out potatoes on the scales too.
Miss 5 has really enjoyed learning Waltzing Matilda and all that has come with it, and I think we’ve opened a door that will enable us to introduce more history and more poetry to her learning.
We are about to start a new chapter book, and Miss 5 is determined that the next subject that we will learn about is space. She has already committed the planets to memory and can tell me a little fact about each one, which is just astounding to me. She is like a little sponge. I have also registered her for Reading Eggs and Maths Seeds, as they seem to be ideal for her as a supplement to her formal work. Combined with sports class, musical theatre, swimming lessons and a couple of homeschool co-op classes we’re looking at getting involved in, we’ve got a busy few weeks coming up 😀

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A guest post; by Miss 5

Generally we don’t adhere to a timetable of weekday, weekend and school holiday. Generally we follow a schedule of our own making, and recognise that learning takes place at anytime of the day or night, and we seek opportunities to learn or teach whenever they are presented to us. In April, however, circumstances were such that we decided to have a rest from school, when everyone else was having their school holidays as well. This meant that resuming our “school work” coincides with the return to school for those in the mainstream, and the beginning of Term 2.
Today I was able to take an hour and reorganise my office, and run through what we have achieved and covered in the last 4 months. This gave me a pretty good indication of just how much work and effort Miss 5 has put into her days, and how much she has flourished, given the opportunity to have control of her own learning. Obviously the things she does are on par with her age and development levels, and obviously there is an amount that is facilitated by me as her ideas and abilities may not coincide with each other. But her ideas, and her direction, and her subject matter, as well as the time of day and amount of time spent on her learning; are all hers to decide. I also understand that there is a percentage of society that can not accept that a child of 5, or any child for that matter, will – when given autonomy to choose – willingly make the decision to sit down and learn one subject or other. I can only say that it has been my experience – and the experience of every homeschooler, unschooler and teacher that I have met or spoken to – when interest, passion and encouragement are present, a child will definitely, absolutely, without a doubt, do exactly that 😀
So after I had organised the office and filed away Miss 5s work from last “Term”, I sat down with her over lunch and discussed how she thought things were going. I asked her if she liked what we were doing. I asked her what her favourite bits were, and what she thought she might like to do differently, and then we talked about setting goals for the rest of the year. I had to explain to her what I meant by a “goal”, and she understands it as being something that she would like to finish, something she would like to be able to say “look what I’ve done”, and with a deadline of Christmas time. I was about to write the goals down on a piece of paper to put in our work folder, when she asked what I was doing. I explained to her that if I wrote the goals down, it would make them more real and we could refer to them down the track, to make sure that we remember what we wanted to achieve, or “finish”, and to make sure that we are motivated to keep working towards finishing.

(Before I go on, some background information: Miss 5 is aware that I write a blog and that we have a facebook page, I’ve told her that our Moderator needs to see what we’re doing and how well she’s progressing, as part of our “reporting” to the Department of Education. We are a pretty tech heavy family, so she understands that doing things online make it easier for everyone concerned. We’ve started to use the term report as an umbrella term to indicate recording something for the blog or the facebook page, and if I’m being honest, Miss 5 does really kind of like the fact that people read about her. She says it’s like being famous XD)

Our next conversation looked like this:
Miss 5: Why don’t you put it in the report? That way our school Margaret (moderator) can read about it, and all of my friends (by which I think she means fans 😉 ) can read about it.
Me: That’s a good idea, sweetie. Maybe I should.
Miss 5: I could do it.
Me: You could do it?
Miss 5: Yes. I could do it. I could write a report. Well, you know, I could tell you what I want to say and you could write it. Because I can’t write yet. But it would be my report. And I can tell my friends (fans) about homeschool and what I want to finish this year. Can I Mum? Can I do it?
So without further ado, I am pleased to present my guest blogger, Miss 5 😀

I am 5.5 years old and I am doing Homeschool. I really like homeschool because I get to spend more time with Mummy, and because I get to be with my two sisters.
I like learning how to write, and I like playing new games. I love going outside to play and I don’t have to sit on a chair all day.
At normal school, I think, no one gets to go on a hike or a bush walk and chase the birds anytime they want. Which makes me a bit sad.
So far I have learned how to do more of my numbers, and I have learned about spiders and I have done lots of cooking.
My favourite thing that I have done in homeschool has been Chocolate Day. It was the best day EVER! I don’t think kids who do normal school would have a chocolate day, I think maybe the teacher would say they would not be allowed to eat chocolate and candy at school.
The BFG has been my favourite book, and it can write B.F.G, because that’s really easy. I am looking forward to learning about space stuff and going to the library, and maybe we can go to Adventure World for homeschool (this is a blatant attempt to get me to agree to a day at a theme park – which is closed for the winter season!)?
My three goals for this year are:
1) Learn how to read.
2) Learn to do woodwork and build a cubby house with my Daddy.
3) Make some of my own clothes and learn how to do tie-dye, on some T-shirts.
I really love homeschooling lots and I want to keep doing it.

One proud and happy Mama, right here 🙂

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Charlottes web, and some time off

We have had such a giant few weeks here. I had a birthday, very quickly followed by Easter, then Miss 11 months became Miss 1, and Miss 2 turned 3. We have also had a visit with the girls cousin from Sydney. With so much going on in the way of birthday parties, Husband being home, and a little road trip down south with my niece, we have not really done a whole lot in the way of “formal” schooling. There has still been plenty of natural learning happening, though.
We read Charlottes Web over the last few weeks. Being as busy as we were, it took us a little longer to finish than usual. Miss 5.5 particularly liked this book. She is a bit of a country girl at heart, and thoroughly enjoyed reading about the farm, and the animals. Fortuitously, as we started to read the story, a beautiful Orb Weaver appeared in our garden. Of course the spider was christened Charlotte, and our bedtime routine quickly included going out into the garden to see where Charlotte was building her web for the night, and to see if she had caught her dinner. The girls were able to get nice and close, and Miss 5.5 decided she wanted to learn more about spiders.
We spent around 30 minutes watching documentaries on you tube about spiders. Miss 5.5 learned the difference between an arachnid and an insect, as well as how they use their spinnerets and legs to build their webs. She was amazed to learn that spiders spin different types of silk, one type is strong and tough and is used as structural supports for the web. The other is fine and sticky and is used to trap prey. After watching the documentaries, Miss 5.5 – with the help of Miss 3 – asked for a ball of yarn, and used it to build her own “web” on the climbing frame. To anyone not really paying attention it looked like a giant mess of yarn, but she had actually put quite a lot of time and thought into where she was going to wrap her web, and how many times it would be wrapped in certain places or ways. There was some definite thought put into the structure of the web, and by the time she had finished, she could climb into the top of the frame and the “web” would hold her body weight. I was thoroughly impressed 🙂
On the back of finishing the book, I took the girls to Landsdale Farm School, where they could get up close and personal to some of the animals we had just been reading about. Miss 5.5 spent a bit of time looking at the pigs in the pigpen, they were quite a bit different to the cute, pink, piglet type pig she had been imagining 😉 The girls were able to pet nearly all of the animals at the farm, as well as feed a couple of goats and enjoy a ride on the farms tractor-train. It was a really fun way to round out our reading.
One discussion that we’ve been having, that has been brought on by reading Charlottes Web, is the one about where our food comes from. The girls and I have a small veggie patch, and they know that their fruit and vegetables come from plants or vines or are dug out of the ground. But until recently they have never really questioned where their meat comes from, and I have not brought it up, leaving it up to them to question when they’re ready. Charlottes Web describes in some detail how the spider catches, kills and eats her prey. And of course the entire plot of the story is based on the premise that Wilbur, a spring pig, will be slaughtered for the dinner table when the cold weather comes. Miss 5.5 knows what a carnivore is, and has done since she was 3, in a text book kind of way. After reading this book however, I think Miss 5.5 has actually realised what being a carnivore means in a practical sense. We have talked about the food chain, how every living thing relies on every other living thing for something, and how the meat that is on our plates at dinner time comes from an animal. Now it is not unusual for Miss 5.5 to ask me what she’s eating for dinner – meaning what animal – and even what part of that animal. I think it’s a healthy conversation to have with her. I don’t want her thinking that her food comes to her perfectly clean and prepared and in a little plastic wrapper, fresh from Coles. I want her to know about farming and food and how vital it is to us. I want her to have enough compassion for the animals that she will care about how her meat is farmed and processed, and I want her to understand how meat benefits her body and her health.
We plan on having another few days away from “formal” lessons, as it’s widely agreed here that we need some time to rest and regroup after our huge month. In the meantime we have lots of outdoor play to focus on, a kite to fly, a couple of new books to read, and Miss 5.5 has asked to add space to her lessons 😀 There is also Musical Theatre classes, Sports class with other homeschool children and play dates galore. Term 2 is going to be a good one!

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