How do we know what to do?

We were at Coles this morning, and the checkout operator asked Miss 5 why she wasn’t at school today, which is a fairly common question for us, and we’ve become quite confident answering it. (Miss 5 proudly tells anyone who asks that we “do homeschool” 😊 This is sometimes met with a raised eyebrow, and sometimes with a little smirk, but mostly people are very pleasant and positive and make exclamations about how nice, or how fun that must be). This morning, when Miss 5 told the checkout operator that we homeschool, we were met with a small look of surprise, and then a very large smile. The operator, a young lady perhaps in her early 20s, started talking to us as she rang up our purchase. The first thing she said was “I hated school. I was bullied and picked on from the day I started until the day I left. It used to make me sad, because I loved learning and loved the classes, I just hated school. For me it was a place of torture, not a place of education.” ☚ī¸ From here she proceeded to ask all manner of questions about our day, and what we do, how we do it, and who we report to. She was genuinely interested. As we left she said to me “I think what you’re doing is wonderful. I really wish that my parents had been able to home school me, I think things would have been a bit different if they had.” It was a very poignant conversation for me, but I did walk away from it feeling very happy – again – with our decision to home school.

One of the questions this young lady asked was “So do you get a curriculum, or anything to help you along the way? How do you know what to do?”. And it occurred to me that I have asked these questions myself, to others, when I first started, as well as during the last few months, as we’ve been settling into our own rhythm. AND it occurred to me that I get asked these questions now, at least once a week. Not only by strangers that we strike up a conversation with, but also friends, family members, people who are considering homeschooling as an option for their child AND other homeschooling families (who are trying to work out their own system of learning and recording). So I thought I’d write a little bit about the how’s of what we do, as a way of clearing it up.

So to start with, after registration with the Department of Education in WA, we had a visit with our allocated Department Moderator. Our Moderator is our link to the government. She is the go-to person if we have any questions or concerns, she is the the person who assess Miss 5 annually to ensure that there is sufficient improvement in that time, and she is our initial provider of information. Our moderator is a lovely woman named Margaret. Miss 5 calls her “School Margaret” and we all think she’s just wonderful 😊 During Margarets first visit, we were given a copy of the national and state curriculum. Now to clarify, “the curriculum” states WHAT needs to be covered, not HOW to cover it. It is a broad outline of the scope of work that should be covered and standards achieved during each school year. I get the impression that a lot of people believe that it is like a handbook for homeschoolers, whereby you open at page 1, teach your child the lesson contained in that chapter, follow the sequence, and by the end of the handbook, you’ll have completed a years worth of work, and your child can graduate to the next year. Not the case!. The curriculum is no state secret, it’s freely available online here, and unfortunately I (and most other people I know) found it to be a long, laborious and frustrating read. I also thought, that if you followed it to the letter, it would be very confining with no flexibility to follow the child’s interests and desires as well as their own timeline for progression. And truth to tell, I read most of the parts relating to Miss 5, and then put it away. After all, I made the decision to keep her away from school, so there is no way I am going to emulate it at home!

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So once we were armed with the structure mandated by the department of education, as well as the obligatory mountain of paperwork to go with it, I came up with a rough plan. My plan began with the conscious decision to do away with the curriculum provided by the department 😉 Basically, as long as Miss 5 shows improvement since her last moderator visit, and as long as I can show our Moderator that we are covering the areas of learning that are required, how I go about doing it is my business.

Husband and I had looked into putting Miss 5 into the local Steiner School, at one stage, and while we ultimately decided that it wasn’t for us, there are some parts of their philosophy and teaching methods that I still really like. I really like the life-learning approach to the day. Steiner students participate in chores, cooking, gardening and other hands on activities in their early years. The Steiner philosophy of “head, heart and hands” is an approach to learning at resonates here. We accept artistic and social development as being just as important to a self-realising adult as academic development. I also enjoy the slower pace of the Steiner approach, giving a child ample time to not only develop, but to wholly experience each stage of development, before moving on to the next stage. So with this in mind, we incorporate all of the day-to-day activities in our custom made “curriculum”. I also include the handwork that Steiner education encourages; so sewing, knitting, clay, woodwork, felt work, colouring and drawing all make up a large part of what Miss 5 does. I feel that learning mathematics, patterns, basic science, and the daily rhythm of life, comes more from these activities, in a peaceful, loving and encouraging environment, than it could possibly come from a classroom setting. As Miss 5 progresses, we will also introduce the concept of a Main Lesson Book, which is also something that Steiner schools are well known for.

It’s no secret to those who know me, and I believe I’ve mentioned it here before, I am an avid reader. I am actively encouraging the girls to be avid readers, and I totally am a “book snob”. There is so much out there in the way of incredible literature, for children as well as adults, that I just can’t fathom not sharing with my daughters. I also very strongly believe that not introducing them to a variety of different genres and language now, is only doing them a disservice, as they will not be familiar with, or have even a basic understanding of anything other than picture books when they reach the older grades. So for the English component of our custom “curriculum” I look to the Charlotte Mason school of teaching. We read aloud, A LOT. As a family. Reading is a large part of our lives, and we endeavour to create a loving, pleasant environment during our reading time, to cultivate happy associations. Even Husband, who is not a big reader, will participate in reading aloud for the children. I have a list of texts that we will be reading and discussing over he next 12 months, which includes classics like Mary Poppins and Peter Pan, poems and verses by A. A. Milne, a collection of works by Rudyard Kipling and a simple Shakespeare sonnet. Peppered in amongst this are books that I know will put a smile on Miss 5s face, like those from Roald Dahl, and possibly the first book in the Harry Potter series. The Charlotte Masons concept of a “Living Book” also ties in well with the Steiner MLB, and can be interchanged.

Miss 5, and her sisters, are children who love to run, jump, leap, swim, dance and be outside. They are not happy cooped up indoors, and are never focussed when they’re told they have to sit still. So we spend a decent portion of every day outside. Outside in nature. I very strongly believe that there is nothing that children can learn in a classroom, that can’t be learned outside, in a forest, at the beach or on a hike, making natural discoveries. So for the gaps in our “curriculum” we take a Forest School approach. Miss 5 is offered the opportunity to asses and take risks as she feels capable. She is offered the opportunity to foster a positive relationship with the planet that she lives on, as well as the other inhabitants. We walk, explore, make sculptures from found materials. She climbs trees, walks on walls, explores rock pools, wanders in the bush, and learns about her physical self and her place in the world, by being in the world.

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The most important element that links all of these approaches – as well as a few others – with our approach to learning, is that it is all child led. For us this means that Miss 5 has the autonomy to lead the way in her education. Her natural curiosity, and her own interests are at the forefront of our day. She makes the decisions regarding the topics she covers, the amount of time she invests into each topic or area, the time of day this takes place, and the approach that she uses. As her parent, I facilitate this learning by making suggestions as to where or how she can find the answers she needs, or offering opportunities and resources to supplement her interests. But there is no coercion, no force and no “trickery” involved. For example, a couple of days ago, Miss 5 was playing with her Daddy’s big tape measure. So I showed her where to find “centimetres” on the measure, and suggested she try measuring some things around the house. She got a piece of paper and wrote a list of the things she measured, with the measurements next to them. She discovered that Miss 3 was 2cm taller than the chair at the craft table, and she herself was 8cm taller then her sister. In our report, this 15 minute activity provides a tick for English, and for Maths. As it was a positive experience for her, that she had full control over, she will likely remember it fondly and will go back to it in the future, and take it further when she does. 😊

To keep the department of education happy, I keep a folder – divided ‘by month’ – of loose, dated examples of Miss 5s work. I also have a small workbook of stories and worksheets that Miss 5 has completed. Everyday she draws or writes in her “feelings book” (akin to a journal), which is also used as examples of her progress. Combined with this blog, and our facebook page, we have a coherent record of our day-to-day that includes dates, photos, examples of work and observations on my part. I also have an excel spreadsheet that lists all of the areas of learning dictated by the national curriculum. On this spreadsheet I list the main activities of our week, and I literally tick a box to show what areas have been covered during the activity. I also make a note if it has been recorded, and if so whether it is on the blog, or Facebook page. And that’s it, job done 😊 Of course there are a million ways we supplement our “curriculum” with programs like Reading Eggs, and subscriptions to Little Passports, as well as any amount of excursions and co-ops, and classes held within our own homeschooling community. The beauty of what we do, is everyday holds something new and unique 😀

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There are a few (very few) people who believe that only a “qualified teacher” should be afforded the right to teach a child. They believe that there is no possible way that I could be capable of educating my daughter. How could I possibly know what to do? I’m not qualified! Some days, when I’ve had no sleep or the day hasn’t gone as I’d imagined, or Miss 5 has an off day – which happens here, just as it happens in the houses of children who attend mainstream schools – on these days I doubt myself and wonder if these people might be right. But then I remember the facts. The fact is no one knows my daughter better than me. No one knows her interests, her secrets, her desires, her hopes, no one knows her the way I do. My qualifications lay in the fact that I am her mother, her biggest fan and advocate. I also re-read our last report from School Margaret, it was such a wonderful, glowing report, that I keep it handy for encouragement and inspiration. And it was written by someone who is qualified and who does know what they’re doing!

“It is difficult to include (in this report) all of the excellent learning experiences in is well integrated program. I have been given the privilege of access to (A Little to the Lefts) blog about her homeschooling, and in reading them I was amazed at the detail of her reflection, planning and delivery of the learning environment for (Miss 5).

Her written descriptions in (her blog posts) beautifully describe the philosophy and processes of this very effective home school. As I commented on the (blog) site, these should be a book guide to others. I am very happy for this program to continue, and am excited to see where it travels to in the next year”

Taken from School Margarets most recent report. Happy Days 😊😊

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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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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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