Miss 5 and the Mesozoic

Last week Miss 5 announced that she was done with dinosaurs, for now, and she wanted to start working on The Ocean. More specifically the coral reefs. She has spent the last few days reading about, and watching documentaries on The Great Barrier Reef, coral reefs in general and coral bleaching. Her level of empathy is incredible, and a documentary on coral bleaching reduced her to tears. She is now determined to come up with some way to tell people about climate change, bleaching and the plight of our coral reefs. I have suggested she keep reading and try to think of some ways to get the word out. She has mentioned our facebook page as well as this blog, and I think I can feel another guest post coming. Watch this space 😊

In the meantime, since we’ve had a shift in her study unit, I figured I better write up on the dinosaurs and what she accomplished, before I get too far behind. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not the first time Miss 5 has had a thing for dinosaurs. At age 3 she developed a small obsession for them. It came out of the blue, and to this day I don’t know where the interest was born, it’s not as if Husband and I have prehistorical artefacts laying around the house! But she developed a thing for them and for a good 12 months it was all about the dinosaurs. During this time we amassed a collection of figurines, books, games, puzzles, toys, DVDs and iPad apps. So when she decided a couple of months ago that she wanted to pick up where she left off, I was elated. As a three year old, she learned a lot of dinosaur names, she learned the difference between a herbivore, carnivore and omnivore. She had learned about the three time periods of the Mesozoic (the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous). So this time around we concentrated on different classifications of dinosaur, on observing features of the dinosaur and using these observations to determine what group it belongs to, as well as touching on evolution and how animals (and people) evolve to suit their environment.

Miss 5 has learned that a “quadruped” is an animal that walks on 4 legs, and a “biped” is an animal that walks on 2 legs. She has spent time looking at teeth to determine if an animal is carnivorous or herbivorous. She has studied weaponry and defences of dinosaurs to determine if they are predators or prey, and she has practiced reading and writing the names of the dinosaurs as well.

I love it when the universe shares your rhythm, and provides you with everything you need. Only days after Miss 5 announced she wanted to revisit her prehistoric interests, I found an advertisement for the Perth Zoo. They had an exhibition of large animatronic dinosaurs, on the premises. So we went to the zoo for the day. Miss 5 picked up a map at the entrance and navigated the way to each dinosaur on display. The map had a checklist, which she used by matching the names of the dinosaurs on the sign at each stop, to a name on the list. Not “reading” per Se, but certainly letter recognition. She ticked off each dinosaur as we went, and told me what she knew or could hypothesise about each animal (side note; the word “hypothesis” has been in her vocabulary for a couple of years now, and it is not uncommon to hear her say “Mummy, I have a hypothesis”. So for me to use this word in my reports is perfectly natural, as she uses it more than I do 😀). There was a small group of school students walking with their teacher, and coincidentally walking the same route as us. Miss 5 was kind enough to help this (poor) teacher out, by letting her know that swimming and flying reptiles were not actually dinosaurs, and the pteranodon was actually classed as a pterosaur 😂. I was really impressed that she matched every name of every dinosaur on her list, and then read the map and navigated us around the zoo, using the map, without missing one.

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After our day at the zoo, I found an advertisement for the Explore-A-Saurus exhibition at Scitech. So off to Scitech we went, this time with a group of friends from our homeschooling community. The kids were able to see more animatronic dinosaurs, as well as casts of fossils, and plenty of interactive dinosaur-related activities.

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To support her learning, we learned the Dinosaur A to Z song from one of her favourite shows, Dinosaur Train. Not only did we all learn the words, but she did some copy work, copying down the names of the dinosaurs in her workbook, as well as making note of what they ate, how many legs the walked on, what classification of dinosaur it was and something interesting about it. Then we made some salt dough dinosaur fossils. She learned the difference between body and trace fossils, and made both (I did take a photo of these, but I can’t seem to find it. I’ll keep looking and update this post when I come across it). After the fossils were made, Miss 5 and Miss 3 had a little archaeological dig in the backyard. We also watched the documentary by David Attenborough, about the biggest dinosaur ever discovered.

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The highlight for me, was the day that Miss 5 invented her own dinosaur. She drew a picture of it, named it (and wrote the name down without any prompting), and told me all about this dinosaur, using all of the words, and knowledge that she had accumulated. “Bachosaurus” was a carnivorous theropod that lived on the east coast of Australia during the Cretaceous period. Bachosaurus was an ambush predator that hunted in packs, in order to pull down larger dinosaurs. His stripes were for camouflage as well as a way of identifying other Bachosaurs (much like Zebra stripes). Bachosaurus was primarily a nocturnal dinosaur, like a Troodon, but if food was scarce, it would hunt during the day also. 😀

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I must admit, I think, towards the end, that I was a little more excited about the dinosaur unit than Miss 5. I think I’ve developed a new interest too 😂 I do think, or at least I do hope, that dinosaurs will make another appearance in our “schooling”. It is something that Miss 5 has always been interested in and I would actually like to see her follow it up in coming years.
One thing that I’ve noticed over the last couple of months is that Miss 5 has started to both read and write. The reading has gone from being a chore that she wasn’t keen on and I didn’t want to push, to something that she is asking to do. The writing has come along in leaps and bounds and she is writing page long stories. It’s amazing watching the natural progression of her learning.

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And the survey says….

Last Wednesday I had a moment of vagueness, where I thought I had forgotten to fill out the national census the night before. As it turned out the census was due to be completed on Tuesday, but it was this Tuesday, not last Tuesday 😐 Oblivious to my mix up, I settled myself on the couch with the iPad and logged into the census website. Miss 5 is quite interested in technology and spends a fair amount of time on science, museum or other educational websites, or doing her reading eggs and maths seeds programs. So when she saw the iPad come out, she wandered over to have a look at what I was doing. Seizing the opportunity for a chat I invited her to sit with me and help me fill out the survey.
She, obviously asked what I was doing and what it was for. I explained that the government collected the information and used it to help them make plans for the future of the country. We talked about statistics (numbers that give information), and why someone would use statistics. We discussed how Daddy used statistics at work, to help him keep his workers safe, as well as to help him estimate the cost of a job, or to help him decide how many workers he might need to do a job. I asked Miss 5 who else might use statistics, she came up with;
– Restaurants – they would need to ask people what types of foods they like, so the restaurant would know what type of food to cook.
– People who build parks – they would need to find out where most of the little kids lived, so they would know where to put the playgrounds.
Miss 5 asked me if the people in the government were the only people who made surveys, to which I told her no. I have answered so many surveys for so many different things. This intrigued her, even more so when I confirmed that you could ask just about anything in a survey. Obviously the next question from Miss 5 was “Do you think I can make a survey, Mummy?”. As I’ve mentioned before, Miss 5 is aware that I have to report to our Department Moderator “School Margaret”, and she is aware that to assist in this, I use this blog and our facebook page. Miss 5 asked if she could make a survey and put it on our Facebook page to see if we could ask people to fill out her survey. I told her to come up with 10 questions while I figured out how we would do it. My first thought was to put a poll on Facebook, but a bit of googling led me to a site called Survey Monkey. It seemed easy enough, and it was free to sign up. With our free membership I had access to a basic survey template, as well as analysis of up to 100 responses. Together, we decided that we would leave the survey open for 3 days. Miss 5 read her questions to me, and I typed them out in the website. I couldn’t help but have a little giggle at her questions 😄 During the course of typing them up, I asked Miss 5 if she would like to include an “other” option. I explained to her that it was something that gave people a way to say they like “something else” other than the options that Miss 5 had come up with. She loved the idea of an “other” option – which she called the or else button 😂 – so much so, that it was added to almost every question!
When the survey was completed, we posted it on our homeschooling facebook page, as well as my personal page, asking our friends and family to fill it out if they had a minute spare. When the link was posted, I told Miss 5 she had to get ready for her swimming lessons. Just before walking out the door, she begged me to check, to see if anyone had filled out her “monkey survey”. She had 8 responses. The first thing she asked when we returned from swimming, was to check her survey. She had 35 responses. She was thrilled, and we spent half an hour going through the charts to see what answers she was getting. By the time she went to bed that night, 6 hours after posting the survey, she had 85 responses. I got as excited as she did. The thought that she could possibly get 100 responses was pretty thrilling. I emailed a few friends who aren’t on Facebook and asked them to fill it in, hoping to push her over the 100 mark.
6.30 the next morning, and Miss 5 was tapping me on the shoulder, asking me to wake up, because she wanted to check her monkey survey. She woke up to 235 responses. There were squeals. We poured over the answers over breakfast, seeing what responses were receiving the most votes, what percentages they were getting, whether the percentage had changed overnight, and guessing what would ultimately be the “winner” 😊 By Thursday night she had 290 responses, and by the time I closed the survey on Saturday morning, she had received a total of 420 responses to her survey. I had to purchase a months subscription to Survey Monkey to access the results of her survey, as the free site only gave me the first 100! 😮 Her proud and excited statement – “Mum!! The internet is BRILLIANT!! 😂😂
We have spent the last few days, looking at the responses, and discussing whether they met our expectations. We have discussed the distribution of numbers, as well as percentages, and factors that may have changed the answers she received. We have plans to go further into detail with the results and do some graphing work. It has been a fabulous exercise, not only for her mathematics component, but social studies (learning and understanding how people, other than her own immediate circle, might live), as well as English (writing the questions and reading the responses), and digital media (a lesson in using technology to assist her learning). And it made her so very happy 😊
Because we had such a great response, and because I know a lot of the people who helped us out, read this blog, and more than a few have contacted me asking what the results were, I thought I’d add a short list of what the questions were, as well as the results:

1) What is your favourite Play School window? It was neck and neck the whole way, but the diamond window just scraped in to the lead position with 143 votes. The Arch window was a very close second with 141.

2) Have you ever been scuba diving? This has been on Miss 5s mind a bit lately, as she wants to learn to snorkel and eventually to scuba dive (I have a feeling that our next unit of study will be the ocean!). 82% of people surveyed have not been scuba diving. But as Miss 5, very cleverly, pointed out, if the majority of our respondents were children, then this might account for the overwhelming “no” response.

3) Which one of these do you live on? The options given were Place, Street, Avenue, Way, and Other. This was a tricky question for her, as her knowledge of possibilities is limited to her own experience, which is why I suggested the “other” option. The most popular for the options she offered was 144 votes for Street. However, as she had missed things like “Road” and “Drive”, the “Other” option received 201 votes, with Road and Drive the top two answers 😂 One response she did receive which excited her imagination to no end was no fixed address because “I have been travelling the world on my motorcycle, for three years” Miss 5 thought that was just about the most awesome thing possible!

4) What do you like to put on your toast? As the majority of people we reached are Australian, it’s really no surprise that 40% of her responses were voting for Vegemite. She did enjoy reading the results for the “other” option though. She tallied the majority of these to be “avocado”, but she also came across some new items, “Chelsey bite” and “cheese whiz” were two that she had never heard of. I also had to explain to her that we had obviously reached someone in America, as one of the responses was “peanut butter and jelly” Miss 5 was picturing a piece of peanut butter toast loaded with aeroplane jelly 😊 Cheese and jam was one response that elicited a big “Ewwwwww”!

5) Who is your favourite Wiggle? This is the question that I’ve been asked about the most. And mostly from grown ups 😂 The yellow wiggle was in front for the majority of the time the survey was open. The purple wiggle made a surge for the finish line in the last few hours. But in the end, the Purple and the Yellow wiggle ended up tied, with 125 votes each.

6) What is your favourite type of restaurant? The options given were Miss 5s favourite! Japanese, Thai, Indian, Italian, Chinese, and – of course – Other. Italian came out on top here, and the most popular response in the “other” field was “Australian”. Miss 5 was a little confused by this response, and wanted to know what they served in an Australian restaurant. After some thought we decided it was probably things like steak or seafood. We did receive one response that said French, and one that said Ethiopian, both of which are now on her bucket list of foods she wants to try 😊

7) What is your favourite season? Being that we’re in the throes of winter and everyone is cold and sick at the moment, I thought – for sure – that Summer would prove to be most popular. When Miss 5 and I made our guesses, we both agreed that most people would say Summer was the best season. We were proved wrong. Spring was the most popular season from start to finish, with a total of 181 (43%) of the votes in the end.

8) Where would you prefer to visit? Being that Miss 5 came up with these questions, the options were her favourite places to visit. Playground, Theatre, Your friends house, Beach or Other. “Your friends house” was the popular choice initially, but the beach ended up taking out 40% of the votes. When we were going through the responses for the “other” field, we found that the bush was the most popular response. One response was “A Viking Metal concert” I’m not sure if that was someone trying to be funny, or if it is actually a thing. However I listen to heavy metal music, and so does Miss 5s Aunty and Uncle, so she didn’t bat an eye at the response, she just casually said “that must be like the stuff you like Mummy” 😉

9) Who is your favourite Disney Princess? Again this is one that a lot of grown ups have asked for the results, and one where a lot of people made mention, if their own personal favourite wasn’t on the list! But, Miss 5 knows the ones she knows, and being that we don’t watch a lot of television, and I particularly have a little issue with Disney princesses (mainly because in most of the movies Disney kills off one or both of the parents, has a “handsome prince” come in and save the day and the “helpless princess”, and then marries off the princess in her teens – 16 in the case of Ariel!!) her experience with them is limited. She was magnanimous enough to include Merrida, for my benefit (one of the few that has two living parents, saves the day all by herself and refuses to marry 😊), along with Merrida, there was Ariel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Elsa/Anna and Rapunzel. Let’s face it, we all thought Elsa was going to trounce the competition! But the winner was Ariel (28.5%), followed by Cinderella (25%). Merrida came in 3rd 😉

10) What do you think is the most important thing for little kids? Her options were Be Free, Play, Have Good Manners, Learn to Cook, Learn to Read and Write and Explore. Gleefully our biggest response was for “Play” (40%), with “Explore” not too far behind (34%)

A giant THANKYOU to everyone who helped us out by filling in Miss 5s survey. Not only did you offer plenty of data to help with her lessons for the next couple of weeks, but you also put such a giant smile on her face. She had so much fun, and she truly thinks that the Internet is amazing and the people who use it are just wonderful 😊

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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 😊😊

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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Life lessons and Boxes for Christmas

I have had opportunities in my life to meet many, many different people, from many, many different backgrounds, with many, many different stories. I have always thought that the people in the best position to offer help in this world, are unfortunately the people who do not. Husband and I have always endeavoured to show our girls that they are lucky to be born in a country like Australia, where we have fresh food, clean water, free health and education systems (regardless of our opinions of these systems, it boils down to the fact that we’re lucky to have them. So many countries do not) and where we are safe from the ravages of war. We also like to show our children that they are lucky to be born into the family, and the lifestyle that we have. We are not fabulously wealthy, by any means, but we do have more than one property, we do a fair bit of travelling around Australia, we have just returned from an overseas trip to Mauritius, and we can afford for me to stay home with the children and live in the way that we want to, not the way that we have to. I know so many other families who cannot do these things. Husband and I are ever mindful that when we are finished raising our children, the rest of the world will have to live with the adults that they become. We encourage them to be helpful, thoughtful, respectful, kind and generous. We encourage an attitude of “global citizenry” which encompasses not only the planet but the people who belong to it as well.

With this in mind, when we decided to pursue a home education for Miss 5, I thought to myself ‘what an excellent reason to try volunteer work’. In offering our help to a charity, not only will we have the time on our hands to do it justice, but it will reinforce the life lessons that we are hoping to teach. And to keep it real, it ticks so many boxes as far as the curriculum goes too 🙂 We already donate clothes and toys to the local Good Sammy’s, but I began looking into animal shelters, soup kitchens and other local charities. The problem I found was most volunteer programs have an age restriction, and 5 falls waaaaaaay below the minimum. I understand why, but I must admit, I was terribly disappointed. Then one day, thanks to Facebook, I had a lightbulb moment.

As I still feed Miss 11 months 4 times a day, 4 times a day I get to sit down on the couch and check out the news online, and have a quick flick through Facebook. All of my family are on the East Coast, so Facebook is a great tool for us to stay in each other’s lives as much as possible. One day, a few weeks ago, a post appeared on my facey feed, that caught my attention. I have a friend who has been heavily involved in a charity called Boxes for Christmas for many years. Being that I have been in Perth for 3 years now, I have missed a lot of what she has been doing, but seeing this post about Boxes for Christmas reminded me. And it made me wonder if that was something Miss 5 and I could get involved with. So I messaged my friend, and through her I got in contact with a lovely lady by the name of Margaret Chivers, the founder of the charity.

Basically Boxes for Christmas organises the purchasing and distribution of Christmas gifts to elderly residents, in aged care facilities, who do not have any loved ones left in their lives. A gift from Boxes for Christmas means that an elderly friend will find something under the tree, with their name on it, on Christmas morning. Hopefully making the day a little less lonely and a little less sad. Reading about the charity, on their website here, and on their Facebook page here really touched me. And after speaking to Margaret (who incidentally, actively encourages the involvement of children and had very kind words to say about homeschooling :D), I was convinced that this was the organisation that we wanted to be a part of.

Explaining to Miss 5 what we were doing and why, was actually quite easy, and very rewarding. Easy in as much as all aspects of the work are relatable to small children. Elderly people – like Granny and Granddad – who weren’t going to get a present at Christmas time, because they had no family and no one to love them. Even Miss 2.5 could understand and relate to the concept. The rewarding part came when Miss 5s face started to droop and her eyes watered, and she said to me “mummy, that’s terrible, can we do something to help them?” She is truly an amazing, empathetic, kind little soul. We received in the post a “purple piggy” from Boxes for Christmas, which is a small, purple, rubber piggy bank. Miss 5 personalised it with her paints and named it Swanee after the Swan River here in Perth. The next step is to spread the word about Boxes for Christmas, and tell people that we only need $10 to buy an elderly friend a present. Miss 5 has been practising asking “so if you have any spare change, could I please have 5c, to feed my pig” XD In the last two weeks, my girl has raised $20! We have also requested to have a book of tickets sent to us, to sell for the upcoming Mother’s Day raffle. Miss 5 has already decided all of the people she will be taking her raffle tickets to.

With regards to the education side of things, Miss 5 is getting practice in public speaking – she has taken Swanee into Husbands office and spoken to his staff about the charity and what she is raising money for – and in this she is ticking a social box as well. She is also learning real life maths. She has a greater understanding of money, and has learned that coins have different values, and that just because there are more coins in a pile, does not necessarily mean that there is more value there. She has learned about the animals on the coins, as well as talked about the Queen and why her face is on our currency (which tied in well with a lesson we had last week when she noticed that the Union Jack was on Australia’s flag and New Zealand’s flag as well). All this and the obvious counting of the money, means that she is getting quite a lot, academically, out of her fundraising work.

But so much more importantly, she is doing something that is making her (and me too, as I’m just as committed to what we’re doing as she is), feel really good about herself, and helping others, and giving back to the community. She is making plans at a rate of knots, for other ways that we can raise money or help in some way. She has taken this little project of ours and run with it. And I am so very, very proud of her.

Please feel free to check out the Boxes for Christmas website, as it truly is a great cause. Also, while you’re online, feel free to check out our new, A Little to the Left facebook page. This blog is great for keeping track of particular topics, like this one, or a general recap of the week, but I’ve found that for the everyday stuff, that isn’t necessarily blog-worthy, I can keep track of it more efficiently on a Facebook page! So for some shameless self promotion – click the link and hit like 😉

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