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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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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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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An Easter Arty Party

Ok, back to the reason I’m writing this blog…. After my meltdown we decided to take things a little easy. In all areas. We had a rainy day in front of the TV, with lots of added reading and cuddles. We also had a day of playing in the backyard. Miss 5 didn’t mention school work, and neither did I. I thought we needed a day of fun stuff, and in our house “fun stuff” always includes making art of some kind, and making mess of some kind 🙂
When the art activity is my idea, I try not to structure the girls too much. I usually give them the materials and the idea, and let them go with it. Children are incredibly creative when they are not trying to conform to someone else’s idea of what “art” is. I set up 4 different art stations for Miss 5 and Miss 2.5 and I tried to keep to a loose Easter theme. The girls had a ball 🙂
We started doing some wax-resistant water colour painting. I drew some secret Easter pictures and messages on white paper in white crayon. The girls then had to paint the paper with their watercolour paints, to discover the secret message. Miss 5 thought that was a bit of a lame activity XD, pretty soon after starting she decided to ditch her secret message (guessing that it was a picture of the Easter bunny, not even half way through!), and grabbed a clean sheet of paper. She experimented with the paints, adding water with a brush and then a sponge, layering paint and water, until she came up with an effect that suited her. Her finished product was an underwater painting of a fish with coral and seaweed. Her fish was much more interesting and showed much more sophistication than my hidden Easter wax message 🙂
The girls made Easter cards by cutting and pasting scraps of journaling paper. Miss 5 explained to Miss 2.5 that the paper would look nicer if it was pasted in a pattern. While they were cutting and pasting and writing in their cards, I sacrificed 4 potatoes out of the pantry. I cut them in half (lengthways, so they were fairly egg shaped) and carved patterns into the flat half, and then stuck plastic forks into the tops, making Easter egg potato stamps. The girls sat for nearly 30 minutes stamping different patterns onto different pieces of art paper. The results of the mornings art making look like this:

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When lunch was finished and the kitchen tidied, and Miss 11 months tucked into bed for her afternoon nap, I pulled out the big guns 😀 I had been thinking about an artwork that the girls could make for Easter, that would really be something special. I did get this idea off the internet, but I tweaked it a little to suit us. I had carton of eggs that was heading into the land of past-it’s-best-before. Usually I rush to find a recipe to use up the eggs before this happens, but I decided to sacrifice the 8 eggs instead 🙂 This was a HUGE hit. The girls had SO much fun that I almost wished I had more eggs so they could keep going. We were all laughing our heads off while they were doing it, and it looked like such fun, that even I had a go myself 😀
The first thing I did was tap a hole into the top of each egg, and tip out the contents. When all the shells were empty, I washed the shells out with tap water. As best I could. Then I used some cheap, water based, acrylic paint and filled the shells about a quarter of the way. Each egg had a different colour. After each egg had it’s allocation of paint, I added a little water – until the eggs were almost halfway filled – and gave them a little jiggle to mix the water and paint together. This is for added “splat” effect 🙂 I had two blank canvases set up on our drop sheet, in the backyard. Miss 5 and Miss 2.5 then took turns throwing their eggs at the canvases. The harder they threw, the more satisfying the splat. Miss 2.5 did not quite have enough strength to break the egg completely on the first throw, but she quickly figured out that if she picked up the shells after they had been tossed, and stood really close to the canvas, she could get a second, or even a third, splat out of them. Such an egg-celent way to create an Easter masterpiece XD
So we’ve had a few days off. We’ve regrouped and we’re ready to forge ahead. Miss 5 and I made the mutual decision to stop reading Harry Potter. Although Miss 5 doesn’t have the vocabulary to express it, we have both found that the concepts as well as the intricacies of the plot and the characters are just a little bit beyond her, and she isn’t enjoying the story as much as she thought she would. She has suggested that we try again “when she’s 6” 🙂 So we’ve packed away Potter, and we’ve started reading Charlottes Web, which is a big hit, and so far has opened up discussions on spiders (obviously), farm animals, and the five senses. I think this next week is going to be right up our alley 🙂

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Days like today

Otherwise entitled, How I ruined Easter đŸ˜Ļ

I ummed and ahhed about writing this, and I almost didn’t, but for two reasons. 1) For the sake of my own records, I need to be able to look back and say “there’s where I went wrong, and this is what I need to do different next time”, and 2) For the 6 people who read this blog, other than me and the moderator (hi Dad 🙂 ), I want to keep it real. It’s not all rainbows and lollipops. And while this is more about me and less about Miss 5, my experience influences hers, so my thoughts and feelings need to be addressed and validated, even if it’s only by me.

This week has sucked. There is nothing else for it. Sucked big time. Miss 11 months is cutting teeth. She is waking during the night, and screaming incessantly during the day. Miss 2.5 is, well she’s 2.5. She’s intense, she’s demanding, she’s loud, she’s highly verbal, she’s non-stop, she’s into everything and she’s noticing the shift of my focus and my attention when it’s “school time” with Miss 5. And of course her natural response is to be even more intense, and loud, and into everything, and verbal in order to get more of my attention.

The week started with a couple of rough nights with Miss 11 months. Then I had the night from hell!! Miss 11 months awake between 11 and 12. I had just got myself settled and back to sleep, when Miss 5 and Miss 2.5 came into the room, hand in hand. Miss 2.5 lost her Bunny in the middle of the night, so miss 5 brought her down to me, knowing that I would get up and find Bunny. This was just after 1am. I settled them both and went back to bed. Only to be woken by Miss 11 months at 2.30am. Miss 2.5 crawled back into bed with me at around 3.30am – giant scary snowmen were prowling, apparently – and Miss 5 joined us at 4.30am because she was lonely. Miss 11 months woke up at 5.30am for breakfast. And it’s in this haze of exhaustion, that I started the week. And it just kept going downhill. And of course without any sleep, things tend to spiral out of control much quicker don’t they?

And here’s the thing; all of a sudden I have realised that I just can’t reconcile the person that I’m supposed to be. I am a mother of three very small people. I have a household to run, bills to pay, meals to prepare, theatre classes, swimming classes (and soon sports and preschool classes) to get them to. For my own, personal reasons, I cannot leave the housework. I simply cannot have a dirty house. Untidy, of course, I live with four people who don’t understand how to pick up after themselves, but dirty? No. Can’t do it. AND now I have added the responsibility of educating my daughter into this as well. Man alive, I am SO overwhelmed. How the hell am I supposed to do ALL of this. AND give my children the attention and love they deserve, AND find the time to give myself a break, AND still have the energy, desire or motivation to be an attentive wife at the end of the day, AND manage to smile, AND keep my sanity?? I feel so spread thin, that instead of doing a great job at a few things, I feel like I’m doing a very mediocre job at everything. I am not being a good wife, to be honest, at the end of the day, the last thing I want to hear about is how crappy someone else’s day was. I’m not playing with Miss 2.5 as much as she wants me to, I’m not picking up and cuddling Miss 11 months as much as I did the others at that age (and there’s a whole world of guilt wrapped up in that one), and I’m not doing any justice to Miss 5, and what she wants. I have found myself saying no to her and her requests to do more school work!! Seriously! She has said “mummy, can we do x,y,z for school” and I have caught myself saying “not today darling, go out and play.” How can I take on this role, and then refuse her requests to learn??

And everywhere I look there is chaos. Things on the floor, half done jobs and projects everywhere, clothes that have been washed and folded, but not put away. Still sitting, washed and folded, in the same spot they were 3 weeks ago!! And I want to scream! “I know you can’t clean the house, I know it’s not your job to clean the house, I don’t want you to have to clean the house. But do you have to make my job even harder? Can’t you at least put your clothes into the washing basket? Can’t you at least wipe up the mess that you made, or not leave your damn shoes in the middle of the floor where you took them off?”

So I’m not keeping up with the house work, I’m not keeping up with Miss 5s expectations for school, I’m not keeping up with being a proper mother to all 3 of the girls, and I have spent the last week being cross and cranky and tired and overwhelmed, and scared that Miss 5 is going to come to me and tell me she wants to go to school, just so she can get away from her crazy, cranky mother! And I feel like I’ve backed myself into a corner. I can’t speak up, I can’t ask for help, I can’t ask for something that I can’t expect to receive.

In a perfect world, I would have a network of people whom I could turn to and say “You know what, I need help.” Or “Can I just drop the girls off for a couple of hours? I need some time to regroup, centre myself, or just mop the goddamn floor”, but I chose to move to Perth. I left my family and my closest friends and I moved 4,500kms away (and while I have made friends with a small but wonderful group of ladies, it’s not quite the same). And that was my choice, and I don’t regret it. But the point it it was my choice. Just like homeschooling Miss 5 is my choice. I pushed the point, and I decided this was the way I wanted to live. And it is, it definitely is, BUT now I feel like I’m backed into a corner. I feel the weight of “this was all your decision, your choice, you made the bed now lay in it” hanging over my head. I have survived the last 3 years, moving into 3 different houses, 2 pregnancies, 2 newborns and 1 miscarriage with very little in the way of a support network. I truly believed that I could do this. I truly thought that compared to those events, educating Miss 5 at home would be a breeze. But on days like today, I feel that I cannot do enough, I am not doing enough. I am just not enough. And yeah, I probably should have thought of this all before I pulled her out of school. But I didn’t.

So I have refused to join in the Easter celebrations with Husband and his family. Which, as you can imagine, has made me the least popular person in the world. Husband will have to face the embarrassing task of lying to cover for me. But I’ve had to do that too, and I know that he’ll live. I did. In the meantime I’m relishing the next 4 hours to myself. To be able to put myself back together, make a better plan for Miss 5s next school week, cuddle my baby without making another child jealous, and maybe even put away the basket of washing that I’ve been staring at for nearly a month. Maybe. Or I might nap 😉

I can sit here and recognise, that I need some sleep. And I can recognise that I need some time just for myself. And I know that I’m not going to give up on this, and that next week is a new week. I know that tomorrow I will put my big girls pants on and start taking care of business again. But on days like today I am building a blanket fort, and hiding in it.

To end on a positive rather than finish this, feeling sorry for myself, Miss 5 is starting to read. And as soon as I figure out how to put the video of it on the blog, I’ll do that too. She’s doing a wonderful job 🙂

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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Math is actually fun, in the real world!

My weak spot in school (and, as a continuation, outside of school), is math. My mind just does not seem to understand numbers. I can memorise them – and still, after 20 years can recite a lot of the formulas that were drummed into me as a student – but when it comes to application, I do struggle. I remember math classes being either super boring, because they were a solid hour of sitting at a desk and staring at a textbook, listening to the monotonous monologue of the teacher. Or completely frightful, thanks to one certain math teacher who was infamous at our high school, with a reputation for making people cry with his toe-the-line-or-else approach to teaching. Needless to say, there was nothing that seemed to be fun or encouraging about working with numbers. And it didn’t help that most of the adults in my life could be heard saying things like “Pythagoras’ Theorem; never used it. Don’t know why we were even taught it.” Or “I spent all my time at school trying to figure out what ‘X’ was. And for what? It would have served me better learning how to manage money and keep myself out of debt”.

So I try very hard to keep all of this in mind with Miss 5, when we do number work. I’m not particularly concerned about my skills in relation to teaching her – yet. After all, she is just 5, and as long as my skills surpass hers, we’ll do fine. If we are still homeschooling when her skills surpass mine, then we will obviously get a tutor 🙂 In the meantime, I want to show her that math can be fun. The more fun I can make it for her, the more she will be inclined to stick with it, when it becomes a challenge. And this week has been a lot of fun!

I taught Miss 5 and Miss 2.5 how to play Uno a few weeks back. We now have regular Uno tournaments. Miss 2.5 particularly enjoys playing. Miss 5 loves the game, but has been taught some lessons in sportsmanship along the way 😉 A funny thing that has also happened, is playing this game from Husbands childhood, as well as my own, has inspired Husband and I to have our own, rather more competitive, after hours tournaments. Uno has become another way for us all to bond, as well as a great learning opportunity for the girls. Miss 2.5 gets practice in number recognition, matching numbers and of course colours. Miss 5 gets the same practice but on a higher level, more appropriate to her age, where she is learning number values (9 is bigger than 5, so worth more points), as well as basic addition in the scoring of the game.

Shopping is another great way for Miss 5 to learn about numbers. She learns through reading the prices (and finding the cheapest one 😉 ), as well as paying for the groceries at the checkout. Our local IGA has child sized trolleys, which is just the bees knees for Miss 5 and Miss 2.5! They walk around the store putting this and that into their trolley, and it makes them feel super special and “grown up” 🙂

Another thing that we’ve been doing for “real life” maths, is fundraising for charity. I’m not going to go into too much detail in this post, because I’d like to do another blog regarding that. But Miss 5 has been learning about money, it’s value and how to count it.

Which brings me to yesterday’s activity. The girls made a snakes and ladders board game. I jumped onto the laptop and printed out an Excel table numbered 1-50, then I printed out a few snake clip art pictures as well as a few ladder clip art pictures. The girls coloured them in, cut out the snakes and ladders (with my help, as they were a little bit fiddly, and they wanted them to be perfect to put on the board), and pasted them on to the board. I covered it in contact to keep it clean. We then found a couple of little pieces to use as markers and we pinched a dice out of mums Trivial Pursuit game 🙂 The girls played 5 games in a row. They did number recognition, counted out aloud when they moved their markers, we talked about greater than and less than and probability and they spent the whole time giggling!

Husband and I were talking about our home schooling lifestyle only last night. He made the comment that “all we need to do is pay attention to how they learn, not how we want them to learn. If we do that, and we keep it fun and interesting, they’ll do the rest”, and in that I believe he is totally right. He’s a bit of a clever clogs sometimes 😉

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