Saturday, August 17, 2013

New public blog for science classes

It’s still very small and unformed. I have so many ideas chasing themselves around in my head and so many draft blog posts that I haven’t managed to pull together and post yet. I have been busy with, you know, the day-to-day business of homeschooling and running a household and trying to look after myself at the same time. (I’m aiming to do my first half marathon in September!) But I love exploring scientific ideas and concepts with children and I’d really like to make this work.

If you are following me please let me know what you think of the blog and what you’d like to see on there. I can’t promise to respond immediately but I will definitely take everyone’s comments into consideration.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I’m leaving.

I will not be using my Tumblr blog any more, although the archive will remain. I have started a new general blog on WordPress, scimumblog plus a separate one specifically for homeschooling called lookingslantwise.

I will also be using private blogs for my science groups so the children can post and send invitations to their friends and family without worrying about inappropriate attention.

This could mean goodbye to my Tumblr friends, although I hope you will start following me on WordPress instead.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Finding out about colours and dyeing at Science Club

Last term our little science club had some great activities exploring colour and dyeing.

We started off with a packet of synthetic dye and some squares of cotton. We left the fabric in the dye and used tongs to take out one piece every 5 minutes, until the last piece had been in the dye for one hour. We used the leftover dye to do some tie dyeing and put in some of my little girl’s clothes too. I seem to have lost all of the photos I took of this process (which just goes to show that I should upload them as soon as possible to make sure I have them stored online).

The square we removed after 60 mins looked lots darker than that for 5 mins but we did wonder if that was perhaps because it was wetter.

We left all the fabric squares for a week to dry out, then shook them up with warm detergent solution to see how much dye would actually stay fixed onto the fabric.

I was hoping that we would be able to see by eye how much dye had gone back into solution, but we couldn’t really tell. (Perhaps a spectrophotometer would have come in handy at this point, but we don’t have access to a lab and it’s rather outside the budget for our club!) However, the 5 min piece of fabric looked loads paler than the 60 min, so we could at least deduce that more dye molecules had attached themselves onto the fabric that had been in there for longest. 

The children and I thought about what we were trying to find out in this experiment. We discussed what is meant by the scientific method and the idea of a fair test. They were really good at suggesting what variables there might be in the experiment and how we could try to keep all of them constant except the one we were testing.

If doing this again, I would reduce the number of samples to six (as suggested in the instructions) and allocate more than one pair of disposable gloves per child, because they took them off in between turns. I had hoped it would be more obvious which fabric samples had been left in the dye solution for longest. Perhaps we could experiment with the concentration of dye solution to give more of a contrast.

This activity came from the booklet of ideas for the CREST award scheme (run by CSIRO). My two young scientists-in-the-making were not so keen on the technology activity (which personally I thought was predominantly design and very little to do with technology). I think this has been a good example of making sure the activities follow the children’s interests. Furthermore, it seems to me that successful inventions or designs come from perceiving a need or a gap in the market, rather than just doing an activity that someone else has set for you.  I’m not going to set them an activity we all think is pointless just so they can get a certificate. If the children decide that there is a design activity they want to do which revolves around the use of colour, I will encourage them in this.

Anyway, we were all very interested in natural dyes and the ochres that have been used for thousands of years by the Australian aborigines. I borrowed a selection of books from our library all about natural dyes and a few about design (and tried to stop myself from taking on more projects than I have time for). We boiled up some chopped red cabbage and water in one saucepan and some onion skins and water in the other. As it was the last week of term we didn’t have enough time to dye fabric (or yarns) and wait for it to dry. Instead, we used the natural dyes like watercolours. I made some strong tea and coffee for brown colours. Dickie Turpin painted a beautiful landscape but didn’t want me to take a photo of it!


The same day, we ground up a rock we had picked up on a bush walk, mixed it with oil and used this to paint with. This was a lot easier than I had expected and produced some great results.image



The project has been very successful so far and still has plenty of potential. I would like to show the children the molecular structure of some dyes so that they can think about what the common features might be that contribute to the colour. We have done some subtractive colour mixing in our homeschooling before (with paint) but it would be fun to get some colour filters and show them how additive mixing works. This might or might not lead to a discussion about the electromagnetic spectrum, waves, frequency, wavelength etc. We could move on to talking about our eyes and how we see colours. (I have a particular interest in this because Pokemon Boy has some red-green colour deficiency. He’s fine with bright colours but finds it a lot harder with muted colours.) 

We all want to do some more work with natural dyes and I must remember to order some alum to use as a mordant so we can see what difference that makes. (Mordants help the dye molecule to bind to yarn or fabric.) In the school holidays the children attended an activity (not run by me) where they used cabbage water as an indicator, so we could talk more about pH and indicator solutions. All of this is only if the children want to! I’m happy to be led by their interests.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Resting in a ‘den’ on the Manly to Spit Walk.

Resting in a ‘den’ on the Manly to Spit Walk.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bush Walking at Easter

This Easter we did two bushwalks with the kids - on Easter Sunday, part of the Manly to Spit Walk, and on Easter Monday, part of the Gulgadya Mura at Manly Dam.

Easter Sunday was pleasant. The day started off slightly overcast, which was good for our purposes. I stayed in bed while the boys ate too much chocolate, then I got up and went for a run around the North Head and towards Shelly Beach. It was achingly beautiful. I wished that some of my family could come and visit to see how gorgeous our surroundings are. 

After my run we had a surprisingly short battle getting the boys to stop playing on their screen items, and then the usual drawn-out and tiresome attempts to get all four children ready to go out of the house. We finally got in the car and drove to Dobroyd Head.

The Manly to Spit Walk is also known as the Manly Scenic Walkway. We did part of it way back when Princess was little enough to be carried in a Mei-Tai style baby carrier. The route is definitely not suitable for a buggy or pram and it was a bit risky taking Princess this time with no carrier, but she coped very well. In retrospect we shouldn’t have set out at around lunchtime as she was due for a sleep and therefore fell asleep in the car on the way there. However, Drama King soon woke her up again (contrary to our instructions) and luckily she was pretty cheerful and didn’t try to go back to sleep.

We parked at Tania Park near the Arabanoo look-out and played a little bit of frisbee and soccer before the boys started to grumble and ask when we were going on our walk. We had been walking for about 10 minutes when one of the boys announced he needed a poo! Luckily the path was still very close to Tania Park so my man and the boy in question were able to hop back up in search of a toilet. The rest of us ate some rockmelon and drew pictures with some different coloured sandstone rocks.

After the loo break we set off in the direction of the Spit. The sky started to clear but I was glad that overall it was not a very hot or sunny day. We had taken roughly 1 litre water each but didn’t need to drink that much on our walk. The boys took turns being ‘leader’ and Reptile Boy took great pleasure in being the ‘scientist’ and carrying our sandstone samples we had picked up during the loo break. Princess varied between running to catch up with her brothers, running in the opposite direction to everyone else, refusing to move anywhere or being carried by one of her parents.

There are a few great views of Sydney Harbour on this part of the walk and it was easy to pick out places local to our apartment like the Q station and Collins Flat Beach.

One of my reasons for taking the whole family on the walk was to tie in with our work we have done on pre-history and early art. We stopped to have a look at the rock carvings at Grotto Point. They were completely different to my expectations: larger, and on the ground, rather than in a cave. They showed a couple of wallabies or kangaroos and several fish. There was little information about them and I have no idea how old they are. I realise now that I was expecting them to look like the cave art we saw in Kakadu, or the ones we saw on the BBC ‘How Art Made the World’ documentary.

Apparently conservation of these and other rock carvings is a somewhat controversial issue. It’s certainly not as simple as handing them over for curation by local people with aboriginal background. The rock carvings can only be cared for and maintained by select people and often those people are not alive or available any more. There’s more about this issue, with a list of other rock carving locations, on the Australia for Everyone website.

We also saw several bags of quarried sandstone lying around in the bush, evidence of the human intervention required to keep the path in a good state. Later we saw several newly built or renovated parts of the path with gullies for draining rainwater. The sandstone erodes pretty quickly, so this seems like a good approach, and reminded me of my work ages ago repairing the Cornish coastal path with The Conservation Volunteers when they were known as BTCV.

We knew the children wouldn’t manage to walk the whole way to the Spit so we told them we would stop at the beach and then go back to Dobroyd Head. It wasn’t much of a beach. There were some boys swimming, but it looked pretty cold and rough, and neither of us wanted our children to go near the waves. When I got back I did a bit of Googling and realised we had stopped just short of Castle Rock beach, which is actually pretty sandy and pleasant. Hopefully we’ll get there next time.

The distance was about right. Both Reptile Boy and Princess were tired on the way back, but not to the point of tantrums or unreasonable behaviour. It took us just under 2 hours with plenty of stops and I think it was about 2k to the (small rocky) beach and 2k back. Next time we will start at the Spit and see how far we can go.

On Easter Monday we drove to Manly Dam, which was busier than usual (due to the holiday), parked at one of the further car parks, had a picnic lunch and set off along the ‘Gulgadya Mura’ pathway. The whole walk is about 8 km so we knew we wouldn’t do it all. We aimed to get to one of the waterfalls, about 1.5 k along. Again, this was probably the right distance to aim for, and all the children were excited to see the waterfall, but Drama King was grumbling about his feet hurting and Reptile Boy was quite slow on the way back. There are loads of paths to the Dam from other roads so maybe next time we will park in a different place and see if we can get a bit further along.

I picked up some ochre stones and I’m thinking of crushing them to use as pigment for painting. We’re currently learning about colours and dyes in our Science Club and I hope it will be a fun activity.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Just a few everyday photos from Sydney.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Quick Family update

It was Pokemon Boy’s birthday last week and that’s as good a reason as any to do a quick update on what’s going on with our family. Pokemon Boy is much the same as usual, except he’s obsessed with Minecraft instead of Pokemon at the moment, he’s far larger than he was a year ago, and his hair is growing back into a great mop. He looks like a 12 year old and fits into 14 year old clothes. I blame all the sunshine.

Thank you to everyone who sent presents over. I was very pleased that he asked for specific items from most people, and it seems that the Lego kits have reignited his interest in Star Wars as he was watching Episode 2 again last night.

Partly due to Drama King being at home with us, I feel that I’m not spending enough one-to-one time with Pokemon Boy. We have plans to send Drama King to classes and then spend the time playing Lego Rock Band together! My man is also going to go cycling with him on Saturday mornings.

My man is still fairly content with his job, although he also says that he doesn’t want to do it forever. He briefly looked into doing the same kind of work but in a different company, where one of his friends works. In the end it seemed he had a better deal where he is now. I bought him a guitar for Christmas and some guitar lessons for his birthday, and was worried that he would never find the time to actually go to the lessons. But I can hear him practising while I type away, and it’s great that he has something relaxing to do when he’s not working.

We might have to move at some point because we have now lost the tax break on our rent, but we keep putting off actually making the decision. We have both been looking at other options. We have realised that the place we have now is quite a good price for what we have: a short, safe walk into town or the Wharf; four bedrooms, a big balcony, a large kitchen and living room, a double garage, a shared pool and a harbour view! We won’t be able to get anything like that for 2/3 the price so we will have to give up something. We might end up sacrificing location rather than size. Also, we have about 100 boxes in the garage which have hardly been opened since we moved. I know it would make sense to sort through them before we move and get rid of things we don’t want, but I am baulking at the job. It’s not as if I have loads of time on my hands to do it.

Drama King is still enthusiastic, energetic and loud. During the term before Christmas, it was difficult for all of us to have him at home instead of school, but I think we’ve settled into it now. We have done quite a few excursions this term and that seems to suit him fine. He had a great time at a samba drumming workshop organised by SHEN and I am thinking of getting drumming lessons for him next term. He needs to do something creative and energetic - drama, music or drumming would be good. He’s missing the Sydney Vocal Arts Centre holiday camp this holiday because he’s doing a soccer clinic with Brazilian Soccer Schools instead. We’ll see if that leads to anything.

Reptile Boy is having a great time at Ivanhoe Park preschool (run by Manly Council) but as I’ve already said, he gets terribly exhausted after three full days. Going in late didn’t seem to help so I tried keeping him off for a day one week, and this made a huge difference, i.e. we didn’t have a tantrum at the park after preschool that Wednesday, and he stayed awake in the car on the way home! Lots of his friends find it quite interesting that he had a day off for being tired. I think it’s a good habit to get into.

Reptile Boy is still fascinated by all things in nature. The other children at the preschool already know plenty about our capsicum plants and all the crabs we see at the East Esplanade during our morning walks. He’s also asked me to change his nickname here to be ‘Marine Boy’ or something similar, because we all rather suspect he might end up being a marine biologist. I’ve booked for us all to see the latest under the sea IMAX film next week, particularly because I know that he will love it.

Reptile Boy had been getting a bit reluctant to do his swimming lessons at Brooke Withers Swim School, but has been inspired by the certificates on the wall and now wants to stay until he gets to Seal level! (That’s better than Pokemon Boy can swim at the moment.) I have renewed lessons for another term but I think we might still have Term 3 off. Last year we missed too many lessons in Term 3 due to colds and other viruses so I think it won’t hurt to have a short break.

Princess also loves her swimming lessons but only performs when it is on her terms. She is behaving like a typical toddler apart from the lack of words. She’s very expressive with her noises and faces but only really says ‘Mum!’ or ‘More!’ in a loud insistent voice. She is fiercely independent. You really should see her when she comes out of daycare on Tuesdays and insists on carrying both her rucksack (with spare clothes and nappies) and her lunch box. She looks like she’s off on an excursion. The combination of both bags is too heavy for her but she always starts off down the road carrying both. She loves drawing and often will sit at the table scribbling away while her older brothers are studying. She still pulls everything out of the cupboards and drawers and strews items all over the place. She now knows how to pull a stool over to reach even more of our junk. It’s getting hard to keep the apartment tidy even by our low standards. Luckily I have a new, younger, cleaner who doesn’t mind picking things up from the floor.

I am very busy and very tired. In fact I might investigate whether I have a thyroid malfunction because I feel I’m getting more tired than I have done  in previous years, when I have been doing far more work. However that’s not stopping me from trying to establish baby signing classes and science workshops here in Sydney. I’m making slow progress since I have very little time to myself but paid-for science workshops should start next term and signing may be ready for the term after that, or at least by the end of the year.

I have a 10 k run coming up next week and the two older boys are doing 5 k on the same course. It’s pretty hilly and I think it might be a shock for them. They did a 4 k cross-country a few weeks ago and ended up walking a significant amount of it, but they are both resisting my suggestions of any further training. I have put on 2 kg since this time last year so I’m not expecting a great time but will be happy to just get round. After that I’ll set myself another challenge. I still hope to swim with the Bold and Beautiful before the end of the year but have only been swimming in the pool so far.

My man and I had a break on Good Friday, staying at the Q Station while I paid for a babysitter (our old nanny) to sleep overnight with the boys. We left Princess at home for the afternoon but went back to collect her before nighttime so she and I didn’t have a night away from each other. The Q Station was beautiful and a really good break. I love living near the North Head with all the wildlife and all the history. I read the whole booklet about the history of the Quarantine Station while my man was sleeping. We had a picnic on the beach and later a walk in the dark. We thought we had a rat scrabbling around near our room but saw it running around and it was actually a long-nosed bandicoot. There are loads of rabbits all around the North Head and we’ve also seen plenty of possums. Near the car park we saw an owl, or perhaps a tawny frogmouth. I wasn’t sure.

Pictures may follow in the next post.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In praise of homeschooling mornings, splashing and panning for gold

The first few weeks of this term went pretty well. Yes, the two older boys have argued, both with each other and with me. Yes, Reptile Boy has been terribly tired after doing pre-school for three days a week, which leads him to being grumpy and rough with the rest of us. Yes, I went through a patch of doing dinnertime late, which led to late bedtimes, which led to me going to bed tired not having bothered to do the housework, which meant I frequently got up in the morning to find the apartment still in a state and ants busy carrying crumbs of banana bread back to their nest. The ants seem to have gone for now, which may be due to the more autumnal weather since the start of March.

BUT in general, we are all happy. And we don’t start the day shouting at each other. This is a huge difference to the way it was when even one of them went to school. I used to shout because I was stressed about getting them there in time. I felt it reflected badly upon my parenting if I couldn’t get them to school on time. It’s silly, isn’t it, because this actually made me behave like the parent I don’t want to be like. I was far from a good example. And I resented being the one who had to organise them to get to school on time, partly because I am not naturally organised so I feel I have assumed this role by default, and partly because I think the boys themselves should already be organised enough to get all their things ready instead of playing with the Lego in the morning.

Every day it used to be a battle of wills, or a battle of completely misaligned priorities. And it was mostly societal pressure that made me feel I had to make them get to school on time. It didn’t really matter if they trundled up 5 mins after the rest of the class had lined up, and missed the teacher with the microphone talking about whatever they tend to talk about. But I used to shout, and they shouted back, and we all ended up feeling grumpy with each other even before the school day had started. Now, most days, if they want to play with Lego in the morning, that’s fine. Especially if I’m not up yet!

If they want to play Lego the whole morning rather than just when I’m in bed, that’s their choice, but it does have implications for screen time later on. I do try to get some bookwork finished each morning and screen time is the carrot we still use. I’m not ready for the completely child-led curriculum yet and I’m not sure I ever will be (but this issue probably deserves it’s own blog post.)

Anyway, I finished the first week of term thinking that we had achieved a lot, and still remained friends. The next two weeks went the same way. We all enjoyed going back to our weekly homeschooling group to see old friends and make new ones. Pokemon Boy and Drama King took part in a Splashtastic activity run by Fit Kids Australia, which I think was supposed to be team games but looked like they all threw or sprayed water over each other most of the time. The older ones also had a great time at a Gold Rush workshop at the National Maritime Museum, and Reptile Boy and I loved the Pirates exhibition so much we went back with the rest of them afterwards. In fact although we had only booked on a 1 1/2 hour workshop in the morning, we ended up spending the whole day there. I would thoroughly recommend the National Maritime Museum as a family or school visit - especially for the Viking exhibition coming in October.

We have taken advantage of a few beautifully sunny days to go swimming at the local pool and meetup with friends at the local beaches. Yet more splashing around - a great way to let out excess energy, especially as our apartment does not have a child-friendly garden.

We are now half way through the term. Reptile Boy loves his pre-school but comes out completely exhausted and I still haven’t worked out what to do about that. I am thinking of cutting down to two days a week for a while and I will see if that helps. Princess seems happy to go to daycare one day and be with the nanny another, which gives me time to go running and try to work on my business plans. Pokemon Boy is doing a weekly workshop on creating his own graphic novel and I am looking forward to seeing the end results. Drama King hasn’t really found a project to get his teeth into yet, but he is working with Pokemon Boy on a new computer game and doing pretty well in his Maths and English. We have another Gold Rush activity coming up, this time at CSIRO North Ryde looking at gold extraction; a workshop at Sydney Story Factory; and on the last day of term, the Homeschool Athletics Carnival where I hope the boys will show off the skills they have been developing at Little Athletics.

That’s lots of homeschooling information recently. I will try to do a more general post next about the weather, or life in Manly.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My personal goals for 2013

I do love preparing my homeschooling curriculum. Did you guess that from my last post? But that’s just a small part of what I’m trying to achieve this year. I have the following personal goals for this year. They are selected from a huge list of things I would like to achieve, but I’m hoping that by specifying these ones I will actually concentrate on them.

(1) To swim from Manly to Shelly Beach and back again at least once by the end of the year.

(2) To spend more one-to-one time with each member of my family (the ones in Australia).

(3) To plan a family holiday within Australia.

(4) To encourage more creativity and self-led activities in our homeschooling.

(5) To sing regularly.

(6) To research setting up my own small business.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Curriculum for 2013

For those who are interested, this is my plan for covering the six Key Learning Areas as delineated by the NSW Board of Studies. It’s a combination of approaches which have worked already and some new elements I want to introduce. I started adding links… but it’s going to take me ages to put them all in, so I’m posting this as it stands. If you’re interested in finding out more,you can ask me directly, or just Google the names yourself.

MATHS: This will be our (my) focus this year. Pokemon Boy still needs a lot of help/nagging/explanation to get him through the syllabus, so I want to attack it from different angles. We will continue with Life of Fred, which has been a hit with both boys. I might introduce Teaching Textbooks for Pokemon Boy but I’m not sure he will take to them. I want to buy a wider ranging, fun book about maths for Drama King to read and pursue on his own. (I remember being inspired by The Mathematical Tourist but that’s quite old now. I love Alex’s Adventures in Numberland, or there’s Maths 1001 and a couple of books by Michio Kaku, both of which have both been recommended by another homeschooler.) I might try Bedtime Math for all boys, which is not as bad as it sounds, just prompts to get you talking about maths in everyday situations and asking the children to do age/ability-appropriate arithmetic related to the situations you discuss. I love the NCETM Primary Magazine so I will use it to introduce some maths in creative ways, including art on Fridays. (If you click on the link you might have to join the site to get access to the magazine archives, but it’s free to join.) I might also use ideas from  the CSIRO maths by e-mail. There’s always Studyladder whenever the boys want to do it, going over the same areas as in the rest of the ‘lessons’ (and providing useful printouts to keep my BOS Appointed Person happy).

ENGLISH: Reading: I have three books we could use for our collective ‘read-aloud’ (fitting in with a Charlotte Mason/Brave Writer kind of philosophy). I will ask the boys to choose which one we do. The rest of their reading is completely free choice. They both love reading. I don’t want to change that by forcing them to read books I think are worthy. Of course, reading is also covered when we study pretty much all of the other subjects. I’m really not concerned about the reading syllabus. I think we cover it without having to plan much at all.

Writing:The Brave Writer Lifestyle has been a huge hit in our house. I introduced it because Pokemon Boy was such a reluctant writer when I first took him out of school. I mean, he could chew my ear off about his favourite subjects (for example, Pokemon), but if I asked him to write the same words down, he would dry up. Worksheet-type questions elicited a short sentence, or perhaps even just a phrase, usually with bad grammar and spelling mistakes to boot. The Brave Writer approach was tough at first, but it has obviously paid off. Pokemon Boy announced the other day that one of his career choices might be ‘author’! I was stunned and proud. Personally, I feel he has a long way to go, but as the Brave Writer founder says, you shouldn’t feel you can fix all your children’s mistakes in one go.

Any mistake that goes uncorrected today will magically appear in another paper. You can fix it then. Your kids won’t deprive you of the chance to work on their problems another time.

Our favourite Brave Writer elements are the Tuesday Teatime, Wednesday Movie and Friday Freewrite. Pokemon Boy will continue with his blog. I’m also hoping to get my man to help the boys with extending their vocabulary, and with persuasive communication. His job rests on persuading business clients that it’s worth paying huge consultancy fees to his company. In the long run this does save them money and lead to more efficient practices, but they have to be convinced to shell out in the first place. So I think he’s better qualified to teach our kids about persuasion than I am. In contrast, I often find it hard to charge people any money at all for the services I provide. 

The Brave Writer approach suggests that children don’t need specific spelling instruction, as long as they are reading and copying from great literature. I’m not particularly convinced. Pokemon Boy reads avidly and spells averagely. Therefore,we will continue using Sequential Spelling and see if this leads to some improvement. In terms of grammar, there are grammar activities on Studyladder. Both boys like using this program, but they are both ahead of grade level in this area. I don’t mind if they want to leave it for a while.

We cover Talking and Listening all the time! As with Reading, I don’t feel I have to plan this.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Pokemon Boy and Drama King are carrying on with Game Design online courses from Youth Digital. I’ve registered with CREST (Creativity in Science and Technology) and I hope to run activities with a local homeschooling group. This probably won’t happen until Term 2. As I’ve mentioned before, Drama King also does ‘science club’ with a friend. We will try out the CREST activities but not let it take over our main approach, which is just to pursue whatever the children are interested in. The Backyard Science TV series is popular with all of us, so we might choose some more experiments from these programs to replicate and extend. Again, this probably won’t happen until Term 2 because I want to focus on History more this term.

HUMAN SOCIETY AND ITS ENVIRONMENT: We are continuing with World History for us All. It’s designed for high school so we are only covering what they call the Panorama units. We will be reading A Little History of the World to fit in with each era, and I’m digging around for loads of videos to watch too. Fitting in with the idea of offering the boys more choice, I’m just going to provide a summary of the key themes and important questions for each era and let them decide how much they want to investigate at each point. I started this curriculum last year with Pokemon Boy but we are still in pre-history so I’m hoping we move on a little faster this year!

Later on in the year I want to volunteer with the Two Hands Project (cleaning up beaches) and I think if the boys get involved it will make them think about human impact on our natural environment.

CREATIVE ARTS: We now have peripherals for a variety of Wii rhythm games and I am thrilled that Pokemon Boy has been playing guitar on Lego Rock Band! I am going to continue with these games as much as I can. Drama King does holiday courses with a local vocal arts school and I have been teaching him the recorder. I may get him a keyboard sometime. I’m going to book both of them into sessions at the local art gallery, and try some visual arts at home every other Friday (either linking into our history course or using ideas from NCETM.) I’d love to get Drama King into a drama or musical theatre course, but I think that might have to wait until the younger ones finish their swimming lessons, otherwise it’s just too much driving around for all of us.

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT, HEALTH AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION. Continue with Little Athletics then get them to choose something else in the winter. Self-designed activities about personal development. I have loads of ideas on various topics which we’ll deal with on and off. I think we’ll start with talking about our values and interests and how that affects our choice of New Year’s resolutions and in the longer term, career choices. Then I want to cover how in order to achieve our goals we often have to acquire new skills. This is particularly aimed at Pokemon Boy. He has a tendency to think that he’s already learned everything there is to know about a subject. And although he’s doing really well at Game Design, I want him to realise that being a successful game designer is about far more than just the designing. I hope that seeing me research and plan for setting up my own business, will give them some insight into the process, My dear man will help with his work on persuasive communication. In terms of daily exercise I might carry on with Family Time Fitness or we might just do lots of runs/cycle rides on the way to and from picking up the younger children.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Not back to school

The summer holidays have finished. I have been putting off writing about last term for so long that next term is here already. School started for the NSW public schools last Wednesday, but let’s face it, nothing really gets done in the first few days of a school term. That’s even more the case in our local school because children are put in ‘holding’ classes for about a week while they sort out the real classes. 

This means today (Monday) was our official start date. I have a draft curriculum on my computer, a list of things I should really get ready with the most important ones highlighted, and two week’s worth of checklists for the boys to work through. I have a few books on my wishlist but I am trying not to buy too much new material. I have been reading a lot of John Holt and as a result I am aiming to be less prescriptive with our work at home, although I am hoping we will achieve great things nevertheless.

Unfortunately, I have also been reading many forum posts about negative visits from the Board of Studies. It seems the appointed people are becoming far pickier about whether homeschoolers are covering the NSW requirements or not. I have not had any problems with our Appointed Person in previous visits, but I am going to be more careful about noting down everything that the boys do that fits into one of the six Key Learning Areas, whether the activities were planned by me or not.

Last term was very stressful. This term should be easier for me because I’m not going to have all four children together for so many hours a week. Reptile Boy is starting pre-school next Monday. The pre-school has had many good recommendations from people I know in the area, and on my two previous visits I was terribly jealous of their wonderful resources. It is a learning environment that I think John Holt would approve of, because although the staff observe and record the children’s activities, there is no grading or competition between them, and the staff seem keen to respond to the children’s interests rather than directing them. Reptile Boy was impressed that they had two sets of toys with magnets in. His best friend is there on the same days (and was also there last year) and I think they will both be very happy. Reptile Boy is going for 3 days a week, although I have told the staff that I might take him out for days here and there if the rest of us are doing something interesting. For example, the Sydney Home Education Network have organised a samba workshop for March and I think he would be very upset to miss it.

Princess is now going to family daycare once a week. She has already had one day there and did extremely well. It’s interesting how my views have changed since Pokemon Boy was a baby. Then, I preferred nurseries (over here they are called long daycare) because I felt the systems and checks would ensure staff all met particular standards. I think I was also more interested in staff providing stimulating activities and working towards educational outcomes. Since Pokemon Boy was about 3 1/2 I have been much happier with family day care (childminders) i.e. putting my children in a family situation with a small group of children for the time they are not going to be with me. I think that having seen my other three children grow up I am confident that the desired outcomes will be achieved whether we provide them with ‘educational activities’ or not. Needless to say, the particular carer makes a huge amount of difference. Without having looked at any research I would guess that the standards vary more in the family day care (childminding) situation than between different long day care settings (nurseries). Princess’s carer is the same one who looked after Conor since just before he turned three. She is a wonderful person and I trust her completely.

In addition, we have a nanny one day a week. She is another wonderful woman who started babysitting for us when I was still pregnant with Princess. She was travelling around Europe for a while but then came back just when I was advertising for a nanny. The one day will give me time to exercise a bit, research my idea for a small business, and do all the little admin/medical/practical things that seem to be left hanging for months when I’m trying to look after all the children all at once.

Since Drama King started homeschooling I have made the effort to widen our social circles, and joined two more homeschooling groups. We will carry on going to the same Thursday group that we were going to last year (and I must remember to pay the subscription fee) but with extra meetups now and then to fulfil his more extroverted nature. We’ve done well with playdates over the summer but I just know he will start to annoy us all if that kind of interaction drops off.

'll post more detail about our homeschooling plans in another post. Feel free to skip over it if you aren't interested. We are also pursuing plenty of extra-curricular activities, Our mini Science Club is continuing on Monday evenings. I'm hoping to join a singing group run by the same woman who organised the carol choir. Little Athletics is fairly sporadic but goes on until the end of March. Princess and Reptile Boy are carrying on with swimming lessons and I might get the older two a few private lessons, especially as Pokemon Boy wants to do better at this year's homeschooling Swimming Carnival. I have a long list of other possible activities when Little Athletics finishes but I'll see what the boys are keen on.

Monday, December 31, 2012
New Year’s Eve 2012

New Year’s Eve 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I’m finding it difficult to write about our last term so here are some pictures of smiling children instead. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Spring seedlings

Towards the end of September I picked up a punnet of capsicum seedlings at Coles (our local supermarket). I hadn’t been intending to grow anything this spring, because I wasn’t sure how long we would be staying in this apartment. LAFHA (Living Away From Home Allowance) has already run out and without it, the rent here is now stupidly expensive rather than just surprising.

Spring in Sydney starts on 1 Sep. The sun shines stronger and more often, even if it’s interspersed with grey clouds, rain and lightning. The jacaranda trees burst into purple blossom. Temperatures rise, butterflies flit, cockatoos screech to each other from our balcony. The yacht club has restarts their Friday twilight races.



Spring always prompts me to want to grow something. Last year I was busy nurturing my own little seedling (not that she stayed little for very long). This autumn and winter, I resisted planting any bulbs or seeds. I thought we might not be in the apartment for very long, we went back to England for a bit, and also I’m just terribly busy what with four kids and homeschooling the two eldest!

But nevertheless, Reptile Boy and I gave into temptation, and as I mentioned above, we bought some capsicum seedlings from the supermarket. One of Reptile Boy’s daily chores is now to keep them well watered. Some days they are completely parched and other days the thunderstorms do the job for him. I reckon even if we do get our act together and move out sometime, it’s not too difficult to transport a little planter with capsicums in. 


Moving a little planter is not like moving several growbags of tomatoes, although I do love fresh tomatoes. There’s nothing like a tomato fresh off the vine. My favourites are sweet little cherry ones that you can pop in your mouth easier than strawberries. And the smell of the leaves is like instant time travel back to my childhood.


I am not sure how long it will take us to get round to moving out of this apartment, but in the meantime I’ll keep you posted on how our capsicums are going.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Several photos of our mischievous Princess