School Alive

So it was said all those 10 years ago that if you homeschool using living books, read about heroes and give then freedom to play that you will see what they learn filtration info their lives.  Well I will say we have had discussions about topics and sometimes seen a game reflect something they have learned. But never have they become absolutely engrossed – without our input. Then last month we decided that for the boy’s birthdays, next month , we would fulfil their life long dream of going to Kruger National Park.  Well, oh my, suddenly the children are leading all our learning. For handwriting is a South African poem, geography maps of the park and historical places and for history we have been learning about the history of South Africa. We have all sat enthralled as we have read about so much history we were unaware of.  Our hearts have been stretched, pulled, ached and rejoiced. We have climbed mountains, hunted, fought wars and pulled wagons with people long forgotten. It has truly been an amazing term with the children leading and asking for more and more. This reached a climax this week when we asked a friend to sew the girls some bonnets for the dress up box. Oh what fun these have been! The boys soon caught the fever and last night we were greeted at the dinner table by a group of “voortrekers.”

The children instructed us that we had to have baked potatoes and meat for supper – so that we could be like the voortrekkers and we had milk tart for pudding. This was followed by a play that they had created that told the whole story of Dingaan and the Voortrekkers.  Out of a few dress up clothes and a simple meal such a fun, memorable evening emerged

Cedar Wood

At the beginning of 2013 God led us to begin a homeschool facilitation centre. This has been a most awesome privilege and adventure to embark upon!

We started out with my 4 and just 2 others last year and are now up to 12 children. The vision God has planted into our hearts is to open a learning environment that is an extension of our home. A place that breaths God, a place where individually, excellence, diligence, creativity and a high standard of academics are valued.

Each child is on their own individual program – which makes for interesting mornings, but as they are at their own level for each subject, engaging in work they are excelling in, at a pace and presented in a way that is personally unique to them they are all so motivated.

Each child has a tablet, connected to the wifi, which they use throughout the day to access their reading or maths, science or history. They are required to to do daily research and then narrate about what they have discovered.

Cedar Wood is based upon a Charlotte Mason philosophy and we use a great deal of the Sonlight curriculum – especially for the history and geography. Neil runs awesome weekly science lessons that the kids can’t wait for and many Fridays are spent attending various outings or herb club (run by Peter’s Gate a farm in the midlands that grows herbs and produces herb products.)

Each child is issued with a planner of their day’s work and what they need to achieve during the day. What they don’t complete in the morning they do at home. We don’t have a break time – they simply get to eat when their work is done.

I have stood in awe of how responsible each child is for their work – even our youngest 4 year old diligently takes responsibility for her own learning! The children manage their time and their own work program. It is so interesting to watch the level of excellence and work ethic they place on themselves.

Yes there are squabbles and irritations and attitudes that need to be tweaked but just as in a family these are dealt with promptly and given natural consequences and choices they usually come right quickly.

I think the biggest reflection that this is something good that we have stumbled upon is that the number of parents who have called me to say that within 5 weeks of their children joining Cedar Wood their confidence has skyrocketed. This was never something Cedar Wood aimed to do and yet as the children have grown in responsibility and freedom to be who they were made to be this has been a natural progression.

So as we step boldly into 2014 we hope to soon have many more children learning in this sort of environment.

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Embracing Story Writing

As a writer and literacy lover I can’t help believing it’s fundamental for my children to be able to express themselves excellently though the written word. For the last 6 years we have used Sonlight as our homeschool curriculum and have loved their way of encouraging children to write and express themselves.

I was however thinking the other day how often a child will say they went to the “beach or park” and then launch into a story about what occurred there but never actually stop to create the scene. I really wanted to have a visual way to encourage the children to think more about the setting and use expressive words to describe it.

So here was the simple plan – an art lesson…. Each child was given an A4 page and using bright crayons they has to draw their favourite place. The trick being that they could add scenery but no people or animals – as those were characters not scenery. Some got this right others not but it was a great first try. We then laminated these pages. Once this was done I pulled out some stickers I had bought. They could each choose about 4 stickers to be the characters in their story. They could then move the stickers around to help them create the story.

This part became so exciting that we forgot all about spending a good amount of time describing the setting but I was so pleased with the stories they created that on another day we’ll do the activity again and spend time describing the scenery BEFORE I give out the stickers.

These pages have been used again and again at home to play with. They have even been taken on car trips. Think this is one idea I’m going to ensure I remember to do again soon!

 

What to Be or Not to Be

Recently I sat at the hairdresser chatting to the 20 odd year old owner of the salon. Our conversation led to education – hmm, surprise, surprise 😉 – she was soon telling me how she hated every day of school and by grade 10 she was failing ever subject. At this point she walked out of the school system and straight into hairdressing school – something she had wanted to do from the age of 5.

Within no time she way flying and getting A’s. She soon qualified and today she owns a salon and is about to open her second salon, whilst her peers are just leaving university and beginning to pay off their studies.

She then proceeded to tell me how a teacher from her previous school had popped past the salon recently and asked her to please take some time to meet with a girl who was just not coping at school. They wanted this girl to meet with the one who the school viewed as their biggest failure and that things can turn out alright. Hmmm, compliment or insult we are still debating this….

This got me thinking – yet once again- about our definition of success. Is it only being accepted into the university of your choice so that you may gain a qualification that usually requires you to spend the majority of your adult life working for someone else. Looking back I can’t help but also follow this thought with – what if when you are 30 you no longer want to do what you chose to qualify as when you were a mere 18 years old? Yet this is all you are qualified to do. Is this when you stop living life to the full and start counting the days till your retirement?

Please understand me there are many reasons to go to university, if this is what a child is created to do and become. However not all children are created for this path. Becoming a hairdresser, plumber, photographer, dancer, mother, author, actor or blogger are no less than a doctor, lawyer or teacher.

I honestly believe God has placed within everyone of us a way to make a living. As parents it’s our responsibility to help our children spark their dreams. Know what they are passionate about. They need to know who they are, where their giftings lie and to then have the confidence to follow their dreams to the end. They need to know we believe in them and all they were created to be.

Taking a brief glimpse at history we see again and again people who are seen by the experts as being failures and inadequate and yet people who had confidence in who they were and where their giftings lay they outshone all those around.

So take courage today. Stand up for your child and who they were created to be. Help them find their dreams and let them build upon these so that they are able to live their lives to the full!

(picture above from facebook)

 

Best Fish Lesson Ever

For the last few weeks we have been reading all about the ocean and fish in our Sonlight  PreK and Core A programs. The children have sat pouring over the pictures and even my – almost 10 year old – has been creeping over to listen.

Well last night I remembered that a while back my brother-in-law had been spear fishing and had given us a fish and it was still in the freezer. After lunch we set up our little tables and laid out the fish.

Firstly Reid had to measure it with his ever present tape measure – once the length had been anounced we could proceed with! It was then so interesting to watch how at first everyone pressed and poked gently as we looked at the different parts and tried to remember what they were called. We found the gills and how the water would wash over them. Raine then took out his penknife and took on the manly job of scaling the fish – which we will be eating for supper!

I popped inside to get a bucket of water only to come out and find 4 little pairs of hands pulling off scales, opening and closing the mouth, trying to dig the eye out. And the questions that flowed, “why’s the eye stuck, is this the tonge, I think I found the throat, can we cut off it’s tail? I need a torch.”

At times like these I find it best to simply step back, and move right out the way. Simply because I realise that to most of these questions they don’t want me to give them answers and if they do they’ll ask them again later, instead they are simply voicing their thoughts.

Their senses are allowing them to access so much information and so many thought processes are taking place that me adding more to it will spoil the moment. As Mom I often have to learn to take a side step and let the learning just take place all on it’s own. As they managed to take out the eye, scrape off the scales and feel the teeth I know that no explanation of mine will match the pure wonder, physical touch and smell of doing this for themselves.

As they keenly ran to meet Dad and helped him prepare the fish for dinner whilst telling him all about what they had discovered I knew that today we’d experienced the best Fish lesson ever!

 

Rediscovering True Learning

So this week was different, good, troubling and beautiful. As we were painting the twins room the house was a jumble – I don’t do well in a jumble! The children each have their work box and they continued with their maths and language arts, we still took time to read together, eat together, sing and pray together. But I was not in a place to sit and “teach.” As I was wandering around the house trying to sort through the muddle, the kids were pretty much left to themselves.  Yes I did sit with Reid for an hour to train him in using a timer to keep focused on his whatever activity he had at hand, I did try sound out a few words with the little ones and every night I set out some interesting games, puzzles or activities for the children to do the next day. Other than that they were pretty much left to themselves.

Generally by the time I am up and busy with making breakfast they are already in the work room, doing their box of work, building puzzles, drawing, building websites, practicing typing on the computer, playing an educational
computer game, doing Rosetta Stone French, cutting, sticking, tracing or building Lego. Without me interfering, all this dynamic, organic activity was happening around me. Wow!

At breakfast we read the Bible, stories and poems. We talk about these, recite Bible verses and sing.  In the shambles I asked God to help me to show more of Him personally to my children. We then happened to read a story about prayer and we spoke about hearing God and praying to him. We spoke about how God really hears when we pray. Very soon the clouds covered the sun and as we sat shivering we naturally asked God to please let the sun shine through the clouds again – and make the other clouds scoot around the sun. And He did. Something else to talk about dinner tonight, God heard us when we prayed, and He himself revealed himself to my children. Wow!

We had to deal with our son being bullied – as Sunday school – he was pushed against the wall, kicked and hit. How to we forgive? How do work through this emotionally? The child came to our house to apologise after which the two of them they spent the next hour skidding down our bank on boxes. “Mom, they must come and play again!” Wow!Gracie doesn’t like to listen to stories or learn from anything 2D. She does however love granny’s Boggle. This week I found a kids boggle – where they have picture cards with the word written and the child just needs to match the picture and letters. I just left I the new game lying around and sure enough in no time Gracie pounced on it and brought it to me. We spent a short time together looking at the cards, building words and seeing how it all worked. Since then she’s spent hours with the lettered dice twisting, turning, matching, sounding. That afternoon she spent ages turning a soup packet round and round saying, “Sooooop, sooop,” whilst looking for the word she was sure must be there. Never having sounded words before her encounter with kids boggle… Wow!

Music lessons are always a highlight in our week and the children come home glowing and inspired from the Musikgarten’s gentle and yet incredibly mature approach. Dancing, Science Club, Drama Club and Soccer have filled our home and afternoons. Friends visiting till late, Little Pilgrim’s Progress and David Attenborough’s movies keep us all company in the evening. Bindi, the Jungle Girl and Steve Irwin have inspired many a game and the “doctor’s box” has been used greatly to save all sorts of animals (usually dried branches) from near death. The imagination, creativity and passion inspired by these activities, friends, movies and books have left me in awe. Wow!

Today’s breakfast was unusually long – we had a lot we wanted to read, we found ourselves discussing the holy spirit and the power of Elisha within us and that Jesus is a king.  We sang a lot of songs. The children left the table ready to embrace the day. Reid, my child who never wants to do any “school work”, dashed off with the timer to do his desk work. Raine started to teach Rose’s 16 year old friend a Richard Clayderman’s piano piece he’s been working on. The boys then set up their puppet show that they had wanted me to film for them. For months they have been writing the script, making characters and developing the props. While they set this up the girls decided they needed to make crowns for a princess party they are going to tomorrow. Interesting that Summer broke the toy crown I bought her, she spend days trying to convince me to give her Gracie’s crown and finally today she woke up and announced that they needed to make crowns. Quite a thought process for a four year old to work through.  We filmed the boys and realised they needed to ask dad for his microphone as their voices are lost behind the screen. Something we’ll work on this weekend. We made birthday cards for their cousin’s birthday. Inside which they either wrote their own message or traced what I had written.I realised that every child does in fact want to write! Rose’s on half term, she should be studying but spent the morning sitting in the sun – “just thinking.” 

The twins helped our house cleaner to tidy their bedroom, they picked flowers and arranged them beautifully. They saved a locust from the dog and made a little house for it. They found a worm living inside a tiny stick “house” and stood in awe as it popped it’s head in and out. We made butterflies from crepe paper, zip lock bags and pipe cleaners.Lunch time found everyone gathering in the kitchen cutting home made bread, spreading jam, cutting avo and mashing bananas. A CD was brought in and we all found ourselves scattered upon the shelf, chairs and floor listening to the Adventures in Odyssey. I look around at five content, relaxed, glowing children. Five happy souls all busy enjoying a lunch they had made either for themselves or that was made by a sibling and my heart want to shout from a mountain top… WOW!

As I sit and type the boys are playing soccer on the trampoline interjected by multiple trips to Google to research different players, teams, countries, outfits, national anthems and flags. Rose chats away to friends whilst doing an Afrikaans project (multi-tasking seems to be a 15 year olds gifting, especially when it comes to friends and projects), Gracie is asleep and Summer is making a shop – with all our fruit and vegetables.  As Gracie emerged from her sleep she joins in Summer’s game.

The boys tire of jumping – yummy they want to make chocolate brownies.  Rose moves on from the computer and soon I find we are all gravitating toward our 4 year olds’ shop buying apples and bananas for afternoon tea and vegetables for supper. I sit and just watch, listen and try to learn from these amazing little creatures. At the end of this week void of a curriculum and structure but filled with new adventures, deep friendships – with God, people, subjects and books, creations, sums, plays, making movies, maps, writing books, puzzles and locusts, I find myself asking did any learning really take place? And all I hear resounding within the deepest corners of my heart, mind and soul is, “Wow! And I get to be a part of this! Wow, wow wow!”

Just a Few Ways We Do School

Just for fun I thought I’d quickly share with you just a few pics from around the house on how you may find us “doing school.”

Doing Spelling

Doing Maths Bonds and Tables

Handwriting

Desk Work

Long division – yes that is on my passage floor!

Geography

Science usually happens by accident.

More maths made for lunch.

Self discovery and explorations.

Baking

And lots of Books.

I could just keep going all evening but that gives you a quick glimpse into how you may see us “doing school” on any given day. Enjoy the ride.

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Our Turkish Trip

Mist early in the morning. Bolu province / Tur...

This year our homeschool journey has found us learning about the Jewish feasts and studying the Geography of the Holy Land. We have used Ann Voskamp’s book A Child’s Geography – Explore the Holy Land, and it has been an amazing journey so far. This remarkable book has allowed us to embark upon an amazing Turkish trip.

This imaginary Turkish trip has left me wishing that I could travel there today. Never before did I realise that Turkey was where Ephesus was or that Abraham has lived in Turkey or that this was where Mnt Ararat is. I think that  have learned and enjoyed this as much as the children.

 

We decided to finish our Turkish trip with a Turkish meal. We tried our hand at making Turkish delight – but it didn’t work too well, but kids still enjoyed the yummy goo we concocted.

We then prepared some flat Turkish bread

 

and tavuk sis kebabes that Lord Dad cooked on the braai / coals for us while

we made some yumurtah ispanak (spinage and egg) in the kitchen.

Once we were all ready we found a youtube video of some whirling dervishes and some Turkish music online and we settled around our table to share the joys and mysteries we had discovered on this most intriguing Turkish trip we had taken.

 

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Giftedness is Very Real

There I said it! My Son is gifted!

Unlike Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome or Dyslexia, Giftedness is something we don’t talk about. It’s something we dare not utter a word about because when we do we are shouted down for boasting and being proud. (As we see the author of “I Hate Hearing About Your Gifted Child” just did.) Thank you Laughing at Chaos , AwayFromTheOven and LifeWithinIntensity for your inspiring blog replies. They made me ralise it’s time for me to be bold enough to let others to hear from us too.

I am not sure why people feel so judged and threatened by gifted children when in fact that’s just who they are. They function differently from the rest of us and see and hear the world from an entirely different perspective. Why is different so intimidating and somehow wrong?
It’s how you think, how you perceive and how you breath. Being gifted isn’t something you can turn on and off, it isn’t something you can work hard at and become, it isn’t being talented or skilled in an area such as sport or music. Instead it’s just who you are.

Gifted children are not at the top of the class, they often the “plebs” who’ve been misdiagnosed with ADHD and are sitting on Ritalin. They are often the trouble makers and those just skimming through each grade. These are not children to be threatened by instead they are an endangered species that we need to save. These children are able to offer so much and yet we are pushing them aside, discriminating against them and drugging them. So many resources are available for Learners with Special Needs – who battle through the system and yet there are none available for my learner with special needs.

He began reading at 22 months, when he was 5 he was reading encyclopedias. I called a school to enroll him in grade 1. I asked what they would do with him while the others learned to read their response, “He’ll just need to suck it up and wait for the others to catch up.”

So we homeschool – by choice – well yes… Until I hit a real wobbly last year and wanted to send them all to school. Again a phone call. “I have a 9 year doing grade 7 maths and high school reading and language.

Can we enroll him next year?” Reply: “Well, he’ll need to go into grade 4 and we’d try extend him but he’ll need to do grade 4.” Imagine! That’s like telling a 3rd year varsity student that they need to go back and start varsity over again. So yes we love homeschooling but it’s no longer only by choice, we are kind of out of options.

When saying my day is tough other homeschoolers have turned around and said, “but at least your child reads what do you have to complain about?” Well my gifted child is reading – but he reads anything and everything he lays his eyes on. That includes billboards, newspapers and the Bible. Maybe that sounds like a dream, but is it? When your child is 5 and having sleepless nights because of world hunger or trying to understand death and eternity at 3 years of age. How do you explain to a 6 year old about government taxes and the economy crashing when he wants to know about why the government is repossessing houses? The best yet is trying to explain God’s judgment, justice and grace to a 5 year old.

How about seeing the world only as black or white. Everything is either good or bad. There is no grey. Everything has to be justified and fair. The rules, every rule needs to be kept. The world is so loud and bright and the sensory overload can be so great that melt downs are apart of ones reality. One who needs to move to think. The pressure of thinking one needs to be perfect and not being able to sleep at night as their mind is so alive. So the list continues.

The intensity so great that Mom and Dad fall into bed exhausted every night. And they say siblings are usually not far behind each other. As our little ones are growing they may not fall into the profoundly gifted category, like their brother, but they too are following close behind. Can you imagine to intensity of these little people trying to all help me make supper, tell me about their day or work on an art project? No it’s not horrid just very noisy, opinions flying, conversations heated and everything being analysed. Nothing can just be “because it just is.” But why?


Looking at just a few of the gifted “symptoms” mentioned above would it make everyone feel better if I say my son has a “syndrome.” May I mention that besides doing grade 7 maths, he’s just finishing writing his first novel at 9 and that he’s busy building a birding website, he plays the violin beautifully, he writes wonderful poetry and he is the most amazing big brother. Or am I only allowed to dwell on his “syndrome symptoms?” We have been blessed with an amazing little boy who is tender hearted and loves with his whole heart – another symptom I suppose: Gifted children either do something completely or not at all.

For 9 years I have kept quiet but I can’t let others tear down something so beautiful and pure as the gifted child – without which there’d be no Mozart, theory of relativity or Starry Night. Just as I see every human as a unique creation by God and rejoice in who they are, don’t see our gifted children as a threat, simply see them for the beautiful people they are and celebrate that you too may one day benefit from what they have to offer this world.

So just aswe need to raise our voices to save the rain forests so we need to raise our voices to save the Gifted Child who is just like everyone else – just wants to be accepted and loved for who they are. Instead of trying to box them and feel threatened by something new just try to understand the gifted child and you maybe pleasantly surprised with what you find!

Pearl Buck sums giftedness in the most beautiful way….

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: 

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. 

To him… 

a touch is a blow, 

a sound is a noise, 

a misfortune is a tragedy, 

a friend is a lover, a joy is an ecstasy, 

a lover is a god, 

and failure is death. 

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – – – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”


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Homeschooling Rocks

Whenever anyone questions me on our decision to homeschool I find myself trapped between a rock and a hard place. I believe it is right for our family and could spend hours discussing the benefits homeschooling has poured into our lives. However, at the same time I realise others have different convictions and are in a different place, therefore they may choose to view our choice to homeschool as a criticism or judgement on them. For this reason I usually hold a fairly neutral ground regarding the benefits of homeschooling and stick to, “it’s what works for us.”

Last night however lifted my heart and soul to such a degree that I fell asleep with a deep conviction that home education is what God intended for our homes, lives, communities and families.

As 2011 drew to a close one of our homeschool families decided to host a barn dance to see in the New Year. Their garden was transformed with hay bales, a bonfire and strings of lights, apricots for snacks and barn dance music filling the air as the tables began to fill with the food brought by each family to share for dinner. Jeans, flare skirts, hats, plaits and boots were the order of the night. Hugs, laughter and joy filled the air. Heel, toe, heel, toe, woops, spin around – mind my toe – off to the left we go. Change your partner, now find your own – where did he go? Heel toe, heel toe…  Rain began to pour, laugh some more, shoes shed, mud galore – let’s go around more and more and more. So the evening was spent by 20 adults and 40 children ranging in age from 4 to 80 years.

Looking around I found my 4 year olds were being looked after by a 15 year old boy and my 9 year old had partnered himself in a dance with a 17 year old girl. My 5 year old son was discussing cricket with an 18 year old while my 14 year old was somewhere in the mix with her friends. None of the teens were coupled off instead they shared friends, dances and partners throughout the evening. No one was left on the side lines, no one rejected or excluded. Boys and girls were free to be themselves and not worry about appearance or expectation. Their feet covered in mud they could lean on one another and laugh and just simply be.

Age, race, status, background – nothing mattered. Ten year olds were leading dances. They had all ages arranged and listening to their clear instructions on how to find our places. And listen we did as we were instructed who to dance with and where to turn.

Shortly before midnight we broke into families and spoke about our dreams for 2012 then broke bread and prayed for each other.

What pure joy the evening was. Age groups mixing. Children and adults respecting each other. No arguing or fighting. Good healthy food. No pairing off. No cell phones in sight. Children involved only in friendships and not the complexity of relationships, seeing their parents dance and laugh and flirt with each other – seeing marriage is good.

Yes many others may have had similar evenings but there was something special about these kids. They could mix, be free, my little ones weren’t in the way. The adults could also be free to talk, dance, pray for each other and be real together. This is true family, community and life abundant about which God spoke when he said he’s given us freedom to be free.

So as we stand on the brink of 2012 I rejoice that we are free from systems, free from expectations and limitations, free from curriculums, free from social pressures, free to be and do all that God created for us to be and do.  I will shout from the roof tops, “Homeschooling Rocks!” I’m so glad that as a family we’ve embarked upon this path where our children are not only able to experience true, unadulterated socialisation but they are also free to stay children longer and enjoy  true, real friendships and become all that God created them to be whilst living life abundantly.

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