A Walk By Faith

The last few months have been a time of deep,inward reflection. A time of re-evaluating our dreams, desires, wants and life path.

Some History: Having taught in remedial classes until our son was born 10 yrs ago I was not ready to leave my career for anything. Yet when our son turned 3 months old and I had to return to work my heart was broken. Something deep inside me snapped – something I didn’t know was even there, was now directing every step of our lives… With that I resigned and the real adventure was about to begin. As a stay at home mom of one baby I was busy – but also craved company and “brain food.” With these desires firmly intact I happened to stumble upon homeschooling, Sonlight and Wendy Young – co-author of the South African curriculum Footprints. As I delved further into this new realm of understanding blinkers began to fall from my eyes a whole new world of thought and understanding of education and child rearing was being revealed. As I befriended Charlotte Mason – 19th Century Educationist – my entire world view began to heave and shift. My reality sat upon very unstable ground. The next ten years were spent busy readjusting my thought patterns, soaking up this new understanding and realigning my life to a life of child led education, filled with living books, project based education that drew from a child’s desire to want to know.

To the present:

I have stood in awe as my one son’s love for birds taught him to read and recognise all the countries of the world whilst our second son’s love to sport has taught him the exact same information. This was not regulated to lessons or a curriculum it just poured naturally from them. Calculations of birds distance flown or the number of goals scored in this match or that and the average speed of a bird or the average number of goals scored by a player see numerous sums being calculated daily. Yes living books and a curriculum such as Sonlight fuels the fire and helps drive the boat – but that in itself – opposed to a teacher driven model of marks, punishment and rewards was all new to me.

So here we sit 10 years on…. Very comfortable in our daily routine, life could quite happily continue in this vein for another 18 years. But Mom’s becoming restless, a silent whisper settles upon her heart. “I didn’t train you for nothing… now’s your time.” A whisper that will not be stilled or leave…. The nudge begins, the ideas grow, the pull in epic, it will leave no peace until it’s faced. Finally the time arrives. The time to choose to listen or choose to run. But where will one run too? Is Tarshish far enough? Would the voice not follow there too? Maybe it’s time to simply stop and listen – so we did… After months of prayer and deliberation we feel a deep calling within the heart of our family to start a learning centre – a place for children to be assisted within their homeschool journey. For each family this may look different. Some may come for a few hours a week, others every morning, whilst others may just be to guide the folks. Our deepest heart cry is for the many children literally dying in the system and owning to parents commitments they simply have no alternative. It’s our hope that this learning centre will provide them with time to complete their maths and language whilst giving them opportunities to follow their interests, passions, and learn from their heart – whether it be birds or rugby…. So today we take a the first steps into this unknown territory as we embark upon this crazy walk by faith…. Only God knows what it’ll look like and who He’ll bring but for now all we can say is: We are willing – let the adventure begin!

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Soul of Education

Extra curricular activities are always an interesting topic to discuss. As what exactly are they, how do they fit into our lives and days and why exactly are we doing them? Thoughts such as these often come spinning around my head late at night.

When we first began our homeschool journey and I was fresh out of the classroom these activities were viewed in my mind as something extra, something to add on after we had done “school”, something that was viewed as a luxury and as an added bonus – if time and money allowed. Yes, as all of life comes down to money, that is still a realistic constraint – however my attitude and views have somewhat altered over the past 10 years!

As I have spent more and more time researching Charlotte Mason, listening to Ken Robinson and partaking in other Learning Revolution discussions my understanding on what education truly is has changed. I see more and more the need for an education to fully embrace the mind, body and soul. In the past I viewed the extra curricular as something extra whereas it’s now become a part of what we do. A part of the child’s education, something as essential as maths or language.

Obviously it would sound fantastic if every child could partake in every activity that caught their attention however this is not practical or necessarily a good thing. As parents we need to wisely know our children and what suits them and when. We see these “extra curricular activities” as a personal extension of who each of our children truly are. It’s our hope that these experiences will capture their souls and their love for something that will carry them a lifetime. Our 10 year old son has always been passionate about birding, he writes a birding blog and has a birding website. We try to see that he’s able to volunteer at the Bird of Prey Sanctuary – as often as we can make the 45 minute trek there. This has not only allowed him to connect with the birds themselves but with many amazing people. Many of who maybe colleagues of his one day if he follows through with his dream to study ornithology. This “extra curricular activity” should therefore be viewed as fundamental as his writing lessons as it’s networking and connecting his passion with his future.

Each of our children may choose 2 (though sometimes it becomes 3) activities that they may partake in off our property. As all our children have an affinity for music, and I don’t, taking music lessons is a non-negotiable (which they love the idea of.) As our eldest is attends regular school and her time is tight she’s decided to find pieces off the Internet and teach herself using the online lessons she has found.The younger 3 attend musikgarten, which gives them an amazing grounding in music, and our 10 year old son has violin lessons.

Interestingly he has always wanted to play the violin and so he began lessons at the age of 6. His teacher came to our home every second week for 2 hours. During this time our boy not only played the violin but was submerged into listening to it, watching DVDs on it and above all learning to love his instrument. This year however he’s begun to talk about studying music after school and for this reason we’ve changed music teachers. The new teacher, known to have her students play beautifully, requires a much higher level of playing, as well as her students to be fully commited. Surprisingly he has absolutly taken to this and is loving the challenge.

Besides their music the boys also attend Lego lessons which have been fantastic for this mom who has absolutely no interest what-so-ever in anything that has to do with pulleys, levers, buildings and conveyor belts. By attending these lessons with a mom who’s as passionate about these, as I am about writing, has been a real blessing for the boys as they have grown and learned so much under her enthusiastic instruction.

Besides music the twins and our 15 year old do praise dance – an hour of fun dancing where they learn to worship God through their dance. The twins have been attending rhythmic gymnastics but I feel this season has reached an end for now. As hard as it is, as parents we sometimes have to make hard calls. They still really want to go but I see burn out knocking at our door as well as little foxes entering our home. For other children this is not a problem but the sweets at the end of the lesson have become an issue in the hearts of my gilrs and it’s my responsibility to guard their hearts.  Being so young the girls have begun to assosiate dancing with being rewarded for performing and now they won’t dance at home without me supplying them with a handful of treats. They are losing the love for simply dancing and are instead being drawn to the reward. Charlotte Mason warns up of this and now I’m seeing the true fruit of “what you draw a child with, is what you draw your child to.” This added to the fact that we’ve realised that gymnastics is a very individual sport, meaning that in effect our girls would be pitted against one another, we’ve decided to give it a break and that they may return, when they are older and one of them specifically wants to take this up as their “thing.”

Our 15 year old has recently taken up ballet. As her plate is full at school and she still has home responsibilities we have decided for her to attend the adult dance class that happen in the evening. There are no shows or exams but just fun ballet lessons. She’s really enjoying this approach and it allows her to decide if it is something she’d like to take more seriously later, whilst allowing her to catch up with her peer group.

We have also found certain areas that we are passionate and interested in assisted greatly by outside input. Our eldest son has just joined Cubs where he is learning so many vial skills that we simply don’t have the time to get around to.

But I’d say the greatest “trick” we’ve learned is to host or do as many extra curricular activities from our home as possible. Having studied drama and my husband being a microbiologist we host drama lessons and a science club from our home. This is great as our children are able to have lessons for free and we actually do them because others are paying to come! From the drama lessons we discovered one teenage boy has amazing soccer skills, so after drama he coaches soccer, in our garden, for half an hour. We have also said that the money we make by running these extra murals from home is the amount we’ll set aside for the children to use for other activities they want to take part in.

Having 5 children does limit one’s ability to get to everything they would love to partake in and often the lessons cost more than they child is benefiting form the activity. We do therefore use the Internet a great deal to. We have found free drum, art and piano lessons and then we also buy DVDs that have lessons. My twins favourite being one with ballet on it.

As mommy to 5 very different children I have learned one thing that remains the same – extra curricular activities need to not only entertain a child because they enjoy it but to rather be firstly something I cannot teach them and secondly something that suits them and grows them personally into all the were created to be. As our children learn and embrace new skills, these activities are the part of our curriculum that develops our child’s body as well as their soul. This happens as they are connected to beauty and are able to partake in the creative world around them.

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This post features on the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers (SACH Bloggers) where South African home schoolers share experiences, ideas, philosophies and much more.  You can join the carnival too by heading to the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers sign up page. We hope you enjoy the carnival as much as we have!

SA Home Schooling Blog Carnival June 2012 ~ Extra Curricular Activities

Lego Club

This last term our boys attended Lego Club! Awesome is all I can say!

One thing we have learned from Lego club is that Lego is not just for boys and they do not just build cars and houses!They have been exposed to numerous technology skills and entirely new ways of thinking. From building lego puppets, to pullies, to cars, box mazes and box walls, straw towers and jelly-bean catapults we have stood in awe of this most amazing curriculum.

Lego Club is not only about the design process but in the words of one of our boys “Learning to get on with each other and working together … that’s what Lego is all about.”

Their teacher’s enthusiasm and passion for her subject as well as the stunning activities are so contagious that one finds the adults even wanting to stay!

 

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Science Club

Earlier this year we realised we were slacking in our science lessons – and as Dad is a scientist it made sense to start a science club. So every Tuesday afternoon we have a group of about 10 join us to do science. This has been fantastic as it ensures we get our science done but it also brings in a little extra cash which we then use to pay for our children to do other lessons.

We asked Lord Dad to write a little about the science club so you can hear straight from the scientist what it’s all about….

(To find our more about our Lord Dad and his fun science lessons visit his webpage at http://www.good-science-fair-projects.com/ )

“Contrary to popular belief, science does not only happen in a laboratory with test tubes and microscopes – it happens everywhere. Science is about being able to explain why things happen, or don’t happen. It is about understanding our world, seeing things that amaze you and then making sense of what happened when you understand. Science is about life!

Science Club is a place where I get a chance to pass on my passion for the world of science. It is a place where science is relevant, practical and within reach to the young scientists who attend. It is a place where the equipment used for the experiments are things that are either in the house, or can be bought from a local shop. It is a place where concepts are explained in simple everyday language, but at the same time where important jargon and scientific terminology is used thus expanding the scientific vocabulary.

Each term consists of 9 science lessons with the final lesson being an opportunity for parents to come and see what their children have been learning and for the children to teach what they have learned to their parents and siblings.

My vision for the Club is to make science relevant and accessible and to see young people engaging with science and eventually being able to apply it to solve problems and make this world a better place to live in.

However – most importantly – it is about having fun!

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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Encouraging Creativity at Home

Chalk

I’ll never forget the day when my first born was about 2 years old and he grabbed some wet red chalk that we had been using on paper and headed for the chalk board. The words,”Don’t you dare write on the chalk board with that chalk!” flew out my mouth. As they did so I couldn’t help but notice the obserdity at what I was saying. The reasoning was that wet, red chalk is a mission to clean up BUT he was exploring and discovering and learning and here I was qualified remedial teacher and all standing in his way.

8 years later I daily make it my aim to make our home as “free” as possible. Don’t get me wrong we have very clear boundaries but when it comes to creativity, exploring and learning our rules are simple – “No one is to get hurt (this includes any verbal nastiness, nothing gets broken and you clean up your mess.” Wow these new boundaries freed me as Mom and my kids to be kids they were revolutionary!

However we do still try to create other circumstances which encourage creativity and here are a few easy ideas that you can simply slip into your daily life.

  • Make up stories together. As you drive along and see an old lady and her dog. Who are they? Where are they going? What secrets do they have?
  • As you walk along create new and weird animals and plants.
  • At bedtime create new lands filled with wonderful creatures and characters. We used to live in a place called Albert Falls that had a huge dam. Lord Dad created a whole world for our knights around the Giant Chicken of Albert Falls. They have so many adventures and character ranging from the chicken to a toe called Joe!  It’s all crazy, silly but the boys are learning to create stories and think beyond their daily reality.Create an imaginary play area while the children are asleep. So when they wake they find the dining room table has been transformed by a blanket slung over it, and it filled with pillows and books into a mysterious hide out.
  • Let children be creative with their food. For snack time you can give them pieces of fruit and toothpicks and see what creatures they can make with them. Or use a sieve to spread icing sugar on a table and let them use their fingers to “draw” in it.
  • Provide them with a variety of instruments – even if they are homemade – and let them explore with sound.
  • Let them mix different things such as mud, pasta and flour together. Take some time to make some gloop – this is such fun that my 14yr old even wants to stay home from school to play with it.
  • Don’t always tell or explain things, let them figure things out for themselves.
  • Give them different bath toys – some that sink and some that float, add food colouring to their bath water – but only a little as it can give them a rash. If you feeling very brave and don’t mind scrubbing it clean as it may stain let them draw in the bath with chalk.
  • Make gifts, wrapping paper and cards rather than relying on purchased ones.
  • Plan outings and events together.
  • Let them arrange flowers to set on the table.

The lists are endless so the best thing to remember is to try and step back – give them space to think and explore and discover for themselves and this is the essence of creativity being sparked in their minds. The only real limitation being us providing our children with the freedom and time to create.

 

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Maths for Lunch

This last week I decided to help our little maidens learn their numbers – during lunch. So we embarked on a fun project that sorted lunch time out for me as well.

We began by making some white bread dough (8 cups of flour, 1 packet of yeast, about 4 cups of luke warm water, some oil and salt) Then at the last minute – much to maiden #1’s horror I added BLUE food colouring.

Once it was well kneaded we left it to rise. About half an hour later each child was given a ball f dough on a floured surface. The older children made all sorts of creatures whilst I helped the girls make their numbers 1-5.

This was a great activity as it worked their fin muscles whilst they were learning something “academic.” For my more visually orientated child this activity was crucial as she could see the number being physically build. She also had the opportunity to touch and feel the number as a concrete object and then even eventually eat it!

Once we had shaped the dough we splashed them with water and cooked it in the warmed oven. The length of time depended on the size of the creations – but once they began to go brown we took it that they were ready.

The kids were delighted with the results.

When offered his lunch….

Lord Dad was a bit concerned about what exactly goes on while he’s at work 😉

But the rest of the household filled their tummies up on blue bread and jam!

This was one of those easy to do activities that we can easily repeat and it would still be enjoyed just as much. There is so much learning that can be drawn out of making normal bread and so much more out of bright coloured number bread.

So take the plunge have some coloured bread for lunch today and leave a comment saying how it turned out.

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Ssshhh Listen

We all live in such a busy society that we have very little time to just stop, look and listen. Yet it’s in these quiet moments that a child is able to ponder, which is so important for their overall physical, emotional, and spiritual development.

Often we think we need to create special moments for this to take place but instead we need to just grab moments when they arise. A lovely time to slip this “stopping” into our day is in the early evening, just as the sun is about to set. Take five minutes to crouch down, ask your child to close their eyes and whisper to your child to “Shhhh listen.” Then slowly whisper “what can you hear?” In a town they may hear the traffic heading home, boats hooting or someone yelling. Away from the city it maybe birds singing or leaves rustling. What they hear doesn’t matter – just that they hear it! This 5 minute activity stimulates all sorts of auditory skills in your child’s life. It helps develop their auditory discrimination, figure ground discrimination, constancy skills and analysis and synthesis skills. Our world is so full of visual stimulation that we often forget to just stop and listen. 

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