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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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)

 

Seize the Day

This adventure called parenting is one that is constantly challenging, changing and one that keeps us learning. The irony being that more often than not it is the children teaching us not only about where they need their boundaries or security to fall or what stimulation they require but they teach us about life too. And just when we think we have it all together once again they open our eyes to a whole new realm.

It is easy as a parent to become caught up in the discipline, parenting and ensuring that all our child’s educational needs are met that we do in fact lose out on the very marrow of parenthood. Parenting is a hard job and a huge responsibility. It is however just as important to take time out with our children. We need to laugh, to play, to dance and explore this amazing earth with them. It is so easy for us to become caught up in our “mature” adult world that we are no longer capable of drawing ourselves away to simply be with, and enjoy being with, our children. When last did we sit with our child and simply watch a dragon fly dance across the water? Have we recently squashed our toes in mud? Did we take the time to colour a picture? Or dance in the kitchen? Yes these are all interruptions within our busy schedule and they do draw us away from all we need to do. But I am learning day by day that they do instead draw us into the company of our children which draws us into their lives and as they grow into their confidence. We are then able to see the world through their eyes, their understanding, and their hearts.

Just this last week I was yet once again pulled back to the essence of being Mom. It had been a long day and I had asked the twins – aged 4 – to yet again get out the bath, dressed and tidy their room. After a period of time mother instinct kicked in and I knew nothing was happening. I threw down the peeler and marched to their room – ready to deal out the wrath of Tired Mommy. On reaching their room I could see no one, only a lump under one duvet. Pulling back the blanket, ready to reel out my list of consequences, I was greeted by two, barely clad, squirming cherubs. They held within their hands a torch and were giggling incessantly.  “You found us. We hid. The torch… Giggle, giggle.” Instantly my parenting wanted to discipline, wanted to see to it that I remained the one in control, that they learned they needed to obey. Yet a small voice inside me began to ring louder, a voice saying, “this is actually really funny and you too need a good laugh.” Digging deep I managed to push past all the serious parenting, discipline, and training roles and for that moment in time just be Giddy Mommy. We tickled and giggled and squirmed. With that the stress of the day melted away and I could return to peeling the carrots rejuvenated and refreshed. My children then too jumped to their tasks and were soon dressed and had a tidy room.

So yes we are called to a high, noble and difficult position of training and education these little beings. But we are also called to a humble place: a place of simply being, a place of learning to stop, and relish the simple moments that these wonderful little people bring into our lives.

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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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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!”

Good Family literacy value helps children find their voice.

So often we hear adults conversing and during a single conversation they will change their viewpoint every few minutes to align themselves with whoever is speaking. Even though, every person has views and opinions many are never voiced, simply because people haven’t been encouraged and inspired to share their standpoint. As parents we can assist our children, in developing the skills to share their voice, from when they are still tiny tots.

Until a child goes to school the home provides the primary influence within their life.  What the child sees and hears happening at home is what they’ll imitate.  Unfortunately the saying “do as I say and not what I do,” has no meaning for little people.  Children are created to imitate, it’s the way they were programmed to learn about the world and how they should respond to it. Have you ever wondered why a child has good or bad manners, or where they learned the vocabulary they use?  How often have they dressed in mom or dads clothes and said, “Look, me Dad.”  The same goes towards their intellectual development and attitudes.

If parents and later teachers value books, learning and excellence a child will value these too.  We often scoff at the “whys” of a two year old and yet he is often truly searching.  As they look around the home they make connections and satisfy their “whys” of daily life. As they get older however their minds desire to stretch and pull out further. This is often beyond the walls of the home and the streets of their town. Their “why” draws them out across field and mountain, shore and sea even right into the heart of the universe. From here they desire to step deeper into understanding life, fear, ecstasy, pride, victory and failure. Many of these stretch beyond his immediate experience so it’s through the reading of great books that they can dive into another place time and meet new people. This in turn will stretch and grow their person. Don’t however stop here, throw before them the histories, arts, music, handcrafts and long nature walks. Then you’ll see that even the young child has deep powers of attention, retention, assimilation and curiosity that will help them draw from these meaning and a deeper understanding about life.  As we feed our children this “mind stuff” they begin to take up their journey into self-education.

By adults making their speech colourful and full of life, using big words when talking to a child, talking slowly and stopping between ideas we are training a child to think carefully before he speaks. To choose his words carefully, to have breaks between topics and clearly construct his thoughts encourages a child to consider what they are saying and to say it well.

Yes this does begin upon the mother’s knee as the young child is read to often during their early years. To know a world lies beyond those silent pages, the child soon begins desiring to acquire the gift of reading for themself.  As they charter and explore these new lands deep rooted personal views and opinions begin to grow. As we mirror good speech patterns, encourage great books and curiosity and we value our children and their opinions from a young age, they are well on their way to developing opinions and a voice that they will uphold and will be clearly heard in life.

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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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Creativity Takes Time

English: Keyskills Centre toy piano model BG01...

Da, dum, dum – Da, dum, dum – Da, dum, dum, dum, dum, Da, Da – dum, dum, Da – aaaah I feel my brain  being  slaughtered by my 9 year old at the piano. Try, try, try – getting it right… error – oops and so we start Waltzing Matilda again and again and again…. Hour after hour, day after day. On occasion I can let it play, other times I walk away, sometimes I encourage “outside time”, and often I declare “silence!” to the furthest corner of the property!

When however I’m in a quieter frame of mind I know that this is all part of the creative and educational process. By choosing the same piece and working it out himself and playing it over and over he’s not only learning to play Waltzing Matilda but he’s  learning about music, sound, the piano itself, composition, endurance and so many other skills but mostly he’s expanding his ability to create. No, he’s not creating his own new piece but he’s looking at a well structured piece of music, breaking it down and, although he doesn’t realise it, he’s learning from this how music works and how to place different sounds together to create beautiful pieces of music.

We teach children to never copy and yet how did all the great masters learn their skill? They were apprentices to other great artist, composers or writers. Unfortunately our children don’t always have direct access to masters but the internet does provide us with a wealth of excellence from which we can work.

I recently watched a You Tube video entitled Deadlines where children were asked to reproduce a creative artwork using a clock face as the centre of the picture. They were only given 10 seconds in which to complete the task. In this time they all managed to draw the clock face only. However, when they were given 10 minutes they produced some great pictures. The concept being that “creativity takes time.” This very simple video had a powerful effect on the way I see human activity. When I see children “wasting time” on “fiddling around” on instruments, drawing endlessly, kicking the ball back and forth, back and forth. This is often not simply messing around but instead brain connections, thought processes and creative understanding are being established through these seemingly pointless and repetitive activities.

First day of school. Little girl with a blue c...

As parents we so often focus on the end product, on excellence from the start and our child progressing forward. However these are times that they need to be able to simply be. To simply make mistakes – some of which are intentional to understand why that doesn’t work or fit together. In order for them to be truly creative we need to allow them the space and time to work things out for themselves. We also need to realise that as humans creativity is often not about the end product but about the process. So as we head into the New Year and our children are tempted to spend every minute after school engaged in a constructive, organised sport or activity we need to step up and say enough. It’s up to us to ensure our children have time to fiddle on the piano, scribble hundreds of cars or to pick flowers and arrange them on the table for dinner.

As I sat and listened to my son play some beautiful Christmas carols, and watched him beam with pride at what he’d figured out, I knew every off note and my head banging moments were so worth it!

Our Senses Made for Learning

senses

As parents and educators we are forever asking ourselves how we can increase and create an optimum learning environment. In all this we often forget that humans are created to learn and the body comes with all the hard and software required for this to take place.  The key factors, which we often tend to forget about, are the senses. These are an integral part of the body and how we are wired to access information, process it and learn from it.

The ability to see is a truly remarkable gift. Therefore when we think of teaching something or imparting information one will often use visual aids. The ability to see allows one to derive one’s own conclusions and after viewing something one is more likely to remember it. Visual stimulation is one of the most used aspects in teaching and learning.

Almost every teacher will tell you the ability to hear and listen are fundamental skills for a child to thrive within our 21 century classrooms. This is because our schools tend to be built largely around the concept of auditory learning.

As the skin is the largest human organ, within our own personal lives touch is probably the most used and influential sense. We use touch to discover all sorts of things about ourselves and the world around us and yet it is probably the least utilised and acknowledged sense!

We are forever telling children to take things out of their mouths – rightly so – however we often forget that this “misbehaviour” is in fact often a natural instinct to discover more about the world in which we live. The sense of taste plays a vital influence in creating meaning and developing understanding, especially in the young child.

We may not often consider smell to be of much importance and yet the ability to smell not only tells us more about the world in which we live but it can in fact save one’s life. We need to take time to encourage children to learn to use and develop this sense in order to detect a stuffy room, smoke and the beauty of a flower’s fragrance.

Our senses are not simply available to help us retain academic information instead they are designed to teach us more about our world, sense danger as well as allow us to rejoice and simply revel in the beauty of the world around us. Our senses allow for us to connect with others and the world at large. They are the fibres that bind us to anything beyond the private walls of our personal existence, they are the channels that allow us to feel and link with everything around us and therefore allow us to create a comprehensive image of what the reality around us truly is.

One must however note here that over stimulation of the body senses can in fact cause “shut down” and prevent, rather than promote learning! We need to be aware of this within all learning situations. We are often so desperate to “get the message across” that we go all out with actions, music, flashing lights and jumping from one activity to the next. The result is however not that the child learns more but that they in fact become over stimulated and basically shut out everything.

We do therefore see that these precious senses, allow for optimum learning to take place, and allow one to absorb and retain information forever. Therefore it’s our responsibility to utilise the senses as much as possible so that children are able to truly embrace and engage the world within which we live.

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Creativity – the Heart of Humanity

Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm” by Earl Nightingale

Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, the heart of humanity is the ability and desire to create. People are born to reproduce and create what is within their hearts. If the heart is filled with joy or pain, fear or anticipation it’s through the ability to create that one is able to express what lies deep within in such a way that the world outside is able to share it with us too.

From the toddler who squishes some play dough into a rough bird’s nest to the next Van Gough every human carries within them the need to be creative. So often as parents we spend our time, money and effort directing our children to their academic studies and sports that we leave little room for them to develop their creative being. Subjects such as art, music, drama and dance are viewed as luxuries, frivolous add-ones. When in fact these are the core of ones being and if a child is able to develop the skill in a creative area they will often be able to focus more on their academic work as they have a way to  pour out what is bottled up within them.

Somewhere along the line we began to rank and rate creativity. It became boxed and structured stating that only certain forms and methods were the correct means of creativity. We do therefore all tend to shun and pull away from creative forms that we are not fully proficient in. “Oh, I can’t sing,” or “don’t ask me to draw,” are comments that we hear more frequently from adults than we do a 5 year old. Why have we become so hampered? We are much more capable than a pre-schooler and yet we are inhibited by an irrational fear of not being able to create well enough. But well enough for who? Unless we are performing to an audience who has paid a great deal to see a master performer, we are all pretty much on the same ground. We are simply creating for the joy of the creation not necessarily to compare the final product with that of an expert.

Without the freedom, the time and confidence to create we are building a nation upon the fallacy that creativity is of no value and that a strong nation is built upon
the mind and physical strength alone.  However it’s not the functional policies and documents or the number of battles won that build a nation, instead it’s the creative, passion within humanity. It’s the poets writing to encourage young men to a battle, the journalist at the scene creating the image of horror or exuberance within the mind of the reader, it’s the cartoonist capturing a pivotal moment, the solo violinist that holds a single note at the perfect moment, the activist’s voice of passion drawing the people together, the protestors placards, the child’s sandcastles upon the beach and granny’s chocolate cookies that build a nation

Throughout history moments in time have been remembered and captured with a pen, a shout, songs, the paintbrush, musical chords, a photograph or legendary tales handed down word of mouth to generation after generation.

There is no doubt about it, creativity pumps within our blood and beats within our hearts. The question does however remain what are we doing to foster this need of creativity within the life of not only our children but within our lives too?

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