Saturday, April 25, 2015

Scheduled Unschooling

The kids love our plot at the moment- we now have a closed container with all our stuff, but building still hasn't begun...
The last couple of months I've written about what we're doing for school. This month our main goal was to give our kids (and us) a sense of security and rhythm. As we move (twice), we wanted the kids to know what to expect each day... or something.. so that while the environment changes, their basic day stays pretty predictable. Despite lots of changes, the kids are resilient and seem to be thriving.

With times to cook, times to clean, the tasks of the day don't take forever but they're in there. Basically, the schedule has time for the kids to play by themselves (at times when they're most likely to do so), for reading with one of us (and learning to read, speech therapy), for running around somewhere, and for the harder stuff: more complicated crafts, science experiments, cooking together etc- in there, but staggered so we don't have a whole day of high-attention stuff. It doesn't take much to make the day a success. Peace pretty much does it.

The first two meals of the day have also become entirely predicable and safe (oatmeal, yoghurt, toast, fruit, familiar raw vegetables), and this seems to be something that the kids have responded to positively. Dinner varies, but we seem to have finally got the timing down so that when we sit down to dinner (at, like, 4pm), the kids are hungry. Sortof.

making newspaper logs for winter- basically soaking and wacking newspaper into pulp, then rolling them. 

 We had tried "How to teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons" with Noah earlier in the year, and he responded positively only for as long as it felt like "special time" with me. Then he didn't want to do it anymore, and so we stopped after about 10 lessons, thinking we'd pick it up another time, when Noah was a bit older. In the meantime, we've tried "learn to read" and Noah has responded with a lot of excitement. In another unexpected strewing success, he's carrying the Eyewitness guide "My First Book of Time", which has a clock at the back, and is trying to figure out the time of day. He's also carrying a calendar around. So I guess interest led learning feels like a win when we're ticking off boxes like these, that are probably on some kind of curriculum somewhere, but actually he was learning all kinds of things all along.

With autumn, Noah is still swimming when we find ourselves near a sunny pool, but it's not really swimming time anymore. So we had this other goal for the year: Teach Noah (and Eli) to ride a bike. Which started when we took a family trip to a farm cottage out in Tulbagh for a couple of days. We haven't been on such a trip since... well, for a long time... and I wondered if families went on holiday just so that they could all fall in love again when their kids were in a stressless vacuum. That's what it felt like.

At the farm, the kids could run beyond our sights, Noah on the balance bike, Eli with a borrowed trailer. They found plenty of guava and quince on the ground nearby, and we fed ourselves pretty well. I um "rescued" the last 4 ripe pomegranates of the season from certain consumption by birds. So despite only having brought a bag of apples with us for fruit, we ended up feasting on lots of fruit, and returning with enough quince to cook for ages. It seemed that even though guava and quince had been planted, nobody was eating the fruit, as it was just on the floor, being converted into compost. Here's to good foraging.
good food on the road...

waking up early for lamb feeding time...

dry but beautiful

Noah's collection of treasures from the farm... Yes that's a sheep skull...

porcupine quills and guavas.

birthday train...
dragon or puppy...

more birthday celebration...


Sunday, March 29, 2015

March homeschooling update

All in all, March was a difficult month. On the positive side, we're almost all moved out of our sold house, and into my parent's place while we wait for our new house to be built. More on that in another post. It's lovely to be moving forward, and south, towards our plot, even if slowly.

So, not to dwell on the difficulties of regular (generally very good) life: I discovered fish sticks. Which I suppose could be interpreted as a humblebrag: "look at me, we lasted at 4 years 10 months and 3 days without fish sticks! Ha!" (I mean, what kind of crazy mom would measure that kind of stuff!!?)" That aside, it's not. It's a tip to you hippies who've been holding out. If you need to, and you're not in, like, a place or situation where they don't have fish sticks, there are always fish sticks. Use them. know... allergies or whatever... ok, well, not a great tip... but hopefully you get the spirit in which it's intended.

Anyway, so here's buying fish sticks in gory detail: I'm not going to start talking about how I made them from scratch. I did not. Neither did I buy them at Woolworths (annoying expensive pretend organic food). I bought them at Pick 'n Pay, and the kids entered a kind of euphoria. Eli slept through the night in the other room because his stomach was just so full of whatever fish sticks are full of (we don't even know what to call the other room because usually the kids are in with us most of the night). And so I bought another, family-sized package of them. And it occurred to me that these things are awesome. They're fish, kindof, and they make my kids happy. More of that.

Which I suppose is part of a broader softening of my beliefs about stuff. I don't think people typically think of themselves as "hardened" or opinionated, except perhaps in retrospect. I certainly don't, until I do. But there it is. Fish sticks softened me a little. And also led to some eating joy in the household, because I saw that occasionally having foods the kids really like leads to less anxiety and stress. I guess I was afraid the floodgates would open or something if I occasionally let in food that didn't live up to my (pretty inconsistent) ideals. But they didn't. For the most part, the kids eat well. And balance comes over time.

On to homeschooling goals. March= goal lite. We kept up with our speech therapy goal, which the kids love doing (there is chocolate involved). We had a goal about prayer (it's lent, we'd love to help the kids learn to pray). Other than hearing us pray, this goal just slipped through the cracks. Maybe it was a bit contrived and I was forcing it. The month isn't over yet, so maybe there'll be great opportunities in the next couple days.

Our final goal: To move without being stressed, or causing stress for the kids. Or something like that. It's a tough ask- sometimes being worried is just a sign that we need to get advice on how to navigate difficult circumstances- advice from God or from eachother or from friends/family. I guess the goal is there in the spirit of making this month a good month, despite the difficult bits. And to an extent, it's worked great- we spread our move out over several days, doing 3 hours or so of intense work/packing while my parents were with the kids.

Stuff the kids loved in March:

Fluff: my mom was throwing away a bag of stuffing from an old pillow, and Noah grabbed it gleefully and brought it home. They're super jealous of those experiencing snow, and so the house became a winter wonderland until finally (a month later) we moved, and the fluff was tossed.

Cracking pinenuts with our old stove fuse boxes. These ancient fuse boxes that had been holding our fire-hazard electricity finally got replaced during inspection. It hasn't been a great year for pine nuts, but we got enough to eat, though not make pesto...

Noah is still swimming. The rest of us feel cold just looking at him...

Making and decorating cupcakes. I finally conceded that trying to make healthy baked stuff with the kids was a stretch, so now I'm trying to alternate healthy stuff with just baking whatever they find in a kid's cookbook and want to try. There's something about having books in print from the library that the kids love- they're not nearly as into recipes I pull up on the screen of my computer.

Hitting stuff with sticks. 

Other stuff I don't have pictures of...
  • Eli started using my cell phone flash light to look at books before he went to sleep (something Noah's been doing with a solar jar lamp for a while). Don't ask what it's doing to his eyesight.
  • How to Train Your Dragon series continued as the focus on Noah's interest (together with the Magic Treehouse books). In fact, we ran out of books. Here's hoping that my parent's library has the 2 missing Train Your Dragon books. Noah and Eli both really like Quentin Blake books, or any books where you have to search for things.
  • Electricity! Noah is super into electricity, so we got him his first, very basic circuit board to practice on. 
  • Eug and I found a tortoise on our plot! totally not homeschooling related, but readers, we might have a tortoise! And probably a bunch of snakes. We'll focus on the tortoise until I buy a pair of closed shoes.
  • Sticker workbooks. Eli's can't concentrate very long on drawing, but he can spend an hour or more figuring out where stickers go.
  • Making seed bombs- balls of vermicompost mixed with tree seeds, ready to throw down on the plot. 
  • Making air rockets, flying things of various kinds. Eug might write about that in his newsletter. Eug is pretty awesome when it comes to making stuff out of found material.

Here's to April!

Friday, February 27, 2015

February homeschooling update

Rock sculptures. Mainly parent-made.
I've been pondering how we as parents express beliefs in relation to who we are and what we do. In these updates, I want to focus on what we're actually doing, because I guess a lot of the belief stuff can just be jarring and alienating, whereas the stuff we do with our kids, and how we do it, that tends to be stuff that we're all doing, in one way or another.

February was a month of visits from friends from the U.S., and unexpected dental surgery for Noah. There is nothing quite like toddler dental extractions (2!!!) to dampen the smug self-satisfaction (well, actually mainly insecure hopefulness) of one's parenting. Actually, it was that and the fact that the dentist asked "is he speaking English??" (YES!!) that led to some self-doubt.

A golden tortoise bug, just because it's awesome.
For goals for the kids, we kept on with swimming but with not quite as much passion as in hot January. Noah is almost swimming without water wings, but Eli is more enthusiastic in rivers.

After the dentist visit, we're working every day with Noah on helping him pronounce words so that others can understand him. We use Mommy speech therapy rather than seeking out a speech therapist, because it feels like something to work on daily (and, well, money...). There are a bunch of sounds Noah struggles to pronounce in specific settings, and we've tried to be up front about what we're doing and why. He seems happy to try talking through worksheets with one parent, and sometimes Eli will join in pronouncing easier words. He gets a smartie per worksheet, so it's not exactly self-motivated, but it feels somehow important enough to try.

The third goal was related to having time alone with each child. When one of the kids had a little time (15-30 minutes) with one of us attentively willing to just hang out, everything felt more manageable. We still put the kids to bed separately, which is ridiculously lengthy and involved, and so I guess they get plenty of attention, but perhaps could use more time apart from one another.

The lesson from February has been something about being in the zone, where the kids feel genuinely able to continue doing something without squabbling. The electrician came to bring the house up to code before transfer, and removed 100 year old electric fixtures, which the kids could play with for hours (even better when Eug hooked up an old bell to actual batteries!) Noah was super excited because he electrocuted himself a few times (on small batteries) and thought he was extra awesome.

Other activities that worked well: giving the kids a big piece of plywood (2 ft X 4 ft), tilting it and showing them how to make clay "roads" for water and marbles to run down. The messier, the better. The less involved I needed to be, the better. I freak out because I want it to be a Proper Learning Activity, and they just want to go wild. So I leave and go and cook something. And it works perfectly.

Eug built them a little woolen zipline in our kitchen for little things to travel down, which had to be put up every day for a while.

They can play at the beach for ages without needing to involve Eug or I.

Finally- back to the penguin beach, to show friends.

Noah's lentil penguin.
They'll occasionally get in the zone doing other things- looking at books or playing legos. Noah has become obsessed with the "How to Train your Dragon" books.