Things I have noticed now that Reptile Boy is at school 

We are all more tired.

He feels he is missing out on ‘special’ things that we do at home.

He has made friends but he still doesn’t have anyone to play with in the morning when I drop him off.

He hardly ever draws anything any more.

He does far more writing at school than we have been doing at home.

He hardly does any science at school.

There are several things that other children have told him he can’t do. (For example, going into the vegetable garden on particular days, or borrowing certain ‘advanced’ books from the library.) He may actually be allowed to do these things, but he lacks the confidence to try.

The school uses a reward system where children move up or down different coloured levels. It has been interesting to note the change in his response to this system as the weeks go by.

There is loads of testing.

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Finishing up the year

Drafted 7 Dec 2015

 

We are not unschoolers. And I do follow the NSW syllabus despite feeling some resistance to being told by faceless civil servants what my children ‘should’ be studying. But I have been neglecting the PDHPE and HSIE parts of the syllabus and so in Term 4 I ended up with several areas I wanted to cover before the year was up. We abandoned our normal timetable (which is fairly loose anyway) and I gave each boy a list of the work that had to be covered before they could have their ‘holidays’. Dh and I have been doing crash courses on the areas on the list. The kids are sometimes resistant, sometimes receptive. They found it quite fun to find out about area, volume and capacity using building blocks and kitchen objects. They were more resistant to discussing relationships and how to resolve conflict (which is definitely one area I should have spent more time on during the year.)

We are all tired and Drama King more than most due to rehearsing with Opera Australia for the Summer 2016 season. He has had many wonderful opportunities through his talent agency but yet I am considering giving it a miss next year to give him (and my husband and I) a break.

Our next AP visit is in June 2016 and I know I will have good documentation of our work for the previous 2 years. I think after the visit I will allow the children (and me) to ease up a little and spend more time on their own genuine interests and less on the syllabus.

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Day in the Life

I recently started reading the blog Nurtured By Love by a Canadian unschooler and Suzuki teacher. She started blogging before 2000 and blogs pretty regularly so I have been reading through from the start like a novel, and I’ve really enjoyed following the story of her family and their musical, unschooling lives.

It’s inspired me to start blogging again about our homeschooling life. I know that homeschooling is unique to each family. Although we may have children with similar characteristics that pose similar challenges, each family will respond in a different way that is suitable to their own situation. But.. .

So here’s a description of what our homeschooling day was like today. It was a quieter day than usual, because Drama King’s vocal coach and Reptile Boy’s drumming teacher were both on holiday. It’s good to have quiet days sometimes!

I got up late, at about 9 am, after the younger children had been up for at least two hours. Drama King had been watching the TV, then made an attempt to start his work, doing a bit of sight singing from an internet site, and ended up playing Minecraft. Reptile Boy had been doing something which involved loud noises (which was part of the reason I’d stayed in bed) but had not had breakfast. Both boys were half dressed.

I woke up Pokemon Boy at about 10 am. He usually tries to go to SHRIMPS on Thursdays. This is a homeschool meetup in the Inner West of Sydney. When he was the only one homeschooling in our family, he and I and Princess would go to SHRIMPS every week. Nowadays it doesn’t fit in with instrument lessons and drama for the younger boys, so Pokemon Boy goes on his own. Today when I woke him up he said he didn’t feel like going. This made sense as the weather prediction wasn’t great, and he seemed very tired.

I wanted to do some exercise but I couldn’t find any clean exercise bras. I decided to have a shower and get dressed in normal clothes instead. I made some late breakfast for myself and Princess and wrote the boys’ lists. Each weekday during term time I give them a list of work to do and if they get it done by 5 pm they can have an hour’s ‘screen time’. That’s the theory, anyway.

Drama King has recognised that he is not very good at managing his time, so he has asked me to turn his list into a timetable, with a time at which he should do each item on the list. I make a rough estimate of how long he will take to do everything and then write in the times to start. He rarely follows it but at least it has stopped him trying to fit everything in at 4 pm and then being upset he hasn’t had his screen time.

Today he admitted that he was very tired, so he was slow to get going, but he still wanted to get all his work done because he was looking forward to playing a new Minecraft mod with his dad (who has only just got back from 10 days in California).

Princess kept asking me to chop up tomatoes today. This is a change from capsicum, which has been her preferred snack for the previous few days.

I really want our days to involve more time outside, so I had written ‘Go out’ on each boy’s list. I suggested a walk in the park over the road before it started raining. Drama King argued with me that he was going to have to go out to walk to drama in any case, so he didn’t want to go out with me in the morning. I didn’t push it. I got Princess ready and Reptile Boy got himself ready and we wandered over to the Creative Art Space down the road. There is a new exhibition there every few weeks and today it was  a group of ceramicists known as ‘Mudlark’. I took a few photos for my mum who loves ceramics.

    

Reptile Boy spent a while looking at the pots with a ‘crystal glaze’. The crystals are zinc silicate, formed by heating the pots to just the right temperature. I wondered how easy it was to predict the crystallisation pattern before you put the pots in the kiln. Some of the pots had crystals all over them and others a few, on a smooth shiny background. Princess was getting bored so we went outside the art space, picked a bit of rosemary from the garden and tried to get photos of the insects for my science group.

Once we were back home Pokemon Boy decided to go to Manly Library and asked me if I had anything I wanted him to take back. My husband said he was using the car today and so we swapped keys. Drama King and Princess were riding scooters in the car port and I warned them they’d have to come in when Daddy was driving the car.

I started to do my chores and noticed that my apple scrap vinegar had developed a terrible smell. Apple scrap vinegar is my favourite thing to ferment because we go through heaps of apples and I love making things from leftovers. Unfortunately the Sydney climate means I really have to keep an eye on the vinegar otherwise it develops mould. This one had only been started five days ago but it smelled disgusting. I drained the vinegar into the toilet and put the apple scraps in the rubbish, feeling guilty that I still don’t have a compost bin. I briefly played UNO with Princess. She didn’t want me to take a photo of her, but I was allowed to take one of the cards.

I made Greek Salad and cheese toasties for lunch and gently nagged the boys about getting the work done on their list. While I was making lunch Princess listened to her favourite songs on our SONOS system and shouted at anyone who dared to sing or dance along.

I went through Reptile Boy’s spelling lesson. At about an hour before they had to go to drama class, Drama King took himself off into my bedroom to try a practice General Knowledge test. He is entering the Selective Schools Examination this March. This reminded me that I still needed to enter him online, so I did this and then got distracted by Facebook and e-mails.

I then had a look at Drama King’s musicianship book and realised that he hadn’t been going through as quickly as I’d planned (in fact, he’s only done six pages since August) and that it is highly unlikely he will be ready to take the online exam before the audition for Sydney Children’s Choir in December. Passing a music theory or musicianship exam might have meant being placed in a more advanced choir. But it looks like neither of these are going to happen. We had a small  argument about this. I tried not to sound too accusatory. I was aiming to simply state the problem and say that we needed to talk together to work out a solution. Drama King said he didn’t want to spend an hour listening to me telling him I was disappointed. We’ll talk about it sometime tomorrow. Maybe he won’t be so tired and we will be able to discuss things without shouting at each other.

After this Drama King had a long shower and washed his hair (both overdue occurrences) and Reptile Boy hung around in the bathroom playing some shouting game with Drama King. They left a little late but said they would jog there. Just as drama was due to start, the heavens opened, so I hope they managed to get there in time.

Princess had fun out in the garden with her brother’s umbrella and her other brother’s welly boots and persuaded me to come out with her for a while. This time I was allowed to take a photo.

I checked up on Pokemon Boy who had been working through his physics course online, but decided he was ready for a break to do his chores and English. While he loaded the dishwasher I washed up the things that can’t go in. Every day we have quite a pile of things waiting to be washed up by hand. Then he disappeared back into his room.

Princess asked if she could use the whiteboard pens to do some drawing. She announced that she was drawing a wedding and my heart sank. I noticed a wedding in a My Little Pony video she was watching the other day. Why is it that weddings occur so frequently in stories aimed at little girls, and hardly ever in stories aimed at little boys? (This is somewhat of a rhetorical question. I can venture several reasons but all of them sadden me.) I told her that it’s not really such a big deal to be married. She got upset and marched into her room.

A friend phoned to discuss the situation with my science classes. I only recently discovered I can’t run them in our house as it is not covered by my landlord’s insurance. We also discussed music-related stuff. Her son has the same vocal coach as mine, and he was in The Magic Flute last year with Opera Australia. My son has just found out that he has a part in The Magic Flute this year.

While I was on the phone Princess shouted and screamed because she wanted me to read a book to her. Eventually I cut the phone conversation short. I read her new book to her several times (‘Yellow Dress Day’ by Michelle Worthington) and then we played a few games on the computer together.

My husband sent a text to say he had picked up the boys from drama and was going shopping. I find it amusing that whenever I think I have stocked up for the whole week he always seems to find plenty to buy in the supermarket. I expect he will come back laden with boxes of cereal and other items that I rarely buy.

Princess nagged me for some capsicum. I had some chicken cooking in the slow cooker for tacos and I decided to chop up some more capsicum and onions to go with the chicken. I looked at her ‘wedding’ picture and told her how beautiful it looked. I think she forgave me for being negative earlier.

The boys and my husband came back. Until they returned, I hadn’t noticed how quiet the house had been.

I cooked the capsicum and onions and we collectively got the table ready for dinner. Over dinner Princess told a few Knock-Knock jokes and the rest of us discussed idioms (because Drama King had not understood the one in his General Knowledge test).

After dinner Reptile Boy wanted to show Pokemon Boy the game he’s just finished using the Game Design 1 course from Youth Digital, and Princess wanted to go to bed early but then noticed the mince pies and sat back down to eat a mince pie before bed. Drama King finished watching Heroes Reborn and read aloud another chapter of ‘The Wee Free Men’ to Reptile Boy as their bedtime story. I put Princess to bed. She told me she was upset that I had been negative about her wedding picture before even seeing it. I apologised. I read her ‘My Many Coloured Days’ by Dr Seuss and ‘Yellow Dress Day’ again. By the end of the second book she was asleep.

I have to prepare for tomorrow’s science lesson. Since we will be outside in the park, instead of inside, I need to make sure I have everything packed. I also still have some maths to do with Pokemon Boy. I need to show him how to draw scatter graphs correctly. I’ve been putting this off because it’s hard to get a quiet chunk of time with him. He has been quite happy to let his maths slip each day but I really want to make sure we have this covered.

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Cleaning toilets

slave labour

Recently I came under fire on social media for saying that my six year old son cleans the toilets. I was responding to a post in a homeschooling group, asking what chores our children did at home. The original post was from a mother who felt her teens took her for granted and did not do any chores. She wanted to hear what worked for other families.

There were many responses and, as you would expect, the duties varied from family to family. Somehow mine was the one that gathered the heat, because, as I mentioned above, my six year old cleans the toilets. I was told that this was disgusting and called a slave-driver and a lazy parent.

It was the first time I felt personally attacked by comments on social media. I deleted my initial comment, although I think that was hasty and I should have left it there for everyone to see my complete explanation of our system. Nevertheless, the conversation rolled on. The admins even felt they had to step in and ask for the comments to be respectful, with the implication that the conversation was to be deleted if people did not stop. By this point I had changed my Facebook feed so I didn’t have to read any more comments.

I wondered why I felt so affected by comments from one or two people who don’t even know me. After all, there are many different people and approaches represented in homeschooling and it is guaranteed that whatever you say you will find someone who disagrees with you. “Your mileage may vary,” or YMMV, one person added to their comment in support of my comeback reply.

I think it hurt me because there is always a fine balance in these decisions. I am sure I am not the only homeschooling mum who spends time second guessing myself. This makes it hard for me to stick to my guns, even if I know we do what works for us. The criticisms that other people made have validity, even if the language was accusatory and inflammatory. Am I working my children too much? Is cleaning the toilet an inappropriate task for a six year old?

Also, I spend many hours on social media. I have found the internet invaluable ever since my second son had severe reflux and, shortly afterwards, went into hospital with heart failure. Had this happened to my eldest, when the internet community was not as well developed, I might not have made the same decisions as I did with this little one. I gain strength by knowing there are people who are doing the same as me, and who believe the same as me. Simply by homeschooling I am going against the grain and I have found huge support from the online homeschooling community. It’s hard when the community of people who are supposed to support you are also being critical, in a negative way.

I am probably more conventional and houseproud than my parents were, but less so than other families I know. I am more schooly than some homeschoolers and more relaxed than others. You find your own approach and it won’t be the same as others. What is more, you change depending on circumstances. Sometimes there are days when no-one does any chores. The washing remains piled up on the kitchen surface, the laundry basket overflows and the toilets are not cleaned. The irony is that in these cases it is most likely to be me who decides to do the extra work rather than getting a whip out and forcing my children to do it. And when the bathroom needs a complete clean, I’m the one who does it. I tune my iPhone into a favourite radio station, put on my rubber gloves and sing along as I am scrubbing the tiles (and the toilet).

The other irony is that my two older boys frequently complain that my six year old has the easiest chore, as it takes him less than five minutes to quickly scrub the toilets with a brush, wipe the seats and flush.

I don’t think that toilets are any more disgusting than washing up. People may have an instinctive ‘ugh’ reaction to toilets but microbiologists point out that there are more germs lurking in your kitchen than your bathroom. (It’s also worth being aware that ‘Dr Germ’ works for a bleach company, but that normal detergent does a pretty good job of removing bacteria from toilets and kitchen utensils. Also, sterility is not the aim. Children need bacteria in their environment in order to build up immunity.)

Just for completeness’ sake, I am going to try to repeat what I said in my original post. It won’t be exactly the same but it should cover the same material.

All my children have chores they have to do each day. They have to get their chores and their ‘schoolwork’ done before they get any screen time. This is the system that works for our family. Each chore is appropriate for the child’s age and skills, has been worked out over the years (much as another person commented earlier in the conversation) and are negotiated if someone is not completing their chores properly or if they want to change.

My 13 year old loads, unloads and puts away the items from the dishwasher twice a day. My husband and I do the rest of the washing up. This might be one or two extra loads and it also includes all the items that can’t go in the dishwasher. My 13 yr old tidies and vacuums his room once a week and changes his bedclothes once a fortnight.

My 10 year old does one load of laundry each day. He puts it in the washing machine, takes it out when wet, hangs it out and takes down the clothes when dry. I wash all the bedclothes. Once a week we all sort and put away our own clothes. (I put away my clothes, my daughter’s clothes and the bedclothes.) Once a week he vacuums his bedroom, which he shares with his younger brother.

My six year old cleans the toilets. I know this sounds awful but it was prompted because he was the worst person for weeing on the seat and/or forgetting to flush. All he has to do is scrub briefly with the toilet brush, wipe the seat with a piece of toilet tissue, and flush. He also tidies his room once a week before his brother vacuums, and sorts and puts away his own clothes once a week (usually with help from me or my husband).

My three year old daughter puts away her soft toys.

I expect all of the children to help to lay the table for meals and to tidy their own cutlery and crockery after meals. We also have regular science classes in the house. I do the majority of tidying before people come round for classes, but I do expect the children to help out, e.g. by picking things up off the floor so I can vacuum.

I do not pay the children for their chores. I want them to grow up to be responsible members of the household and I want them to know that if they do not pitch in, the work either does not get done or one person shoulders more responsibility. When they are living on their own, or in a shared house, they will not be paid to look after the house, just as no-one pays me.

I also do not make them cook meals because I don’t want them to think of it as a chore. I enjoy cooking; some people don’t. My 10 yr old likes to cook and does so about once a week. Sometimes his younger brother helps him. My 13 yr old cooks about once a month,  frying some chicken and stirring in sauce from a jar. My 3 year old enjoys making biscuits and other sweet items now and then, with me or her brothers.

This shouldn’t need saying, but I will say it anyway for the sake of completeness. I do every other household chore that is not mentioned above. My husband helps out now and then but he is not included in the rota. I would say I spend more time looking after the household than everyone else put together. I do not consider my main role to be a housewife, but equally I do not view myself as a slave-driver.

I’m not inviting comments as I’ve had enough already of reading what other people think. This is our system and it works for us. I simply wanted to get it out there to respond (indirectly) to the name-callers and, as always, in the hope that it helps someone else out there.

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Discounted architecture course for homeschoolers

Introduce your child to a brand new subject, and watch the fun begin. An option of two flexible, fun, 9-12 week courses that will open young minds to the many possibilities of Architecture and Design.

Beginning Architecture Part 1:  usually $75, discounted to $49.95
Beginning Architecture Part 2:  usually $75, discounted to $49.95

Beginning Architecture Parts 1 and 2: usually $125, discounted to $87.50


Offer expires March 3rd.
http://www.educents.com/beginning-architecture-courses.html#

I had a look at this course and it is offered by a Christian homeschooler with a degree in Architecture who has been homeschooling her own children for 15 years. I would be interested in my 6 year old and maybe 10 year old doing it, but the timing is awful for us – it covers our Easter holiday and would also run over the month that my mum is in Australia.

Disclaimer: I am an Educents affiliate, which means I receive a very small commission if you click through on this link and decide to buy the course. I don’t usually blog about the Educents offers but this one looked like it was worth mentioning.

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When the kids do what they want

16043887389_2a634e7c2d_mI was so proud of all my children today. I was working on booking and advertising science excursions for next term and spent longer than I had intended on the computer – it basically turned into the whole afternoon – but they amused themselves with sequins, wrapping paper, cardboard, duct tape, PVC tubes and suchlike.

My littlest one discovered a bag with sequins in, some old ‘snap’ cards and some old wrapping paper. She made some decorations for my cupboard above my desk and Reptile Boy joined in.Miss A's decorations for my cupboard
Mr C's cat, cropped

Drama King, who has been making weapons and armour from the ‘Warfare by Duct Tape’ beginner booklet, built some bases from cardboard boxes.

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He had plans for a complicated battle game involving speeding up daytime and nighttime, a shop for buying the weapons and armour, and squashed individual pie cases as coins. Reptile Boy was very keen too. Once I got off the computer, we all went to the field opposite our house for the children to play the game. ‘We’ in this case even included Pokemon Boy, who is more of a reclusive man nowadays and has to be coaxed out of his cave (bedroom) to socialise or get some exercise. He does it, but reluctantly.

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The design and construction of many of the key game elements had not factored in strong winds. We lost some of the coins and the bases kept collapsing. My eldest was not complementary about the bases, although he did try to help fix them.

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Even with time repositioning the duct tape and fixing the bases back together, the designer was feeling a little bit despondent. We had to reduce the cost of the weapons due to losing some of the coins.

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But the children eventually worked out some new rules and ran off around the sports pavilion and towards the trees battling each other.

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My eldest suffers from asthma and had to stop after a short while. We gathered everything up and crossed the road back to the house. I had put sweet potatoes in the oven before we went out. They ended up a little burned, dinner was late and the children soon found something new to argue about. Everyone was tired by the time they got to bed.

I am still proud of the day. I didn’t plan to neglect them. but sometimes children need more free, self-directed time to show you what they are capable of. Today they covered Design and Technology, Maths, English, History, Creative Arts, Personal Development, Health and Physical Exercise, all without me having to schedule in anything.

Oh, and okay, it is still summer holidays over here. But nowadays, homeschooling is more of a lifestyle than something we can restrict to term-times. You can’t stop children from doing things they love, particularly if you give them the time to experiment. They learn from their experiments, especially if things don’t go to plan.

They covered science today as well. (Bingham’s plastic.)

 

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Brave Writer projects (‘Jot it Down’)

Animal Mini Books – Princess chose Giraffes, and Reptile Boy chose Birds of Prey. Drama King is still working on his Penguins book.

 

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Some of the text is just copied straight from the image sources but most was written by Reptile Boy himself. I decided not to make this a handwritten project. Reptile Boy enjoys handwriting and I don’t want to turn it into a chore. So he dictated the words to me and I typed everything up, with some editing here and there.

Lego Party. The boys chose the theme, wrote a guest list, created invitations, planned the food and acted as ‘hosts’. All the children behaved impeccably.IMG_1497-0.JPG

These projects are both taken from the Brave Writer ‘Jot it Down’ product. There are ten projects each intended to take a month to complete.

I started off thinking that Reptile Boy would do ‘Jot it Down’ and Drama King could do work from the ‘Partnership Writing’ product instead, but that is not practical for our family. Pokemon Boy is studying books using ‘The Boomerang’ and works well independently but I don’t want to be supervising three different writing projects at the same time. I also think the Jot it Down projects are challenging enough for Drama King at the moment.

 

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