Letting go.

I have mentioned project-based homeschooling (PBH) several times in this blog. I bought the book and even completed the online masterclass, but still didn’t quite feel our project time was working the way I wanted it to.

Since we moved into a new rental, we have a wonderful open-plan living space and I really wanted to make PBH work for us. We moved some of the resources so that they were more accessible to the children. I have also been trying not to clutter up the area, so that the children are inspired by what is around, and take pride in their working area and try to keep it clean. This works, sometimes!

craft table and shelvesDrama King's desk and more messcraft table

We still have to prove to BOSTES that we are covering the NSW syllabus. Nevertheless, I have been scheduling less, setting aside more designated project time, and interfering less in the children’s own projects. I have been looking out for times when the children say, “I want to do this” or “Can we try that?” and doing what I can to support those interests.

I am regularly recording observations of the children and that helps me to stop thinking that we have to schedule in opportunities to cover the syllabus. Once you really observe children you can see how much learning is going on without you having to direct it at all. Observations are also a great way to identify recurring themes in their play.

Things that have come out of this rejigged approach: time spent playing Poohsticks or looking for eels in the nearby creek;


Reptile Boy reading to or playing with his little sister;

Princess and Reptile Boy

Drama King printing his own game cards (after playing Magic The Gathering with a few friends);

game card Paolo's cards Paolo's cards in a game packs of cards to sell

an interest in tadpoles (because I was given two by an early-years educator friend of mine);

frogletReptile Boy drawing even more than he did in our last place; Drama King setting up a box full of junk for his creations, like a junk robot; Drama King writing in his diary and creating a book in Minecraft; Princess wanting to grow flowers; more time playing board games (which are now accessible to the children instead of being on a high shelf);

Princess has been making wonderful pretend meals with her kitchen, wooden play food, and whatever other materials or fabric is lying around. She loves having access to the pencils, paper, card, scissors and glue. I will slowly add in other materials and try to find somewhere to display her work.


Things I still don’t feel we do well enough:

The area is still very messy and disorganised. I am tempted to clear everything out and start from scratch again.

I don’t have a good place to display children’s 3D creations.

We have to delineate the area for Lego or miniature worlds, otherwise they take over the whole floor.

lego and mess

I worry that Pokemon Boy is only getting a little way along the project route. I worry that his work is not really completely self-determined. He likes following someone else’s clear structured path and he loves the Youth Digital courses. I would love for him to use the skills after he has completed the courses to create something that is completely his own creation. We’ll see what he does after he’s finished their 3D animation course.

On the other hand, I worry that Drama King has so many different interests that he is not able to do really deep, meaningful work in each area. He starts something and then jumps onto his next idea. I would like to help him to complete his projects to both of our satisfaction! I suppose I need to keep reminding him of his unfinished work and see if he wants to go back to it, or practice the art of ‘strewing’ and see if the items I leave around prompt him to do something new with his current projects.

Reptile Boy still doesn’t have something we call ‘his project’ although he creates amazing things with Lego, acts out great fantasy battles with his brother and miniature creatures such as Bionicles or Gormiti, or draws them on paper or a whiteboard. I think I would like to get a video camera for them to video their battles.


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More than 10 different ways to teach maths to your child

I recently posted a huge answer to a mum on an e-mail list who was using Targeting Maths (often used in NSW schools), Excel workbooks and IXL for her child. I haven’t tried IXL but I am unimpressed by the ‘Targeting’ series and the Excel books. I love maths myself but I spent ages trying various maths books and approaches with Pokemon Boy before I settled on what we use at the moment. I thought it might be of help to some other homeschooling parents to read what we use.

Pokemon Boy (my eldest) loves Math-U-See because he is keen on logical, sequential activities and he likes to see how far he is along a program and to ‘master’ one skill before he moves on to another. Math-U-See is a ‘mastery’ program. When you learn, for example, addition, you really learn it. You don’t just learn all the number bonds to ten and then go on and do some other kind of maths. You learn number bonds to 10, number bonds to 20, column addition of more than two one-digit number, column addition of two, three and four digit numbers etc. By the time you have finished addition, you really get it! Similarly with subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals and percentages. It’s worth also buying the manipulative blocks, which are like a combination of Cuisinaire rods with base 10 blocks. They help hands-on, kinaesthetic learners to give concrete form to the theoretical concepts they meet in maths. The teacher package for each level includes a DVD of Steve Demme teaching each lesson to a small group of children. You can either watch them before your child does the lesson, watch them with your child or let your child watch them on their own. Pokemon Boy enjoys the videos but it’s not essential to watch them and we usually do the lessons just by trying out the questions and then referring to the teacher manual if necessary. We also usually go straight to the test booklet. We rarely do all the practice worksheets that they suggest, but it’s good to have them there just in case Pokemon Boy needs to go over one aspect of the work in more detail.

Khan Academy maths lessons are free and you would have thought that, enjoying computer based work and videos, Pokemon Boy would love these too. But he is also a perfectionist and he has refused to go back to it as he once missed one of the ‘cards’ that they ‘reward’ you with for completing an activity (due to a glitch in the programming or our internet connection dropping out). 

My other two boys have also done some Math U See work but this slow, steady approach really doesn’t suit them. They grasp concepts very quickly and like to jump around between topics. They are both using the Life of Fred books at the moment. You can either look around on homeschool forums to get second-hand books, or order from the US, from Z-Twist books. They are very reasonably priced as long as you order them in twos or threes so they fit in one cardboard envelope and postage is not horrendous. They are not workbooks so they are easy to resell. Life of Fred books are very humorous and quirky and don’t suit all children. There is very little ‘drill’ (which is good as my boys don’t like this) but you do meet the same ideas a few times (maybe in different books). 

All my boys love Manga High (computer-based maths activities, including games and more structured instruction) and I’ve found it far better than Mathletics, although we do tend to only use it to supplement whatever other maths curriculum we are using. Each boy has a game that they excel at. For Pokemon Boy it is ‘Sigma Prime’, a kind of space-invaders type game where you have to shoot each meteorite with a number that is one of its prime factors. The number is divided by that factor and then you have to shoot again until you get to one. You can bet that after playing that game over and over, when we came to do LCM and HCF in maths he knew exactly what was going on. 

With Reptile Boy I have also used ‘Mathematical Challenges for able pupils in Key Stages 1 and 2‘ which was produced in the UK for the National Numeracy Strategy in 2000 but is available free to download online on a few English sites, e.g. here: http://www.bgfl.org/bgfl/custom/files_uploaded/uploaded_resources/12212/mathspuzzlesall.pdf. It’s not like normal books. I doubt any children could answer these questions by following routines they are taught in school. There is frequently more than one answer. For example, one question is to take ten cards numbered 0 to 9 and arrange them in a particular pattern so that no two consecutive numbers are next to each other either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Then the children are asked how many different ways there are to do this. I love problems like this which really help children to think mathematically and look for patterns, rather than to follow instructions. 

There are similar problems in Maths Warriors, also available to download for free, although they mostly start at Year 3. The problems are in the section called Work Cards and Worksheets. I print them out onto A4, cut into A5 sized cards and the children can choose one to do if they like. To be honest we haven’t used them for a while but they are fun now and then. 

Drama King did the Mathematics Challenge for Young Australians this year, which also starts in Year 3 and provides problems where the children have to think ‘outside the box’. You can buy past challenges and there are always extension activities suggested.
Oh, and for a while we also used Bedtime Math although we used it as Dinnertime Maths instead. Again, I printed out the questions onto paper and cut them into ‘cards’ so the kids could chose which problem to do. 

Then we all use mathematical language in our everyday conversations (I’m an ex-scientist and my husband is an ex-engineer) and sometimes I plan ‘fun maths’ activities with the children, usually hands-on, such as making hexaflexagons (see Vi Hart’s YouTube channel) or making 3D shapes in origami, or trying the one-cut problem (but don’t scroll past the point where the blogger says about the classroom being a total mess, or you will see he kind of gives away the solution). 

If you join the Rockpool Homeschool forum there is a great summary of nearly all the maths approaches out there, by the mum who set up the forum. 
I’m also starting to look into Living Math and I have joined their forum, but I can’t say much about that as I haven’t used any of their suggestions yet.  
Having said all this, you could actually leave maths until the child themselves wants to do it. You might be surprised by how many people support this approach, with good reason. I was recently pointed towards this article and found it left me with a lot to think about: When Less Is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in School


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Short Stories

We substituted Poetry Teatime with Short Story Teatime last week based on a book Reptile Boy borrowed from the library: “The Beasties”, written by Jenny Nimmo and with gorgeous illustrations by Gwen Millward.



Without spoiling the book for you if you want to read it yourself, there are three short stories within the main story, each based on an object. There is a minor crisis and a resolution, all within about six sentences. It is a great example of how simple it can be to write a story.

At teatime we all chose an object as a story starter – everyone, even my youngest child. We had a very imaginative teatime, including carrots from a giant’s garden and a princess who ate strawberries.

I feel Julie from Brave Writer would have been proud of us.

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Land Artists in the making




Fern Shelter








These temporary artworks are based on the work of Andy Goldsworthy, an English artist who lives in Scotland and works only with materials that are available to him in nature. My children made them during a ‘farmschooling’ session on a farm near Peats Ridge.

This was the first session we managed to attend, and we hope to go to at least one more, where we will be working in the style of Jackson Pollock.



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Homeschooling on the move (sort of)

We are about a third through Term 3. We had to put on hold the plans to travel around Australia because Drama King is rehearsing hard for ‘Oliver!’. Nevertheless, we do not have a fixed abode and so we have been moving from place to place, not staying more than two weeks anywhere.

We had a lovely time on a farm in the Myall Lakes area, feeding goats, alpacas, cattle and horses, bouncing on a trampoline and reading loads of books.14856736894_c4e9bfcfb0_z       Feeding alpacas.14859108212_ca07ee9eb2_z14836456616_72edd8bffa_z

We went back to Sydney for what seemed a very fleeting time, before spending about a week at The Entrance where we watched pelican feeding and walked around the town and lake, reading about its history.

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Reading about the history of The Entrance.


We are now in Narrabeen and I am trying to return to a fairly normal routine, although it’s hard without our normal resources. The boys haven’t really got their teeth into any projects this term, although Princess is enjoying pretending to bake cookies wherever we go.

We are doing a minimal amount of English and Maths work and spending a fair amount of time at the beach.

I have plenty of ideas about changes to our homeschooling but I don’t want to make too many of them at the moment. However, spending more time outside was one of them and I think we are achieving that without even really trying!

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Weaving Bridges (part of the Guringai festival)

photo 4 Whale and Princess at opening ceremony

Aren’t these whales wonderful? They were created as a collaboration between Manly and Warringah councils, involving artists from the local areas, schools and other community members. This is the second year that the festival has included Weaving Bridges. Last year, the bridge between Manly and Queenscliff was decorated by woven sea creatures and it looked fantastic. This year we wanted to be part of the project.

14362993592_39fe2a02d2_z photo 2 (1) photo 3 photo 4 (1)

I only went along to one of the workshops but then worked on our weaving at home. Drama King went to a few more with the Yuumii family, and then we were privileged to attend the opening ceremony complete with traditional smoking (to get rid of bad spirits and thoughts), music from a local Aboriginal group and by Uncle Bob Randall from Uluru, and speeches from many people including Susan Moylan-Coombs who founded the Guringai Festival.

The Guringai Festival celebrates the first people in the Northern Sydney area. The Weaving Bridges project took over 2 months to complete and the whales symbolise building connections between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, between different creative people and between the two councils Manly and Warringah.

The whales have been popping up in various places in both councils, and were mentioned not only in the local paper but also on NITV.

It was a great project to be involved in and I hope that we will be able to do more community activities soon.

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Brave Writer competition

Win a Brave Writer Gift Certificate. All you have to do is send a photo of your children learning, but without using a desk. All submissions will be under Creative Commons licensing 3.0. The deadline is 15 August.

Ooh! I am so excited about this Brave Writer competition. Not just because we love the Brave Writer approach and all her products. It’s also a chance to show those outside the homeschooling community that it’s not all about working at a desk.

Hardly any of my homeschooling photos are of my children at a desk, but you are only allowed one entry per family. I wonder which one I should enter?

Playing with friends.

Playing with friends.



Walking on a boardwalk through mangrove trees.

Walking on a boardwalk through mangrove trees.

Learning about strength.

Learning about strength.





Visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art.



Archery at Sydney Olympic Park.

Archery at Sydney Olympic Park.

Feeding alpacas.

Feeding alpacas.

Reading about the history of The Entrance.

Reading about the history of The Entrance.

Eating home-made ice-cream.

Eating home-made ice-cream.

Object handling session at the Nicholson Museum in the University of Sydney.

Object handling session at the Nicholson Museum in the University of Sydney.

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