Dec 23, 2011

Goodwill to all

Living in Australia, the dominant "celebration" in December is Christmas but we are not truly a Christian "church" family, though we enjoy a heavy sprinkle of Santa and Christian carols at this time of year. 

(Australians for the most part live happily in the strange paradox of summer Christmas with pine trees and fake snow and winter wonderland cards. November's favourite song at the moment is "I am dreaming of a White Christmas" - tell her she's dreaming alright...
This photo is from our Nippers Christmas Party - Santa arrived on a rubber ducky)

We are fascinated by Buddhism and really enjoyed hanging out with the monks as a family this year. Are we Buddhist? No, not really.

Death and existence
We are a spiritual family, and with the death of a close family member one week ago just 4 weeks after his diagnosis, there has been a lot of talk of death, and what comes after. He was a person of open-heart and generous nature who did not believe in God. There wasn't a church service or burial, a mention of reunions in a better place etc, but a vibrant musical gathering of friends and family.

For the four of us, we needed to talk through and feel our own sense or belief in the transformation after death. Strange how this has segued into beliefs of Santa Claus, and the impossibility of an invisible life on the North Pole, the questioning of the existence of elves versus the reality of dwarves and midgets.

Finding a sense of belief
November (and Mike as leader) joined Cub Scouts this year and happily avowed


On my honour
I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to my God, and
To Australia
To help other people, and
To live by the Cub Scout Law

although November chose the more traditional pledge to our Queen:
On my honour
I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to my God, and
To the Queen of Australia
To help other people, and
To live by the Cub Scout Law

Mike is a firm republican, but November loves the idea of royalty, and who wouldn't when they were 8? even though Horrible Histories has already alerted her to the fickleness of monarchs such as Henry VIII...

I really like the Scouts Australia approach to spirituality - it isn't religious, or focussed on differences in faith, but on the unity of belief - in the "something else". 

Nature as Creator
For November at the moment, her God is Mother Nature as she believes that a religion "shouldn't be based on teachings from a book but from reality". It feels to me that she has identified with Aboriginal people's profound connection to the land. 
I admire that,
though my own version is a little different : )

July is just working hard to prove Santa exists.

Mike? Well, he has certainly identified as pagan back in his day : ) perhaps in the same way some time ago I regularly read from spiritual texts of Islamic and Hindu faiths. 

As a family, we are certainly a spiritual work in progress...

December as festival
Looking at the Interfaith Calendar I saw Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Pagan, even Zoroastrian sacred holidays featured in December 2011. I am sure that almost every faith would be represented in the Summer/WInter Solstice period. In our part of the world, I wonder what the Bundjalung people ascribe this time of year - turtle season? Bush Turkey? Wild raspberry harvest?

So how do we celebrate? 

This year, we've already had Christmas drinkies with friends here before the 25th, and on the day we'll be opening presents, lighting homemade candles, feasting on sumptuous food (including my home made gluten free Christmas cake and panforte and almond biscuits and trifle and custard!), and thanking the free range turkey. 

How will you be celebrating?

Our thoughts go out to you and yours - goodwill, hope, and peace to all! Happy New Year!

Dec 3, 2011

Gifts for the GIfted

What to give the child who has everything (in the IQ department) and time on their hands? 

Here is our family's Christmas gift list and review for gifted kids - homeschooled or not : ) 

(Unsure about gifted? See an earlier post here. You might also say your child has high potential, GAT, is a TAGlet, has over-excitabilities or is just old fashioned bright or clever)

Age ranges - your mileage may vary
Our girls are 8 and 6 as I write this, but to guesstimate their "grade" level may be more useful - grade/year 6, and grade 3-4 in terms of reading level and skills - so this list is based on what they have enjoyed this year...Putting this together, I noticed the ages 10+ as well as 7+...

What makes our top toy review for a gifted kid?
To be educational is a given, but not for the obvious boring reasons but to inspire the child to think more deeply about how the gift works, to re-evaluate the world around them in light of this new information, to interpret results and hypothesise. 

Oooh, that sounds heavy, but surface fun without substance doesn't make the list. 

Neither do kits that are just flat-pack assembly - too boring. Our kids like things with screws and circuits, complex ideas, hands-on getting messy, creative, strategic, quirky funny stuff.

We have included the best games, kits, books, apps, and philanthropy (charity) gifts. 

Naturally, this is not a list of the most creative gifts - for me that would be the most beautiful selection of drawing and water colour papers and a selection of varied pencils and inks and paints...or a selection of polished crystals and time to explore...or pool toys - but you don't need me to write a list with art materials or outdoor activities either - they are easier to think of.

Where to buy our top 10 gifts for the gifted?
You are net savvy obviously, so I haven't embedded shop links - just google as usual! The iPad app is from the App Store...

In no particular order here is our Top 10

1 • Glow-Bee Solar Robot Kit - 6 projects (listed as 10+)
This was given to July for her birthday and today was the first chance she had to make it up. Here is a short video where she talks about it, and seconds after we filmed it she placed her "puppy" on the ground to find it walks too!

2 • Smart Robot Kit 4M (we added our own stickers to personalise!)

Took a bit to get this together, but the fun didn't end there as the girls then created complex mazes for the robot to navigate. It is powered by a ball under its 4 little legs - when its movement is impeded it tries another direction. Strangely endearing!

3 • Scyance Biology Madness - 26 experiments includes materials, equipment, a fully detailed 68 page instruction booklet and a DVD.

This is also listed as aged 10 and above, but it is all quite accessible - keeping in mind there are REAL safety requirements as there are chemicals contained in the kit. 

I really liked the interviews with the scientists on the DVD - a bit daggy but very realistic too. There are also Scyance kits for Physics and Chemistry. Scyance kits were developed by PhD students in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne and sold to Science and Nature Pty Ltd who distribute it internationally.

4 • Crazy Action Contraptions - Lego and Klutz
Lovely small kit that makes 16 different projects, but lets face it, your kids will probably just make their own! This one got the smile of approval from our in-house mechanical engineer (Mike)...and I like it because it is small and inexpensive.

Our two chosen for inclusion here are Cadoo and Super Farmer.

5 • Cadoo is terrific when other kids are around playing - it says 7+ but non-readers (with a reading helper) right through to adults play it at our house. Along with a bit of board strategy for the placement of tokens, it has challenges involving drawing, sculpting modelling clay, knowledge, and acting out. Kind of charades with trivial pursuit and pictionary...

6 • Super Farmer is a kind of maths game where you build/swap/lose your farm stock while fending off foxes and wolves. It is suitable as a simple game with young children to a more strategic game for adults. It was created in Poland in 1943 by a mathematician called Karol Borsuk. Here is a link to exploring the maths involved if that interests you!

Spy equipment:
7 • SpyNet Night Vision Video Watch
Spy stuff is very highly rated here, so I have limited myself to just one of our latest purchases: November received this SpyNet Night Vision Video Watch from - retailer alert - Think Geek. I have made an exception and linked to their page as there is a video demo and that is fun! I am sure you could get it all over the world. 

Here is the Smart Robot interacting with the Spy Watch. Was in a hurry so didn't play a video on the watch - go to the link above : )

8 • The Word Spy
We love books around here, but I wanted to choose 2 books written by an Australian author - Ursula Dubosarsky's "The Word Spy" and "Return of the Word Spy". Spying, puzzles, word roots and origins, an engaging yarn, history and culture...perfect. And not so uptight that a child would say "phooey - a school book!". We met Ursula D. at Byron Writers Festival and she is fabulous and very bright herself.

Philanthropic gifts:
You have a sensitive child, who worries and ponders over life's injustices. This season is an opportunity to give to a group that actually make a difference and work toward righting wrongs.

9 • Cathy Freeman Foundation, and Australian Seabird Rescue
Aboriginal people in Australia have woefully inadequate support from middle class Australians. We send charity money to Africa and Japan and India and lots of other areas that yes, do need help, but here in our own backyard there is horrible inequity. 

As someone who values education so highly along with fairness, I went looking a year ago for indigenous charity opportunities - what a shock - hardly a thing. But I did find Cathy Freeman's Foundation, and again this Christmas we gave a gift of a donation to CFF. A quote from their site:

The Cathy Freeman Foundation aims to close the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. We currently support the education of approximately 600 school-aged children...

Here is the link

In your country, what can you do to help even the imbalance and teach your kids compassion?

Is nature your child's big interest? Maybe they have a favourite animal?

In Australia, in fact, just down the road, there is a wonderful group called Australian Seabird Rescue. We went to the release of 2 green sea turtles yesterday by this group yesterday. They are campaigning particularly at the moment against plastic bag pollution (follow this link to donate). Pictured above is the lovely Gillian Helfgott, David Helfgott's wife (he is the exceptional pianist who inspired the Oscar award winning "Shine")  and the swimming turtle photo taken as one of the two turtles swam back into the wild, is from here

And finally, High Tech:
10 • Elements app for iPad
Yes, to completely prove our geeky natures, here is our last recommendation: for your iPad, Theodore Gray's "The Elements". Unlike our usual low price or free apps, this was about $15 and you can get every cent spent in the development - incredible.

We also got the 3D glasses by mail - in-app link takes you to the store - and they were soooo useful in our crystal work using this app.

Hope this proves helpful - happy gift buying to you!

Nov 26, 2011

I love you berry much

Crazy last couple of weeks with birthday celebrations, end of year concerts, local agricultural shows, Cub Scout camps and investitures (both Mike and November)...oh, and it is spring : ) which means that Christmas and the attendant cooking is just around the corner AAARRRGGH

So we took a week off  formal "home education" to spring clean and generally sort ourselves out, and the only requirements made of the girls were to swim and read and practice piano. Crystal growing projects began...more on that next post.

This meant lots of time for us parents to work, work, work. 

Reading reading reading
July ploughed through the first 4 books in the Spiderwick Chronicles, and regaled her older (just turned 8) sister with scary retellings as November is quite scared of the movie and has therefore refused to read the books herself. 

It feels as though reading has just jumped up another level as the dinner table is often silent apart from page turnings and munching! I hear myself say "put your books down so I can read to you" for the evening read-aloud. Blissful times.

Feeding the family
Our winter efforts in the garden as a family are really paying off now - potatoes, tomatoes, beans, carrots, asparagus...oh too boring to read, maybe look at the pics! 

The blackened pods  in the next photo are from broad beans - left on the bush so I can dry them and seed save for next winter's crop.

Best boy? Boysenberry
My new best friends in the garden are the boysenberries - I bought them online for $2 a seedling from Tasmania, then pot-bound and mistreated them before finally getting them in the garden once Mike built the trellis. Now fat luscious crimson drops of deliciousness are drooping their heavy heads all over. This makes me very happy.

The Boysenberry is a berry bred by Rudolph Boysen in California in the 1930s - a mix of raspberry, youngberry and blackberry. 

Growing boysenberries is not for the faint-hearted or tender-fingered. They are vigorous vines with spikes so you need to wear gloves to wind them on to the trellis, or to pull them up when they attempt to run all over the garden...but I forgive them everything. They are like a deep, dark, supersonic-size raspberry with a deep luscious note of flavour. Think cherry with red plum...

Harvest means process
Along with the slightly too-tart low chill peaches and the last blueberries it is fruit heaven. I am hoping the mangoes will go well this year too. 

Here is the current peach stash in the laundry - I have processed one batch already into peach and raspberry butter (think thick, pureed peaches with cinnamon as a toast topping: actually has no butter in it at all, just a high fruit content jam) and am planning on using the Vacola preserving jars to put away loads of peach in sugar syrup for using in our breakfast fruit crumble.

Happy busy days : )

Nov 7, 2011

Sourdough, my third child

Now, this may seem an offensive title, given that we have two children, but by its fickle, living cultural nature the baking of sourdough bread is truly a kind of parent-child creative process. 

In this post I am going to walk you through how to bake that wonderful elusive being - artisan sourdough bread. I have included our recipe for wheat sourdough bread - just one variation that works here at our place with our flour, temperature, humidity, get the idea. 

Go natural - go sourdough
Sourdough is a living diverse culture. You do not buy this culture in a packet of yeast at the supermarket - you grow it yourself from scratch, or using a little of someone else's "mother". 

It is a nice metaphor for a small town in your kitchen - everyone different, working together, not rigidly consistent, handed on from one person to another, takes time to develop its own flavour, sometimes ailing and needing reinvigorating with new cultures (well, from the air in your home), thrives on rainwater and organic (or at the very least unbleached) flour . Wow - Mullumbimby is sourdough :)

Homeschool and baking sourdough
Apart from the Sonoma Miche slice shot below, all of the other bread shots were taken on a typical single baking event here at the Mansted Family Project. A day and a half full of all the other stuff a homeschooling family does, with just a little time taken here and there to feed the starter, or mix, or knead, or fold, or bake.

Make your own bread and save lots of dough
Pardon the pun, but bread is a family food that ticks all the do-it-yourself boxes. 

It has cheap ingredients but in its best form is expensive (and worth every single cent from the wonderful Sonoma and Bourke St bakeries in Sydney - the best bread I have ever tasted is at the first bakery, the Sonoma Miche shown here...

though my own bread would be my second-best tasting ever);
it is nutritious; 
all the family can be involved in the baking and eating; 

and it is a dying art that needs to be preserved, just like... well, preserving.

How I started with sourdough
Here is the way I make sourdough - well, I did until going gluten-free 3 months ago for auto-immune thyroid reasons (for me) and gut-achey head-achey grumpy reasons (for July). More of that in another post...

I am a person often described by others in social situations as a "baker", as in, leaning conspiratorially forward: "Tracey bakes". Not as a job, but for love (especially for birthday cakes). But I was underwhelmed by baking bread...until sourdough. It started with Sol Breads which, while rubbery and un-sour, were the best we could get in our country town. 

So I started looking for recipes. I found the Australian run Sourdough Companion, a wonderful site with blogs, forums, recipes. I got started with a commercially sold starter from baker Brett Noy purchased through Basic Ingredients

First, you need to get some culture
Sourdough is one of the superfoods - a fermented food. Until the horrors of commercial baking - preservatives, over-refined bleach flours, commercially bland mono-culture yeasts, plastic wrapped supermarket blandness - all bread was made this way. A baker would develop his starter (some in Europe are believed to be hundreds of years old) and by feeding it with flour and water the individual mix of natural yeasts present in the air and flour would develop a lovely sour sticky glutenous mess. Mmmm.

It is straightforward to start your own culture - see Sourdough Companion for detailed instructions, or indeed any good book on sourdough baking.

As always, buy some books!
Here are my favourites. "The Bread Builders" book is totally SD, right down to making your own oven. "Bourke St Bakery" has lots on SD and other recipes (love their miche by the way). "Bread" is an artisan bakers' bible with line drawings to highlight technical understanding. "Whole Grain Breads" is good too, with some interesting ideas and recipes around grains.

Good strong flour is crucial
In my SD baking years I have used a variety of flours from wholemeal organic stoneground, mixes including rye, to bread making flour from a supermarket. In these photos I am using a strong flour with about 12 % protein, from Laucke. You must absolutely avoid horrible bleached flours...yuck.

Equipment really helps
You could go really minimal here and just use what you already have, or as shown here, build up over time a good (read substantial!) kit.

Must Have:
Enough sourdough starter - look in your books or online to calculate.
Strong flour.
Sea salt finely ground.
Diastatic malt (optional but helpful).
Olive oil to grease the resting bowl after stretching.
You really should have an electronic scale to zero the weights as you add ingredients. 
Clean non-chlorinated water. 
Accurate measuring jugs. 
Silicone paper.
Time - using this method you need about 36 hours hours from taking your small starter out at 8pm on day 1 and building it up, through the kneading to shaping stages on day 2, then overnight retard in the fridge for baking on the morning of day 3 at say, 8am.

It would be good to have:
A flour scoop and flour shaker.
A dough blade for chunking dough ready for scaling and pre-shaping. 
A plastic bench scraper is great for the concrete that is dry dough. 
A sharp knife blade or lame for slashing loaves seconds before going into the oven - for good oven spring. 
Free-form loaves are lovely, but as I usually make 4 loaves in each batch I relish the convenience of a dough basket - a banneton (green plastic rising baskets that do not go into the oven and when dusted with flour give that characteristic artisanal look to the cooked crust).
A water spray bootle for misting bannetons to get that characteristic flour mix to stick to the plastic, and also to spray into the oven to keep humidity up and encourage a soft initial flexible crust that allows oven spring to occur. I use a paintbrush to flick a mix of rice flour, wheat flour and semolina onto the damp plastic bannetons.
A notebook to write down all of your observations, recipe notes, times etc. Sourdough is a great science experiment as you are dealing with live cultures, and seemingly tiny variables will have great effect.

Equipment not shown here:
An oven - preferably one you can use top and bottom elements without fan (have also used with great success a gas-fired BBQ with a hood and thermostat) .
A pizza stone or large terracotta tile that helps achieve oven-spring by stabilising the temperature drop as you open the door and put that big mass of cold dough in - preheat this for at least 45 minutes.
A shallow tin that sits on the shelf below your pizza stone that you will pour one half of a cup of boiling water into when you slide your loaf dough into the oven. Don't use your best one - it will buckle.
A pizza paddle to easily shift dough into the oven (I use silicone paper on the paddle to ensure an easy slide).
Kitchen timer.

Getting started - build your sponge
This is when you take your small amount of sponge (or mother) from the fridge and build it up by adding flour and water so it gets bigger. Don't forget to reserve some to go back in the fridge for the next batch.

Now build your dough
Here are our amounts for a four loaf batch. Just scale up or down as needed:

800 g wheat flour
800 mls water

800 grams activated sponge (also called starter)
360 mls water
24 g malt
43 g fine sea salt
1175 g wheat flour
more flour for dusting bench and hands
olive oil for bowl

First mix equal portions of flour and water together to autolyse in a bowl for 30 minutes or so (the first two on the above list). This helps soften the flour and prepares it for the second mix when you will mix your large amount of sponge with the autolysed flour and water, malt, salt, more flour, and water. 

It looks pretty horrible as you mix this altogether in the bowl, but we aren't aiming for smooth just yet. 

Rest for 5 minutes (you and the dough).

Dust your bench with flour, tip the lump of dough out onto the bench, scrape the bowl clean and oil the bowl lightly with the olive oil.

Need to knead
Set your kitchen timer for 5 minutes and knead it gently, until smooth. This may take up to 10 minutes though, so feel free to reset the timer for another 5. Put the dough back in the oiled bowl, and cover with a damp tea-towel.

Time to bulk proof the dough
Leave it to rest (actually, the gluten is really relaxing now and the culture is feeding) and come back in 30 minutes to lift the dough out, stretch and fold. Put back in the bowl and do the same thing in another 30 minutes. These wonderful photos from "Bourke Street Bakery" show the method...

Leave to rest for an additional 30 minutes (bulk proof takes 1 and a half hours all up) while you can prepare your bannetons if you use them, then come back to...

This is the step where you chunk the dough into loaf-size weighted portions if you are making more than one loaf. Once weighed out evenly, you do a pre-shape which is essentially stretching the dough once again into a round shape. Rest 20 minutes.

Final shape and retard
Now is the time to make round loaves round and ovals into...ovals! See these lovely drawings from Hamelman's book "Bread". There are also lots of kind people on you-tube who have put together video tutorials if you need some help...

The best method I have found to get a strong dough with lots of air-holes and that lovely sweet sourdough tang is to then retard them overnight in the fridge. To help with this, I put the final shaped loaf upside down (yes - smooth bit is down, bumpy join is visible from the top) into the dusted bannetons, slip a big plastic bag over the whole thing, peg the bag shut and pop into the fridge to develop some complexity.

Baking time at last
Ah - the moment we have all been waiting for! Preheat your oven (220 celsius, 425 F) with your shallow tray on the shelf below your pizza stone. At least double or even triple your usual pre-heat time. I tend to use the fan-free setting as it seems to get a better result with rising. Less drying of the crust initially I suspect.

Once the oven is at the right heat, get the kettle boiling. You will need a half cup of boiling water to pour into the tray beneath the pizza stone as you put each loaf in.

Take out of the fridge one of your dough loaves. It should have risen by at least a third and look soft and firm. Puffy and when poked leaves a finger mark? You may have over-proofed it...

Put silicone baking paper on the pizza paddle then up-turn your banneton (if using one) or just place your freehand dough loaf onto the paper. Slash the top with great gusto - don't be nervous - as a deep long slash allows the dough in the centre of the bread to expand upwards through the cut. 

Place the dough in the oven, sliding the paper onto the pizza stone, pouring your boiling water in the pan underneath, then turning your oven immediately down to 180 celsius/350 F.

Bread's in the oven - I can't wait!
Showtime! Hopefully you can peep through the glass and watch the miracle of oven spring ; ) 

I set the timer for 15 minutes and open the oven to turn the loaf around and remove the paper. The ovals shown here take 35 minutes (the round loaf takes 30) PLUS they all get another 10-15 minutes upside down back in the oven to brown and caramelise the soft whiteness of where the base has rested on the stone. To be clear, it takes some 45 minutes all up.

Think it is ready? Tap the base - if a soggy oosh, it needs longer. It should sound hollow.

Now do it all again with the next loaf - remembering to preheat up to 220 celsius/425 F again...

Finishing points
Cool on a rack and do_not_cut until cold. This is the most difficult thing to bear, but really do not cut it open as the sugars are still developing and lovely complex flavours are proceeding inside the steam within the crispy shell of crust.

Now eat it!
Sourdough is such a magnificent creature it is good fresh, toasted, plain or adorned. If you have any left, slice then freeze and spread the joy. 

My particular version of joy is home-made butter...

Now it's your turn
Have you had any sourdough adventures? Where did you eat your best bread ever? And the hot topic here - got a good gluten free sourdough recipe to share?

Nov 5, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Thanks to April over at Educating April I have been given a "Stylish Blogger Award"! This is very exciting as is the first blog-thingy like that I have ever had! Cheers, April : )

Apparently I now get to award it onwards (see below and then go check them out) and also share 7 things about myself. This is starting to get a little odd isn't it...

Here goes...

  1. As a child in a family full of teachers (about 90%) I said I would NEVER teach. Haha.
  2. I also said I would NEVER homeschool...cue the wonderful Amber at Adventures of a Rainbow Mama who as well as being an online web-star is also a real-life very dear friend who several years ago said "Have you thought about homeschooling the girls? It would be good." She was right.
  3. I married a man who said he would NEVER get married.
  4. I parent my lovely girls with a man, my husband, who said he would NEVER have children.
  5. I said I would NEVER take thyroid replacement hormone. It took 15 years and way too many kilos followed by fertility issues to realise a replacement hormone is better than minuscule amounts of natural hormone and no babies. Now I take T3 and T4 and don't eat gluten : ) - this helps.
  6. I now understand what that saying "NEVER say NEVER" actually means. 
  7. Rather than cutting off choices before getting to the decision points (I guess that is prejudice isn't it), I really am trying to be flexible, adaptive, creative, and above all self-loving. Thanks for being part of the Project!
Hugs, cyber readers!

Consider the baton now passed to:
Amber at Adventures of a Rainbow Mama
Ingi at Defying Gravity

Oct 22, 2011

On visual schedules, planning (and remembering)

Part of my visual homeschool organisation system
This post covers some of the different ways I have designed, tried, changed, discarded, borrowed and adapted planning tools to help schedule our time in our home education endeavours. 

(For general physical organisation of your homeschool room rather than time management, have a look at this post.)

In previous lives, among other things, I have run my own design business, developed and taught adult design curriculum, been a marketing communication manager with staff, run groups etc and all my life I have strived for the perfect system. What have I learnt along the way? 
  • Are you a visual person? Spatial thinker? Linear? Love lists? Despise systems and embrace chaos? Vague as a duck? Know thyself and plan accordingly. 
  • Don't be afraid to discard systems even if everyone else seems to love them - then maybe re-visit if the time is right.
  • If your system isn't working, are aspects of it salvageable? Adapt and thrive.
  • Make sure you enjoy your system - pleasure is a great motivator when tiredness and apathy set in.
  • Bored with it? System not fitting the kids? Get creative and move on.

First step, work out your priorities
At the end of each holiday or school break, Mike and I sit down and discuss "where to next?". With so many areas of curriculum to cover, I don't attempt to cram them all into the average week - I have tried it, it doesn't fit!

There are two ways of working out your priorities: 

  1. what are your kids in the mood for exploring (icing on the cake), or 
  2. what skills and areas are we running behind on (filling in). 

This might be just a sense or feeling you have, or maybe information gleaned from assessment. 

For example, I noticed that spelling was sliding; we hadn't really done much on poetry so far; in order for July to do more independent work she needed more practice with her handwriting to increase speed and accuracy; and the girls universally cried "we want more science!". Added to that the daily 30 minutes of maths (needed for emotional stability around here ; )) and there is our "try to do every working day" list. Oh, and at least one read aloud (fiction at night, factual in the day mostly).

Read alouds calm me down and anchor what can otherwise be a hectic week. I do ask narrative style questions and aim to inspire Socratic discussion. Often, keeping the floods of relevant chat to a minimum is the hard part, but I shouldn't complain...

Second step, fill in with fun and lovely bits
For us this is material like "Mapping the World with Art" (geography, history, art through mapping), Michael Clay Thompson "Grammar Island", French, Philosophy (currently reading "The Fallacy Detective" as an intro to deductive reasoning, logic, etc), and our own Science fun based on "what do we want to do now?". This may be nature study, bushwalks, chemistry experiments, robot kits and so on. This is the child-led end of the plan.

Lots of art happens after lunch without my involvement, but we do dip into things like "Drawing on the Right Hand of the Brain" workbook.

Third step, give yourself permission to pause the plan
Be flexible. Farmers market day? Maybe spelling worksheet in the cafe and a talking book in the car is the extent of home education that day. Chance to go to the museum or art gallery? Go! Enjoy. 

Our system: meet my exterior brain
Yes, it really is. This timber box lives on top of the old 1930s dresser in the centre of our "education space". It is chock full of books, printouts, notes, activity books, posters etc in chronological order. As an eclectic classical homeschooler, I needed a place to store all those lovely resources and frankly there is no way I would ever remember them if they ended up in the more current, active curriculum boxes. Here they stay as I lovingly flick through them on those days when pondering "where to from here?"

When it is time, out they'll come and onto the read-aloud book stand and into the "ready to go" curriculum box.

The girls know there is treasure in this box and love to peek and rifle through - building anticipation is so important, isn't it.

I am a visual spatial person
I'm sure that is no surprise to you! (Indeed, you probably are too.) This is why our homeschool is full of nice piles of strewn goodies to tempt our 2 visual spatial learners...

such as public library-like displays of current areas we are exploring in the reading room to tempt reading and small collections of special material for me so I remember to teach with it! 

For example, here is Michael Clay Thompson's excellent first level poetry book "The Music of the Hemispheres" which we are dipping in and out of while also playing with an anthology (with explanatory rhyme and poetry greats sections) called "A Child's Introduction to Poetry" by Michael Driscoll.

Following MCT's lovely suggestion of reading a poem a day, I have TS Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" as just one source (by the way - have you seen this free poetry iPad iPhone app from the Poetry Foundation? Wonderful!). Next to that is our current "in the daytime" read-aloud - Horrible Science's "Blood, Bones and Body Bits/Chemical Chaos". 

Evening read-alouds are generally classic fiction.

Keeping track of what's next
I have not invented the perfect system - not for the long-term anyway. For us, priorities are constantly changing - along with interests and new materials. The organisation system must also change.

I don't like to rely upon day-in-day out workbooks and the same day-by-day routines. It just wouldn't work here. My greatest challenge is how to deliver the best resources in the most timely fashion, before interest turns to boredom, and the girls frankly just grow out of it!

I have passed on plenty of material that we never got to use in time. I'm ok with that.

I try to gather good material that is not too repetitive but that is reinforcing enough for retention. Spark the passion, feed the fire, then move on to the next rich subject.

Here are some of the visual prompts I have used over the last three years to keep track of our inspiring plans, and the more mundane plans too:

Lists and mind maps
When stuck and feeling a bit anxious, I return to this method as it gives me the feeling of being in control (hmmm, this is an illusion). I have a homeschool notebook as a catch-all for all my worries, ideas, crazy plans. Trouble with this is that once that book is shut, I forget about it! 

Out of sight truly is out of mind for a visual person, which is why now I transfer the important actions onto the following more visual tags, on display in the education space. The advantage is that the girls also get to see what is available and negotiable.

Timetables and schedules
It is very tempting to run homeschool as an office or a bricks-and-mortar school with grades (horror) and a tight schedule - "must have timetable...must have timetable...must have timetable....must have timetable..."

Tried this, both paper and electronic, and found it did_not_work for us. Too linear and rigid.

Limited "must do" list
The workbox system wasn't good for us either, as I explained here. However, I had made some nifty little laminated tags which I then put to good use as a sort of physical "must do" list, on the understanding that sprinkled through the day - interspersed with larger projects - these "must dos" were to be completed by the girls.

Once done, the child got to take down the tag and place it into a little box ready to be on display for the next day. This was also great for chores when the girls were young. Here they are hanging in a magnetic order bar:

Menu corkboard
This was fun. I wrote or pinned up projects and together with the girls we chose which ones to work on. The re-usable tags were saved for another week, and the one off projects were scrunched up when complete and recycled. Satisfying.

Eventually I just got sick of the visual busy-ness and moved on.

Latest and greatest - "in and out corkboard"
This system works well for us now. It is a mix of "must remember to use these favourite materials regularly" and my usual visual "strewing" (putting together goodies for the kids to find and inspire them, oh, and also me).

I made up a laminated card for each of the pieces of curriculum we are currently actively using (selection of those are shown above). When we have completed it, I just move it from the left to the right side of the board. This lets me see in a glance what needs to be covered in the rest of the week, or indeed fortnight if there is lot of project work going on.

Other visual cues
The magnetic stainless steel strips on the homeschool room wall hold special hovering "fun projects" like these Halloween craft bits, or "Alice in Wonderland" puzzles for our approaching reading of Michael Clay Thompson's Language Illustrated Classic.

These are both from the Dover Publications Teachers' Samples.

Visual spatial approach to spelling
Cumulative spelling lists gather on one of the 2 whiteboards so that next week's list is as current as possible. Once the girls are working on the list words, we use Look, Say, Cover, Write, and Check - a good technique for visual learners. More about this method here

I encourage them to be as creative while writing out their words: different colours for different syllables, draw a picture with the letters etc. The other technique is writing the word out in the air while saying each letter as you write it. Try doing this backwards if the word is really tricky to remember... 

One last thing
Oh, and I always try to remember the value of whimsy in the learning space : )

Hope you have enjoyed the tour. Any questions? Please comment below and I will attempt to answer them!

What methods do you use for keeping track of where you are and what you are going to do in your homeschool?
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