Jul 31, 2011

T'shirt shopping bags

 Have any t'shirts your little darlings have outgrown but you can't bear to part with?

As part of our ongoing "Living greener" project, I realised that I could reduce those paper produce bags (let alone hideous plastic bags) we use at the vegetable shop and farmer's market by making our own reusable washable fabric bags.

But seriously, when do I have the time to make them from scratch? Also there were all those gorgeous outgrown kids shirts that I couldn't quite pass on. Hmmm - then I saw the kids' Sewing School book and blog and voila! T'shirt bags!

Naturally I chose a rushing off to the Farmers' Market morning to try making these....

July and November trimmed off inside the shoulder seams of the sleeves to make the handles. They pinned the bottom seams together, chose a decorative stitch and helped me sew along the pinned line with the sewing machine. Then 15 minutes later we jumped in the car for Mullumbimby's Farmers' Market.

Bit of homeschool list writing practice for July, and the newly made bags were stacked with baklava, organic Stanthorpe apples, sourdough cornette rolls, and chocolate brioche.

Of course, us parents still had to lug the big and not so beautiful pumpkins, zucchinis, shallots etc.

Hmmm - better make big beautiful market bags for Mike and I now! If only I can manage that sometime other than just before next market trip ; )


Jul 26, 2011

Multiplication mambo

Fun with maths facts - how to teach homeschool multiplication
Mastering your maths facts is essential, you'll get no argument from me...but boring drill and kill is just plain dull. The more learning modes you can engage the better the recall and your kids can get into all the good stuff sooner.

Unlimited by school curriculum grade guidelines, in our homeschool if you are up for the challenge you can have a go. Our approach for the last 3 or so years (first after-schooling then homeschool) has been shovel in the facts then dive into the concepts. 

I believe lots of kids are so bored while accumulating the facts they never get to feel the thrill of enjoyment in the real maths : (

Order is not set in stone
Don't get caught up in "school rules" of "must do facts before doing fractions", decimals, even division. There isn't any reason to hold a child back from conceptual maths because their recall is imperfect. Running from the desk to a multiplication chart to check then coming back to work, or jotting down your skip counting pattern to help solve long division is good: need is a good motivator.

Watching her big sis dive into fractions, geometry, and prime factors, July is keen to get her hands on the goodies too. So this has pushed multiplication and division up the queue. As she is a super crafty creative girl, I knew I'd need some strong visual-spatial tools - straight memorisation was never going to cut it.

When November was at this stage, she looooooved memorising - and I felt I had to prise her little fingers off the pencil and urge her to play with blocks and MABs, coins and beads and buttons to build arrays and to have some "hands on" creative living maths. Whether she wanted it or not! he-he

So here is how we have been approaching multiplication in our homeschool for the second time...or is that times 2?

Start with the oral, and aural
Skip counting aloud is a great game for even tiny children. 

Once they are curious about pairs of objects (shoes, socks, hands, feet, you get the idea) start counting! This is the foundation of multiplication...it may seem like you are just adding 2, 3, 4, etc in effect you are teaching the product of two numbers.

2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and on it goes. Most children love this kind of pattern and once you let them in on the "secret code" a very young child will love to work their way up through the number patterns.

Secret code?
Counting by 2? Whisper 1, loudly say 2, whisper 3, loudly say 4, whisper 5, loudly say 6....

Counting by 3? Whisper 1, whisper 2,  loudly say 3, whisper 4, whisper 5, loudly say 6, whisper 7, whisper 8, loudly say 9....and you get the idea.

Hands on help from "The Toymaker"
We made up the brownie skip counter (see above) and laminated the strips for durability.

Once mastered, we moved onto the multi-pies. The Toymaker's sheets only go to 6x, so once these were covered, I printed out another set, and made up from 7x through to 12x on labels over the original numbers 1-6 and joined them. Your student holds them in their hands, thumb covering the answer, and moves around the edge of the multi-pie. Beautiful and kinaesthetic.

Practice the physical, build those pathways
Skip counting works nicely with jumping on the trampoline, bouncing a ball, even on a number line drawn with chalk.

Build arrays - arrangements of equal sets. This is essential in teaching the relationship between multiplication and division. This photo shows July making up sets to 12: 2 x 6, 3 x 4, 4 x 3. Of course, once made up, you can go backward to show 12 divided by 6 = 2, 12 divided by 3 = 4 etc.

Our girls loved this "playing" with objects. Try pebbles, seeds, lego blocks, eyes, sparkles...Good maths is about working with the feel of a number, not an intellectual idea of a number. That is why physical is good.

Memorisation stage
Utilise the rocky fun of Multiplication Rock from Schoolhouse Rock on youtube. Adding a tune always seems to add memorisation.

Use a hundreds chart to count through in skips.

Make a blank 10 x 10 table (or 12 x 12 is even better) and work through breaking down each row. This is a great confidence builder as it teaches the commutative principle for multiplication (4 x 3 = 12, as does 3 x 4 = 12; the order doesn't effect the answer). Fill it in as you work through each level - a reward to demonstrate mastery.

We also do the huge verandah or sidewalk version with chalk.

Try making a times table clock for the 1 x through to 12 x...

Here is a close-up - lots of colouring in for those so inclined.

Introduce square numbers
Follow the diagonal line on the blank grid = squares! Build with corn or pebbles to prove same number multiplied by same number = square and it really does make a visual square. Important foundation for square root work later on.

Cognitive skill building - use it don't lose it
Try your usual worksheets, games like the excellent Timez Attack (has a free version plus a paid version - slightly scary but fun!), and just multiplication in every day life.

How do you break the drill and kill in your homeschool?

Jul 22, 2011

Vale, Lucian Freud

"Working at Night" photograph of Lucian Freud by David Dawson
“My work is purely autobiographical…It is about myself and my surroundings. I work from people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I know…When I look at a body it gives me choice of what to put in a painting, what will suit me and what won’t. There is a distinction between fact and truth. Truth has an element of revelation about it. If something is true, it does more than strike one as merely being so.”
Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud has died at 88. Grandson of Sigmund Freud, this extraordinary artist had been called the greatest living realist painter.

I love his work - his direct gaze, wondrous buttery nudes, confronting sections and full view of human life.

"Sleeping Head", Lucian Freud, 1979-80 

As a psychodynamic therapist, I admire and am fascinated by Sigmund Freud's ideas and practice. His daughter Anna Freud was also an incredible therapist and academic. Yet to be one of the Freuds AND an incredible artist...what a combination. Makes me sad not to know that family from up close.

Portrait of Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud
If you'd like to see more of Lucian's life, go to The Guardian here. To see more of his pictures, go to a pdf here.

For the three parts of a wonderful documentary from film-maker Jake Auerbach and Freud's biographer William Feaver, see below. 

NUDITY is a large feature of his work, so don't watch if this may offend. The third part opens with a shot of male nude painting and is visible below...so caution if this concerns you.

Enjoy - what do you think of his work?

Jul 13, 2011

How to do nature study with kids

We live in the middle of the rainforest, 350 metres above sea-level, in Eastern Australia, at the top of NSW. With a National Park backing onto our land we are living with nature not just on our doorstep, but inside the house at times.

In our bath tub (like the goanna who fell into our bath from the roof space through the ceiling fan),

in the dining room (many many micro-bats over the years, and the occasional swallow down the chimney),

snakes in the music room, a bush rat down the kitchen stove vent, and legless lizards in the laundry.

We have had koalas fighting and growling two steps from our back door, wedge-tail eagles in the chicken pen (see our 22 second youtube movie here), and watched generations of tiny wallabies emerge from pouches to then grow up and have their own tiny young.

When November was a toddler, we even had an echidna waddle through the front door on a hot summer day. And this young male orphaned Bobuck possum came to live with us for a while to be re-introduced into the wild.

(Warning - dead animal photo coming up)

Yet, we have only just started "officially" doing Nature Study.

Lesson plan for Nature Study
Here is an outline for our current method. This can be broken up into 3 or 4 sessions if needed.

  1. Philosophy: what do you want to accomplish? For our family, we really wanted time together in the bush, and the girls often choose nature study as part of "You Choose Tuesday". I think it is a great way to show children the wonder and fragility of our environment and the positive and negative aspects of human interaction in the natural world.
  2. Gather field resources relevant to your location and quest: solid sketch book (we like a spiral binding, acid-free pages, heavy weight pages), 2B pencils and eraser, coloured pencils, magnifying glass, lidded containers for scooping specimens, camera, tweezers, net, binoculars, and anything else you are prepared to carry! Can be as simple as the first 3 items only.
  3. Go outside and find something interesting! Look, smell, listen, be still, draw, photograph, enjoy. Collect if practicable - and be sure to return live specimens to the same area as soon as possible.
  4. Back home with your specimen or images of your specimen: gather reference books, posters, classification keys and internet resources.
  5. Identify your specimen. Measure it - length, height, weight if practicable.
  6. Map your specimen's range.
  7. Research using web based and workbook resources. Really get to know as much as you can, as long as this holds your interest. Nature study is meant to be fun and educational with the emphasis on interesting.
  8. Document your findings in your nature study sketch book or separate book. We use the sketchbook, gluing in sections of lined paper as needed, and print-outs of photos or relevant items. Our aim is for each girl to have created her own "reference book" that she can refer back to over time.

Why explore Nature Study?
I tracked down "The Handbook of Nature Study" by natural historian and illustrator Anna Botsford Comstock (written in 1911 and revised in 1939)  because I was curious with how to turn out everyday bush life into a homeschool subject. I found Anna Botsford Comstock's arguments for taking children outside to learn very compelling...

"First, but not most important, nature-study gives the child practical and helpful knowledge. It makes him familiar with nature's ways and forces, so that he is not so helpless in the presence of natural misfortune and disasters.
Nature-study cultivates the child's imagination, since there are so many wonderful and true stories that he may read with his own eyes, which affect his imagination as much as does fairy lore; at the same time nature-study cultivates in him a perception and a regard for what is true, and the power to express it. 
All things seem possible in nature; yet this seeming is always guarded by the eager quest of what is true. Perhaps half the falsehood in the world is due to lack of power to detect the truth and to express it. Nature-study aids both in discernment and in expression of things as they are."

Good stuff. 

Here is a real life example of nature study in our homeschool...

Unexpected arrival of a subject
A male bandicoot drowned in the pool. After all standing around its poor forlorn still-wet body and thanking it for allowing us to learn from its death (yes, while a science-mad homeschool, we are still very tender hearted with our subjects) photos were taken, sketch books fetched and many drawings were made.

Afterwards his body was dispatched to the bush to become food for ravens, goannas, insects and assorted microbes. Then the photo was loaded onto the iPad. 

I love the iPad for sharing images like this. You can zoom in for closeups, as an aid for drawing, and to double check features when doing animal classification and identification.

Our "Field Guide to Australian Mammals" reference book was consulted, and I went and gathered resources. (While our specimen was a Northern Brown Bandicoot, I was only able to source web resources on the Southern Brown Bandicoot. You will find them listed below.)

Distribution is an important factor in species ID. The girls took turns to read aloud the possible bandicoots and they studied the book's maps for clues. I had them draw the distribution for our specimen on the huge laminated maps we use as desk mats. July did our specimen, November drew all three species' location in different colours on a world map. Love to include geography wherever we can!

Next session we explored the web resources...

Write it down, remember, retention, and pride of work
Then it was time for book work. 

I realised some time ago that part of Mike and my criteria for "good education" is retention of learning. I am quite happy to spread out a nature study project over several sessions a few days apart as I find it really helps the girls remember details and think things through in between physically working on the project. Mental casserole time...

Each time they add to their nature study sketchbooks the girls are freshly enthused looking through their past work. This is great for morale building with reluctant writers.

Each girl decided what information she wanted to include. Here are some pages from July's sketchbook:

 and some from November's:

Do you "Nature Study"? How do you do it? 
Please add a link and share your work in the comments!

Jul 11, 2011

The joys of school holidays!

Ahh - gotta love a break in routine.

When we first started home schooling, Mike and I thought we would just educate right through the "official" holidays because (back in the bad old days when the girls went to bricks-and-mortar school) we had always continued "after schooling" through the holidays. In those under-stimulated days, the girls were desperate for some serious learning, so holidays were filled with classes, travel, online learning, loads of books...

Get real - take a break
Now that we are in charge of their education, us homeschool parents need the break in routine. We celebrate the end of term as a family. It is looked forward to as a chance to sleep in, play even more games, catch up on the home duties that slip by, re-think priorities in education for the coming term and year.

Not that there is any lazing around as the girls do holiday drama workshops and performances, participate in circus shows, catch up with buddies, do the occasional "vacation care" day like other school kids, and have day-long play dates...

Spend time with your beloved
Mike and I get to play...well, except we are so busy dropping the girls off here and there, that "playing" ends up being a lovely lunch out together where in between beer, knitting, magazine reading, and eating great food we actually talk to each other! without interruption. Wow.

Small moments, but all the more special for being so rare.

Celebrate the season
It is mid-winter (Northern NSW, Australia) and we have had heavy frosts that vanish by breakfast, followed by warm sunny blue sky days where we loll around on chairs in full sunlight eating long morning teas and lunches with dear friends.

The last of the roses give way to the magnolias leaf-naked in full bloom.

The vegetable garden is filling with potatoes, snow-peas, mulched asparagus, transplanted strawberries. The rainforest seems to pause in its usual verdant march into our garden clearing and the parrots are replaced by butcher birds, bower birds, ravens, tiny wrens, and magpies.

By 3pm the sun is gone from our patch, dusk drops cold and still and its time to close the garden gate and retreat inside to the fire and to answer that perennial question "What's for dinner?"

Do you break or not? How do you re-charge and look after yourself as a homeschool parent?

Jul 5, 2011

No! Harvey Norman No!

We are very lucky to live in a rainforest, bounded by national park. We are definitely a tree hugging family! But we also are consumers, and do like to buy timber furniture.

When I read that a large retailer in Australia "Harvey Norman", is logging old growth forests, sending the timber to China for processing, then importing it to Australia to sell as furniture...grrrr...that really stinks!

The advocate group GetUp! produced an ad to show what Harvey Norman are up to, but the commercially run ad body in Australia banned the ad! So I am going to broadcast it here...pass it on. Let's look at the real costs of doing business with baddies.

Next time, use the Forest Stewardship Council to get you some sustainable timber, hey Harvey.

Jul 1, 2011

Trust your instincts, parent

"She doesn't seem that bright to me - I have been teaching for 20 years, and just because she is a good reader doesn't mean she is gifted."
"All children are gifted."
"In the top 99.9 percentile? I have another 7 or 8 kids just like him in my class."
"It all evens out by Year 3."
"You shouldn't push her so hard. All parents think their children are gifted."
"What is so special about gifted? It is just academic talent, that's all."
Do teachers know best? Are they your go-to expert on giftedness?
It has been our overwhelming experience as a family that parents seem more horrified by the idea of a gifted child than over-eager to call their child "gifted". And as for waiting for the teacher to speak up and give you the truth...well, I wouldn't hold your breath. Looks like less than 10% of gifted kids are identified correctly by their teachers.
Here is an insightful article published in The Australian newspaper. Read the original here.
Spot the brainiac
Greg Callaghan - The Australian Newspaper June 18, 2011
SNAP quiz: who's the best judge of whether a child is gifted or not: their parents or their teachers?
Answer: their parents – by a huge margin. Parents are between 66 per cent and 100 per cent accurate in spotting giftedness in their child, while for teachers, the figure hovers at a humiliating 4-10 per cent, as borne out by a raft of recent surveys. “Parents see their kids performing a range of tasks in a variety of contexts, while teachers would be lucky to get one lecture on gifted children during their entire training,” says Dr Louise Porter, a respected child psychologist and education expert based in Queensland.
Porter’s research has helped demolish many of the myths about gifted children, most notably that parents rosily overestimate their offspring’s intelligence. While the exact meaning of the term “gifted child” has been a source of heated debate, most experts now agree that they total no more than 3-5 per cent of the child population. Gifted kids have high IQs, ace their peers on other standardised tests, and are usually high achievers in most fields (maths, language, science, music) because of the sheer processing speed of their brains, a product of their genetic inheritance. It’s been found that parents with a tertiary education have a one in 10 chance of having a gifted child, while for those who never finished high school (because of a lack of academic ability, not economic hardship), the figure drops to about one in 10,000.
And it seems the 21st century’s digital world is giving birth to a new type of gifted child. “This is the first generation of children learning by means other than listening,” notes Porter. “A mother of two from Hong Kong recently came to me; she knew her young daughter was gifted but was worried about her son, who she suspected might be autistic. It turned out both children had an IQ of 140 – the boy was visually gifted, the girl language gifted.” The next masters of the universe may well be the visual learners, Porter says: engineers, architects, film directors, sculptors.
I am doubly sure after reading this, that when in doubt seek out a gifted child expert and test IQ! Once you have the information, your choices will become easier.
You may also like this post "No, not every child is gifted". See "Gifted Pointers in the tab above for a shorter version.
What is your experience with Gifted identification?
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