Aug 29, 2011

Rat Dissection - gory but good

But first...
I realised the other morning as yet again I loaded snacks and yummy things into our little basket, that like the proverbial army, homeschools run on their stomachs. This winter we have tried to have an outside morning tea every clear day. It cheers everyone up, especially me as after fruit and homemade (sometimes store-bought) snacks and chatting the girls run and play while I poke around and meditatively weed the vege beds.

Dissection photos ahead - sensitive souls avert your eyes ;- ) 

Have chickens, expect rats
We have chickens, we feed them grain and kitchen scraps, and as a result we also have rats. 

Rats are a hot topic at the moment as we are reading Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" from the Michael Clay Thompson's new Language-Illustrated Classic edition. We are all loving the book (and the extra MCT notes sprinkled through the text).

Rats are clever creatures that are difficult to keep out of the chook food. We fixed that by using old dishwashers to store the grain...But then they just moved their home to under the chicken shed itself - now netted with bird wire to keep the wedgetail eagles out (see more of our wedgie in the chicken pen story and video here). Sadly this means beautiful night-time avian predators like the sooty and whistling owl can't get in to cull the rats and their many, many babies.

We won't use regular poison as it is a slow agonising death, and runs a hugh risk of a secondary poisoning of predators or carrion eaters like goannas.

What to do?
The rats started eating our snow peas, the tops of the asparagus, the strawberries are starting to form, and that did it for me...the rats had to go.

Now I am a country girl and a realist - there will of course be more rats that move in once these ones are gone and I am ok with that. We just needed a method that would suit our humane kill requirement (relatively speaking of course).

Car fumes death
Cue this wonderful American PDF book on dealing with pests. Poring over it, Mike and I chose a method - suffocation by car exhaust fumes - and off my darling husband went to do the job. He blocked up all but one hole leading under the slab, drove the car around, attached an old vacuum cleaner hose and placed the nozzle in the last hole. 

Be safe - outside only!
Naturally, this was all done outside in the open air! This method only works with rats underground and human safely outside.

Half an hour and 8 rat bodies later (plus at least the same again under the concrete floor I suspect) the chicken pen is rat free! The fumes are heavier than air so sink into the underground burrows. It is quick and apparently sleep was certainly effective. November was fascinated with their bodies and asked excitedly "Can we dissect one after lunch? Please???"

Of course the answer was yes! This is the part of unschooling or child-led learning that I like the best. We are an "eclectic" homeschool and while we do have bits I like us to do week in and out, we often throw the rough plan out the window to follow the girls' lead and why not?

We had already done some spelling before breakfast, then super-thinky work in maths and Language Arts with Michael Clay Thompson's "Grammar Island" after morning tea. We were all due time outdoors reading or about cutting up a dead rat?

Naturally, a quick look on the net and I found a great web based step by step on Educatus to look at on the iPad. November then watched this youtube video (see above) on rat dissection as preparation. We also checked out the fetal pig colouring-in pages from the wonderful "Zoology Coloring Book" as an warm-up for understanding the anatomy of mammals.

Gather tools
I naturally had a couple of scalpels and blades lying around ready (truly - though just a leftover from art projects years ago but in use a lot around here), tweezers, bamboo sticks to use as probes, protective goggles, latex gloves, and an art pinafore. Mike did all the blokey stuff with hammer and nails, stretching the rat out on a cork tile. His pointy nose pliers completed the equipment. 

Mike made the initial incision...

Then over to November! Here are some photos.

Inspecting the liver, stomach and intestines:

Cutting through the cartilage to open up the rib cage...

Heart and lungs open to view:

And still not completely satisfied, with Mike's strength, she skinned the rest of the rat, freed the  spine from the skull and then pulled the tail from the skin. 

November was able to see how the vertebrae continued all the way to the tip of the tail...

At the end of the dissection, the rats body was returned to the bush for other animals to finish off. November did thank the rat, by the way.

Following up with written material for retention and understanding
Once completed, November was still keen for more, more, more, so I found a few more worksheets on the net including this beauty from John R. Sowash.

Happy days - when horrible pest becomes education helper. 

Thanks Ratty - very much appreciated.

Aug 22, 2011

When grumpy rules the roost

Breaks in routine are tricky, whether short or long. Whether "back to school" or "back into homeschool" after long holidays, or sickness, or just "busy in the rest of your life" breaks.

With last week's Gyuto monks' visit and final drama performances (including November's first ever vocal solo) we are out of whack. Today was the first day "back" into our usual routine. Naturally, there was resistance...and it was vocal and grumpy (adults and children alike).

You are not alone
From the tone of an email message from a dear friend this morning, there was also resistance being felt in other home schools! It happens. Sometimes no-one wants to play.

Losing rhythm is hard
Here is our game plan when the "No!" to "school work" (for want of a better term) is getting in the way...
  • Stick to your guns but relax your academic expectations 
  • Expect compliance but change the activity into something really irresistible like painting, or cooking, or music, or a read-alouds where you read them an amazing book and then they draw what they remembered/got from it
  • If it helps, I think the sticky yucky days are ultimately good. Kids naturally test your resolve - will you be like some grumpy school teacher and give-up? Show them how much you believe in them and BE KIND
  • Just require your child's commitment to any activity and work together to make a learning team again :) from raking leaves together through to turns reading an assigned novel
  • More of a break can help - maybe you could go out to a cafe for a treat and take along a workbook, puzzle book, jigsaw, novel etc
  • Praise all work efforts and admit how breaks are hard for adults too
  • Finish projects off if you can - a sense of satisfaction is everything on days like these

What did we do today?
Did our daily half hour of maths (not negotiable - our kids get crankier without it); 30 minutes on Rosetta Stone French; finished a Lego castle; finished the Ancient Egyptian pectorals we have been trying to get to for a month; weaving for July on her new loom; guitar lessons for November on the newly donated guitar (thank you so much Terri!); tidying up the bead collection for me.

By the end of the day, tempers have been tamed and moods balanced, and we are ready for our usual routine tomorrow (well, maybe!).

How do you survive breaks and re-starting?

Aug 21, 2011

Gyuto Monks revisited

The Gyuto Monks of Tibet were back in our area this week, preparing for the 8 metre high World Peace Stupa (a sacred Buddhist monument) to be built in the grounds of Crystal Castle

This group of 6 monks, led by Gen Lama, are on a year long visit in Australia and recently performed for the Dalai Lama on his Australian tour.

Our family really love spending time with these men - calm, funny, gentle, spiritual, creative and incredible Tibetan throat singers and musicians. 

All week we all sat for the morning meditations (or some days just chilled with teddy bears like July), then rolled mantras, painted tsa tsas (plaster Buddha statues made earlier by the community with the monks), did peace weaving, and watched as the central part of the stupa - the Tree of Life - was painted and then wrapped.

So what does this week mean to me? 
Time to be calmly with the family, a chance to meditate, to deeply experience the rich colours and textures and sounds of Tibetan buddhism, to practice living in the moment, and to being in the moment with such lovely smiling entities - the monks. 

It is a week of pauses.

Even without a shared language there is such a strong connection between them and us, and how extraordinary to experience this connection in our usual text heavy, communication dense, busy high tech life.


Thanks Maureen, Sonam, and Gyuto House Australia. It has been another wonderful week : )
All our best wishes to you Gen Lama - get well soon.

You might also like to see my earlier Tibetan Gyuto Monk post.

Aug 17, 2011

Time to say "No!"

I said no. To a puppy.

I have said no before...well, surely I have. Mmmm, well, now I think about it, not very often.

I refer here to saying "no thanks" to offered opportunities and time management rather than the definitive "no" or disciplinary "no" which I am guilty of saying rather too much I'm sure.

Want to join a children's choir? Yes of course.
How about rollerskating? Yes, yes.
Nice shiny new curriculum involving either art, history, or geography? Yes Please!
Dance class at 8.30 every Sunday morning? Yes, yes, yes!
New book at the Library? Yes, surely I can make time to read this.
Cheese-making? Yes..., we love cheese: I must be able to fit this in.
French lessons? Oui!
Holiday gifted workshops? Can't miss that.
More chickens? Cluck cluck yes.
Driving 2 hours and camping by the beach in the National Park, so we can attend a one-off Aboriginal custodian's talk? As if I could ever miss that!

Do we have the time in the schedule to commit? No, not really, but I then lay awake juggling times and days, cramming chopping squeezing. But then the inevitable happens - something has to get dropped.

I am an optimist. I think that is the problem. I convince myself that with the right schedule, timetable, waking up time, I can fit in the new commitment. It will all work out...except when there is no...more...time.

We have now reached that point
And the planned puppy had to go. I felt like crying when I woke up in the night and thought "this is when I'd need to take the puppy outside to wee", or out and about on our busy week I'd look around and think "no dogs allowed here - next month Mike or I will need to stay outside and wait with the puppy". There was the raw food diet to incorporate. The need to learn the few public spaces dogs are allowed. Who would mind the pup on all-day at the Gallery in Brisbane days?

Something was wrong with this picture.

I realised this was one thing I could not swallow up and make it work (am thinking of our enormous python Bessie who is large enough to swallow a large possum or indeed a wallaby and just digest it and move on, unhinging her large jaws and winching in the food.)

I am an opportunity python! Oh dear.

Time to say no.

So I did. The girls were remarkably calm about not getting the puppy we had been planning for weeks. July looked thoughtful and said "Now we can go to the holiday drama workshop!"

That's my girl!

Needless to say, I am working on discernment and detachment. Now if only I can find the time to read "Buddhism for Mothers"...

Aug 12, 2011

Cosmic Skellig Carol


Living books, classic books, talking books...

"Greatest effect you can have on your child's life is in reading aloud quality books"
"15 minutes a day will change your child's educational path"
"Increase your child's intelligence, and get them to do the washing up, no more untidy rooms, all with the power of the book..."

Okay, I made the last one up, but there are a lot of experts out there stating the very obvious - reading is good, reading aloud is even better, and make it a good book and it really will work.

As eclectic home schoolers using a little bit of Charlotte Mason, a little bit of Classical, books are the bees knees. But sometimes you are just too tired to read, or you are in the car, or you aren't interested in the same book as your child (heaven forbid! it happens ; )).

Best in show
Here are our top 3 talking books - also known as books on tape, audio books, unabridged recordings, and a wonderful break for a parent's voice! We get them from our local library.

The theme for this top 3 is

  • entertainment with a twist
  • positive spins on homeschooling and/or gifted
  • and just the enjoyment of listening to stories where good people and quirky wins the day.

Frank Cottrell Boyce - Cosmic
Liam Digby is normal-ish (well, he is in the "gifted and talented" group at school) but extraordinarily tall and with facial hair. He is 12 but everyone thinks he is an adult...but really he is a kid with a penchant for fast gravity-defying rides. This is the story of how he ends up orbiting Earth, lost with the first kids in space.

David Almond - Skellig
In this recording, read by the author, the book is especially tender, beautiful, and haunting. There was something wonderful knowing that the Geordie accent you are listening to is the same voice that tried out the prose, sounding and testing words from the beginning of the creation of the book.

Michael is a boy whose family is in turmoil with a tiny baby sister who is unwell. They have moved to a run-down house far from their old neighbourhood, trying to make a new happy life. In the overgrown garden is a derelict garage, full of discarded junk and...well, an incredible being also run-down, derelict.

Enter Mina, the sparky home schooled girl who lives next door. She knows her own mind, quotes poetry, is compassionate and cares for Michael. And Skellig...

The film version of this book is also wondrous.

Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol - read by Miriam Margolyes
Yes, Dickens. But unlike any Dickens we have ever heard before...

Miriam Margolyes is so utterly convincing in every character in this old chestnut. The raspy Scrooge, the piping voice of poor Tiny Tim; resonant and deep one moment and all colours in between.

This recording makes Dickens accessible and intriguing - just shows the power of a good story well told.

Aug 1, 2011

Home education registration and our education program

Get on board...why do I need to register to home school?
If you live in Australia and if your child has ever attended school but you are now going to homeschool, if you ever need to claim a social security benefit, if your child wants to go in fabulous competitions like UNSW ICAS competitions, or you are just a legal do-the-right-thing kinda person, you will need to register as home schoolers with your state government's registration body.

In NSW, you will register with the Board of Studies. I have to say, this whole registration process was a breeze. I anticipated some huge bureaucracy, intervening and interfering. The reality? A lovely man phoned, arranged a time to visit our place, and popped around to check our plans. Within the hour, we were advised we were going to be recommended to be given approval for 2 years, and once the report was presented, the official certificate arrived.

You only need register a child aged over 6, though in our house (and probably yours too) the education process started years earlier.

This page at the Board of Studies has the links to the Home Education package as well as application forms.

The process begins
Essentially you fill in the application form and email or mail it to BOS. You do need to give them some 6 weeks notice (they say 3 months on their site but I think that is the worst case scenario) before you intend to actually homeschool. If you desperately need to pull your child out of school, I suggest phoning BOS to assess the processing delay as well as asking your child's current school for a Leave of Absence so no nasty "truancy" accusations arise!

By the way, truancy is not handled by the Board of Studies, but by the NSW Education Department.

Authorised person will visit
The BOS designated person will call you and make an appointment to visit. If you have any queries, on the phone is a good time to bring them up.

At the arranged visit, you will need to provide an outline of your curriculum plan (subjects you will be covering - see our example below), an example of a proposed timetable to show you understand how to schedule your child's time and progress, and also show the BOS person where your child will be working. I thought this was a good idea - and it is pretty straightforward - things such as where they will sit to work, good lighting, ventilation, basically an environment that is conducive to learning :  )

Don't panic about the "learning environment" requirement - if you are reading this, you are probably an organised enough homeschool parent! Obviously, setting up a homeschooling area is very important yet that doesn't mean expensive or elaborate.

We mostly work on one end of the dining room table. That's fine.

Here is the relevant section from the Home Education Package:

Requirements for home schooling registration
Registered home schoolers must meet the requirements for registration that:

the educational program is based on the curriculum provided by the Education Act 1990; that is, the minimum curriculum for primary education (from Kindergarten to Year 6), the minimum curriculum for secondary education (Year 7 to Year 10) or the curriculum for beyond Year 10 (Year 11 and Year 12) (Part 4 of this package details the curriculum requirements)

the educational program is based on and taught in accordance with the relevant Board of Studies syllabuses

the educational program is suitable to cater for the identified learning needs of the child 

there is an adequate system of recording learning experiences and the child’s progress
and achievement

the time allocated to learning is sufficient to allow coverage of the curriculum and is comparable to the time allocated by schools

the learning environment is suitable for effective home education 

the resources within the home and those accessed externally are adequate to support the
learning needs of the child.

Don't be frightened by the educational plan guidelines
You need to cover 6 key learning areas in primary, and 8 in secondary. Don't be alarmed! There are supplied examples in Part 6 of the Home Education package, and I have included ours below...

Feel free to copy this if you need a starting point
Yes, it is okay to copy sections of this and just replace your curriculum materials and goals where ours are : ) Good luck with your application!

Oh, and this is also a good place to see what curriculum materials we use in our homeschool, subject to ongoing change of course! I wrote this in December 2010 so naturally a bit has changed.

Primary 2011
We aim to help facilitate growing independence and love of learning through interest-led explorations within a background framework of Classical Education. name and name are both creative systems thinkers and we aim to build a comprehensive education path with strong chronological structure to help stabilise their strong conceptual thinking.
To this end, we will add French language study, philosophy, and history to the 6 required KLAs.
We plan to have a daily mix of directed skill-based outcomes and unstructured, immersion projects. 
Current starting point
name is x years old and was in Year x in 2011. 
name has the reading age of xxx. We aim to increase her vocabulary by encouraging her to read age and theme appropriate factual texts and narratives. For example, reading about architecture in Ancient Egypt and fiction based on Ancient Greek myths. Her spelling challenges will also come from themed and personal interest reading in addition to the explicit resource material listed below. We aim to incorporate an hour every day for her own reading.
name will continue to produce complex pieces of factual text writing - including explanations, reviews, information reports - and narratives using the writing cycle of brainstorming, drafting, revising and proofreading.
name will continue to publish stories and texts as printed books, Powerpoint presentations, video and audio files.
Resources and Curriculum materials
  • Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts gifted program: Grammar Island, Grammar Town, Sentence Island, Paragraph Town
  • Michael Clay Thompson Building Language and Caesar's English 1 for vocabulary building and fluency in language roots
  • Michael Clay Thompson Music of the Hemispheres and Building Poems for poetry understanding and practice
  • Ongoing script handwriting skills reinforced with "Targeting Handwriting Year x" Student Book
  • Typing practice with BBC's Dancemat Typing Program
  • Text style consolidation using "Targeting English Book 2 Upper Primary" 
  • Creative writing using “Once Upon A Time” prompt cards 
  • Continuation of name's upper Primary weekly drama class and performance workshops through the year
  • iPad application Australian Oxford Dictionary
name has a good understanding and application skills in addition, subtraction, and multiplication. We will work further on division and building greater fluency with decimals and fractions.
Resources and Curriculum materials 
  • subscription to Stanford University's online self-pacing gifted students maths program EGPY
  • Life of Fred Fractions textbook, moving through to Life of Fred Pre-algebra and Biology maths textbook
  • day to day practice and reinforcing maths skills with NSW Targeting Maths Year x workbook
  • Excel Developing Your Thinking Skills years x workbook
  • weekly farmers' market money handling experience 
  • games including Monopoly, Super Farmer, Tangram, chess and card games
  • CSIRO Maths By Email subscription
  • iPad applications including  School Zone multiplication and division, Princess Maths, Analogies, and Labyrinth
Science and Technology
Living in x, we have excellent daily access to a range of physical environments. We aim to explore and investigate these ecosystems using nature study techniques - observing, drawing, describing, cataloging, researching using animal classification guides.
name is very interested in diversity and taxonomy. We will construct our own lap book resource sorting organisms into their kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species classification.
These explorations in evolution will link into our ongoing timeline construction from the Big Bang to present day.
Introducing the basics of chemistry through the Periodic Table - building blocks of life - and conducting hands on experiments to investigate properties.
Exploring basic laws of physics with simple practical experiments and thought experiments including momentum, friction, and gravitational forces.
Resources and Curriculum materials 
  • magazine subscription to Double Helix club with the CSIRO
  • CSIRO weekly science email with experiments and web links
  • Joy Hakim's Story of Science "Aristotle Leads the Way" text and Teacher and Student Guide
  • animal guides to seashore life,  Australian mammals, reptiles, Australian birds, and Australian frogs
  • USB electronic microscope
  • periodic table resources including poster, magnets, and videos
  • astronomy observations using 10" telescope
  • iPad application Star Walk, NASA, and Pocket Weather
Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE)
We are constructing an accurate physical timeline in our reading room from Ancient History through to present time. The girls will add drawings, models, comments and labels as we cover each period through myths and legends, physical artefacts, art history and biographies of significant people.
We will start at the beginning of human civilisation with the evolution of prehistoric peoples and then explore the Ancient cultures of Egypt, Asia, Greek, Roman and Aboriginal Australia. Concurrently we will refer to the physical geography and build knowledge of  the physical locations of ancient civilisations. 
Resources and Curriculum materials  
  • National Geographic Junior Atlas
  • Horrible History books on Ancient Greece, and Rome
  • The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia
  • Ancient Greek activity book on paper doll costumes
  • The Pocket Guide to reading and writing your own Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs
  • Ancient Rome colouring book
  • Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness project guides on Prehistoric Life, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome
  • British Museum Colouring Book of Ancient Rome
  • British Museum's Ancient Egypt activity and sticker book
  • internet resources and documentary series including "History of the World in 100 Objects" from the BBC and British Museum
  • local activities and talks from the indigenous Bundjalung people  
  • iPad application Google Earth
Creative Arts
We are currently exploring line drawing and will continue building on these techniques as we work through the "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" workbook. Areas to continue to explore will include tone, colour mixing, and media techniques including collage, pastel, water-colour, acrylics, wax resist, fabric painting, mono printing, weaving and embroidery. Topics in themed history will provide the inspiration with tie-ins like potato printing hieroglyphs, water-colour landscapes of Egyptian pyramids and so on.
name has an ongoing sketchbook for exploring visual art ideas.
name is currently learning piano and will continue with this. She has weekly individual lessons in the Suzuki method which incorporates the study of classical and traditional pieces. Music theory is also incorporated in these classes.
Resources and Curriculum materials 
  • large personal library of art history and visual art technique books as well as local library books
  • Internet resources and e-list subscriptions including GOMA in Brisbane, Crafty Crow, Artful Parent, Gennine's Art Blog 
  • gallery visits to Tweed River Gallery, Lismore RegionalGallery, Art Piece Gallery, GOMA and QAG in Brisbane as well as Internet gallery tours of MOMA, Tate for Kids, and others
  • iPad application Art Authority and SketchBook Pro
Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE)
name has robust physical health due to daily vigorous activities such as trampoline, swimming, climbing, dancing, circus skills, and running around on our 16 hectares.
As a family, we grow our own fruit and vegetables, and have chickens for eggs. The girls are very involved in purchasing our weekly food from the local Farmers' Market and supermarket so are well versed in healthy choices as well as the complexities of organic versus conventional agriculture, and local versus imported food. We make our own yoghurt and sourdough bread which the girls watch as we process and then we all eat and enjoy the end product.
 Along with the physically demanding circus skills class, the girls also do kids' yoga and relaxation. They are also members of the x Nippers Club and are learning life saving skills along with individual and team participation in races and competitions.
Resources and Curriculum materials 
  • trampoline under rain and sun shade
  • swimming pool
  • sports equipment including hula hoop, cricket set, softball set, soccer and assorted balls, skipping rope, punching bag, yoga equipment, elastics, ten pin bowling set, totem tennis, kites, climbing net, slide, trapeze, monkey bars, treadmill
  • vegetable and fruit garden
Daily Record Keeping and Methods of Assessment
We will maintain a weekly home education journal with categories including date, child's name, strategy, activity description, ideas for further progression, and comments.
We are recording the names of all books read to the girls, and each girl has her own book journal for her independent reading record.
Most of the skill-based curriculum material we are using has assessment and skill testing materials included. We will use these to measure each girl's progress. In the EPGY maths program for example, assessment is continual and the student cannot proceed further without obtaining mastery.
For the more exploratory, child-led project-based learning we will maintain a written teaching record of the project and its findings, as well as an extensive portfolio of samples of work using documentary photos, videos and audio recordings. 
Timetable Sample
On the next page is a copy of a sample weekly timetable.
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