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!

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