Sunday, June 26, 2011

Start at the beginning (a very good place to start!)

I have my running "L" plates on - I'm a beginning runner. Hopefully one day, I will be able to blog I've run in half marathons or marathons and have been going for a few years. Until then, this is my journey from walker to runner!

My running journey started when I read on Facebook that a group of teachers I did Bootcamp with a couple of years ago entered their first triathlon. I found this depressing because if I had have kept up with my fitness, I could have been with them. Instead I was about 10kg heavier than when I finished bootcamp.

Then I went to the movies with a colleague I worked with last year. She had lost nearly 9kg by going to the gym and eating well and drinking less. She looked fantastic and just...glowing.

And I was watching the Dog Whisperer - and I knew I had to spend some more time exercising my dog. So we went for a walk using his methods of being "pack leader" and it was enjoyable - he wasn't pulling at the lead!

These things intersected and I knew it was "time" to get better health wise. So on March 29, 2011, I dusted of my Couch to 5K app on my iPhone that I attempted last year and started running (dog in tow!). The first week was 60 seconds of running, followed by 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. OMG!!! That just about killed me! It was such hard work - especially the last running interval! But I did it. And I did it twice more after that.

A trip to Sydney mucked up my schedule a bit, and it was nearly a week before I got to Week 2. I would have given before, written it off, but I was determined this time. So I just picked myself up and began Week 2. And haven't looked back!

Now - don't get me wrong - it is VERY hard work. Sweaty, red-faced, out-of-breath, sore knees, sore hips, sore shins, hard work. But I was determined. When my mind whispered "You can't do this" I yelled back "I so can!!!". I imagined the skinny, fit version of me! And the dog dragged me forward! By Week 5 I was running 8 minutes (twice without stopping) and faced the dreaded "Week 5, Day 3" - 20 minutes running, no walking!! The nemesis of the C25K program! A bit daunting, but with a postive mindframe and taking it nice and slow I did it. I'm not ashamed to admit to a bit of air-punching and happy-dancing :-)
A few things helped me tremendously:
  • The C25K app on my iPhone - tells you when to walk and run and records your progress and uses the GPS to track your runs.
  • A rocking playlist!! Now mine might be a big different to yours, but Maniac (Michael Sembello from Flashdance), Holding Out For a Hero (Bonnie Tyler from Footloose) and Alive & Brilliant (the amazing aussie Deb Conway) really psyched me up!
  • Chi Running book by Danny Dreyer - really helps to run with that nice feeling instead of that painful feeling.
  • The Facebook C25K page - amazing support and encouragement from a bunch of strangers! 
So now I've "graduated" - finished the 9 week program and running 30 minutes without stopping. While I still find parts of the run (the warm up and especially the hills!) difficult, I have now experienced "runner's high"!! I have experienced the euphoria you get when you doubted yourself but overcame the doubt and achieved. I have experienced more energy and better sleep. I certainly "glow" for a few hours afterward and I'm even losing a few kilograms! And the dog loves it too!

So for anyone else out there who thinks it might be "time" to look after yourself and get healthier, I can strongly recommend the Couch to 5K program - the most important thing is to get off the couch and keep putting one foot in front of the other!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 17

In my life this week…
Been burning stuff! I got a new brazier (fire pit) and it was a nice night, so we gathered wood left over from various building projects and sat around, listening to music on the iPod, drinking wine (not the kids!). A very nice night.

Been skiing! We promised Wombat Girl that we would go skiing this year and so we snuck in a couple of days down at Perisher, staying at the Station, before it got too expensive (it's early season here). It snowed at Jindabyne, which is pretty cold!
Look Mum, it's snowing!

Frozen water is a novelty for us!
Been moving! Not us (thank goodness) - my Mum is moving (happily) into a retirement village and I helped pack up and move her. Love her new unit and I hope she'll be very happy there. Good to spend time with my brother too!
In our homeschool this week…
We have been on a P.E. excursion to the snow! Well, if they can do it at high school, why not homeschool? It's been a couple of years since the kids went skiing. Video Boy tried to take up where he left off - at reasonably high speed and not turning much. He paid the price in a couple of crashes and lost confidence! I hung out with him the rest of the day and we worked on our turns and controlling speed and he is a much happier and more confident skier now.

Wombat Girl was a little more controlled and worked hard up and down the mountain with her dad. It wore her out though!

The weather closed in during the afternoon and by after lunch it was a fog-out, with gusts of high winds and flurries of snow. Two wet and cold and tired children (snow was pretty wet) do not make for fun skiing, so after the tears appeared, we pulled the pin.
The next day's forecast was for a severe weather warning, wind gusts of up to 120km, snow.  So we decided not to ski, because it didn't sound like much fun. We spent the day around Jindabyne and Cooma - we went to the National Parks Visitor Centre and the Snowy Hydro display - so we had some good educational moments!

Model of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme
Time to go home via Canberra's CSIRO Discovery Centre, which we enjoyed - lots of interactive energy, water and environment displays. Wombat Girl loved the microscopes! We have one at home, but it's a toy really, so might have to invest in one.
Kinetic to electrical to light to electric to mechanical to chemical  energy!

I "heart" you!

How much water do we use?

Not much else happening educationally because I've been helping mum move - back into it next week!
I am inspired by…
Australia's amazing landscapes - from beaches to alpine wilderness!
Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
While we were in Jindabyne, we went to see my cousin, who is a ski instructor, his wife, two girls and their newly built house. The kids were excited to meet other kids who were actually their relatives and it was great to catch up and see the new house in real life!

My favourite thing this week was…
Not injuring myself skiing! But goodness me - my calves were sore after that one day!
A photo, video, link, or quote to share…
Did you know that the narwhal is a whale with a long tusk that lives in Arctic waters and whose name originates from the norse "nar" which means corpse because of its habit of swimming on its back and its grey colouring? Me neither, until a few minutes ago when the kids told me...

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 16

In my life this week…
Back into the running after a short break to give my sore calves a rest. I found a new program - Ease Into 10K, which means after 10 weeks, I should be able to run for 60 minutes without stopping (say what!?). I'm a fairly slow runner, so I don't think I'll be doing 10km in 60 minutes, but it's good to have goals!

One of the local churches has an annual Queens Birthday long weekend book sale. I got a few cheap resources for homeschooling:

but the real find of the day was a whole box of Agatha Christie novels!!! 

My hubby was almost beside himself with excitement and there was a PG Wodehouse that he didn't have as well!
In our homeschool this week…
Some homeschoolers I "know" plan out their entire year's activities and curriculum and resources a year in advance. Apart from wishing I was that organised, I definitely fall into eclectic homeschooling camp - I have what we might achieve set out in school terms (listed against NSW Board of Studies Outcomes), but I am like a bower bird when it comes to curriculum/resources - I find all sorts of wonderful things along the way....

I started the week with a straightforward Excel Year 6 worksheet on similes, metaphors and alliteration. The last part of the worksheet recommended having a look at Graham Base classic Animalia as it has fabulous alliteration for each of the letters of the alphabet. It turns out it was the only GB book we don't have, so I was delighted to find an iPad app for the book!

We then spent a lovely hour or so searching each page (zoomable!) for all the objects starting with each letter. I then allocated each kid a letter of the alphabet and a dictionary and they had to come up with alliterative sentences - only using words that started with their letter. Not what I had planned, but very enjoyable learning!

iPad Screenshot 1

We also read the beautiful Way Home by Australian author Libby Hathorn and illustrated by Gregory Rogers. For a picture book, it had me hooked - I didn't expect that ending! We did a worksheet on comparing the main character of Shane presented by the text and the illustrations. We also had a great discussion about how lucky we are to live in a home with two parents who care for you.

In maths, we moved onto symmetry - line and rotational. While the kids were completing textbook work, I found this amazing (free) website Symface which lets you see how your face would look if it were perfectly symmetrical. You upload a photo of yourself, pick the centre line and voila!

The next day I had planned some lovely Mandala colouring in, but Wombat Girl had other plans! She had been reading the Childcraft book I picked up at the book sale called Mathemagic and she came up to me at breakfast, asking if we could make a "Flatland". What? I read the section of the book she was referring to, discovered it was based on a 1884 novella by Edwin A. Abbott (also available free on iTunes!). The story introduces readers to the geometry of dimensions (long before Einstein was around) and is also a satirical view of Edwardian society.

The kids (and I) spent hours cutting out flat 2D shapes, giving them personalities and creating Flatville for them to live and work in. They were so engrossed in the task, I just let them go with the flow. Video Boy often struggles to concentrate on his work - but he cut and drew and constructed his heart out. All the while, I listened with joy to their conversation about polygons and dimensions. It is moments like these that I truly love homeschooling!

A bit more surfing and I discovered they have made a movie of the book, so I paid my $9.95 for the instant download and we snuggled up on the lounge to watch it.

For anyone who has trouble understanding geometry and dimensions, this movie has plenty of "aha!" moments. Can I also add there are some beautiful fractal images in the movie and a reference to the Mandelbrot set :-)  I think I will invest a bit more for the DVD which has extras and educational worksheets....and maybe also the book! And, apparently they are releasing a 3D version through Imax in October - so excited!!!!

Today Wombat Girl asks "can we do some geography?" as the kids had been playing a "talk game" involving bananas and different countries (don't ask!). I got out our world map, stuck it up on the wall and told them to study it. I then got out "Mapping the World by Heart" curriculum I had recently purchased through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. I hadn't planned to use it until next term, but Wombat Girl was keen!

I copied a blank Mercator Projection Grid and we all (me too!) had to draw a map of the world my memory! Well, it was an interesting exercise in how much we don't know about world geography! Poor Video Boy was a reluctant participant because it is one of the few subjects he doesn't know a lot about and he didn't want to appear "dumb". Not surprisingly, we were better at the Australia/Pacific part of the world than the rest.
My world map effort - please don't laugh too loud!

We then did the same exercise, but had to name countries on a blank world map. My knowledge of African, European and South American countries is shocking! There are lots of exercises to do with basic mapping skills and learning the major continents in more detail, so it looks like I'll be doing a lot of learning alongside the kids!

Wombat Girl's country knowledge - she knows many more African countries than her mum!

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share...
Even if you have purchased the most amazing curriculum, don't shut your mind to all the wonderful learning and opportunities that are around us!

I am inspired by...
Hex, who dares to think and imagine "outside the square".

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
We braved the rain and went to see the Scarecrow Festival and bought yummy candy....(edit) and I almost forgot - DH and I went to the movies (sans kinda) to watch the filmed Broadway revival of The Importance of Being Earnest. Lovely dialogue, very pleasant couple of hours.

My favourite thing this week...
Flatland! But also Video Boy coming up to me the day before and asking "Guess what I learnt today Mum?". Well, I was hoping he was going to say "rotational symmetry", but he piped up with "Well, I was reading Timebenders (another book sale bargain) and they were talking about Klein bottles which is a four-dimensional object which goes through itself." Say what?!

This is, of course, a 2D image of a 3D rendering of a 4D object (so Video Boy tells me)

Wombat Girl got in on the act and made her version of a Klein Bottle with paper:

My other favourite thing (and I realise that's three!) was getting organised for our day, but Wombat Girl was reading Flatland on the iPad, Video Boy was reading Life of Fred which had arrived in the post that morning, both were in their pajamas, both learning, both loving it and I realised I could abandon any boring plans I had and go with the flow (and that we didn't have to hurry up, get dressed and go to school).

I'm reading...
Just finished Wendy Harmer's Friends Like These, and now enjoying Anne de Lisle's Swim Club - both Australian and both not on Shelfari (grrr). Also reading lots of info on ADHD (but that's a post for another day).

I'm cooking...
Cold, rainy days means comfort food - poached eggs (done to perfection I might add!), sauteed swiss brown mushrooms on toast, roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, and with the kids - Mars Bar cheesecake!

A photo, video, link, or quote to share....
To finish up this rather long post, I will share the fame that is Flatland which spread to the Big Bang Theory (last bit is PG rated) (embedding was disabled so follow the link...)

Thursday, June 16, 2011


A lot of people when confronted with the word "gifted" often think of amazingly talented, early developers - Mozart, Euler, Picasso, Tiger Woods and even Michael Jackson.

A prodigy (or possibly more correctly, child prodigy) is "someone who, at an early age, masters one or more skills far beyond their level of maturity". The media loves them - they are a curiosity and they especially love the stories of those who soar high in childhood, only to "level out" or dramatically "drop out" in adolescence or adulthood.

“The skill of being a child prodigy is the skill of mastering something already invented,” she says. “The skill of being a major creative adult requires innovation, rebelliousness, dissatisfaction with the status quo.”
No matter the field, the leap from child prodigy to adult genius is rare. While prodigies often become experts, they often fall short of developing into major innovators, explains Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College and author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities.

I think that quote raises the issue of whether "creativity" is an essential part of being gifted or is a requirement for talent development, which is probably another post in itself.

The media is also fascinated by the "nature" or "nuture" question - how much is innate genius and how much is the pushy parent? 

As a parent of an two exceptionally gifted children, I often feel sandwiched between the literature suggesting that I need to allow my children to explore their areas of interest at their own level (no matter how advanced that is) and those well-meaning parents and teachers who suggest I let my children "be children" - and that by giving them challenging work in some way I am robbing them of their "childhood". 

What if work that challenges them at age 10 is work usually undertaken by 16 year olds (or older?). How far could we go, right now? Could they handle college/university level work? And should we even be finding out?

I came across a couple of interesting things this week, which challenged my thinking (always a good thing!).  The first is a documentary "Beautiful Young Minds".  This documentary shows exceptionally gifted mathematics students competing in the Mathematics Olympiad, but also deals with their struggles to be accepted as "normal" and not bullied for their talents.

I felt that overwhelmingly, the kids enjoyed this opportunity not only to stretch their mental muscles but also to be with people who shared their interest in mathematics at a high level (which, let's face it, is not going to be that many kids their age!). Where they felt like outsiders at school, they felt "normal" at the mathematics camp. 

It was also interesting that they were refreshingly upfront about the high proportion of mathematicians at that level who were on  the autism spectrum. 

The second was an article about a boy who started full-time university studies at 13, who has found appropriate challenge and acceptance at College level.

The simple fact of the matter is that if you are functioning at a really high cognitive level, you might be on the high end of the normal curve, but you are not "average". The number of true peers you have is by necessity going to be really small. 

I guess that's why people stress about pulling my kids out of school to homeschool them. They are worried that they will become even less "normal" and eventually not be able to interact with "normal" people. That I will be creating "intellectual monsters". 

I guess I would argue that I am able to provide a meaningful curriculum, and provide them with a range of peers, from range of backgrounds and gently and sensitively guide them in their social interactions, which I couldn't do if they were at school. Schools are not designed to cope with the exceptionally gifted - academically or socially. Instead of feeling "weird" all the time - they can feel "normal", and I think that has to be a good thing.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 15

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…
Winter is upon us! Much colder this week, although it never gets really cold here on the coast. But time for throw rugs and reverse cycle air-con in reverse.

After finishing C25K, I have found I have very sore calves after running and it has slowed my progress. After reading up on strained calves, I've been stretching, icing and stationary biking. 

In our homeschool this week…
We focussed much on maths/science than english/history/geography this week. No reason, just the way we flowed!

More geometry in maths - types of triangles, 

quadrilaterals, polygons and polyhedra - do you know what the difference is? The kids were quite engrossed in constructing various polyhedra from their nets:

Note Video Boy's icosahedron (that's a 20-sided polygon!)
I will leave constructing and deducing angles until we've done some algebra. Looking into Life of Fred to supplement our maths work, as both the kids learn well by reading.

We moved onto Electrical Energy in science. Loved Bill Nye's Electricity and Static Electricity videos! We made an electroscope:

and made water move:

The kids had been constructing simple electrical circuits using Jaycar's Short Circuits kit, but I felt Video Boy was ready to go a bit more in depth. So we looked at series and parallel circuits and did some calculations using Ohm's Law. We got out the trusty multimeter and measured voltage, current and resistance on our circuits.

Meanwhile, Wombat Girl was wanting to create an "app". So I looked into computer programming for kids and found Alice, which is a teaching tool for introductory programming. It is 3D, drag-and-drop so she was able to see the results of her programming decisions straight away. We downloaded Storytelling Alice which is aimed at Middle School students - particularly girls! She spent hours and hours working on her creations!

Also had quite a bit of cooking, with pancakes (and the accompanying mess):

and Anzac biscuits and tacos.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
Wombat Girl had a birthday party to go to, but it meant me driving for hours in the pouring rain (grrr). But she enjoyed herself. Both kids had a play-over - the mother was curious how they get socialisation if we are homeschooling (err, duh).

My favorite thing this week was…
Still being my jammies when all the other mum's were dropping their kids off to school in beanies and scarves!

What’s working/not working for us…
Working on individual interests as projects!

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have…
Watt? (that's a little electrical joke for you!)

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 14

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week…
A bit quieter (yay) - but I did pop up to Sydney to meet up with work colleagues from 15 years ago. It was fabulous to see people I haven't seen for years - most haven't changed at all. Got to stay with my brother and had a fab night out drinking cocktails and eating tapas and chatting!

A teacher I worked with last year passed away yesterday from cancer. She has two little girls. She was an inspirational lady who lived with such vitality, love and care. A reminder to take care of the things that are really important in your life.

In our homeschool this week…
My kids just amaze me what what they already know - I had a whole bunch of days planned out doing angles, but they already were on top of most of it - types of angles, measuring and constructing angles - and totally got complementary and supplementary angles.

Had a great time looking at heat energy. We watched Absolute Zero - the Conquest of Cold, did more experiments and tried to make our own thermometers - there is a great teachers guide on the Nova website.

We loved reading Home by Narelle Oliver and comparing the written words with the information given in the illustrations - and as Video Boy pointed out, if you just listened to the words, you would have a very different image in your head than if you look at the illustrations, which tell a very different story. We also learnt a lot about Peregrine Falcons!

Also "read" Belonging by Jeannie Baker - a beautiful book that addresses lots of issues about home, community, changes, urban living and environmental sustainability...all without any text at all! 

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing…
Another lovely afternoon with our local homeschool friends. I'm not sure who enjoys those visits more - the kids or me! 

My favorite thing this week was…
Sitting out in the backyard with the kids in the autumny sunshine, reading poetry and talking about our home and belonging.

What’s working/not working for us…
Accessing all the wonderful FREE teacher's guides and resources on the web - very cool ideas without purchasing a bunch of "curriculum".

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have…
Loving being able to share all this wonderful learning with my kids - sometimes I think I learn as much as they do!

A photo, video, link, or quote to share…

52 Ancestors - Unusual Name

In this week's post, we have been asked to look behind an "unusual name" and I've chosen my great-aunt's husband, Fred...