Friday, March 30, 2012

Story Time!

This week's theme from Stephanie at Ordinary Life Magic is Reading tools.

I've already written about how much books mean to us. As a mum, I feel really, really lucky that both my kids enjoy reading so much and learnt to do it relatively easily. Reading is so important to my husband (in fact, he's off reading a novel right now!) and I have a compulsive book habit too. So from a very young age (probably 2 or 3 months old), our kids were read aloud to. And I have to say, that one of the best benefits of homeschooling is having time to read aloud even now (at 11 and 12 years of age). I loved reading all those picture books that I had enjoyed as a child and found lots of new exciting ones (including a lot of Australian authors):

Ahh, makes me nostalgic for those early days! I wonder if Wombat Girl will let me read them to her now? (of course she will!).

I'm pretty sure (and my memory is a bit fuzzy) that Video Boy was able to sight read lots of words before starting school and could read a few of those simple picture books. Once he started Kindergarten and got those much discussed "readers" he took off like a rocket and whizzed through the levels, so that by the end of Kindy he was allowed to bring in his books from home, because he had outgrown the readers on offer.

Taken just this morning...when he should have been getting ready for "school"
Wombat Girl was, of course, reading those readers too and soon loved to read to fellow pre-schoolers! The teachers were quite amazed (and quite frankly, relieved because it kept multiple children amused at one time). They test reading levels of kids entering Kindergarten, and she scored at Level 20 (the test only went up to Level 20 in Kindergarten) and soon had outgrown those readers by Term 1. The school was pretty good at letting her read her own books at school too. I got lots of questions from other parents ("Did you teach her how to read?").

Did you remember to eat?

The librarian at school was not so accommodating, refusing to let either child borrow "chapter books" at those ages, because "they should be enjoying picture books". Which they were, but they also enjoyed more advanced fair too:

As the kids got a bit older and moved into the latter years of primary school (and homeschooling - yay!), the books (and the series) got a bit bigger:

There are of course the classics, that should be on everyone's bookshelf (or iPad or Kindle):
  • The Secret Garden (Francis Hodgson-Burnett)
  • Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll)
  • Peter Pan and Wendy (JM Barrie)
  • Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Graham)
  • Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)
  • Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
  • Pinocchio (Carlo Collodi)
  • Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling)
  • A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
  • Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stephenson)
  • Gulliver's Travels (Jonathon Swift)
  • Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

As they grow older and move into the teenage years (arrhhh! No! Tell me it isn't yet!), their choices get a bit more grown up:

AND we have LOTS of non-fiction! Just a few of the faves include:

I realise that we are very lucky to have kids who learnt to read easily and enjoy their reading (I wish I was able to say that about their writing, but that is another post for another day). I know that not everyone's kids do (and I know that the child has be developmentally ready). However, reading is soooo important in this world - to be able to unlock the code of the written word is the key to so much - understanding, learning, enjoyment. If my child were struggling with reading, I would be checking for any underlying learning difficulty or vision issues before anything. Then enjoying the written word together (in whatever form takes your fancy) and searching out books (any sort, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, fart-jokes - whatever floats their boat) that your child can enjoy.

Books and reading play such an important (possibly the most important) part of our homeschooling. Even if the kids never "produce" anything else, they could read stories and peruse non-fiction (and indeed the internet) and they would still be learning and loving it!


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Creativity - do we have it??

Last week's Unschooling Tools by Stephanie over at the amazing Ordinary Life Magic was Creativity (I just had to go and change that line into past tense, because now it's next week).

When I first read that, I thought "well, that'll be a short post!". I don't really think of myself as creative. But I have pondered this question before: What is creativity? Is it being artistic? Crafty? (Adding interesting fonts at strange places in a text?)  That is just one aspect of creativity. One I have to admit we don't do that well here. But we have had moments of crafty/arty bliss:


I am trying to "practise" more art and craft - getting books out of the library to inspire us:

Putting books out on display is improving our uptake of them - thank you Tracey Mansted for the idea!

and I have a stash of art and craft stuff that I need to get out more often:

 - who knows where it will take us?

Creativity is also commonly associated with the performing arts. It's creating pieces on piano and immersing yourself in music:

It's performing and acting and pretending:

Acting out Sorcerer's Apprentice

We have quite a few moments like those (only I don't always capture the joy on film).

When I was studying for my Certificate of Gifted Education, one of the definitions of giftedness in the literature was also one of the most controversial, because it included creativity as one of the criteria for being gifted (it also included above average ability and task commitment - which are also controversial, but that is another post for another day).

Joseph Renzulli's take on creativity included:
  • fluency/flexibility/originality of thought
  • openess to new experiences/receptive to that (including thoughts and ideas) which is new and different
  • curious/speculative/adventurous and willing to take risks in thoughts and actions
  • sensitive to detail
  • appreciative of aesthetic characteristics of things and ideas
  • willing to act on/react to external stimuli and also one's own thoughts and ideas
Now, that's a bit more broad than just visual and performing arts! And I truly don't think schools are the place for this sort of creativity. Schools (generally speaking) do not encourage this sort of thought and behaviour - they don't have time and the classes would be too hard to manage (I know this from experience as a high school teacher). They encourage cookie-cutter experiences where it is easy to tick a box and put it on a report. Even art is not creative - it's "draw a head" or "colour this in" or "make a cat out of play dough". Perhaps this is one reason my kids didn't always do so well in school - the opportunities to think outside the square or view the world in a unique way are limited.

I want to share a little story with you about my creative "out of the box thinking" daughter. When we went to have her (and her brother) IQ tested, the psych related an exchange afterward. One of the questions was "if 15 passengers are on the bus, 10 people get on, and 3 get off, how many people are left on the bus?" (or words to that effect). After pondering this for a moment (and the psych was good at allowing thinking time), Wombat Girl asked "does that include the bus driver?". The psych said in all her years of administering this test, no one had ever asked that question. But it is a great example of the different ways in which we think (and also as why schools and school testing may never really show her true ability).

And I think that thinking outside the square is where our true creativity lies in this household:


So I guess our greatest homeschooling "tool" for creativity is time. Time to explore new ideas, time to ask questions, time to find the answers, and time to create new ways of looking at things and ideas.

Gotta add another TED video on creativity (there are lots) but this is a goody:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Watcha watchin'?

This week over at Ordinary Life Magic, the latest (if I can be quick enough) of Stephanie's Unschool Tools is Television.

TV is one of those divisive topics - not unlike homeschooling and breast-feeding. You either fall into the "it rots your brain and we watch too much" camp, or you think "it's food for the brain and we should let our kids choose what they want to watch and how much". Mmm, actually, maybe there's a stance in the middle - yep, that would be me, sitting on the fence again!

We like our TV around here. However, my Hubby is quite adamant about no TV in bedrooms and by and large I think that's a good idea - except when I don't want to watch what everyone else is watching.

We have a nice big Panasonic 50" plasma in the lounge room  (go figure - for everything else, Australia is metric, but TVs? We use inches).  Attached to that is our Onkyo amplifier and surround sound speakers, Playstation 3 (doubles as our Blu-Ray DVD player) and the latest acquisition, Telstra T-box (for recording TV and we can also download movies from there).

Lots of remotes - we can't figure out the Logitech all-in-one remote...

We also have an old Sony 64cm CRT downstairs (except for when they use centimetres...) which is not connected to the antenna, so only good for DVDs, Playstation 2 and the Wii.

I reckon my kids learned to read early from watching Sesame Street when they were little! So, I don't really have issues with them watching TV. Generally they are very good at being age-appropriate with their viewing choices (so far). I do have issues with shows like Two and Half Men and Big Bang Theory (which I enjoy) being on rather early in the evening (7:30pm) which usually have lots of sexual references in them. The kids at this age find it all rather uncomfortable (and will hide their eyes or run out of the room if anything makes them feel too icky).

The other thing we have to be careful about is scary stuff and Wombat Girl - she is easily prone to over-active imagination (particularly at night-time) and many's the time I have had a scared girl in my bed when those monsters get too much.

In general, we like to discuss things we watch on TV - whatever the issue. And it's a good way of dealing with "issues" like politics, social studies, sex, drugs, rock-n-roll - whatever comes up. Even the "junk" is a good talking point, because we get to discuss critically what makes good viewing/news/entertainment.

I will just add at this point my husband is a chronic "plinger" - the word we use around here for someone who changes channels incessantly. He cannot watch ads and we often "watching" 2 or 3 shows at the same time. He also tends to forget there is more than one person in the room and it can really annoying. Just saying...

Anyway - some of our favourite TV shows are:
  • Wife Swap
  • My Kitchen Rules
  • Hoarders....
...oh wait...they are my favourite shows (you know, those guilty pleasures you occasionally get to sneak in when everyone else has gone to bed!). OK, our favourite family shows (in no particular order) are:
I also have to mention the amazing ABC iView and BBC iPlayer - great access to great shows and documentaries.

Now we also have a reasonable collection of DVDs and one of our favourite things to do is have a "family movie night" - which is preceded by much arguing, toing and froing and general indecision. Netflix is not available in Australia (just one of the joys of living Down Under), but we do have a Telstra T-box and can download movies from there (we got $200 worth of downloads included when we signed up).

Some of our firm favourites include:

  • Harry Potter (all 7 of them!)
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Lord of the Rings (the kids and not so much)
  • Star Wars (yes, all 6 of them)
  • Indiana Jones (all 4 of them)
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  • The Goonies
  • Gremlins
  • Back to the Future (only the first one)
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (I prefer the first one, with Gene Wilder)
  • The Sound of Music
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • High Society
  • Hello Dolly
  • Red Dog
  • National Treasure
  • Abbott & Costello
And we have a large collection on hard drive of great documentaries and no review of all things TV would be complete without mentioning Top Documentary Films website - just about every documentary you could possibly want to know about!!!  Just a few of our favourites:

Autumn days...

Back from Sydney and trying to settle back into some kind of routine. Not as easy as it sounds!

We got a cool cookie jar for Christmas (you lift the lid and he says "Woof, woof - I love to eat cookies!") and I have been dutifully stocking it up with biscuits. We don't have much junk in the house, and as long as everything else balances out, I don't have a problem with having them in the house (I have been quite good at avoiding them myself!).

Who stole the cookies from the cook-cookie jar?
Well, the jar started "woofing" at breakfast time! Before cereal and toast - sugar and chocolate were being consumed to break the fast. So, I used this as an opportunity to talk about healthy eating habits, nutrition and diabetes.

We looked at the healthy eating triangle

Talked about carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Looked at where all that got digested. Talked about the pancreas and insulin and the Glycaemic Index. Then had a look at Bill Nye's Nutrition video:

And then had a look at the nutrition panels on some things in our kitchen. Then the kids helped me make a healthier lunch:

Lots of technology going on! Learning how to follow instructions (a very important life skill when it comes to assembling products from Ikea!):

Persby Hat Stand from Ikea - for all the hats!!

We have also been doing some work around the house - a new handrail for the stairs. So I got the kids sanding and staining:

But apparently I am too bossy and want things done too well, because it ends in tears....

...however, we recovered from that and managed to get the handrails up in place:

We've been progressing nicely with our algebra - this week looking at slope and the gradient-intercept form of linear equations:

Find the slope of a line

Getting a feel for the slope and y-intercept of a line

And some chess practice:

Lots of other thoughts swirling through my head...another post for another day!

Embroidery Project - Blue Butterfly

I downloaded this pattern as a PDF from Hoop Embroidery Co on Esty as my first attempt at the technique known as "thread painting"...