Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Big brother is watching...

No, I'm not watching Big Brother. Well...not now. I will admit that a decade ago, when I was living in Queensland, my sister came to visit and we went to Dreamworld on the Gold Coast and stayed and watched an eviction episode being filmed. Ah the good ol' days. Wouldn't bother now.

I mean (segueing nicely into my next major point), would you really want someone watching your every move every day and night? I could think of nothing worse. Which brings me to a very busy week here in NSW, Australia. You see the government body responsible for regulating home education in this state have amended (I type that with 2 m's every time) the Information Pack which sets out how to register for home schooling.

At first, I didn't think too much of it. In Australia, NSW is probably the most regulated state when it comes to registering as a homeschooler. We are kind of used to having to jump through hoops - to writing out a bit of a plan, having someone from the government come visit your house and say yes, you can homeschool for up to 2 years, then we'll see how you are getting on.

To be perfectly honest, the first time that happened I went "really, two years? I won't see anyone for 2 years????" But I did "over-prepare" and freak out like crazy, because I so very much wanted to be able to be "allowed" to homeschool these two kids of mine.

But now, they have upped the ante a touch. I mean, they have just changed the Information Pack wording enough to ensure you have jump through a few more hoops. You have to understand, these are the same people responsible for setting the state's "syllabus" and for registering independent schools, so they are firmly in the data gathering, hoop jumping, box ticking school system.

I'm conflicted how I feel about this. I mean on one hand, schools have to demonstrate that they are teaching our precious children all the "right things", so we should make sure that homeschooled kids are having the same experience. I mean, they might "miss out" (god forbid - tongue firmly planted in cheek). Government regulation (over-regulation?) is increasing all around us. We can't scratch ourselves without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters (thank you Douglas Adams). Why would we really think homeschooling regulations would be any different, especially because education is so very important to our society.

But really. Most of us (99.99%) homeschool because we have thought about it (a LOT) and have decided, for whatever reason, that we might be able to do a reasonable job of educating our kids at home (and in the park, and in the pool, and by the beach and at a friends house - you get the idea). Perhaps we might even think we could do a BETTER job than some schools (or the ones we have available to us). For those of us who have ever been near the formal school system, we have seen first hand how it works for some kids, but also how it really doesn't for soooooo many of them. It is not a decision we've taken lightly.

Most of us homeschooling parents have given up at least some income to stay at home and educate our kids. We work around them. We spend money on books, courses, paints, microscopes and dance lessons so our kids don't "miss out". We save the state (at last estimate) over $13,000 per year. PER YEAR. And yet receive very little in government assistance either in monetary or educational assistance terms.

The NSW Board of Studies wants me to timetable my kids learning - they want to be sure they are getting "comparable time" to those at school. They want to make sure they are meeting the "learning outcomes" prescribed in their syllabuses. They want to make sure they are working at year level and if they are working above year level (no mention of those behind) we now have to justify why.

I can see the reasoning behind this. We wouldn't want those kids "missing out". I wouldn't want to neglect their education. And goodness knows we don't want 14 year olds finishing school early and wandering the streets.

But you know what, NSW Board of Studies? My kids are doing great. They have better vocabulary than I did at their age. They are working in their areas of passion up to 3 or 4 years ahead of their age peers. They read voraciously. They think and question critically. They enjoy solving problems. They enjoy learning about our local community, their country and the big wide world. They enjoy music and are leading healthy lives. They have good social relationships with their family and their friends. They have life skills (the ones they are going find useful, at least) and they know how to find out stuff if they don't know it. I could put all of this in a plan and if you really want, relate all our activities to "outcomes" in your syllabuses. But if you want it to look like school, if you want us to be sitting down, heads down, bums up, poring over our books from 9 til 3 every day, think again.

I don't really want to jump through hoops. More hoops. To justify to you that my kids aren't "missing out". To have them put in a little Year 8 box. I'll do it if I have to, because the benefits outweigh the costs, to use your vocabulary. But now I have seen how limiting the school system is, how much BIGGER and BETTER and more WONDERFUL our learning can be at home, now I'm thinking outside the box, I really don't want to be squashed into it.

Do you have "hoop-jumping" to do to register as a homeschooler where you live?
Should we have to jump through hoops?
Or should we be allowed to be trusted to educate our children, our way?

Monday, August 19, 2013

If I homeschool, do I have to bake?

I never thought I was going to be a homeschooler - I was a teacher, a career woman, for goodness sake! I don't do glitter, or baking. Some people know they are going to homeschool from the beginning, but we never even considered it as an educational option. So, I sent my babies off to school, as you do:

Looking back, with that wonderful insight you get from 20/20 hindsight, school was never really going to work for them. Both are exceptionally gifted - it is recommended that they be double accelerated and have mentors for school to work for them. We managed to get Wombat Girl accelerated by a year, but Video Boy, what with having undiagnosed ADHD (complete with motor dyspraxia and executive functioning issues) was never really going to be catered for adequately.

Don't get me wrong - school is great for a lot of kids. Mine didn't get bullied and they didn't hate it, but when anxiety levels get so out of control you are staring depression in it's 11 year old face, we had to do something different.

It was not long after we had them tested for giftedness, in my mad frenzy of reading, researching, googling, freaking out and general searching for answers, that I came across the book that would ultimately change our schooling lives - Creative Homeschooling - A Resource Guide for Smart Families by Lisa Rivero:

As I read it, I kept thinking to myself "this could really work for us!". It totally made me believe that homeschooling could be an option, yanno, if things got really bad.

Because here, in regional Australia, homeschooling is not something that many people choose. It is growing, but when we decided to homeschool our kids, I did not know one other family who did it - I had some vague image in my head of huge, Christian families, gathered around a wooden table, wearing denim and headscarves and baking. So not us.

Despite this misconception, when things got really bad, homeschool we did. It was a pretty cool last day of school, knowing we wouldn't be coming back:

It's weird enough to be homeschooling in Australia, but to answer the question (usually out of sincere curiosity) "so why do you homeschool?" is still hard for me. Because I have a feeling that if they don't know my kids, my answer of "they were too gifted for school" is going to go down like a lead balloon. I mean really, how conceited could you be to think your kids were too smart for school? So I give some vague "oh, school wasn't working for them" or "they need something different to what school could give them" answers and hope that satisfies them.

Despite our excitement, that first day back at "school" was nerve-wracking. Well, actually, the real first day was fun - because we had found other new homeschoolers and we had a "not back to school" pool party - it was a fabulous way to spend the 35C day! But the next day, when we all sat there and wondered how this was going to work, was making all of us feel nervous. And many's the day where things went pear-shaped and we tried to deal with tears and over-excitabilities (theirs and mine!) and where there was nothing for it but to bake (gosh darn it!):

But we jumped right into it, and we tried things, and some things worked and some didn't and we are still refining and trying out new ways of homeschooling as the kids get older, more adult-like (a mum can dream) and I juggle paid work with homeschooling. And now we are looking at online study options and maybe even university units. The time really is winging by, they are growing older, but there is always time for baking together:

And you know, I'm so grateful that the online world exists - it took one lovely, encouraging comment from a fellow mum of a twice-exceptional boy to push me over the edge to homeschool. I try to give back - encouraging other newbies, particularly of gifted kids, to give homeschooling a go. I share my experiences in forums, on Facebook groups, on this blog and (did you know?) I even wrote a book.

In many states in Australia, you have to write out a Learning Plan to accompany your homeschool registration - and this can freak a lot of non-teachers out. But I didn't want that to stop them from being able to homeschool. So I wrote a book to help them out - to help them decipher all that edu-babble in state and national curriculums, and be able to put together a meaningful plan that will help them educate their kids at home, their way. Personally, if the powers that be needed me to stand on my head to get approved for homeschooling, I would do it, but I think I can help out in the planning department and make the process a little less stressful.

So, if I was going to offer new, potential (gifted) homeschoolers any advice, it would be to Just Do It (I didn't invent that, but damn if it's not a handy little phrase), have a read through Creative Homeschooling and if you are in Australia and need to register, get a hold of Writing a Learning Plan. It seems like such a huge step, this homeschooling thing, and in many ways it is. But sometimes being brave and doing things differently is the most rewarding. Give homeschooling a go - I think you'll like it. I know our muffins certainly have improved in leaps and bounds, if nothing else ;-)

Joining in this month with the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop! The theme for August is Homeschooling: Where and How to Begin:

Need more inspiration? Go check out the other posts in the blog hop:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Documentary Junkie - Physics

So in my last post, I mentioned that we watched a couple of documentaries. It will probably come as no surprise to you that I love documentaries. I reckon one of the reasons I have so much "knowledge" is because I watch so many of them. It's like a trashy moving mag for your brain - you can always go in search of more detail if you need it. Oh and I read a lot too. I don't think much of the stuff in my brain comes from doing worksheets, but maybe that's just me.

One of my readers, the ever-thoughtful Helena, requested that I come up with a list of my favourite docos. What a great idea, I thought! And then I thought "OMG where to start?"

I was just going to list all my faves, but it just got very unwieldy, very quickly. So I'm going to do a bit of a series of posts - starting with physics (I was going to start with maths, but I didn't want to scare you all off!).

Science - from the Latin "scientia" means "knowledge" - it builds and organises "knowledge" in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Science is basically made up of four sub-disciplines: physics (how the universe behaves), chemistry (properties and behaviour of matter), biology (the study of living things and their relationship to non-living things - ecology), and earth science (geology, geomorphology - hey, that's what I studied!).

A great intro doco on the whole science kit and kaboodle is The Story of Science. I love Michael Mosely (even his bit of a lisp) - he is an ex-banker, ex-doctor turned doco presenter - and he does a great job of nicely summarising this bizzo called "science":

I have (courtesy of a friend) have the whole series of 100 Greatest Discoveries, hosted by Bill Nye (you know, the Science Guy!). The physics one is way cool:

Speaking of Bill Nye, I also have (also thanks to that friend) have all of his docos as well. They are fabulous for younger, inquisitive kids and for us older kids who like getting our silly on. There are a range of physics-based things like motion, waves, light etc and a bunch of space-science ones too:

One of the earliest documentary series I remember watching was the amazing Carl Sagan's Cosmos. It's probably a  bit dated now, but I remembered being so awe-inspired by his thoughts. Check out the introduction and if you like it, the rest of the 13 episodes are on YouTube too:

I loved it so much I bought the book too:

So space and that kind of thing... There are lots of other new great docos on this topic and other topics in physics.  One of my favourites that takes you from the very small to the very big -  Brian Greene's 3 episodes of The Elegant Universe. This series attempt to explain the unexplainable - Quantum Mechanics and explain the The Theory of Everything. Can't get much bigger than that!

Taking these (big) ideas and exploring them in more detail is the amazing Through the Wormhole series, hosted by Morgan Freeman. Ever wondered about the start of the Universe, the nature of time, black holes and more? This is the series for you (but, you'll need large swathes of time up your sleeve to get through all 4 seasons).

Quantum and string theory a bit too esoteric for you? Then head for Wonders of the Universe and Wonders of the Solar System, by my favourite ex-boy band scientist, Professor Brian Cox. Amazing graphics and great explanations and wonderful locations and that accent...(swoon)

So what about more basic things? What about something closer to home - the weather? Or, more specifically, hot and cold.

Love the BBC doco What Is One Degree?

and in a similar vein, the Nova video, Absolute Zero (and go check out the website for more info and learning activities):

Sometimes, it's the little things in life that you get the most out of. Love me some Mythbusters to get some science across, but you are having so much fun you barely notice:

While you probably can't call them "documentaries" as such, we totally love Minute Physics - who take the phrase "if you can't explain it simply, then you don't understand it well enough" to its extreme by explaining complex physics in, umm, well, one minute:

And to finish up, there is no better way to learn about famous scientists (in today's examples, physicists) than to watch documentaries:

I hope you take the time to have a look at at least some of these. Physics has a wonderful way of making the world at the same time more complex and yet more simple, more beautiful, than you ever imagined. And good physics documentaries can make that wonder accessible to people like you and me who don't have a PhD in calculus (if you do have one, just leave me a sarcastic note in the comments).

Thursday, August 08, 2013

A Day "Off"

Don't know about you, but I've had a really busy few weeks. Meetings, driving, working, helping, volunteering, deadlines, business and oh yeah, homeschooling. Feeling a bit "under the pump" as a friend observed.

So yesterday, with most unfinished business finished, nothing on the calendar and a whole day at home planned, I switched off digitally (well, ok, I may have had a quick sneak peek at my phone), ditched the "homeschool" and just enjoyed being with my kids.

We snuggled on the lounge.

We played Blokus. And Set.

We got our geek on and watched documentaries.

Some of us couldn't resist the brand new game just purchased.

Some of us played with numbers (yanno, just for fun).

Converting to hexadecimal, if you wanted to know...

Some of us just hung around and got a few extra cuddles.

I cooked. We ate.

It was a day off, but I switched back on. Recharged my batteries. We learnt. We loved.

That's a good day!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

What matters?

Having a bit of an existential moment myself today.

What matters?

Surely it doesn't matter that the data got entered late, the ironing's not finished and minutiae of who said what is recorded in the minutes. This crap doesn't matter; it's not a catastrophe. No one died, did they?

Except someone did die. I haven't spoken to her since we left school and we were never actually, you know...friends, as such. But I can still recall her voice and her long thin fingers. Her confidence in herself. Her peculiar handwriting. If there was ever someone who was funny and smart and filled to the brim with potential, it was her.

What matters?

I don't know what she did with her life. But I know now she struggled. With something - I'll never know what, but the alcohol helped. Or she tried to make it better with alcohol. And now, at age 43, she's dead.

She mattered. She mattered to her family and all her friends and to those that knew her and were impacted by her being in their lives.

What matters?

Surely all the bits and pieces that go to make up your life must mean something. Surely if we do what is right in our hearts it will be OK. And surely it's just time. Time to spend with the people in your life who are important. Time to get over things. Time to look forward to things. Time to just be.

So today, after I hit the "publish" button, I will turn off my computer. I will go for a walk with the dog. I will read stories with my kids. I will cook dinner for my husband. I will eat together with my family. We will talk. We will laugh. We might cry. I know I will cry. Because she mattered.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday afternoon art - linocuts!

Maybe it's just my school conditioning - memories of primary school - but there is something about Friday afternoon that eschews bookwork and yearns for a bit of relaxed creativity. So, if I'm going to suck it up and do art, it will likely be on a Friday afternoon.

As part of our "unit" of work on plants, over a series of Friday afternoons, we've been working on plant-inspired art. We've done some line drawings with pencils, looked at botanical art and then worked on linocuts. I remember linocuts from high school - the art room smelt like lino all the time.

I stumped up and purchased a linocut kit from here. It had everything - the lino, the cutting tools, the paint the brayer (see how technical I am?).

The kids spent some time working on their designs - my only stipulation was that it had to be inspired by plants...there may or may not have been tears shed over this stage and a few bits of screwed up paper around the place!

There are some great instructions for the practicalities of linocuts found here. The next step was to draw the design onto lino and cut it out. Only one finger was sacrificed in the name of art...

This took many weeks...

Finally we were all carved out and ready to print! I sacrificed a glass panel from a picture frame as a paint "tray", we got our paint all velvety, coated our lino and printed:


 I LOVE them!!! They look so spectacular! We have some leftover lino - and so we are (all!) going to do a design (with no restrictions) and see what we come up with, now we are familiar with the process. Stay tuned for more art greatness!

Have you ever done linocuts?
How great is the smell?
What's your latest art project (yanno, for inspiration!)

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"...