30 August 2014

Starting a home school co-op :: finding your tribe


When we first moved to Tasmania, part of the allure was the prospect of finding our tribe. People who would approach life similarly to us and be there to support us, and us them. When we began home educating, we knew more than ever that we needed to find that tribe. But here's the thing, although we had wonderful friends all over the place, a tribe they were not. Yet. 

And so we learnt, slowly, that in order to find a community, you need to build it. 

So set about building it we did. The path hasn't always been smooth, but it has been enriching and fulfilling and I'm happy to report that we now have that tribe and love them with all our hearts…


Three years ago, I wandered past the local playground and noticed some work had been finished on a little cottage within the playground perimeter. A little research revealed the cottage was available for hire and so with a seed of an idea, I took to Facebook to ask some friends… "Would you come along to a homeschooling group?" A bunch of positive replies later and the Hobart Natural Learner's Co-op was born. I chose the word co-op, as the intention was that it was run co-operatively between families and although it has swayed from that intention from time to time, the intention is there and what we have created now is a nurturing, loving extended family for our children. And a network of caring, supportive and interested friends to spend each week with. 

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What does an unschooling/homeschooling co-op look like? 

Each will be different, but here's what ours looks like: We meet at our cottage on the same day each week. Usually I'll open up, seeing I'm the local with the key. Friends will wander in and we'll slowly unpack art materials to give children free access, tea and coffee supplies and books from our recyclibrary. Then we'll wander outside and I'll push Tiny on the swing for a good half hour (I have playground RSI - seriously). 

If its a sunny day, we'll spread out some picnic rugs and have a chat in the sun as friends arrive through the morning. If we've organised an activity, we'll set that up and begin when most families are there. For the most part, the children are just happy to play. Our space is fantastic for a range of ages, as it has a fenced playground looking out to an open field. The older children tend to spend most of their time out there, enjoying space to run and a little freedom from the adults and smaller children. If they're more keen on play than an activity, we don't push it. But usually at least a few children will get involved and the adults have fun and learn lots too! Some weeks we run workshops facilitated by teachers brought in to pass on a specific skill, which shakes up our program a bit and keeps things interesting.

Later in the afternoon, a small group will usually wander over to our community garden plot to investigate how it's growing, weed, mulch or water and harvest.  Some weeks we wander down to the beach or the skate park through the gully, making sure to return in time to share the packing up and a last cuppa for the day. Each week is diverse and as gentle as it can be on members, who are glad for the company and friendship. Generally we arrive home exhausted, but with hearts full, looking forward to next week. 

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Running the administration and tricky bits...

Another founding member is the group treasurer and she takes care of the money tin and sign in sheet. I organise insurance through the Home Education Network. We've changed our format over the years but currently we offer seasonal memberships. Each family signs on for a season and pays up-front, with the intention to come to as many weeks as possible. The benefit of this is reduced paperwork for our treasurer, and commitment from members… 

We keep a Facebook group for communication between families and brainstorming ideas. All ideas are welcome and encouraged and if families have a skill or something to share with the group, we'll fit that in. We're providing a support network of mentors and other reliable adults around for our children, which is so wonderful.

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Words of advice for setting up your own co-op...

1) Buddy up - I read this wonderfully helpful blog post a while ago, when we almost threw in the towel, which suggested you just need to find at least one other family who are willing to commit to showing up every week. And so our trusty treasurer /long-time dear friend and I set about showing up, no matter what. If you build it, they will come, hey? 

2) Be consistent - We've tried fortnightly meet ups and twice-weekly… But the right balance for the whole group seems to be one day each week. Consistency is the key to maintaining friendships. It keeps that day free in everyone's heads and creates a beautiful rhythm for the children - Yay! Co-op day! Or… how many sleeps until co-op? 

3) Pick a format - It might work better for you to leave it an open invitation - this is especially helpful when you are wanting to locate other like-minded families. You may prefer a big gathering. For our group, a week-to-week format meant flexibility and welcoming lots of people to our community, but it also meant we didn't know who to expect each week. On weeks where there was a really awesome activity, suddenly we'd have huge numbers of people. Which can be wonderfully abundant and so lovely. But it can also mean that lots of the organising and clean-up can fall on the shoulders of a couple of people. And then it feels weird on the weeks where there are only a few of you again… We've fairly recently chosen a seasonal subscription format with just one big abundant, casual visit, open day each season. This is with the intention of knowing who to expect each week and everyone contributing equally. It's smaller, but closer knit and is helping to draw skills and interests out of the quieter members as they grow more comfortable with our group - mission accomplished! A co-op!

4) Be open and stick to the plan - Try and keep the lines of communication open for everyone to have a voice. At the same time, act in the best interests of the group and work to maintain your combined vision. Sometimes this may mean re-thinking how you do things. Sometimes this will ruffle feathers. That's ok. Stick with it.

5) Your co-op isn't for everyone - You may be left scratching your head about why a good friend feels your group isn't for them. You may have expressed a desire to take everyone's ideas on board and make your group work for everyone who's willing to contribute. And they still might not feel comfy. And that's totally ok! You may find some members identify a common bond and set up their own group that suits them better - how wonderful!! And possibly heartbreaking. And wonderful!! You possibly have an extended group of friends out there and a broader, more enriching and diverse range of activities available to you. Awesome! Communities will shift and grow and shrink and move all around. Your job is to stay zen with it, catch up with the people who matter at other times, and just build that little tribe slowly and steadily. 

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It's putting yourself on the line a bit, but so rewarding when you find a friendly bunch to just share the time with. It becomes a highlight of your weeks. A social outlet and support for the more difficult days. And a place to celebrate the best days together. 

Happy tribe building. xx

9 July 2014

Taking stock...

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Making : Time for creativity. Yay!
Cooking : Lots of foods that owlets love to help cook and eat. They're always so hungry!
Drinking : Water. Lots of it. Consciously. Everyday. I'm shocked too.
Reading: Favourite magazines the latest Taproot and Earth Garden are top of the pile.
Wanting: To get my ferments going again. I've missed them! 
Looking: forward to eating some oyster and shiitake mushrooms growing in my kitchen right now.

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Playing: Farms with Tiny. I've been luring her to play with surprise playscapes. It's fun.
Deciding: What we'll do for Little Owlet's birthday. 
Wishing: The hours when the Owlets are in bed would go a tiny bit slower. 
Enjoying: Pip's Inspiration Information course. It's quite lovely and lots of fun.
Waiting: For my phone contract to run out. Tiny took a bath with mine and now the camera and punctuation don't work. I miss quick photos and exclamation marks. 
Liking: Slowing down and being present with the owlets. Creating alongside them. Thanks winter.


Loving: Sunny Winter days. We pile outside with blankets and soak it up. 
Wondering: What I'll be when I grow up. What's next? 
Pondering: Whether to do that Horticulture certificate or not
Looking: For a new climbing tree and into ways to increase access to natural public play spaces for all. Everyone needs to play more, I think.
Considering: some juicy plans with Huz as he completes his Permaculture Design Certificate. It's going to be exciting.
Marvelling: At our garden as it grows. Ever so slowly, it is taking shape all on its own. 
Hoping: The couch grass doesn't come back as strongly this spring. 


Opening: The curtains to the most amazing sunrises each day. 
Needing: Some quiet space every day. I'm a better parent and more creative with it. 
Smelling: Winter. The smell of wet earth on our walks. And soup in the slow cooker
Wearing: Holes in all my socks. I haven't bought socks since I stopped designing them.  
Following: My body's cues and trying to go to sleep earlier. Last night I failed dismally. 


Noticing: Tiny seems to have grown so much bigger lately. 
Knowing: She won't be small for much longer. 
Thinking: Our owlet baby days are over.
Feeling: Sad and sentimental about that. 
Sorting: Through the small clothes each of our three owlets have worn, as Tiny grows out of them.

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Helping:  Little Owlet learn to sew her own clothes. On the machine my grandmother owned and my mother sewed her wedding dress on. Four generations. Little Owlet is so impressed with that. Bless her little vintage-loving heart. 

Buying: New clothes for Big Owlet. Everything's too small all of a sudden.
Admiring: Big Owlet's courage in performing her final drama performance for the term. 


Getting: Photo bombed by Tiny while I work. 
Bookmarking: TED Talks and similar to watch late at night when I have a quiet moment, so I can mull them over in my sleep. This one is my favourite right now.
Watching: Mad Men. We're catching up. Can't stop. We've come so far, but there's so much further to go. And I'm not just referring to the fact we're mid-season three. 
Disliking: The culture of litigation and rule making we live in. We are losing our freedom everyday. 


Giggling: At the funny little things the owlets say. I hope they never grow out of saying them. We try and keep them alive by adopting them into our vocabulary.
Feeling: Grateful for the strong and supportive relationships our owlets have with each other. They're great friends. Mostly.
Snacking: On medjool dates. My favourite sweet treat. They make a great smoothie too.
Coveting: The skills of these women. I think I'd like to build something one day too. 
Wishing: The weekends were longer. 
Hearing: Owlets playing piano. Chooks laying eggs again. Chainsaws in the distance. The echo of the river on peaceful evenings. Possums growling at me as I dash out the back door to get herbs for dinner. Huz coming home at the end of a long day… That's my favourite of all.

8 July 2014

Our tree...

Up the tree at Co-op today #tree #unschooling
I've never climbed this high before! #climb #tree #climber
Bubbles at co-op
A little show before home time at co-op today #coop #hobartnaturallearners #homeschooling #unschooling #playmatters
Good mates hanging out #playmatters #hobartnaturallearners #coop
Another magical day at our co-op... pushing Tiny on the swing 'til my arms hurt! #happydays #strongarms  #coop #hobartnaturallearners

We've been meeting with friends at our co-op for almost three years now. In that time, much of the play  has been witnessed, supported and shaded by the branches of one very large and beautiful willow tree. Big Owlet and I had known the tree since her playgroup days in the big hall, when she was Tiny's age. She'd stand underneath and marvel at the shadows and light filtering through the leaves.

Since we began holding our Hobart Natural Learners Co-op meets in the playground, friendships have been forged, fought over and strengthened under that tree. The children learnt to co-operate and problem solve tying a rope swing on its branches. They climbed the larger branches gleefully, facing fears and observing nature around them. We've woven willow crowns and fashioned brooms and horse reigns from it's smalls branches. We've escaped the scorching Tasmanian summer sun and sheltered from light rain under that majestic tree.

Since she was a baby, Tiny has sat in the swing underneath, asking me to push her "higher and higher!" until her bare toes touched the leaves above… We've loved that tree. A beautiful regular fixture in our weeks.

So you can imagine our shock last week when…


This happened.

The owlets immediately flew into hysterics and tears, greatly distressed at the loss of their tree. I must admit, I did too… We called Huz and asked him to contact the council to find out what was going on. He was put through to the head maintenance worker (let's call him gardening guy), who explained the situation to him and then marched over to us to explain further.

We were spoken to quite defensively and told "Shade sails are better than trees in children's playgrounds", and "Kids can climb trees in their own backyards". "What if you don't have a climbing tree in your backyard?" I asked. "Not my problem", said gardening guy. He also mentioned (I suspect it slipped out), that it was most likely a "financial matter" as "pruning the tree regularly to cut the branches is more expensive than pollarding." Uh huh. And therein lies the truth.

When we questioned the severity of the pruning, we were asked "Oh you're an arborist are you?" Not the most sensitive approach towards a group of people who were very clearly shaken and grieving. We were also told it'll grow back again, in a few years. Yeah.

It seemed to us that there was more to the story than a small amount of rot at the top of a couple of branches, despite the pictures we were shown of the tree before. Research tells us that pollarding perhaps isn't the best course of action for an old willow tree like this. It will shoot from the top, providing a light canopy in a few years time.

But the tree will never be climbable again, removing a potential liability risk for council, certainly. The look of recognition on the children's faces as they counted 35 rings on what was once their favourite climbing branch... They knew they'd never climb it again… "I'll bring my children here and they can climb it", said Big Owlet. I didn't have the heart to tell her that'll never happen.

The tree will be more susceptible to decay and disease now. Pollarding it will grow a smaller, light, maintainable canopy at the top, which will weep down if the council let it, but they'll not let any lower branches remain, as confirmed by gardening guy. And tiny toes will never reach for those leaves from the swing ever again.

The beautiful children who play in the playground every week, our gang, have felt a great sense of loss.  The playground is so stark now. It's beauty is lost forever. They picked flowers and branches (to stick into the tree in hopes they'd re-sprout) and drew pictures and left them for the tree before we headed off down the road for a fungi walk. When we returned an hour later, all of the gifts had been removed. We suspect  gardening guy was responsible for this too. Way to add to the grief of a bunch of small children, gardening guy…

The next morning, Little Owlet told me she woke up happy, and then she remembered. Our tree. Oh.

So we're feeling a spot of guerrilla gardening might be in order. Or yarn bombing. Or something that will honour our beautiful tree (and perhaps tick gardening guy off just a little). And make us feel a little less wobbly about being there now. And I'm considering exploring the realm of landscape design again, to provide access to natural play spaces for all. Watch this space…

Have you ever lost a tree you loved? 
What is the worth of a tree that provides shade and play for generations of people living in a neighbourhood, do you think? Should it outweigh maintenance budgets?
Do you think children should be able to climb trees in public places? 

Much love. xx

29 June 2014

Creative nooks...

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I've been examining creativity and how it sits in my daily life a bit lately, thanks the course I'm doing right now. I've always had little spots around my nest which serve to offer some inspiration, cheer things up or encourage creativity on the fly. Emergency craft stations are something I've made sure to have over the years for those times when I need to steal a moment of creative time without having to spend time setting it up or clearing it away - important with three-year-olds in the house, I find!

So this is a collection of nooks around my nest where I work, rest and draw inspiration. Right now my little secret desk is full of little things that inspire or materials I like to work with. Lots of sketchbooks to fill… potential.

There's a little space for owlet inspiration, an emergency owlet craft station and a resty magazine and knitting spot by the couch too. All these things help to remind me to keep looking, thinking, creating.

Do you have creative nooks in your nest? 
Do you keep emergency craft stations at the ready? Just in case? 
What keeps you inspired, day-to-day? 


27 June 2014

A cup of tea with me...


I've been up a couple of hours already today, starting my day in the dark with Tiny Owlet, before sneaking back to bed with Huz, and a cuppa, to watch the sun rise. I start most days like this now that Winter days are so short and it's dark for much of the time Huz is at work. We make the most of beautiful, quiet moments like this…

Other things I'm loving right now…

Mild, sunny winter days. I know they won't last, but they make things easier when you're spending so much time stumbling around in the dark… Sitting in warm, sunny windows or spontaneous walks to the beach to look for stones and beach glass are up there with my favourite things about winter in Tasmania.

Spending time with a little community of friends who feel like family… They make long days easier. We've begun organising kids swaps during the week so us home-educating mamas can get all the things done. And have a little creative headspace. It's magical. We're absolutely blessed.

Wearing primary colours. I was born in Melbourne and worked in fashion. We wore lots of black. This is big. I'm wearing lots of green, always, but brighter blues and red too. It feels cheery.

My garden is growing beautifully and as I'd imagined it would, despite winter's chill and the extreme neglect. I love that we're still eating from our garden everyday. Even if it's just a handful of herbs for a salad. Cooking with food you've just picked seconds earlier is the best.

Earlier this month I finished the wonderful Pip Lincolne's e-course, Blog with Pip. It was after reading Pip's blog, Meet Me at Mikes, all the way back in 2006, that I began blogging. She's always been supportive and generous with her knowledge and time, so I had a hunch it'd be helpful. I wanted to re-invigorate this space and find a little bit of flow again. It's been marvellous for that. I've tidied up a little and updated my About page so it tells a little more about this blog and who we are. Pip also held my hand while I finally figured out how to fix up my blog address - look at it! That took me years and one hour with Pip to figure out. Huzzah! Also wonderful are the bunch of bloggers I've connected with. One of the loveliest things about blogging is finding out how others view the world and that everyone has a completely different perspective and voice that we can learn so much from. It's been a great reminder of that.

Sensing my need to get creating again, Pip was super generous and gave me a scholarship to her current e-course, Inspiration Information*. I'm loving that and the space it's giving me to re-inspire and find my way back to doing the creative stuff I LOVE. If you find some time and cans spare a little bit of cash, I'd highly recommend Pip's courses, whether you're new to creative pursuits and blogging, or a bit of an old hand, like me, you're never too experienced to learn, listen and find out how others do what they do. Learning and sharing are great like that. I'm on a bit of a journey with all this learning, creating and sharing of ideas. I still have NO IDEA where it will lead yet (although I have some ideas), but I'm so glad I've made time to do it.

This post is part of a linkup Pip's running with other Blog with Pip graduates. You can read all about them, who they are and what they are up to over here. 

*Disclaimer: there was no condition that I rave about the excellence of either course in order to participate. Pip's just genuinely generous and the courses really are great. You should totally look into them. 

22 June 2014

Celebrating the Seasons :: Yule

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Creating new traditions is something we love to do. A little ritual and seasonal nourishment help mark what's going on around us and put a little rhythm in our days… We tend to celebrate the biggest festivals at all the wrong times in the Southern Hemisphere and the meaning and tradition of them can be lost. Halloween and pumpkins when all around us are blossoms and berries… Or Easter eggs and spring chicks as we're harvesting pumpkins and apples. It just doesn't make sense and it feels so totally disconnected from nature. So, alongside the regular festivals, we take a leaf out of our pagan ancestors books and celebrate seasonally too. We figure you can never celebrate too much.

We've celebrated Beltane and Samhain before with great enthusiasm, but this year is the first time we've  properly celebrated Yule. 

So Yule totally makes sense in the middle of Winter! Who knew?!

Warming food, egg nog, fire, gifts and celebration when daylight hours have dwindled and it's cold outside and you need something to brighten the days… Totally logical. Yule in summer - not so much. But this weekend we had THE BEST Yule celebration. And it was so simple and fun and lovely. Here's how we do Yule - rather spontaneously I might add… we almost never plan ahead. I'll be referring back to this next year so we can do it all over again.

How to have a fabulous Southern Hemisphere Yule weekend:

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1. Go to the Winter Feast at Dark Mofo. Get there early so as to avoid huge crowds. Eat all the food while bumping into everyone you know, warming by the fire and listening to music. Get home and snuggle into bed with hotties and cups of tea.

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sculpture trail

2. The next morning, spend a little time tidying your nest and then go for a walk and look for fungi and art in the bush.


3. Have a picnic in the sunshine and a smooch with someone you love, as the sun goes down.

candle rolling

4. Back at home, make a little Winter alter. Bring in a tree branch or two and hang some simple decorations from them and little wintry reminders nearby.
5. Hand roll some beeswax candles together

candle maisie

6. Light candles around a spiral in the garden (lucky we have one already!) Tea light candles in jars will do, with a special candle at the centre - we used the candle we light at our dinner table each night.
7. Walk to the centre of the spiral with hand-rolled candles and light them ceremoniously. Have a little chat about mid-winter and weathering winter's coldest days. Being a light in the darkness and that sort of thing.
8. Start a discussion about the stars and lights from Dark MOFO, then madly dash inside while the family carries on chatting and stargazing.


9. Sneak some handmade and simple gifts into everyone's Christmas stockings. Note that stockings  suddenly make so much sense, hanging by the fire place!
10. Invite everyone inside to open stockings and eat a hearty meal by the fire. We had a curried root vegetable pie and a pear and walnut salad with pomegranate juice, followed by fruit cake with vanilla bean ice cream and spiced, poached pears. And gingerbread and spicy apple cider before bed. Retire to bed with warm tummies and happy hearts.

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11.Wake the next morning and welcome the morning sun with a family yoga session. Sun salutations are totally appropriate. Then set the table for a breakfast feast of sunshiny things -  We had oranges, bananas and yoghurt with lemon flavoured water.
12. Send the family off for adventures while sneaking a quiet afternoon at home - phew!
13. Welcome everyone home, light the fire, have sunshiny eggs for an early dinner and pineapple upside down cake for dessert.
14. Tuck happy and exhausted owlets into bed early and snuggle by the fire with a loved one and a cat or two… Look forward to bed and festivals to come.

Yuletide blessings, friends. I hope your weekend has been gorgeous too. xx


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