29 March 2010

unschool monday :: fun

I had an interesting chat with a local mum the other morning. Our children met at ballet classes, just around the corner from our home and the girls hit it off immediately. Big owlet loves making new friends. Its just about her favourite thing to do. So we went along to about three or four of these classes and they were ok. I really wanted it to work out because it was so convenient being so close to home. But I sat and watched the whole thing one day. I saw my little girl who is passionate about ballet and dances around with her eyes closed, struggling to keep up with the steps. her body was rigid and hurried. After class I asked her what her favourite part was. "The bit where we got to do our own thing". The two second portion of the class where they were permitted to dance with joy. Big owlet is a visual creature, much like her mama, and struggled so much with the teacher's verbal instructions. The teacher was lovely, but from a generation before my parents, and she's not as mobile as a visual learner needs to really learn. She had no problem telling the students they "weren't very good" at certain exercises and needed to practice more, comparing students to each other to get them to lift their game. Old school. Ballet was no longer fun. Big owlet had lost her passion.

Then one day we were at gymnastics and we walked past the dance studio. A light filled room, full of mirrors and polished floors. Before we knew it we were signed up for a trial class. It was brilliant. Fun and light and the teacher danced easily in front of a room full of students who could see themselves learn. She told them they "may not feel like they are very good at somethings, but that's ballet. Keep practicing and you'll get there". Ahhh. Perfect. The passion has returned and the Nutcracker Suite is on high rotation at owlet HQ again.

So back to my neighbour and her daughter, big owlet's friend. I broke the news to her that we wouldn't be back to the local ballet school and to her credit, she had a go at changing my mind. Worth a try.... "Not everything in life is about having fun"...

Its hard to answer that in a quick phone call without sounding a bit flaky, but around here, fun is THE most important learning tool we have. Another description of unschooling is delight driven learning. We need fun. I have watched big owlet shut down when something is boring, or no longer fun. The moment is gone, the interest is lost. Learning stops entirely and redirects to something stimulating and new and... fun. However, at the same time, we are not raising a spoiled child who only does what she likes. She is learning within a family dynamic. There are things we need to do that are not always fun, but we make them as fun as we can. She knows there is work and commitment and she has that in spades, but not for things that are of no interest to her. Or presented in a way that makes it difficult for her to enjoy. We place our trust in her that she will learn what she needs. If we override that by forcing her to go to a ballet class she dislikes, everyone loses. I wouldn't attend a class myself if I didn't enjoy it. I'd look for something more suitable, that taught me what and how I needed. My own parents always taught my sister and I to follow our hearts and the happiness will follow... Its so important to listen to our children and trust them and be available to help them access what they need. As a parent, its all we can do. So It looks as if I'll be adopting that "Mum's Taxi" sticker on the car after all, and heading out to the gym more times a week than I'd like. But I have a happy owlet who again dreams of being a famous ballerina and dances with her eyes closed. Life is fun.

25 March 2010

My creative space...

Yup. Its a mess.

This week has been busy. I actually forgot it was Thursday and that I usually aim to find a creative space somewhere around here, on a Thursday... The week has been filled with finishing off stuff for orders and markets and more of the same. There have been knitting lessons for big owlet who has decided to knit a blanket. I've been finishing off last week's creative space project... So not much new and exciting crafty stuff to show. Much of my creative brain space has been devoted to the garden. Our once blank canvas which is now a weedy, although not entirely unproductive, mess. There's life in there. Pumpkins growing under the Rainbow Chard, cherry tomatoes mingling with enormous zucchini. There's a plan brewing. We need to re-introduce a bit of order. Its going to be hard work, but oh so worth it. Lets call this the before photo.

You'll find a bunch of inspirational and orderly creative spaces over at Kirsty's place.

24 March 2010

Shopping ethically

We try to make sure that what we bring into our home at owlet HQ has some ethical basis. We think about where it came from, How far away? Who made it? What was that like for them? Where did the money go? Did a little piece of the planet die in the process?

It takes a long time. Shopping these days is hard.

I'm reading the 100 Mile Diet at the moment and I'm a bit more inspired to think than usual. Unfortunately we start out with good intentions, and then household economics gets in the way. We could do better.

Here's what we do already:

Try to buy local and organic. Often thwarted by expense.
Grow a little of our own. Very little.
Try to limit plastic bags and packaging entering the house. But we get lazy.
Don't buy many clothes. Usually due to expense and cos we don't enjoy shopping.
Make gifts and buy handmade where possible.
Boycott Nestle. Easy to do and important to us.
Use the car as little as possible and buy stuff when we are out already.
Shop at garage sales. Much of the owlets clothes and resources are garage sale finds. Local and second hand!

Here's what we'll be working on:

Buying more local and organic stuff where possible. We've joined the local organic wholefoods co-op in an attempt to shop in this way and cut down on packaging. We have access to beautiful local produce. We should be buying more of it.
Growing more of our own food. The vegie patch is starting to become more productive with a little effort. Also vital so that we can afford the other local stuff.
Using the car less. Not easy with all the things the owlets get up to, but we're working on it.
Taking the Ethical Clothing Pledge. I've worked in the mainstream fashion industry before. I know the deal. Its why the owlet shop is full of clothes that are as ethical as I can make them. Its time Huz and I bought some new clothes. We'd like to do it right.


I pledge to only wear clothing that is one or more of the following:
1. Pre-loved
2. Handmade (preferably by me)
3. Reconstructed
4. Made with ethical / environmentally friendly materials
5. Made by a company with strong ethical policy & workers' rights

* Companies with environmentally friendly practices (such as cutting down on waste/energy/water) get brownie points
* If I get one little inkling of sweatshop labour, I'm outta there!
* Above all though, I think the most important thing is reducing the amount of things we use in the first place. Not purchasing ANOTHER piece of clothing just for the sake of it is the biggest statement we can make.

22 March 2010

unschool monday :: rhythm

I often find myself sitting around a table with other home educators having the discussion about our different approaches. Usually they love the idea of natural learning or unschooling, but they feel like they need a framework to help them do it. Like a checklist or similar, so they know they are ticking all the boxes. It is hard I suppose. Being entrusted with the education of a person and making sure they learn what they are supposed to on time. It can freak you out if you think too hard. A bit like visiting the child health nurse when you have a tiny baby and seeing whether they weigh up... Are they doing everything on time? In my experience, they do things in their own time, but they usually get there. My owlets were slow walkers, for example. I mean really slow. They sat up quickly and learned to talk quickly too, but both just sat there observing, taking in the world. There came a point where we stopped listening to the health centre nurse and just trusted they would do it on their own. And they did. They both walk now just fine :)

I suppose its the same with unschooling. A leap of faith and trust in your child's ability to learn new things... So back to the framework. For us, there is no framework of lessons, schedules, subjects and unit studies to prepare. Learning fits in with life. That doesn't mean that there is no structure to our lives at all though. We don't sit waiting to hear from big owlet what the plan for the learning today is. We get on with life. For us, that means following the natural rhythms of our family days, of the weeks, the seasons, the years... It helps us to maintain some peace and regroup if we arrange our days around the steiner concept of in and out breath, one of the gems of wisdom I picked up in big owlet's time at the steiner kindy.

At the moment it works like this... Have breakfast, then big owlet jumps on the computer or does craft or activity books or reads or whatever she feels like while little owlet drags me to the kitchen (she's a trainee chef). Then we sit down to morning tea, as pictured which involves cups of tea and pikelets and seasonal fruit. As we finish I'll read a seasonal story. Then I do some sort of activity with big owlet while little owlet potters around. Then we have lunch together and go out for the afternoon, either to the garden, or the library or a planned activity. Its quite natural and simple, just a normal family day but it seems to have fallen into this easy structure and helps maintain peace. It helps me feel like we're doing stuff too, not just sitting around, although we do that if its needed.

So the weeks have a rhythm of their own... Monday ballet, Tuesday drama, Wednesday home or a friend's place, Thursday Nannie's house, Friday Huz works from home and its often visiting or the park, Saturday gymnastics, garage sales, market, whatever, Sunday lazy day... We're out and about, places to go, people to see, life is never dull... Then the seasonal rhythm happens and that's a big one for us. The seasons guide all of our activities. They are happening all around us and noticing change is what children do so brilliantly and naturally. As the seasons roll by, we notice new things. Sometimes we revisit a topic the next year as their awarenes and comprehension develops. Sometimes not. Here's an example of some of the activities we're thinking of doing this Autumn...

Collect Walnuts
Observe insects and leaf litter
Observe Fungi and plant changes
Observing and recording plants in our garden
Observing and recording insects in our garden
Observing and recording birds in our garden
Harvest Apples
Harvest Pumpkins
Collect Leaves
Leaf Rubbings
Leaf Pictures
Leaf and seed fabric printing (using sun dye)
Leaf pressing
Rainfall gauge
Sewing clothes
Candle Making
Earth hour (use candles!)
Drying apples
Cooking with apples
Seed pictures
Leaf window hanging
Stick loom
Easter tree
Egg decorating
Chocolate making + easter treats
Origins of easter
Make felt eggs and nests
Making bread
Visit Hastings Caves

It may not all be educationally based, but it sparks conversation and ideas and if we get stuck, or run out of stuff to do, a list like this helps us get inspired again. Its a framework of sorts, and based on the natural rhythms of the world around us. Our classroom.

As for the yearly rhythms... There are little rituals and festivals we have, as any family does. These are all opportunities to catch up, connect, take a breath, learn, play, appreciate. They help mark the years and create our framework, and life goes on...

As for the box ticking, I'm happy to say that we seem to have managed to tick them all so far. Today we overwhelmed the monitoring officer with an abundance of artwork, snippets of writing, a small reading list, some maths activity books (big owlet thinks they are super fun - go figure), well used Frankie calendars yanked off the fridge, a stack of photos and some dodgy home movies. She'll be back in two years to catch up with us when little owlet is ready for her first visit. Not bad for a rather relaxed approach, days that could have been spent more conscientiously and a very emotionally challenging year. And so we settle back into our rhythms and get on with living.

21 March 2010

A day at the fair

We'll have a stall here next week... Looks like fun! Lets hope the weather holds out...

20 March 2010

spit & polish

A little follow up. I actually achieved something in my creative space on Thursday. Yah!! Unfortunately the owlets are sick, but it allowed me some machine time, so I've made a home for the dining portion of the silverware. I went for some embroidered place mats we found at a garage sale a little while ago. They seemed a little more special than the tea towels. I have some matching napkins I'll use for the teeny tiny spoons and forks. I'm so glad the silverware set has a home. It belonged to my maternal grandmother and was rescued by mum a few years ago. I never met my maternal grandmother. She died when Mum was young. So the silverware holds some importance as a snippet of someone familiar but unknown. Other snippets we have of her are her are a photo, a piece of fabric and the eczema I've had on my hand since I was five.

It seemed my last post triggered some reactions to silver in the home. A couple of people asked about cleaning the silverware, or mentioned their love or loathing of the polishing traditions in their family. Around here we don't polish. I hate the smell and feel of Silvo. I remember my Nanna (paternal grandmother) covering her silverware with it and the hours of polishing. Then the thought of eating with it and all those chemicals.... So we take the ultra easy route, as with most things. I wish I'd known this method when Nanna was alive. She'd have loved it and I'm actually surprised that this method was unknown to her. Its truly magic and very gentle on the silver. I'm going to demonstrate using Huz's Nan's teapot.

We take a big plastic container and line it with aluminium foil. Then we sprinkle some bicarb on the foil. I used about 1/2 a cup, but you can experiment.

Then we boil up a kettle full of water, pour it in.

Then we put the silver in. You may start to notice a sulphur smell at this point. This pic shows the teapot after its been dunked for about 30 seconds. Can you see the clean line from where its been in the water? Magic!!

So then you roll the silver piece over to make sure all parts have had some time submersed so they are clean. If you have knives and forks and small stuff, this is a bit easier. It should only take a couple of minutes. The water and aluminium foil will be a bit murky and dirty after. If you feel like it you can give it a little buff to make sure there are no streaks, then admire your work! It really is magic and actually fun. Oh and soo much better for the planet without all those chemicals.

18 March 2010

My creative space...

This is one of those jobs I've been meaning to get to for years. We use the silverware each Christmas and I leave it out for a couple of weeks waiting for the right time to make a proper holder for it. Then it gets wrapped up and goes back in the drawer for next Christmas. Well this year we didn't put it away. Its been sitting on the bench, adding to my other pile of craft induced guilt. Little owlet is in love with the tiny spoons and happily they are in more regular circulation. I'd love to have a way of storing it that will make using the set a little more enjoyable so we can enjoy it more than once a year. So today I'm trying to devise some sort of suitable holder for my Grandmother's silver. I'm thinking tea towels...

See more creative spaces at Kirsty's.

15 March 2010

unschool monday :: proof

Next week we have our monitoring visit with a representative from the local home ed advisory council. They provide us with our registration. We have to discuss our program with them and show evidence that big owlet has learned something in the last 12 months. Time to gather everything together and make sure we have all areas covered... How do we do that with unschooling? Our evidence exists on restaurant napkins, letters to the faeries, emails to family, crosswords, dot to dots, activity books and artwork. Oh and about a million photos. There's lots of it. Evidence coming out of our ears. For the next week its my job to go through the archive and make sure it makes some sense and is ordered chronologically. Somewhat fortunately for us, big owlet doesn't mind the odd activity book or worksheet, so it gives her portfolio that schoolie edge. Problem is that she will sit down and complete the book in a morning, so what might take a term or two in school is completed before lunch. Food for thought there. Suffice to say we encourage the use of different coloured pens along the way... often she will not return to similar work for a while, but process it in other ways or come back to it when she's ready for a new concept. Its like that with numeracy mostly, but also her writing at the moment. She's just had a long break, then some worksheets, then a break and a flurry of writing happening independently, often as part of her drawings, as she gains confidence with forming words. Her artwork fascinates me as it shows the development of line and characterisation along with an improvement in her writing skills. The artwork the owlets are creating above is a seasonal picture that seems to have become a theme. Big owlet likes to mark a new season with a picture of a tree. In spring we had a huge pastel mural. The autumn painting above is a tree painted, with footprint leaves falling down. All her idea and little owlet and I were happy to play along. Nothing like the feeling of paint between your toes!! So the monitoring meeting will likely involve a quick look through the artwork and books, then a slideshow look through all our pictures.

Pictures fill the gaps and show some the bits of unschooling that are hard to record on paper. Like spending yesterday afternoon at the Greek festival, learning about a culture which is completely new to the owlets. As for the conversations we have, well you'd have to be a fly on the wall for that. I keep a notebook where I note big milestones and brainwaves, but its usually not looked at. Big owlet will most likely do all the talking at the meeting next week, so I'm sure some of those brilliant brainwaves will be noted. So much to fit into an hour long visit!!

11 March 2010

My creative space...

Feeling autumn arrive this week... The neighbours have lit their fires (rather enthusiatic if you ask me), and the smells and colours of autumn are in there air everywhere. I noticed that the stash of fabrics my sister gave me for christmas are decidedly autumnal, so I'm looking at them and deciding what to do with them...

Also making some more mushie tees and tweed pants while little owlet watches Totoro beside me. I'm nearing the end of the piece of fabric, sadly. Hoping equally something brilliant comes my way again soon!

Visit Kirsty to see some other inspiring creative spaces...

9 March 2010

Autumn at owlet

Well here is the first little taste of some of the new things I'll be putting in the owlet shop over the coming weeks...

There are long sleeved t-shirts...

wool tweed pants...

rompers/sleep suits...

beautiful, soft baby pants...

More skirts to come, including some corduroy, perfect nor the weather is getting a little cooler. I'll have some mini me tais too. Many are in my etsy shop today. Keep an eye out and if there's a size you'd like or something you want, but don't see there, give me a hoy!! I'm more than happy to make things to order. Tell me your owlet's favourite colours and I'd love to make them something special. x

8 March 2010

unschool monday :: so how does it work?

The image most people get in their heads when we tell them big owlet learns at home is us diligently sitting around the table each morning, pencils poised at 9am, ready for a day's work. They expect we'll do loads of beautiful craft. Maybe we'll go for a walk at lunch time. When I explain unschooling to them, the image they most likely get is us sleeping in, doing nothing in particular, waiting for big owlet to announce what she'd like to learn today. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but a whole lot more fun. Here's us starting our day one morning towards the end of last year. Little owlet had asked how the holes get in the bread. Big owlet wanted to know too. The short answer is yeast. But what does yeast do? So we looked up an experiment that could demonstrate yeast working. They get it now. Experiments involving balloons are particularly popular and effective around here... especially before 9am. Its true, much of our best work is done in pyjamas. I know we're not alone in this. You wake up, have breakfast and the questions start and before you know it, its lunchtime and you are in your pyjamas and you have 30 minutes to get to gymnastics...

Natural learning is organic and free-flowing. You can't plan it. Questions come, you answer them. You use the resources you have at hand. If an interest lasts for a while, you go to the library, visit the museum, speak to people. If the interest has passed, often its because the lesson has been learned for now, and you move on. Its not always about waiting for your child to call the shots though. You do normal family stuff. You can encourage interest by doing regular day-to-day things, celebrating festivals, living. Unschoolers will often talk of the word strewing. Perhaps you might find an old box of toys in the cupboard for your toddler and leave it out for them to find, then watch with delight as they discover and explore it. It works in a much similar way for school aged children. We might visit the library and I will choose a secret stash of books that spark an interest or a memory. We might plan a surprise trip somewhere, watch a movie. Sometimes it doesn't work, the time isn't right, but usually an interest is sparked. Children love to learn about new things. Unschooling works for many reasons, but one is because we know our children. We get what makes them tick, what interests them. We can follow their lead. One of the struggles as an unschooling parent, particularly one who has spent 20+ years in the education system, is learning when to hold back and not try to push what we think they should learn. Giving children the space to take charge of their own learning and decide what they need is truly the greatest gift of all. I suppose this why there are as many approaches to home learning/home educating/unschooling as there are home learning/educating/unschooling families.

So what's it like in owlet town? Around here, we are inspired by the seasons. Big owlet went to a steiner kindergarten for two years and many of the rhythms there fitted within our family life really well, so we are occasionally inspired by them. On a typical day we get up and have breakfast around the table. We spend some time cooking, painting, crafting, listening to music, playing on the computer, reading... we'll have morning tea together about three mornings a week, with a teapot and cups with saucers and a candle and some flowers. Its a lovely way to pause and enjoy each others company and celebrate an ordinary day. After lunch we'll usually go out. For a walk, or to the park, or to ballet or gym, or a friend's place. Some days we decide to spend the whole morning at the botanical gardens instead, or the beach, or wherever. Its a great way to shake things up if we feel in a rut. We look at the seasons and what's going on around here. We set up a nature table and change it at the beginning of each season. We write a list of activities we'd like to do during the season. Its a little like the activity advent calendar we have each year and great to have there if we want some inspiration. We celebrate festivals. From a bunch of different cultures, including our own. We talk. We play. We parent. We live.

I've had some requests for a list of my favourite links, books etc. about unschooling. I thought I'd share it here. Its just a beginning list of my faves and things that have inspired me along my travels. I hope you find it useful too...

The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith for a good practical overview.
The Unschooling Unmanual for some inspiring articles
Just about anything by John Holt, but particularly Teach Your Own
Parenting a Free Child by Rue Kream for a great practical look at an unschooling family, day to day.

The Natural Child Project
Sandra Dodd
Beverly Paine's Homeschool Australia website
HEN - the Victorian home education network
Joyous Learning Australian home ed. forum.
Liberated Learning another Australian home ed. forum.
The Parenting Pit
I Was Unschooled
The Unschooled Life Lecture on youtube by unschooled artist Astra Taylor.

There are loads, but three of my faves...
Majikfaerie It was while reading her blog two years ago that I realised we could do this...
Mackville Road
SouleMama... no introduction necessary, but she makes unschooling look so lovely and do-able in the most inspiring way. Her books are handy around here too...

7 March 2010

another market day

We had a beautiful day at the market. We spent some lovely time amongst friends. I finally caught up with Angie (and as if by magic, had a mini mei tai just perfect for her little one), hooray!!. I had a quick chat to Jacquie and lovely chats to Michelle (mmmm, more chocolate truffles), and Simone throughout the day. Did you see Simone and her two beautiful girls on the Collectors on ABC last week? We did and big owlet was so excited to see the girls and tell them all about it. She spent the day wandering around the market arm in arm with one of the girls, flitting from stall to stall, chatting and charming (I hope!) the other stallholders.

So we each chose one little thing at this market. We all put in the hours, so it was only fair... The owlets chose a badge each. Little owlet is enjoying the power of decision making, so she made about 8 choices before finally settling on a skull and crossbones. Huz chose the Mountain Lilac unheated honey from the Arve.

I chose this beautiful little gocco print by Cat Rabbit. I just love it!. I spent the day sitting opposite her beautiful rabbits and owls, eyeing them off... I bought a very special little something made by Tara Badcock for my Mum for her birthday. I can't show you yet though, just in case you are reading now mum... so I'll show it off in April when the coast is clear.

The day was successful enough that we managed to afford our little things, groceries on the way home and a life membership to the local organic co-op. I'll post more on that during the week, along with some pics of the new Autumn range I launched at the market. I'll be updating the owlet shops with what's left. Hope your Sunday was lovely too! x

4 March 2010

my creative space... messy = creative

Its the usual battle for the dining table around here again today. I have a market on Sunday, with lots to do. I'm making lots of new bits and pieces for Autumn, and adding as much unisex stuff as I can - hoping to cater to some of the boys out there!!

Little owlet is filling her half of the table with paintings of gingerbread men (so she says...).

More creative spaces at Kirsty's.

3 March 2010

marine discovery

Summer has been all about water for us. We've been to the beach lots, spending time looking at animals in rock pools and collecting bits and pieces. Stories and play have been of fish, seahorses and mermaids... So today we rounded it all up with a visit to the Marine Discovery Centre. Its set up mostly for schools to visit and learn. They run several educational programs all about water and the local marine environment. They also let families of home educators in for a wander and chat if you ask nicely... so Huz took the afternoon off and we took a leisurely drive down south to look around.

It was a great chance to see and touch some of the local marine life and watch what they do.

Big owlet thought the sea stars were hilarious. They kept moving when we turned our backs.

After we visited the restaurant and sculpture garden next door to race some boats along the water course... then fish & chips at the playground. Perfect afternoon...

2 March 2010

mother of invention...

Big owlet is way into inventing things. This is her latest way to get through the hot Tasmanian summer nights...

1 March 2010

unschool monday :: algebra

Someone always asks. Last time my own lovely mum was here, she brought it up... "So who will teach the girls algebra?" Its always about algebra. Or trigonometry. They must be the concepts that so many of us struggled with at school, that just didn't make sense or apply to daily life. I must say that I kinda enjoyed basic algebra once I understood it, so I'm not afraid of it if it does happen to pop into our lives. Really though, aside from the repetitive hours I spent on my year 10 workbook, I can say that I haven't come across the need for algebra in my life. Well, not the hard stuff anyway. Huz has and I believe still uses it in his profession... so I expect he'll be taking the reigns if either of the owlets decides to follow in his footsteps. If they want to learn it, they will. If they need to learn it to get into the university course they really want to do, they will. But how will they go to university if they don't go to school and sit exams? Well, if they want to go to university, they can do a TAFE bridging course of equivalency program. If they decide the best way to get to where they want to be is through high school or college, then thats what they need to do. But there's really no point sending them to school to learn algebra if they just really want to be a dancer or a chef, or gardener, or writer, or historian or.... If there's something we can't help them learn, we find a mentor, or a tutor who can pass the knowledge on. For example, big owlet wants to learn ballet. I'm not a ballet dancer. So she does ballet classes. I imagine it would be the same with algebra. When we can't help with it, we look for help. Once we remove the idea of what children should be learning and just let them get on with it, it becomes so much less daunting. And a whole lot more fun! Here's today's maths class:

We managed to cover biology, home economics, art, english and chemistry too!