9 February 2018

Educating without waste

Ahh it's back-to school time here in Tasmania. Growing up, I remember fondly those years of booklists, new stationary and contacting books. As a teenager, I made it my job to see if I could find cheaper options of the suggestions on my school book list. It was one of my favourite times of year! As I was gathering up all the materials the owlets have chosen to learn with this year, it struck me just how many of them are now second hand. How inexpensive quality learning materials can be if we seek them out. How little waste we create in our education journey. One of the ways we reduce waste is by educating the owlets at home.

As home educators, we receive no financial support from the government, and we sacrifice one full-time income to make the owlets' education possible. We're extremely fortunate to be in a position where we can make that happen, and we do supplement the full-time income I'm no longer making, with the teeny, part-time shop income we make through Spiral Garden. Huz now works four days per week, as a measure for both his sanity, and mine, as a means we get to get all the things done, and spend more time together. We're certainly not making what most would consider to be smart financial decisions here, but they're decisions that keep work and life in balance for us all. Especially while the owlets are young.

For all this, we've had to be super thrifty and a little extra creative about how we do things. One way we save money on educational equipment is to sell the things we love, through our shop, enabling us to access tools we need at wholesale prices - it's a lot of work and I'm not sure I'd recommend it if you're in it for that alone! But here are some of the other ways we's reduced waste and costs, while providing a quality education for our kids:

Borrow tools and curriculum: We've been super fortunate to have been loaned books and curriculum materials when we've needed, by very generous and trusting friends. We're gentle on the books we use, and store them well, so can hand them back at the end of the year with minimal wear. Ask family for any helpful books, games and materials they might be able to share in the short or long-term. They may have something useful in their home, or keep an eye out for something helpful in their travels.

Buy secondhand: We're big on searching out good quality second hand books, tools and materials. We've been lucky to have stumbled across gems we can use, for almost nothing. At present, the reader Tiny has chosen to work on her reading with, belonged to my Aunt when she was small. The book Little Owlet has next on her list came from the local community book exchange. One of the maths books Big Owlet is using came from a freebie trolley at the tip shop! And we always keep our eyes open at the tip shop, garage sales and op shops. Many home educating families I know have become expert second-hand buyers, through necessity. It's a wonderful skill and set of values they're passing on to their children. To look for second hand options when possible. To value the words and knowledge in older materials, and to care for belongings well so they'll last for generations. 

Use supplies that create minimal waste: This year we've switched to writing on loose leaf paper, filed in folders for the different subject areas and projects the owlets are working on. It means there's no paper left unused, like there was in the main lesson books or exercise books they used previously. It also keeps everything together neatly. For writing and drawing tools, we use organic beeswax crayons, and pencils which can be sharpened, and their shavings added to the compost or fire. We're about to invest in some fountain pens for the older owlets, too. These can be refilled to use as they need (watch out for these in the shop). We use sturdy watercolour paints in palettes with replaceable paint blocks. These will last a lifetime. We use brown paper masking tape when we need to stick things, and when I've figured out a favourite option for glue (and we've run out of the old stuff we're still using), I'll be sure to update that. We're also about to dip into making art materials by hand, with some brilliant guidance by The Organic Artist, Nick Neddo (we'll blog some of that too). Basically, if it's compostable or reusable, we're all about it. 

Keep it minimal, and avoid plastics: We look for plastic-free options for materials and resources. Have a think about whether you really need to print or laminate that material you're using. What will happen to it when it's no longer useful to you? Online resources can be a way to access what you need and print only what's useful, but if you do need to use a printer, look for one that requires fewer cartridges and less ink. Is there another way to explore that science project or craft activity without plastics? Or can you approach the concept in a different way? If you're going out for the day, pack a lunchbox and avoid buying plastic-wrapped convenience foods along the way.

Use the library: Libraries are such great resources. It's surprising to me how many home educators I've observed will prefer to buy new books rather than borrow them from the library. Having said that, the kids non-fiction section at our local libraries has dropped by 75% in the past year, so if that's happening across the board, I'm kind of getting why you'd buy new books. Most libraries will take requests for new books to buy, so if there's something you're keen to read, try asking for it at the library so others can enjoy it too. 

Learn in nature: Nature really is the best teacher. Spend time learning real-life lessons, through observation. You can learn everything you need to know about reducing waste, through observing ecosystems. Make sure to leave a light footprint and take everything with you when you're done. 

Explore it together: Work with your kids on ways to reduce waste in your home and include them in the process. Brainstorm solutions together. Use bulk foods shopping and cooking from scratch as an opportunity to explore mathematical concepts, social interaction, economics, science, geography, history... there's much to learn in the daily runnings of a household and the feeding of a family, and those real-life lessons are so important and valuable. Kids are often quite intuitive about this stuff, so you may learn a thing or two along the way, too!

If your kids are learning in a school environment, many of these same principles apply. Chat to your teacher or school and see if you can help create positive change in your school community. You can hear Huz, and our friend Robyn, talking about back-to-school waste on ABC radio here.

If you're keen to learn more about reducing your family's waste, whether you educate your kids inside or outside the home, you can find more information in our e-courses, Zero Waste Families, and Seedlings: Permaculture for Families. Both courses are self-paced, and ready for you to sign up at any time.

We've also written a book which covers all these things and so much more, and will be available at your local bookshop (eep!), later this year.

26 January 2018

Back to life + rose petals

Suffice it to say we've been extraordinarily busy for the past year. The last six months were particularly intense and when the flu arrived at our home in September, followed by a hospital run, our manuscript deadline,  photoshoot, the Spiral Garden end of year rush, and a house full of family visiting for Christmas, we abandoned more structured home educating days and embraced our unschooling ways again. Long days (and nights!) of work sat alongside owlets undertaking their own exploration and projects, meeting with us to discuss and reflect and assist as we were able, and peppered with the odd trip to the beach or play at the playground, while I frantically responded to emails on my phone. It wasn't what any of us felt was ideal. It was a slog. But we got all the jobs done and survived it in relatively good spirits. And now we're slowly creeping back to life as we knew it before. Slowly remembering there's a garden to feed us. Remembering the mending pile, the preserving season, the books to read, the wardrobes to reorganise, the tax to do, pictures we've forgotten to hang in their proper places as we've moved through a year doing only the basics.

This week the owlets requested a return to the more formal elements of their learning-filled days, that they've come to love. Workbooks and reading and discussion, art activities and exploration are where it's at for them. And the focussed time we spend together is dear to all of our hearts. It's still another couple of weeks before the Tasmanian school year begins, but we have the freedom to take holidays and end the year as we please, so we follow the enthusiasm when it arrives. On Monday at about 9.15am, we decided it was time.

We began with the regular milestone photo by the front door and a sprinkling of rose petals and cheers as owlets wandered back inside, filled with excitement and renewed energy. I gave myself a sprinkling of petals and owlets cheered loudly for me too, because we're all in this together. Then we gathered at our little round table, which was set with a jar full of flowers, a candle, and some new writing materials for the year. We've decided to use folders this year, because paper isn't wasted like it  often is in the unused pages of exercise, scrap, or main lesson books. The owlets chose their favourite Lyra pencils to write and draw with, and we took a little tour through the books and subjects they've asked to work with this year. I'm a fairly relaxed planner, but I've been gathering interesting resources and making plans for the owlets for the past few months, checking in on their own plans and wishes.

Big Owlet has asked to spend time delving into science, art history and witchy things. She also wants to improve her understanding of mathematical concepts, learn to write academically, gently explore literature, and poetry. Little Owlet is so inspired by storytelling right now, so Ancient History is where we'll begin with her, alongside the shelf full of books she's likely to devour this year. She's keen for some scientific learnings too, with a Harry Potter inspired slant of potions, astronomy and herbology. Tiny is desperate to read, keen on maths, and into whatever her sisters are doing, with a practical focus, and lots of play.

This far along in our home educating lives, we know with some confidence, what works for us and what doesn't. We also know to be flexible, and that you often can't plan the greatest opportunities to learn, and that the most valuable lessons usually come from life. Tangents are meant to be followed. So we began with the plan of science and craft on Monday. Astronomy for Big Owlet, biology for Little, chemistry for Tiny. Then Little and Tiny set about painting some small cardboard tubes to create families of people, before looking through my grandmother's button collection to find her old earrings. Tiny learnt to crochet, and Big began making prototypes for her small business. Before long, the owlets were catching up with their friends via Skype, while I snuck in a couple of hours work, emailing customers and fulfilling orders, as dinner bubbled away on the stove. Tuesday was much the same, with english, herbology, and the hours of gardening and cooking that seemed to happen as part of that, including spontaneous ANZACs and jam making for Little Owlet, who made what is probably the greatest backyard apricot and vanilla bean jam of all time! 

Life is full, messy, busy and ridiculously lovely right now, and I'm so glad we're finding more time again to notice it. So glad to spend my days with these owlets. So glad they're choosing to spend their days here together. And I'm aware of how soon these precious days will be behind us. A beautiful blur of questions, cups of tea, conversation, love, pikelets, creativity, and rose petals.