Thursday 30 August 2012

August Nature Notebook

We started using the Handbook of Nature Study (HONS) on a regular basis this year. I've had this formidable looking book for awhile but because we live in Australia and there are numerous sections of the book which are not applicable to us, I just didn't get into it and it basically stayed on the shelf.

Then I came across the and found Barb's Getting Started articles and the Outdoor Hour Challenges. 
I printed out the challenges and read the sections Barb had suggested and that helped me to get started.
The blog also has a link to an online version of HONS so if you are not a resident of North America you can have a look to see its contents. 
I prefer the book version which I bought new from the Book Depository.

I'd been looking back over the challenges which would relate to the season we were in here but when I saw this month's challenges I thought we could participate. We're in the last days of winter but we have more flowers at this time of the year in our garden than we do in summer so we focused on these.

 Dragonwing Begonias

We only seem to be able grow these plants in pots but they flower continually. It's easy to propagate these - just snip a piece off, pop in water & when you see some roots put them in a pot. They don't like full sun, seem to thrive with very little care and give us a continual show of flowers....unless the chooks get out - they love the leaves.

It will take a few weeks for the roots to grow and when it looks like this you can plant it.


Other flowering plants which propagate well are geraniums, nodding violet, fuschias - in fact any flower with a fleshy sort of stem. We usually cut multiple sections as sometimes some just die.

Native Iris (Patersonia occidentalis) - an Australian native also known as purple flag.

A journal entry by my 7 year old daughter showing her drawings of the native iris and camellia japonica.

We found some cattails on a friend's property and using the HONS we did a sudy on those. This is my 17 year old son's journal entry.
Cattail (Typha)  is known as bulrush, wonga and cumbungi in Australia and is a valuable bush tucker food, the roots being a good source of starch.


Camellias in flower

The Usborne First Book of Knowledge uses simple illustrations and information and is great for younger children.

A daphne plant flowering on the side of the road

 We studied the parts of a flower

We generally don't take our nature journals along on our nature walks as they tend to turn into climbing and exploring expeditions. I just let them explore and take photos, identify trees and plants and enjoy being outside. We've usually plenty of material for journaling close to home or we bring something home to sketch - this seems to work best for us.

One of the older boys is up on the large rock on the right and two follow behind.

 Younger sister decides to tag along.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

Friday 24 August 2012

Handicraft for Boys

Manual occupation; work performed by the hand.

Work of the hands; product of manual labor; manufacture.
Work performed by power and wisdom. Psalm 19 (KJV)
I wanted to focus on handicrafts/manual work for older boys (about 10 -12 years of age and up) in particular here but I'll also mention a few things we've done with younger ones.

Handicrafts such as crotcheting & knitting are good for developing fine motor skills and I did these with all the boys when they were younger. A couple of them also made wall hangings for their rooms which incorporated basic hand sewing & patchwork. I found the window of opportunity closes fairly quickly on these activities so sooner rather than later is probably better.

The wall hanging on the left was done by my at the time 14 year old boy. He chose the picture from a colouring book, printed it out, and using a rectangle of calico (homespun), he traced the picture onto the material with a pencil by putting them both up to the window. Then he got some iron on pellon and ironed it to the back of the outlined material and then back-stitched the outine with double stranded embroidery cotton.
He chose some scraps to do a border around it, used the sewing machine to stitch them on; folded the border and hand-stitched the border to the back.

To hang it up you can get a slim, straight stick or rod, attach it to the back with a couple of stitches and hang it on a hook.

Teaching them how to thread and use a sewing machine had them making dress-up articles such as Robin Hood outfits, pouches (money bags), capes and shorts. They enjoyed this for quite some time - this was their first taste of a power tool.

And of course, cooking. Two of my boys are very good in the kitchen - the other two are just happy to eat.  Two books that inspired them to cook spring to mind:

How to Make an Apple Pie & See the World by Marjorie Priceman

A young baker decides to make an apple pie, finds the market is closed and so embarks on a journey through Italy, France, Sri Lanka, England, Jamaica & Vermont to find the ingredients. At the end of the story is a recipe for making the pie and one of my boys still makes it even though he has outgrown the book.

The Redwall Cookbook by Brian Jacques

Brian Jacques is the author of the Redwall series of books which our boys enjoyed around the ages of 9 -11 years. The cookbook still appeals for older ages. 

In the Redwall stories 'the food has as much a part of the saga as the battle, the quest, the poems, the riddles, and the songs.'
You can read about him here.

A book series for boys of about 8 - 12 years of age is the BushBoys by James Tierney

These stories are set in the Australian bush and include quite a bit of know-how on camping and bush skills. Here is the blog where you can view the books.

For the older  boys I was pleased to find some out of print books online that I'd seen at the library a while ago but have since disappeared. These books, the 10 Bushcraft Books by Robert Graves are available here and a PDF version is here.

 An enthusiastic bushwalker, skier and pioneer of white-water canoeing,
he foresaw how a knowledge of bushcraft could save lives in the Second World War. To achieve this end, he initiated and led the Australian Jungle Rescue Detachment, assigned to the Far East American Air Force. This detachment of 60 specially selected A.I.F. soldiers successfully effected more than 300 rescue missions, most of which were in enemy-held territory, without failure of a mission or loss of a man.
An essential preliminary for rescue was survival, and it was for this purpose that the notes for these books were written. These notes were later revised and prepared for a School in Bushcraft which was conducted for nearly 20 years. As far as is known, "The 10 Bushcraft Books" are unique. There is nothing quite like them, nor is any collection of bushcraft knowledge under one cover as comprehensive.

These books seem to me to be a good substitute for Nature Study for Australian students using Ambleside Online in the upper years.

A quote from Book 9 in the section titled Weather Lore:

An infallible weather forecast, if a change of weather is coming up, is in the nautical couplet:

"When the rain is before the wind, your topsail halyards better mind, But when the wind is before the rain, then hoist your topsails up again."

In plain words this says that when rain comes first without wind then expect a long period of bad weather with high winds and heavy rain. But when wind comes first and is followed immediately by rain, then fine weather will follow at short notice.

Many people are trapped by bad weather in the bush every year, and if they but knew of this simple weather sign they could be prepared, and get out to a position of safety before really bad weather sets in.

Another infallible weather signal is the appearance of cumulus nimbus cloud, a foreteller of thunderstorms. While a greenish light in the sky preceding a thunderstorm is an almost certain sign of heavy hail.

As our boys became more physically mature they became invaluable around the place. BB says that he wants them to be confident enough to tackle a job; to have a 'can do' attitude and be able to find out how to do something if they don't already know. 

The  internet can be a good resource. BB recently found a Youtube video to help repair our electronic washing machine - he watched it and then explained to our 17 year old what he needed to do & he then did the work and saved us a few hundred dollars.

When it comes to things like axes, electrical type work, chainsaws or other potentially dangerous material, obviously the level of maturity and in some cases, physical strength is a consideration.

Some things we've done:

Electronic kits - in Australia Dick Smith sells kits to help you get you started
Old appliances for the boys to pull apart
Gardening - pruning, planting, weeding
Plumbing - replaced a large pipe outside, changed washers; fixed toilet cisterns
Home renovations - knocked out brick walls (great fun; huge mess)
Changing different types of light bulbs eg. fluorescent tubes
Car maintenance
Sanding down wood
Bought old wooden desk & restored, stained etc
Read directions for new stove & showed mum how to use it
Chop wood, light fire
Built a computer; installed programmes
Senior First Aid course at age 14 (St. John's Ambulance - if you have a group of about 6 people you can ring them and organise a course)
Pocket knives & how to use them safely

Kitchen renovations - knocking out walls, painting, plumbing........

Equal opportunity - girls get in on the action

Learning how to use sound equipment and recording music

For a number of years BB and the boys met regularly with 3 other homeschooling dads & their boys and between them taught the boys a number of skills using Contenders for the Faith - a Handbook for Young Men. They ranged in age form 6 years to about 17 years old at the time and they learnt some valuable skills.

Do you see a man skilled in his work?
    He will serve before kings;
    he will not serve before obscure men.

Thursday 16 August 2012

The Dangerous Article for Boys

'Why boys don’t need to get in touch with their feelings and how you can protect them from people who think they do (with a list of books to help you fend these people off).'

An interesting article by Martin Cochrane which follows on a bit from my review on Landscape With Dragons but with a different slant (check out his comments on the current vampire books) :

Monday 13 August 2012

A Landscape with Dragons

A Landscape with Dragons - The Battle for Your Child's Mind by Michael O'Brien

I first read this book about 10 years ago and for me it was one of those 'stand out' books that I return to and reflect on to refresh my thinking. The author examines fantasy books and movies for children in a way that I haven't seen addressed by any other author that I've read.

For a long time my husband and I avoided any sort of fantasy literature for our children - partly because we had a teenage girl living with us for a number of years who had really struggled with 'addiction' to science fantasy material and we didn't want to put any stumbling blocks in her way - and partly because as Christians we struggled with the whole 'magic/fantasy' issue ourselves and were reluctant to let our children loose with that type of material while we felt uneasy about its suitability.
  • Where were the boundaries when it came to this type of literature?
  • What was the difference between books written by authors such as C.S. Lewis, George McDonald and J.R. Tolkien, or Anne McCaffrey and Ursula Le Guin?
  • How could we discern what was suitable?
  • What if after reading the The Chronicles of Narnia, our children developed an appetite for more fantasy?
  • Would they develop a fascination for more questionable types of fantasy or even occult material?
  • Are you alarmed when you peruse the shelves at the local library and see how much of the content contains witches and sorcery?
  • Has anyone else had these concerns??

The author, calling our times the 'Age of Noise,' writes lucidly of the battle for our children's minds, the role of fairy tale and symbols, the growing illiteracy of Western society with our minds becoming increasingly passive and image oriented, the  invasion of the imagination  and the shift in our culture from a Christian worldview to a neopaganist  worldview.

A very helpful section in the book is the author's 'makeshift scale' in which he divides the field of children's culture into four categories in order to assess material eg:

Material that is fundamentally good but disordered in some details.......material that appears good on the surface but is fundamentally disordered.

He also stresses the need for parents to be vigilant and prayerful and that our primary tool for discernment  must be our own interior barometer.
He suggests asking ourselves some questions when we are assessing a book or film eg:

  • Does the story reinforce my child's understanding of the moral order of the universe?
  • Or does it undermine it?
  • What does the author say about the nature of evil?

The book  is deep, beautifully written, readable, and insightful.
The author is Catholic and his beliefs come through strongly in certain sections (in particular, 'Some Notes on Spiritual Discernment') but his message transcends denomination and his writing is very empowering, relevant and practical.

Some quotes from the book:

There is no perfect work of art, nor is there any work of fiction that does not in some small or large way fall short of a complete vision of reality. But there is a crucial difference between a flawed detail and a flaw in the fundamental  vision.

The imagination was originally created to be God's territory, a faculty of man's soul that would help him to comprehend the invisible realities.

The purpose of dragons in literature, and of the fascination children have for them is to arm the soul with an ever-developing discernment of spirits. The purpose of the fairy tale is not to breed superstition but rather to defend the mind against superstition.

Since  this book was published in 1998, he analyses and critiques movies such as Star Wars and  books written by authors Madeleine L'Engle, Stephen Lawhead and others, but I think his principles really transcend the time frame and can be used to discern current literature and film also.

There is a large comprehensive list of recommended family reading material contained at the end of the book and also a list of suggested reading materials for parents.

Although primarily written for parents this would be a worthwhile book for older teens to read especially if they are considering the study of education or literature later on.

Published by Ignatius Press.

Friday 10 August 2012

Hymn Study

Generally we listen to our current hymn and folksong each day and then when I think we've learned them well enough I'll choose some new ones to learn, going back to review earlier selections from time to time.
So this is the hymn we've just started.

'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

This version has added a chorus:

You're the shelter in the storm
You're the dearest friend I know
Oh, Light of the world, carry me home
Oh, for grace to trust Him more

Here is the original  hymn with guitar chords:

Friday 3 August 2012

Picture Study

Our current picture study is the work of the Australian Impressionist, Arthur Streeton (1867 - 1943).

These paintings are what we've covered so far and the plan is to go on to other artists from what is known as the 'golden era' of Australian painting - Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin in particular.

Blue Mountain Tunnel

When we first started studying the works of Arthur Streeton I’d chosen this painting partly because we’ve had numerous trips to that area and partly because I thought the subject of the painting would appeal to the boys.

This particular painting was done with watercolour on canvas but then we realised that there was another  painting of the same scene at Lapstone, ‘Fire’s On,’ which was done in oil on canvas. 


At first glance we noticed the oil painting was more intense but then we saw the smoke and different groupings of people, including the accident victim being carried out of the tunnel, and realised the difference in the paintings was more than just the medium used to paint them.

 Fire's On

This narration was done by my 12 year old son.  He had studied the paintings for a few minutes each day for a about week and then I asked him to write down his observations from memory - he added the pictures later.

We’d read the story behind the paintings from an art book we have, Great Australian Paintings, a Lansdowne publication.

Purple Noon's Transparent Might

Redfern Station


  Circular Quay

Online paintings of Australian artists large enough to use as a screensaver were difficult to find and then I discovered this great site 
The images above are from The Athenaeum.
Below are some picture study narrations some of my children have done at different times from different artists.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Nature Notebook

Birds  have been the major focus we've had for the past month in our nature study. It never ceases to surprise me how often we see a bird we'd never seen before even in just our own area.

Unfortunately, we don't always get a photo, or a decent one at any rate, before they fly off, but we try & note specific features such as colour, size & shape of the beak, long tail feathers, general size of the bird and the noise it makes.

Usually we can get a good enough description to compare our observations with photos in our bird book - or we can narrow it down to a couple of choices.

These are some birds we've managed to get photos of just recently.


(Grallina cyanoleuca) Commonly known as a peewee because of the sound it makes and is apparently neither a magpie or a lark. I think this one is a male and he came tapping on the window at a friend's house about half an hour's drive from us. We haven't seen them around here as they avoid the densely wooded areas.

Australian Wood Ducks 

(Chenonetta jubatta) Not a great photo; the female is on the left, male on the right of the photo. These actually landed in a tree next to the house and because we've only seen mallard ducks in our area we didn't recognize them as ducks - they have longish necks & look a bit like geese. We found them running around in a garden up the road & took the photo there.

These photos of water birds were taken on the weekend on the Central Coast (New South Wales) on Lake Munmorah. We definitely don't see any of these birds near us although we did see a White Faced Heron on a football oval nearby.

Australian Pelican

(Pelecanus conspicillatus) The name says it all! Unmistakeable. 
The smaller birds are Little Pied Cormorants (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos).
A group of cormorants are called a 'gulp'! 

Later in the day a pod/squadron of pelicans came sailing majestically across the lake - I didn't have a camera, unfortunately.

I think this bird with the striking coral beak is a Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia).
I only saw this one on its own.

This looks like either an Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia) or a Great Egret (Ardea alba).

The Great Egret has a distinctive, long, kinked neck - which I think this one has - but if anyone can tell me for sure I'd appreciate it.

A unique  book we used as a read aloud was The Birds, Our Teachers, by Dr. John Stott.

There are estimated to be 9,000 different species of birds in the world and the author has seen about 2,500 of them in his travels and in this book he combines biblical truths and his own  experiences with information about birds (he calls this 'orni-theology').

Expanding  on Martin Luther's exposition on the Sermon on the Mount,

 'You see, He is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers......We have as many teachers and preachers as there are little birds in the air,'

he demonstrates how the birds teach us about such things as faith, gratitude, repentance, and joy.
The book is well illustrated  throughout and includes birds from many different parts of the world.

Australian Brush Turkey

(Alectura lathami) This is one bird we don't like having around mainly because it might decide to build a nest in your garden - if you're happy to have a hill about 4 metres in diameter and 1 metre high then go ahead and let them stay - we always chase them away. I must admit we've seen a couple of baby brush turkeys and they are very cute.

They  behave a bit like chickens - scratching around on the ground etc.-
actually we had one today who thought he was a chicken - he got into their shed and was eating their food until he saw me and took off very heavily over the fence, but they are larger and can get quite aggressive towards cats and dogs.

This is him on the run. The (breeding) male has a bright red neck.