Friday, 29 August 2014

Australian Historical Fiction for Primary Age Children - Verity of Sydney Town by Ruth C. Williams

Verity of Sydney Town, an historical novel, was first published in 1950 by a Sydney based author and was awarded Children's Book of the Year in 1957. It is set in New South Wales during the period of Governor Macquarie's time in office (early 1800's) against a backdrop of pioneering farmers, bushrangers and convicts, and it is an interesting and lively account of the times. 

A strange little place...this Sydney Town, built as it was round a cove which the natives called Warrang; neither entirely a seaport nor a country town, nor a convict settlement, nor a military outpost, and yet, in appearance, all these things in part. Covered by a dome of blue sky, flanked by a glorious harbour and the mystery of lonely headlands, it had a beauty of its own; and yet the town itself --despite the orderliness and seemliness insisted upon by His Excellency, despite neat fences and whitewash, flag-stones and clean-swept paths -- retained an appearance of raggedness, like a pretty lass in a frayed petticoat.

Verity is a twelve year old girl whose father, a ship's captain, has been lost at sea. The young girl is put under the care of unsympathetic guardians in Sydney Town who, believing the captain to be dead, eventually send her out west to live with a farmer and his family; charitable people who knew her father and wanted to show kindness to his daughter.
Verity settles into her new life and shares in the hard work of the farm. She is befriended by Humphrey, the farmer's son and Slippery Britter, a young, cheerful, and warm-hearted ex-convict who works at the farm.

After Verity has been living at the farm for some time, news comes that the Hawkesbury River is in flood. The farmer and his wife, fearing for the welfare of their married daughter and her baby, leave Verity and Humphrey in Britter's care and travel to the Hawkesbury region to bring them to safety.
While they are gone, the farm receives some unwelcome visitors. A group of bushrangers, one of them an ex-convict who used to work at the farm, break in and threaten the lives of the two children. Britter's bravery and quick thinking rescues them and the three of them run away into the night but the bushrangers are in hot pursuit and Britter is wounded. Humphrey's intervention saves him from being murdered and the three of them stagger away in the dark and rain to a place of safety.

Disappointment awaits them when they arrive at the closest habitation only to find it deserted and the route to Windsor cut off by flood. Britter suggests that they go back home as the farmer would return before long and the bushrangers would be quick in making their escape. They return to the farm to find other strangers there and the homestead badly damaged by fire.

There is an episode in the book where the two children decide to 'reform' their friend Britter and ask him to promise never to resort to stealing again - the crime for which he was transported to Australia in the first place. He was a little resentful at the time at the presumption he was still a thief, but the tables were later turned when they arrived at the deserted town. Ravenous with hunger, Humphrey suggests forcing a window and helping themselves to some food but Britter would have none of it.

'But I am so hungry!' Humphrey tried again, on a plaintive note.

'So was I when I stole the plum-pudding,' replied Britter, quite unmoved. 'But they sent me to Botany Bay for it. No you don't! You don't catch me stealing nothin'. You wanted to reform me, didn't you? Well, you has, see! And a reformed felon has to be as careful of his reputation as any dainty miss in her first season. Why, buck up, man! A little hunger won't hurt you. And I ought to know!

Tighten your belt, lad, and shut your mouth! And when you are a man remember this day and start a movement for every judge to try a little fasting himself before condemning any man to death for stealing a bite of food.'

The book would probably be most enjoyed by children around 10 to 12 years of age and both boys and girls would appreciate the tale, so don't be put off by the title. It is a story centred around a young girl but the author allows other characters to also take centre stage and in so doing has broadened the story's appeal.

Governor Macquarie is portrayed as a humane man who endeavoured to deal justly with the convicts. Some background information on his time in office is given here.

The book would fit well chronologically in Term 1 of Ambleside Online Year 5 (early 1800's).

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Nature Study - Rocks & Wildflowers

We only managed one bush walk this month but we came across the first blooms of some our native wildflowers as we come to the end of winter here.

 Crowea Exalta (Boronia family)

 Acacia Lineata (Wattle)

Australian Wildflowers to Cultivate by Alec M. Blombery is a good book we use to help us identify the wildflowers we don't know.

We live in an a predominantly sandstone area. This honeycombed sandstone formed the roof to a rock projection we came across in our walk.

Rock Challenge - a guide to observing and identifying rocks at The Handbook of Nature Study Blog.

We have an abundance of sandstone rocks around our home and a few of them have been carved over the years and have been used for car tracks. This is a rock my daughter has been working on with her chisel and hammer and when the neighbourhood children hear her hammering they come over and join her. Her 14 year old brother offers his advice now & again which is bit of a worry because when he was about 8 years old he decided to build a base in the bush and tried to roll a sandstone rock to where he wanted it to be. It was rather large and once he got it moving it took on a mind of its own and rolled down the slope into the door of his big brother's car. Though I don't expect this rock to go anywhere.

A chunk of the outer sandstone which has been chipped off the rock.

By bashing the rock you get gritty sand

A seat my husband carved out of sandstone rock using an angle grinder. At the moment it's almost submerged under a pile of mulch.

Sandstone rock covered with moss

This video explains how sandstone and other rocks are formed

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Large Family Homeschooling

When I was in the thick of things I never had the time to put my thoughts or what I did into writing. I wanted to write these things down before I started forgetting what home education looked like when I had a multitude around my feet.

The big advantage to teaching your children at home from the very start is that you grow into homeschooling and you're not suddenly faced with having to teach three or four different grade levels while still having to care for a toddler and a baby. The children get used to having a routine, helping out around the house and get a head start with the process of self-education.
I've had a number of friends whose children had spent time at school and home education looked different in their homes, although there are some common ground areas large families share. What I'm writing here is my experience, in the context of being responsible for a large family, of how I handled a span of ages and stages, the high school years and the longevity challenge.

Since the middle of this year I've only had my youngest two to teach as our eldest five have now graduated. A year and a half ago I was teaching our youngest four and it's been somewhat of a shock to suddenly realise that I'm down to the last two, although I still have another nine or so years to go. The dynamics are different this year compared to previous times, but in essence what I do hasn't changed much at all. What was put in place at the beginning has been our foundation and it has stood up under the wear and tear and change.

So out of the depths here is a smattering of randomness (in no particular order) of things that have worked or haven't; words that have encouraged me; things I've learnt; musings and my own opinions born out of personal experience.


Why am teaching my children?
We had almost zero encouragement to homeschool when we first started. If I hadn't known the 'why' - that this was what God was pleased to have me do, I wouldn't have lasted. Opposition strengthened me and even though I felt hurt by it, it forced me to lean into God and make sure I had His approval.

Will my philosophy enable my children to be initiators or will it encourage them to be passive?

Are my children learning to make the effort to learn for themselves?

Will my philosophy of education produce the end result I want to see in my children?

The outcome of how we teach our children isn't always obvious in the early stages. We often want to see instant progress but educating our children is like sowing a seed and it takes time to develop and blossom. It is an act of faith. I look at my adult children and see not just what my husband and I sowed into their lives but something unique that we didn't put there.

All seven of our children have had, or are having, a similar education. They've read classic literature, Shakespeare, Plutarch; memorised Scripture & poetry, studied their various musical instruments; gained proficiency in maths; practiced writing; learned how to cook and do household repairs & renovations. The five eldest have all done very different things: three went to university, one has embarked upon a cadetship and the youngest had just started a plumbing apprenticeship. We had no idea what vocation they would eventually follow but that was probably a good thing as we weren't tempted to confine their learning to certain parameters. Our young plumber in the making learnt some valuable lessons from Plutarch, gained good observational skills from nature study, played in an orchestra and loves the work he is doing now.

The Culture of Entertainment & Entitlement

I had a friendly argument a few years ago with another home educator who believed that education should be fun. That was her philosophy. If I taught my kids only what they wanted to learn or only what they enjoyed or found entertaining, they would probably be illiterate and I'd be exhausted.

One of my sons commented on the lack of motivation he sees in some young fellows of his own age. They spend their weekends playing computer games and expect opportunities to fall into their laps and aren't willing to work at something. A culture of entitlement feeds the idea that some work isn't worth the effort and is beneath them and makes me wonder what philosophy of education was behind their schooling.

Older children set the tone in the family - habits, attitudes, obedience, responsibility - if you get these things established in the older children the younger ones pick it up and make your job a lot easier.

Work ethic - a large family can be a great training ground. Lots of people make lots of work. I'm amazed that so many families don't expect their kids to pull their weight around the house. If our kids didn't help out this place would fall around our ears.


My eldest was 4 years old when I started teaching her to read. I had a 2 year old and a newborn at the time. It only took a few minutes each day. I added in a little maths and piano that year and we continued to read aloud, something I'd started when she was very little.
We did this with the younger ones in the room and as we continued with this routine, the younger ones would be added in as they got a little older. It was a natural progression and I never had any of them not want to do 'their maths' or not want to listen to our read aloud.

We tended to homeschool all year round, taking holidays when my husband had time off plus a larger break over Christmas. If we were at home and Dad was at work, it was a 'school day' and they'd get on with Maths, reading, writing & music, first thing.
The older ones would get on with their individual work and I'd help the younger ones. At some time during the day we'd have devotions & memory work together and then read aloud time.
Now that we have older children with various commitments and activities it doesn't always work to homeschool year round but it made sense in the early years.

I've tended to pitch our read aloud times to the eldest, edit when necessary and include everyone. Sometimes the younger ones seemed to tune out, playing with their matchbox cars and Lego but it was surprising how much they absorbed.

Two thoughts have helped me many times:

1) I'll always have time for the things I put first - Even at my busiest times, everything was generally manageable if my priorities were right. Some things I had no control over - sickness for example, but that was just for a season even though it felt like an eternity at the time. Some things can be insidious and we don't realise how much time they are consuming. They might be perfectly worthy things in themselves but they've displaced the more important things and have stolen the time that should have been spent on them. A few times I've jotted down what I'm doing throughout the day in order to see how I've spent my time. It's incredible how quickly time gets chewed up just checking emails or looking up prices for products online. I've only been using the computer regularly in recent years but before that my time was often chewed up on the phone.

2) Do the next right thing - This was something I gleaned from Elisabeth Elliot's writing and my husband often quotes it to me. I have a type of paralysis that  keeps me from making decisions and acting on them at times. It all seems too much and I dither. This little thought gives me direction and helps me get over the hump.

Reading is foundational: 

If you can read well you can teach yourself just about anything. I was always serious about getting this nailed and most of my children learned to read without much drama between the ages of 4-7, except for one. I almost despaired of him ever being literate. He would have fallen through the cracks if he'd been in school but he was just late with everything. So reading aloud was high on my list with him and he didn't miss out on all the good books his siblings read. Out of all my children, he remembers the most poetry, Bible verses and plots of just about every story he'd heard. But I still pressed on with reading lessons and The Writing Road to Reading was a huge help.
If you're reading this and you have an older child who can't read or has great trouble doing so; if you are feeling overwhelmed, and especially if you have lots of other children, I'd highly recommend getting a Spalding tutor to help.
I've known a couple of lovely ladies who tutored the worse case scenarios in schools using this method and they always had success. I haven't done the course but I tutored a 12 year old boy from our church for a while just using the book. His mother was distraught with the lack of progress he'd made after years in special reading classes and this was more helpful to him than all the other stuff he'd been through.


This is another foundational area. A little bit, every day and even the children that didn't appear to be mathematically inclined at first eventually became adept. When I realised I had a late reader I honed in on his maths and he was ahead in that subject for years until his reading caught up. It was something he could excel in, not because he was a maths whizz but because it was here a little, there a little, and he added to his proficiency each day. It also took away the sting of not being able to read.
I read an article once on homeschooled children and their weak spots and one of the points made was that home educated children weren't used to time limits. So I thought Maths speed drills were a good way to start to implement time limits - just a little thing, but it worked.
Timed essays came later in the high school years and these helped with brainstorming and getting their thoughts down quickly. Sometimes a little pressure helps get the creative juices flowing especially if you have a procrastinator on your hands.


I think this is overrated. I've known some very well organised people (on paper) but if all that planning doesn't translate into getting the job done, it's a waste of time. I'm all for improvement and making life easier but sometimes getting stuck into something without having perfectly executed plans makes more sense than trying to organise everything to the nth degree. Why use all your energy planning and have none left over for the implementation?

I was surprised one day when a friend shared her six year plan for one subject and I know for a fact that it was never implemented. But it was beautifully done...

I'm not a great planner and I'm not a naturally organised person. I am tidy, which helps. And I like my house to look pleasant and inviting. My lack of expertise in the organisational side of things has been overshadowed by other strengths, habits and routines and I don't get depressed over what I'm not good at.

My desire is to teach my children and to do it well. I work hard and I'm not lazy by nature.
Chaos is not good and demonstrates a mental state as opposed to an outward condition of physical disorganisation.

Other thoughts:

There was very little home school material in Australia for the first few years of our time homeschooling but I knew what a living book was, and we spent our money on building up a good library at home. And then building more book shelves...

Social Aspects:

I don't mean 'What about socialisation?' in the way it is usually implied. I want my children to be socially adept in any situation they find themselves in, no matter if they are introverted or extroverted by nature. I'm not worried about them specifically relating to their own age group. It's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned.
How do they treat children younger than themselves? Do they include others or cause division?
If there are new kids at church I expect my children to make them welcome. If we have a family with little kids come to visit I expect my older ones to find activities everyone can play. If we open our home for hospitality we ask all our kids to be home for the meal and help to make our visitors feel at home.

Our schools turn out a good many clever young persons, wanting in nothing but initiative, the power of reflection and the sort of moral imagination that enables you to 'put yourself in his place.' 
Charlotte Mason

I say this carefully - sometimes or our children will be criticised and there will be a grain of truth in it. My husband's outspoken Grandmother once made a comment to me about one of our children. I reacted inside but I knew she cared about her grandchildren and later on I saw past her bluntness and realised what she said was true. It was nothing earth shattering but one of my boys used to tease his younger sister who over-reacted. I'd only seen my daughter's reaction and was blind to what caused it. Sometimes someone outside of our immediate situation may see things we don't. However, there are some people whose criticism  I just don't take any notice of. If there's a trustworthy person who has your children's interests at heart their input could be valuable.

Mother Culture:

Keeping my mind active is important; reading, discussing ideas with older children.

It would seem as if we mothers often simply made for ourselves the difficulties we find in after life by shutting our minds up in the present. What we need is a habit of taking our minds out of what one is tempted to call "the domestic rag-bag" of perplexities, and giving it a good airing in something which keeps it "growing."

I enjoy a good conversation over a cup of tea, talking about books or doing some patchwork & quilting alongside a friend. A good walk refreshes me and also some time out with my husband on our own. I enjoy having people I don't know over for a meal especially if it's on the spur of the moment because I do better with meal preparation if I don't have to think too much about it beforehand.

Having all my kids and the two new additions to our extended family (a son & daughter-in-law) all together with us is so much fun and gives us much pleasure.
I don't think I've ever laughed as much as I have in the past couple of years - having teenaged children in the home is wonderful - well, apart from their frequent aberrations that come and go during these years. They do better when they're all together because the older ones remember what a pain they were at the same stage their younger brothers & sisters are going through and say so.

Longevity - keeping the momentum going, not short changing the youngest children  because you've lost steam after homeschooling all the others, using time wisely now there are no babies & toddlers, encouraging younger mothers as they start out, keeping my own enthusiasm for learning...these are things I think about and work on.

There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children's childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. (Parents Review)

Other thoughts:

It's harder to homeschool boys than girls. Especially boys around the ages of 15 and up, and more especially if you have a few of them.
They need lots of physical exertion but they also need to be challenged mentally - even if they aren't heading towards a university degree.
A part time job can be good especially if they are working with adults and not other teenage boys.

 There is no education but self-education 
and only as the young student works with his own mind 
is anything effected.   
Charlotte Mason