Thursday 29 January 2015

Looking Down the Mountain - Reflections from a Homeschooled Graduate

I originally posted this two and a half years ago when Zana was in her second year of university. She graduated at the end of last year and this week she started teaching a Year 6 class. Well done, my lovely girl. You've worked hard and will make a wonderful teacher!

Looking down the mountain after a hard climb - Mt Kosciusko, New South Wales

  An unedited post from my 19 year old daughter, Zana, our third child:

So I have just finished uni for the semester and my mother has finally managed to corner me into writing something for her blog. Looking back on my home-schooling experience is interesting now that I’m in my second year of uni. I guess now I’ve had a fair amount of experience with something other than being home-schooled to give myself another perspective. I’m studying primary school teaching which is somewhat ironic considering my own education, but it’s what I enjoy and feel called to do. 

The thing I loved most about being home-schooled was the freedom to focus on the aspects of learning that I loved. An example of this was my music. In year 12, I was spending around 15hr a week on average either playing or studying music. If I had an HSC work load, this would have been very difficult. I also really appreciate the fact that I was encouraged to read and to love books. I didn’t do much formal history throughout school. Instead, I just read books…probably hundreds of them all up…simply because that was the way I liked to learn. I’m doing an English major as part of my uni degree and I love it. I find that even if I absolutely hate a text, I can still enjoy studying it. I also appreciate the fact that I never thought of friendships as being ‘restricted’ to my own age group like many people I know did while school-aged. My best friend is a year & a half older than me and my friends are a wide variety of ages. On the more trivial side, I am not a morning person at all…so not having to get up early to go anywhere was definitely a positive!

My mum is not the most organised person on planet earth. Throughout high school, I scheduled my own work and managed almost everything for myself. I was also encouraged to think for myself and not accept things at face value. I liked this sense of independence, and it’s served me very well at university. A lot of my friends who went to school complained about it being hard to adjust to uni. I haven’t had any issues with the workload or style of learning and it really hasn’t required a lot of adjustment. I may have been the ‘most hated/envied’ person amongst my friends for not doing the HSC, finishing school 6 months earlier than everyone else, and studying online uni units for the rest of the year. I think the HSC places far too much stress on students and I have no regrets about not doing it!!

I do think that home-schooling parents have a tendency to shelter their children from the real world to a certain extent. However, if they make that extra bit of effort with social activities, I think home-schooling can be very positive. There are a lot of things about school that I’m not sorry at all to have missed out on. I think I would have enjoyed the social side and things like group sports; however, I got involved with similar things outside of my home as well. Personally, I think I might have disliked home-schooling if it weren’t for the fact that we have a big family. However, that may have something to do with the fact that I would probably go mad having all the attention on just me all the time. I like my independent learning!

There was a stage in my early teens when, if given the choice, I would have picked going to school over being home-schooled and if you’d asked me whether I’d home-school my own kids the answer would have been no. To be perfectly honest, however, that was more to do with the social side of things, and once I joined an orchestra, started playing futsal and started going to a youth group, that desire disappeared. 

I am thoroughly enjoying my teaching degree and I am looking forward to teaching in the school system. I have no intention of being a conservative teacher and I may turn a few heads with my ‘interesting’ ideas, but if anything, I think that my lack of ‘school experience’ will serve me very well. I don’t feel the need to teach in certain ways just because that’s how everyone else does it. What I want is for kids to come away from my classes with a love for learning and for books and the recognition that school doesn’t have to be a boring place to be.

So, would I home-school my own kids in the future?? I would definitely consider it. I think there are inherent issues in the way schools are run and how students learn & are taught in them. However, I am not anti-school. Personally, I think it’s more an issue of the teacher.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Bambi: a Life in the Woods by Felix Salten (1869-1945)

Bambi is the life study of a forest deer who begins his life under the care of his doting mother, happy and carefree, and surrounded by the other forest animals.
One day his mother disappears for a while and for the first time he finds himself alone. He wanders around troubled and in despair. In his misery be begins to call for her when suddenly, one of the father deer appears in front of him, proud and powerful.

"What are you crying about?" the old stag asked severely...
"Can't you stay by yourself? Shame on you!"

He is the old Prince, the biggest stag in the forest.
Before the younger deer could reply, the old stag disappears but Bambi is awed by the encounter. After this the great Prince is never far from his thoughts and Bambi longs to win his approval.

One day Bambi learns that danger lurks in the forest.
"What is it, Mother?" he asked. "What is it, Mother?"
His mother answered between gasps, "It - was - He!"

Bambi begins to learn about Man. The forest animals say He is all powerful. He kills what He wants and nothing can stop Him.
The old stag returns and visits Bambi from time to time. He teaches him wisdom and shows him how to preserve himself. He watches over Bambi and saves his life when he is wounded by Him.
Then comes the day when the old stag gives Bambi his final lesson. Following a terrifying scent, the old stag leads Bambi to where a poacher lies dead upon the ground.

"Do you see, Bambi," the old stag went on, "do you see how He's lying there dead, like all of us? He isn't all-powerful as they say. Everything that lives and grows doesn't come from Him...
He has the same fears, the same needs, and suffers in the same way...
Do you understand me, Bambi?"

Bambi was inspired, and said trembling, "There is Another who is over us all, over us and over Him."

Bambi is a gem, delicately and poetically written. As with some other notable children's classics (Pinocchio, Jungle Book and Grimm's Fairy Tales, for example)  the original book has been adapted to death, condensed, sanitised, swallowed up and presented as a movie that misses the real story. We know all about Bambi, Pinocchio, Mowgli and Snow White but we have not met them personally.

Felix Salten was the pseudonym of Austrian author and critic, Siegmund Saltzman. Born in Budapest, he lived in Vienna but settled in Switzerland after fleeing from the Nazis. He originally wrote Bambi in German in 1923 and in 1928 Simon & Schuster published the first English edition. This edition has a forward written by novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, who describes the story as 'delicious,' and, 'a little masterpiece.'

Bambi is scheduled as a free read in the Ambleside Online Year 4 curriculum.

Updated to add: the original book is online here.

This book is part of my reading for Back to the Classics 2015 (a Children's Classic), The Classics Club and the 2015 Classic Children's Literature Event.

Friday 23 January 2015

Crazy Patchwork Project

This is a fairly easy project for a child with some sewing experience. My eldest girl, JJ did this when she was about 10 or 11 years old using a combination of machine and hand sewing. I was showing it to my youngest recently to see if she'd like to do something similar.

What you need:

1) Remnants of fabric - JJ used some velvet & satin scraps my sister gave me (there should be enough to cover the rectangle of cotton (see 2)

2) A rectangle of fabric - calico, homespun, cotton etc, for the lining

3) A rectangle of iron-on (fusible) pellon the same size as the rectangle of fabric. You could use a piece of muslin or even cotton

3) A rectangle of felt to fit inside, smaller than the lining - if you're going to make a needle holder bag, which is what JJ made

4) Rick rack, braid, embroidery thread (metallic looks pretty) or ribbon to cover the joins of the patchwork

5) A fancy button & some ribbon to close the bag

What you do:

*  Lay out the piece of pellon or muslin and arrange the fabric scraps to your liking.

*  Iron the pieces onto the pellon to secure them. If using another muslin or cotton you can sew around the edges of the pieces to secure them.

*  Sew the rick rack and braid over the seams where the patches are joined. You can embroider over the seams but just make sure you do a stitch that takes in both pieces being joined so you don't have raw edges showing.

*  With wrong sides together, sew the two rectangles together leaving a large enough gap to enable it to be turned turned the right way around. Iron inside to get it to sit nicely & sew the gap shut.

*  Centre the felt on the inside fabric and hand sew only going through the top layer.

*  Fold bag into thirds & sew button onto outside; attach ribbon just under the edge of the other end.

 Linking this to Learning by Hand @ Crossing the Brandywine

Thursday 22 January 2015

An Educational Manifesto - Ambleside Online Year 4

Every scholar of six years old and upwards should study with 'delight' his own, living, books on every subject in a pretty wide curriculum. 
Children between six and eight must for the most part have their books read to them.

School Education by Charlotte Mason  

This year is the 7th and the last year I'll be teaching 4th Grade in our home but it's the first time I've used Ambleside Online for this particular year. Being the year that covers the mid-sixteen to late seventeen-hundreds, Australian History comes alive for us, so I've had to give some thought as to what substitutions we could make - preferably using what books we already have on hand.

Last year I read through Volume 3, School Education by Charlotte Mason and then read Leslie Laurio's modern paraphrase of 'An Educational Manifesto,' which I quote with permission below. 

Children learn best from real, tangible things, and books. Tangible things include:

     a. Natural structures for physical activity like climbing, swimming, walking, etc.
     b. Resources for working and building with, such as wood, leather or clay.
     c. Natural objects in their native habitat, like birds, plants, creeks, and stones.
     d. Works of art.
     e. Scientific instruments.

It was very helpful to spend some time thinking through this Manifesto - Charlotte Mason's 'philosophy of education in a nutshell' - as I planned out my little girl's year:

What real, tangible things have I included?

Swimming, highland dancing, cello
Nature walks, gardening
Needlework, cooking, woodburning
Caring for the cat
Picture Study
Stamp Collecting

Have I left enough time to actually do them?
Have I scheduled them so that they will actually get done?
Do we have the resources we need? Are they where I can easily find them?

Most people acknowledge the need for tangible things in learning, as in hands-on education, but fewer people recognize that intellectual education has to come from books.

I wrote a post on substituting books after planning an Australian version of AO Year 9 for one of the boys about two years ago after spending some time reading what Charlotte Mason had to say on the subject. 

Education is the Science of Relations; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books; for we know that our business is, not to teach him all about anything, but to help him make valid, as many as may be of
     'Those first born affinities,
     'That fit our new existence to existing things.'
A Philosophy of Education, pg xxx

With all the above in mind here is our Year 4 Ambleside Online modified for Australia. Books in this colour are scheduled or optional Ambleside Online books for Year 4. At the time of writing we are going into Week 9:

History studied in Year 4: 1640-1700's (French and American Revolutions)

All the History options, except A Child's History of the World, plus two biographies were picked up years ago in op shops, library sales and Lifeline Book Fares (I use the free online version of Our Empire Story) and cost under $10 all up. I come across these titles from time to time so they are still available.

History & Geography

** ***George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster

* ** *** History of Australia Ch 1 to 8 (read aloud)
* ** *** Our Sunburnt Country Ch 1 to 5
* *** Our Empire Story - 3 Chapters (Pg 125-142)
* ** A Child's History of the World Ch 67-72 1st Edition
** An Island Story Ch 95 & 96

* Term 1 (1640-1720)

Our Sunburnt Country Ch 1 'The Land of the Dreamtime'
A Child's History of the World Ch 67 'The King Who Lost his Head' (Charles I)

History of Australia Ch 1 'The Beginnings' (selected sections)
History of Australia Ch 2 'South of the Spice Islands'

A Child's History of the World Ch 68 'Red Cap & Red Heels' (Louis XIV)

History of Australia Ch 3 'Piecing Together a Continent' (Tasman & Dampier) 1642-1700

Our Empire Story by H.E. Marshall - 'There Is Nothing New under the Sun' - up to 'Dampier feared to stay longer, lest his men should fall ill in that desert land. So he steered away to the East Indies and from thence sailed homeward.' (1699)

Our Sunburnt Country Ch 2  'New Visitors to an Old Land' (Pg 21-30)

** Term 2 (1720 - 1773)

Our Sunburnt Country Ch 2  'New Visitors to an Old Land' (Pg 30-37)
Our Empire Story - 'Nothing New Under the Sun' from 'Many years passed' to end of chapter (1768)
History of Australia Ch 4 Captain James Cook & The Endeavour 1770

A Child's History of the World Ch 69 ' A Self-Made Man' (Peter the Great)
A Child's History of the World Ch 70 'A Prince who Ran Away' (Frederick the Great)
Our Island Story Ch 95  & 96 (George III)
A Child's History of the World Ch 71 'America Gets Rid of Her King' (George III)

*** Term 3 (1773 - 1780)

Our Sunburnt Country Ch 3 'They Came and Stayed'
History of Australia Ch 5 'Bound for Botany Bay' (The First Fleet, 1787)
Our Empire Story - The Founding of Sydney (1788)

History of Australia Ch 6 'Settlement'
History of Australia Ch 7 'Convicts'
History of Australia Ch 8 'Completing the Coastline' (Matthew Flinders)

Our Sunburnt Country Ch 4 'Rum and Rebellion'
Our Empire Story - 'The Adventures of George Bass and Matthew Flinders' (1796)
Our Sunburnt Country Ch 5 'Bass and Flinders Map the Coastline'

History Tales and/or Biography

Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula (with some omissions)

**James Ruse: Pioneer Wheat Farmer (1760 - 1808) by Jean Chapman
** ***James Cook: Royal Navy by George Finkel
*** Matthew Flinders by George Finkel


* ** Long's Home Geography - free online 
*** The Old Man River of Australia by Leila Pirani (thanks to Jeanne for this suggestion)
Map work

Natural History/Science

All the Ambleside Online selections with the exception of the optional title plus:

* How Did We Find Out About Numbers? by Isaac Asimov (short review here)
** How Did We Find Out About Vitamins? by Isaac Asimov ( Ch 1-3)

** Karrawingi the Emu by Leslie Rees
*** Monarch of the Western Skies: The Story of a Wedge-tailed Eagle by C.K. Thompson


All the Ambleside Online selections plus:

*** Trim by Matthew Flinders


Getting Started with Latin by William Linney


No set programme but I use this book as a guide for me.

French - selections we use are in a blog post I did last year.

Group Work

Devotions, Shakespeare, Plutarch, Hymns, Folksongs, Composer & Picture Study, Read aloud.
Free reads - as scheduled at Ambleside Online.

Other Options for Australians & New Zealanders:

Young Nick's Head by Karen Hesse

(Also published under the title Stowaway) Fictional but based on fact. Written in the form of a diary by a young boy, Nicholas Young, on board The Endeavour who was the first European to sight New Zealand.
At this age, I'd suggest reading it aloud. It was a while ago that I read it but do remember doing a little editing as I went.

All About Captain Cook by Armstrong Sperry - an easier book than Finkel's but still good.

The Cannibal Islands by R.M. Ballantyne - preview first. The author's style is similar to G.A. Henty but his descriptions can be a bit gory!

John of the Sirius & John of Sydney Cove by Doris Chadwick were books Ruth (have a look around her website for other Australian options) introduced us to over 13 years ago. We managed to find our own copies about 10 years ago ($2 each) but they're hard to find now. They're a fun read aloud if you have younger children also and fit the time period studied in Year 4.

I considered adding A Dutchman Bold: The Story of Abel Tasman by George Finkel (152pg) in Term 1 but between the three main texts of Our Empire Story, History of Australia & Our Sunburnt Country, I thought I'd covered Tasman well. It might be a good addition anyhow if you're looking for a biography choice.

This chronological list of books for Australian History at Aussie Homechool was put together years ago by the CM&Friends-ANZ email group.


I keep this very simple and it's basically the same format I've used for everyone. Before the beginning of a new week I look at the AO schedule for the coming week and put in the next chapters etc for that week. I don't have everything written on the page - eg. in week 8 we did History of Australia whereas the week before we did a chapter from Our Sunburnt Country so I do some cutting & pasting & add or subtract the boxes where necessary. There are certain things I like them to get done first (Maths & music practise for example) but that's not reflected on the page. They just know that certain subjects need to get done earlier.

'Education, to be successful, must not only inform but inspire.'
T. Sharper Knowlson