Friends and Tea Parties

This past weekend, Arthur and DeeW had some friends visit. The boys had fun on their computers playing Minecraft and the girls hung out in DeeW’s bedroom. I asked Arthur and DeeW what snacks they wanted to serve their guests.  Arthur requested garlic bread.  Both DeeW and Arthur begged for fairy bread and some two-minute noodles for Arthur’s friend (that’s all his friend eats when he comes here).  I had been browsing vegan websites for packaged stuff I could buy to serve as I really didn’t want to be spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  I was very happy to learn that the Ho Mai yum cha entertainment packs were a) vegan and b) on sale from $13.80 down to $7. Just throw it all in the oven then serve out the moneybags, spring rolls and curry puffs. Phone photos:

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I made the Maple Banana Bread from Dreena Burton’s Everyday Vegan (with spelt flour instead of kamut as kamut can be a little strong for some people).  I decided to use fancy little muffins/cake tins that have been in the pantry but never used.  I’m a sucker for cake and muffin tins in novelty or fancy shapes.

I also made chocolate cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  I made these mini size.  Half were frosted with peppermint icing, the other half with crushed Oreos in the frosting for a cookies ‘n’ cream version.  I didn’t like them all that much but the guests did!

I finally pulled out the three-tier cake stand thingy that mum gave me a while ago.  She won it as a door prize somewhere and gave it to me. I’m glad I hung on to it!  Vegan fairy bread on the bottom.  One of our visitors made the choc chip biscuits on top:

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I really like setting a table for children.  If I had more time, the table layout would have been a bit more over the top (ha!).  I love how they think a tiered cake stand is rooolly special. Next time I’ll get Arthur and DeeW to think up a theme for the table and we can make place cards and stuff like that.  Who says you need a birthday to have a partying table!  I’d love to fancy up my kitchen table every day, but that would mean de-cluttering the table every day.  Glancing over at the kitchen table now, it is covered with stuff: vase of flowers, DeeW’s rainbow Bandaloom thing and all the rubber bands, cups and mugs, a fruit bowl, fruit not in the bowl, DeeW’s Easter egg hunt basket, two board games, tea towels, containers without lids, a deck of cards, a money box, library books and DVDs.  I suppose that’s my cue to hit ‘publish’ now and go clean…

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Our Learning Spaces (well, some of it!)

We have a room that is set up for all the homeschooley stuff.  We call it the sunroom, because that’s what you often call a room with big windows that gets a lot of sun, right?  Or it’s called the sumroom, in a lame reference to schoolwork. Although I’ve named my photos ‘learning room’, I don’t really call it that either because learning is done everywhere, both indoors and out!  Most of the time, Arthur and DeeW are wherever Husband or I happen to be and a lot of stuff gets done at the kitchen table.  I haven’t snapped a photo of that learning space, because right now it’s covered with non-kitchen table stuff: My Little Ponies, two little sewing baskets, heaps of books, board shorts, a t-shirt, Christmas decorations, my hat, my sunglasses, a basket, the radio and a couple of fruit bowls which are the only kitchen-tabley things there.

Okay, so I’ve been busy setting up the homeschool/sunroom and cleaning so I thought I’d get some photos while it’s all looking mostly nice.  Except for all those cables lying around, urgh.  I haven’t finished setting up because I’m still deciding what posters to put up on the walls. I don’t like bare walls, but I don’t like posters that are too high above a child’s eye level.  For Arthur it’s not much of a problem seeing as he’s nearly as tall as I am (he’s 151cm (about 5ft.), I’m about 164cm and he is nine years old.  My mum is 5’1″ and Arthur wears the same shoe size as her, so when mum is buying him a pair of shoes she tries them on for fit.  Handy!)  But for DeeW, I don’t want her to have to look up too high.

Before I begin my little tour, please let me stress that this is *not* what a homeschooler needs to do!  Some people have larger learning spaces that look like a classroom, others have none whatsoever.  It really doesn’t matter in my opinion, because as I said, learning happens everywhere, for all of us.  Arthur has zoomed through his maths work sitting in bed late at night. Or he’ll be in the lounge room building something.  DeeW is often at the kitchen table or sitting on the playroom floor. But I wanted one central room where I could store everything, especially our books.  And although we have this somewhat dedicated space, I still have other maths and literacy resources strewn around the other rooms so the kids don’t have to go to the sunroom all the time to get games and whatnot.

Tour time!  As you walk towards the back of our home, this is what you see:

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I love these book racks.  I fill them with books on things we’re currently studying (both our own books and library books).  I haven’t finished setting up yet.  I just move the rack on to the floor when we need the posters 😉

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I use up every available bit of wall.  I can’t help it, I love posters:

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Main view.  Ignore messy computer cables:

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View from the other side.  I really need to fancy up those bare walls.  And mow my lawn:

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I have a little table suited to DeeW’s size, and a small table from a church to act as a writing station:

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All our reference/non fiction books are in these white folders that I bought from Ikea.  They’re $2.99 for a five pack according to the website.  I had to cut them a bit to fit in the shelves (two Ikea ‘Billy’ shelves my sister didn’t need anymore) and I printed up labels for the fronts:

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I’ve set up our geography centre by the back door:

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Not even the back door is spared:

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We have Montessori puzzle maps I bought years ago.  These are the cheapy imitation ones, not the million dollar baby ones made by official Montessori suppliers:
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We use the Workbox System, though I’ve made some modifications.  Arthur’s boxes are numbered 1 through 8 and DeeW has the bottom four.  The large white tub on the floor is called the finish box.  Their work gets divided up and sorted in to their workboxes (the numbered boxes).  When box 1 is complete, they put their completed work in the finish box and the empty tubs are stacked up.  This way, they get to see how much work they have done and how much they have to go.  We found this was a good motivator for Arthur when he was younger:
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Some maths stuff:

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All the texts and notebooks we will use all the time get put in these baskets so they’re always easy for us to access:
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And that’s it for the Sumroom!  Now I should get on to cleaning the rest of the house, post-Christmas.

Are you a homeschooler?  Please say hi in the comments and leave a link to any learning space photos you have!  I’m such a sticky beak when it comes to seeing other learning spaces 😀

Home Ed 2014: what we’ll be using

Homeschool geek out time!  Those of you who have asked what ‘stuff’ we use in our homeschooling, this post’s for you!  For my readers who come here for food posts, I’ll have one soon 🙂

First off, we utilise learning opportunities and ‘teachable moments’ at all times.  That doesn’t mean turning everything in to some kind of lecture or lesson though every time Arthur or DeeW make a comment on something 🙂  Sometimes a comment on the rain is just a comment on the rain and doesn’t require a lecture on the water cycle!  But I can’t stress enough how much our children learn, at all times, from so many different sources.  The one thing Arthur remembers word for word from our visit to Sydney was a conversation he had with a naval officer, who was in his 70s, talking about when he joined the navy as a young man. Real life conversations, real life connections– that’s learning right there.

The area we place the most importance on, for our two children, is mental health.  Both children experience anxiety in various situations so we help them by providing them with the tools they need to be confident and learn skills such as recognising what they’re feeling and how they can calm themselves down, coping strategies for stressful situations and so on. All this in supportive environments.  We make sure there’s a lot of FUN!  It makes them laugh and when they laugh, they’re happy.  When they’re happy, they are more confident.  When they’re happy and confident, they are able to learn from and retain lessons, whether it be academic or real life stuff. We help them learn these life lessons in their own time, rather than throwing them in the deep end and expecting them to swim according to an adult’s schedule and expectations.

Now on to other study areas!

Life Skills

Well, that’s what I call it!  This involves looking after oneself, the immediate environment (such as the home), community and the earth.  Contributing to family life; looking after our home and an awareness of your role in it (that includes folding your washing and putting it away properly!); home economics; social skills; cookery; personal care.  Also things that involve being mindful, thoughtful and considerate of others and the earth– sustainability; gardening; volunteering; how to work cooperatively and fairly.  All those things that, we hope, will form a solid foundation from now that can be built upon so that when they fly the coop, Arthur and DeeW will be confident and ready to meet any challenge. And know how to cook for those times I visit.

Another tool we’ll be using is The Family Virtues Guide.  Every week there’s a virtue to discuss such as Assertiveness, Courtesy, Patience.  I really like this book and it has good lessons for parents too.  We use real life, being out and about to ‘practise’ the lessons. As children get older, I feel these lessons have to be re-taught, as their ability to understand the bigger picture grows all the time.

For everything listed below, we also have a bunch of games, books and puzzles.  We also have a lot of documentaries and educational programs available, as well as teacher/student websites (Khan Academy is fantastic and we’ll be looking in to purchasing sale items from The Great Courses) where the children log in and Do Stuff.  On top of that we have the option of attending classes and activities when they pop up.

Social Justice

This is a really big one for us. We have a lot of books (picture books and chapter/young adult books) which lead to great discussions, as well as talking about current affairs or an item in the newspaper.

Maths

This is a mish mash of stuff:

– Math U See

– Singapore Maths (Arthur)

– Targetting Maths workbooks (Arthur)

– Life of Fred (Arthur)

– real life where maths is applied to everything 🙂

Literacy

– All About Reading (DeeW)

– All About Spelling (Arthur)

– Targetting English Grammar (Arthur)

– assorted activities and worksheets covering listening, comprehension and speaking/communication activities

Geography

– Australian Book Traveller by Downunder Literature

– misc geography workbooks I bought from homeschool second hand sales, to be used when we learn about certain regions

– family holidays and geocaching

– Montessori puzzle maps and associated activities

– Google Maps and atlas work

– learning about a country on certain days, e.g. France on Bastille Day.  Which will certainly involve celebratory food!

History

– History Odyssey: Ancients then moving to Middle Ages

– Indigenous Studies as part of Australian Studies

– texts we use will include the Usborne history titles

– genealogy studies

– archaeology (hopefully visiting dig sites)

Science

– REAL Science: Life Science, Plants, Animals, Weather, Space, Geology (this will be used as a guide but we will extend heavily in the areas covered)

– REAL Science 4 Kids: Chemistry

– assorted workbooks, experiments and activities for physics, environmental science, biology

– robotics using some textbooks we have

– Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop: The Elements; Carbon Chemistry; The Brain (Arthur)

– tonnes of experiments and science classes like the CSIRO holiday club classes

– Elenco Snap Circuits (this is Arthur’s Christmas present, ssshhh)

– What If xkcd site

– nature studies and nature journaling

The Arts

Artistic Pursuits

– music instruments at home (violin, keyboard) and lessons

– getting art lessons from my artist brother in law 🙂

– ballet and Greek dancing

– drama class/circus school

– philosophy, using “Little Big Minds” by Marietta McCarty as a guide

Health and Physical Education

A lot of this is also covered in the Life Skills areas.

– sports classes (martial arts, archery, fencing, gymnastics, acrobatics,circus school)

– family fitness (where Mum is the trainer!)

– ABC Schools TV programmes and worksheets

Languages Other Than English (LOTE)

– Greek using introductory texts and speaking with grandparents

– Auslan

Technology

– computer programming using programs for Linux systems

c-jump Computer Programming Board Game

– Info tech in general (Husband and I have IT backgrounds)

– industrial design, with making a finished product wherever possible.  Arthur wants to make a burglar alarm for his bedroom that zaps little sisters and parents… We also have books about building bridges, stomp rockets and other groovy stuff

– designing and building structures and shelters that tie in with studies of physics and cultural studies.  Making a mess of the back yard.  And front yard.

For civics and citizenship, again we cover this a lot by getting out there in the community and having Arthur and DeeW accompany us when we need to do things like pay bills or vote. Running errands are often great springboards for learning.

We will also be using a Sonlight program I purchased a couple of years ago called Introduction to World History.  There’s a fair bit of focus on American history and geography.  Being secular homeschoolers,there’s a large chunk of content we omit but it still works well as a base.

Of course, we will also have a lot of interest led topics based on what Arthur and DeeW want to learn. UNICORNS!!!!

I think that covers a fair bit!  I’ve probably left stuff out but it’s late here.  I’m looking forward to planning next year’s short family holidays to tie in with what we’ve been learning.

Halloween presents Veganopoulous, the complete amateur who comes up a winner

I hope my readers that celebrate Halloween had a fabulous one!  Or have a fabulous one, given the timezones and stuff.  Unfortunately Husband and I did not get invited to any Halloween sci fi themed parties this year so I miss out on my dream of the two of us heading out like this:

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This is the first year Arthur and DeeW took part in a neighbourhood trick or treating.  That may sound bizarre to my overseas readers, but Halloween is not really considered an Australian ‘thing’.  Sure, some families do it and the supermarkets stock Halloween stuff, but there are plennnty of doors that get knocked on where the residents have no idea what is going on and kids go away empty handed.  Kids that door knock here are often told “sorry, we don’t celebrate Halloween”.

In my neighbourhood (well, the surrounding four streets) a group of parents drop notes in all the letterboxes advising people that kids will be going around on Halloween and if you’d like to participate, leave your porch light on and perhaps have a decoration.  The children will not door knock when a house does not have a light on.  Although I admit to having been a bit uncomfy with it all (the trick or treating/general Halloween stuff considered more of a North American thing here, though I would have no problem participating if we were holidaying overseas), I saw that this year Arthur and DeeW really wanted to dress up and go along with their friends.  And we can’t exactly keep the curtains closed and insist the kids stay away from the windows for another year:

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Now as someone who has never participated in Halloween, ever, let me explain my thought processes:

– how many treats do I buy? (I thought I bought waaaay too much and was quite alarmed by it, but I was left with a handful of stuff at the end).

– do I give the treats out or do the kids choose?

– if I give them out, how many does each child get?  If they choose, do I set a limit?

– will anyone take the cheap chocolate coins?

– do I insist the little kids get first dibs on the Tiny Teddies?

– do I buy individually wrapped treats in case some kids are snotty and grubby? (the answer was YESSSSS).

Finding vegan stuff that wouldn’t have cost a fortune was close to impossible so in the end I went for the standard non-vegan treats.  I had considered making caramel popcorn and putting it in mini cardboard Chinese food containers but ran out of time to make a trial batch and then I couldn’t find the smaller containers.  I think I’ll do that next year as I want to give out vegan treats.  Next year I also hope to be more organised.  I might have popcorn in some of the containers and other vegan treats and the kids choose randomly from a table or something.

I usually have some kind of Halloweeny food or decorations in our house, just for us.  This year, as we were joining in the neighbourhood opt-in doorknocking, I made these… let’s face it, pissweak attempts at decorating the front of the house:

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I made jelly for our dessert in oranges:

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I made some gingerbread folks using a Dreena Burton recipe, unfortunately I kinda forgot about them and took them out four minutes over time.  I wanted to give these to our lovely neighbours so I’ll have to make another batch and blog about it, because this was a really good recipe:

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That’s a My Little Pony next to a Super Mario Toad:

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My hat wearing readers will be pleased to know I received many compliments on my choice of head wear.  The secret to my success?  An Ikea hand puppet and bobby pins:

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DeeW was a witch and Arthur was the Emperor from Star Wars. Witches were a very popular theme.  I saw lots of little ghoulish characters, scary masks, some teenagers who just wore black (that’s not a costume in my books!) but my favourite costume of the night belonged to a girl who looked around 14 who was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz complete with sparkly red shoes.  Husband took the kids out and said there was a man dressed as Darth Maul (Arthur thought that was way cool) and another guy in a pumpkin suit.

The highlight was when a group of eight kids said mine was the best house EVER (as in, quote, “oh my Gorrrrrrrrrd this is the best house evahhh!”) because apparently I had the best selection of treats and I let them take three things each.  I demanded they all show me a double thumbs up as proof.  Then when they went around the block and I saw them on the other side of the street, they yelled out to me and gave me two thumbs up AGAIN.  I am SO GOOD at doing Halloween.

And that was our Halloween.  The kids declared it one of the best days ever and I’m looking forward to scrubbing their teeth for the next few weeks 😉

The Royal Melbourne Show

Once a year during the September school term holidays,  Melbourne puts on The Show.  The Royal Melbourne Show, known as… the Show, is an agricultural show that has been running since 1848.

Going to the Show as a kid was pretty exciting and for me it was mostly for the showbags.  I always got the Sunny Boy showbag and the Bertie Beetle showbag for all the chocolate.  Then you had the novelty showbags like the magic trick stuff, or goonie goggles or the joke gag showbag.  We didn’t go every year, though there were often school excursion groups run specially during the school holidays.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I went to the show.  At a guess, I’d say maybe twenty eight years now.  Nothing really appealed to me as I got older because I’m not in to all the carnival rides or crowds.  We were lucky today because Husband and I chose the worst weather forecast day as we figured it wouldn’t be as busy.  Good choice because when we arrived we were the only people at the ticket booths.  It was incredibly windy and a few rides closed because of the winds, but everything calmed down nicely soon after.

I packed some snacks as I anticipated a lack of vegan food so I was happy to see this stall for Vegetarian Pops, which were actually vegan.  These were made with zucchini, carrot and… something else and as a quick savoury snack they hit the spot:

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Showbags pavillion!

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Rides!

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We all enjoyed looking at the decorated cakes.  I applaud the people who do this, I have no patience or talent for it whatsoever.  But remember, I dip cake in my tea:

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The minion cakes were popular:

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I loooooved the crochet:

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Arthur wanted to go on the Ghost Train.  I went on this when I was his age and I remember it being pretty crap… today I paid $15 for the two of us to experience the same crap, slightly updated with strobe lights, but still the same shouty dudes jumping out at you with axes.  I wish this had been The Rimmer Experience:

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We sat in these giant mouth things:

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…and enjoyed the supernatural view:

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Arthur loves watching Adventure Time and from what I saw today, it’s popular with teens too.  So many teens walking around with the AT backbacks and inflatable hammers and bats.  I understand the appeal, I’ve watched a few episodes and it is pretty funny:

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The big downside for me was stuff like this, which is supposed to be a drawcard, given it’s an agricultural show.  I felt sorry for the cattle and sheep in their teeny pens today:
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Arthur and DeeW just HAD to have a turn at the Angry Birds game.  $10 for three shots… they didn’t score anything but the guy working there increased their score by one point and let Arthur choose a toy from the bottom row.  There was nothing he wanted, so he let DeeW choose something for herself (the purple horse you can just see in the middle of the bottom row of cheaper toys.  Horse is now known as Rosalina):
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Husband and I agreed that although the kids enjoyed it, we won’t go back next year.  We were pretty impressed with Arthur’s financial skills though.  My sister gave the kids $20 each to spend at the Show.  DeeW chose a My Little Pony showbag.  I took Arthur to the showbags pavillion and he was checking out all the chocolate/junk food show bags.  We worked out that it’s cheaper to buy the stuff elsewhere so he decided to keep his $20 and put it in the bank to earn interest.  Ha!

Now we’re all back home, the kids have done some quiet winding-down activities and Husband and I just want to sleeeep!