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Learning doesn’t stop for the holidays

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First day of school holidays here in Queensland but as most homeschoolers will know, natural learning just doesn’t stop for the holidays. In fact, we have had a very productive day in our house today.
My youngest son is getting very excited that Easter is almost here. He had the idea that we should have an Advent style calendar to count down to Easter. OK, I know he was only after the chocolate, but never one to miss an educational opportunity, I told him that we could make a countdown calendar if he could find a way to incorporate some writing into it.
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This turned out to be a very good plan. This very reluctant writer was hard at work copying the days of the week onto his countdown calendar in no time.

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He used an egg carton to make the countdown calendar, by simply cutting the lid into sections for each day of the week (unfortunately that only gave us 6 days, but we decided we didn’t need to count Easter Sunday). A small Easter egg was placed in each section.

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He was pretty pleased with the end product. This would be a great activity to do with children for learning the days of the week. Different treats could be used – lollies, stickers, lego blocks etc, and you could count down the days to any upcoming event such as a birthday, outing or just the weekend.
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I am making some Artist’s books at the moment and using a lot of leather in them. This gave him his next idea. He decided to cover an old sketch book in leather and turn it into a ‘Professor’s Journal’.
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He is now busy filling the journal with pictures of amazing imaginary animals that the Professor has discovered.
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A lot of reading is going on in our house at the moment. My 12 year old son is loving the Skulduggery Pleasant series. In fact these books have taken him from being an ‘I’ll read if I have to’ reader to an ‘always has his nose in a book’ reader. I highly recommend them. He has almost polished this one off in 2 days.
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I was excited to find the ‘Hey Jack’ series in KMart today. It is quite common for natural learners to learn to read much later than their school based peers. In fact there are many natural learners who have not started reading until they were 10 or 12years old, but have then been reading novels within a couple of weeks. The one problem this does cause is that when they are first learning, they do not want to read the simple picture books that are designed for beginner readers. That’s why it is always great when you can find novels with nice simple writing – just what these kids need to help build their confidence. The Hey Jack series have very easy language and not too much writing, while still having that look of being a novel.
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Another recent find was the Mega Mash Up Series. I found these ones at the Museum gift shop. Once again, it is a series that looks like a novel but has not too much writing, although there are some quite difficult words.
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These books have the added fun of being a ‘draw your own adventure’. All the pictures have sections of drawings that can be filled in, with great open ended suggestions that allow for lots of creative thinking and drawing.

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Do you watch Letters and Numbers? It is a game show on SBS where people try to make the longest word they can out a selection of letters, then they get a selection of numbers which
they have to use in a calculation that equals the target number. Our family love watching it and trying to beat the contestants. If you haven’t seen the show the latest episode is on their website here.
We were pretty excited to find that there is also a series of Letters and Numbers puzzle books.
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We are all hard at work now training for the show. You never know, one day we might be the lucky contestant who walks away with the Macquarie Dictionary prize!
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Seriously though, I couldn’t have planned a better maths lesson. My daughter and my middle son spent an hour or two working through the puzzles tonight. I think we’ll have to keep practicing to get up to the impressive speed of the contestants though.
Well, that pretty much wraps up the first day of the holidays for us. It was a day full of playing, making, reading and having fun, but please, just don’t tell them they were actually learning!
Happy Holidays,
Sharee
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Fishing and Modified Haiku

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My youngest son is happy now, I finally took him fishing. He loves fishing, but I always put off taking him as long as I can. You see my problem is that I really don’t like killing things. I read that the most humane way to kill a fish is to stab it straight through the top of it’s head, but I just don’t know if I could bring myself to do that. I have visions of the fish still being alive and flapping wildly and me trying to stab it over and over again to get just that right spot in it’s brain that will put it out of it’s misery. We have been fishing quite a few times, and I have been grateful so far that all the fish we have caught have been undersize, so we can watch them in our bucket for a little while then let them go again. But I know the day is going to come when we actually catch a big fish and then I’ll have to do something with it – gulp!

I have a real moral dilemma when it comes to fishing. I hate to hurt things and kill things, but I do love the outdoor family time that we get when we go fishing. I think this is so good for my kids, so I’m willing to sacrifice a few fish in the process (sorry fish).

I do the best I can do to make it as easy on the fish as I can. I have read that you should crimp the barb on your hook by squashing it flat with a pair of pliers, so we always do this. This makes it a lot easier to remove the hook from undersize fish without hurting them, and also makes it more likely that the hook will come out naturally if they happen to take your hook.

The other things that we do are to lift the fish up out of the water with a net as soon as possible, rather than just pulling it up with all it’s weight on the hook, and we try to make sure our hands are wet before handling the fish, or use a damp towel. A pair of pliers is always handy to make sure you can get the hook out as quickly and cleanly as possible.

The boys also had a lot of fun collecting water bugs and little fish to look at while they were waiting for the fish to bite. Is was quite interesting today as we were fishing in a channel in a housing estate. The channel fed from the sea, but also receives fresh water, so there was an interesting mix of salt tolerant water bugs and fresh water tolerant fish.

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The good thing about fishing is that while you are sitting there waiting for the fish to bite, you can always fit in a bit of drawing or writing. It’s a great way to get some schoolwork done in a fun way – the joys of homeschooling.

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We have been writing a few Haiku poems this week, so this fitted in perfectly with our fishing theme.

Haiku poems are great for beginners or reluctant writers because they don’t have many words and they are pretty easy to write.
Traditionally, a Haiku poem is made up of three lines with, the first line has 5 syllables, the second has 7 syllables and the third has 5 syllables. This can be a little daunting for kids though. All that thinking about syllables blocks off their creative brains.

A good way to start with kids is with a modified haiku. In the modified Haiku you have a short line, then a longer line, then another short line, but don’t worry too much about the syllables. If you read lots of Haiku poems to the kids before they start writing you will find that often they pick up the rhythm anyway, so their poems will be pretty close to the correct format without needing to count all the syllables. Even if they’re not correct, they are still being creative and writing so that’s all good.

Here are a couple of poems by Zac

Cheese is nice
Some cheese are supposed to be mouldy
I still like cheese.

Games are fun
I like playing games with my friends
I wish I had more friends

More Productive Home Making – Smell That Coffee

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People who know me will know that I am pretty serious about my coffee. Well, as serious as you can be when you drink Decaf lol.
A few years ago I did a Barista course, and I have worked in a coffee van and a cafe, so I expect my coffee to be pretty good. Unfortunately the rest of the family has raised their coffee expectations as well, and with 3 or 4 coffee drinkers in the house it was becoming a major expense.
I have found a fair trade coffee that we can grind fresh at our local Health Food Supermarket. It is just beautiful, but costs $10 for 200grams, and that lasts us less than a week.
This was obviously an area where we could make cuts to the budget. We often buy cheaper pre ground coffee from the supermarket, but I don’t think you really save much money this way because you need twice as much coffee to get the same strength, and the flavour will never be the same.
I was looking for places to buy cheaper coffee on the internet when I came across an online store that was selling green coffee beans. The Decaf green beans were only $18 a kilogram – a huge saving on the the little 200gram bags which work out at $50 a kilogram.
A bit more internet research showed me that home coffee roasting is actually a growing trend, and also I found that you can actually roast coffee in a home popcorn machine! A little harder to find was a local source of green coffee beans (I didn’t want to spend all my savings on postage), but eventually I tracked down a factory that wasn’t far away and was open to the public.
And so my coffee roasting adventure begins…

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We got this popcorn machine for $8 at a garage sale. It actually works really well for roasting the beans. I put 1 scoop of green beans into the machine then switch it on. After a few minutes the beans start to pop and when they have popped for a little while our popcorn machine conveniently switches itself off (because it has got too hot), and about this time smoke will start pouring out. This is all ok though, I quickly tip the beans out into a saucepan so that they don’t burn and shake them around a little as they cool. They are now lightly roasted.

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I tried some beans at this stage, but the coffee flavour was very mild so I decided to roast them a bit more.
The beans went back in for one more go, this time they had just started popping when the machine cut out. When I tipped them out they actually looked pretty perfect!
In the photo above you can see the green beans, the lightly roasted beans, and the darker roast.
Next step was to grind our beans. I have been drooling over a Rancillio Rocky grinder for a while now, but at $400 it’s a bit out of my price range, then I spotted this grinder at KMart for $12. To my utter amazement it works really well, as long as you only need a small amount of coffee.
You really should wait a week after roasting before using the coffee, but I couldn’t wait to try it, and I had run out of my regular coffee, so after the beans had cooled down they went straight into the grinder.

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Here is my coffee shot, very nice creama from my freshly roasted and ground coffee beans.

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And here is my latte.

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Delicious!

I’m looking forward to learning more about coffee roasting and experimenting with some blends in the future.
Hope you can get your hands on a really good coffee today too.
All the best,
Sharee

Natural Learning Falling Into Place

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Homeschooling is a nice place to be when everything just falls into place. It’s been like that for us these last couple of weeks. School has gone back this week in Queensland, but I’m not pushing my boys into their bookwork just yet. I really want to put some energy into natural learning for a while first and see how we go this term. If the boys start complaining that it’s boring or they don’t want to do anything I suggest, that’s when I usually throw all my good intentions out the window and bribe them to do their books. It’s all going well so far though.
The boys have been loving the Horrible History series in TV since we moved to Brisbane, and I have too. It is a great educational show, very clever and funny – a must view for homeschoolers (I know you all discovered it years ago!). I was just thinking that we should follow up with some history activities for our homeschooling when I heard a lady on the radio talking about Knight School. A quick internet search and I found this info…

“Knight School courses provide an excellent opportunity for parents and children to learn about and participate in knightly pursuits of the Middle Ages in a fun and active way.Participants will be trained in the art of combat by our experienced instructors using safe, rubberised weapons and shields, and leather helmets and you will be thrilled by our own knights engaging in battle with each other using real weapons and armour in a traditional knightly combat display.”

Perfect!
So the boys both headed off to Knight School which amazingly went for an entire day.

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They both loved it and can’t wait for next holidays when they can attend the Knight School Master Class where they get to fight with even more serious looking weapons.

Ok, so now we have two boys who are pretty enthusiastic about Medieval History, well at least the fighting part of it. I am trying to get the boys more active too, as they’re not really into team sports, so sword fighting is a great physical activity that they can both enjoy together – hopefully without too many injuries.
We already have a couple of wooden swords that their Pa made, but for serious battles we need some decent strong shields.
This is a bit of a challenge for us as wood work is definitely not my strong point, but I think it will be good for us to have a challenge.
We started by looking at some shield making demos on You Tube. Then I had to go out for a short while and when I got back there were the boys working on their designs.

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They had also cut patterns for their shields out of newspaper. What a great start – gotta love those homeschooling days!

A trip to Bunnings for supplies and we were set. The pictures tell the story…

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The boys were both very pleased with their finished shields. Unfortunately there hasn’t been any sword fighting going on because no one wants to risk damaging their shields lol.

Where to from here?
Some ideas of other things we might do,
– find out more about medieval history, reading, movies, timelines, project type display
– medieval buildings, food, weapons
– build a catapult, bow and arrows
– look at other types of swords/weapons in history
– go to Fencing Club and learn fencing
– Medieval Festival

Lots of fun to be had there.

If anyone has any great ideas for Medieval books, movies or activities that might be suitable please let me know so I can add them to the list.

All the best,
Sharee

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Saving money through Productive Home Making

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Oh, it’s been a good couple of days for me here. The jobs on my ‘to do’ are dropping like flies, which is awesome because I have felt pretty over run this last week.
Yesterday was a day for paper work. We finally got our car registration and drivers licenses changed to Queensland – thank goodness that paperwork is out of the way. After that I was on a bit of a roll and knocked off a heap of other paper work jobs – woohoo!
Today was a stay at home day and I have got so much done. One of my plans when moving to Brisbane was to give myself time to try and make my artwork into a business. This of course means that I am not bringing in any income at the moment, so to compensate for this I have been looking for ways to cut our budget and to live on less.
One of the ways I am doing this is by thinking about my weekly grocery shopping and especially looking at the items which are more costly and trying to think of cheaper ways to get these things.
Hair and skin products, ice cream, yoghurt, coffee, washing powder and breakfast cereal are some of the higher priced items in my trolley each week.
I started looking on the internet for different ways of making or getting these items. I have been hugely influenced by Rhonda Hetzel’s Down to Earth Blog, she has so many great ideas and also is very inspirational with her words about the value of home making.
I have been making bread and yoghurt. I am working on my yoghurt recipe trying to make some nice thick yoghurt like the type we love to buy at the markets. I haven’t got it quite right yet, It is fairly thick, but hasn’t got the same texture as the market yoghurt. I think I will add some powdered milk next time and see how that goes. It is looking pretty good though, especially when it is pot set in these gorgeous little jars that I picked up at the cheap shop for $1.

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I have tried a few different bread recipes, looking for one that’s easy to become my everyday bread. I tried a recipe for no knead overnight bread that looked really cool because I made it in my tagine, but I wasn’t really happy with the bread.
Since then I have made Moroccan Bread and this Pumpernickel (note to Mum – click on the bread names to see the recipes xxx)
These were both great. The Moroccan bread was really easy, only one rise, and I actually made my dough in the morning and put it in the fridge for most of the day before rising it and it still came out great. I love the Pumpernickel too. Apparently this is a North American Pumpernickel which is not as dense as the German style Pumpernickel that you buy in supermarkets. It has coffee and cocoa and caraway seeds in it which makes it quite strongly flavoured. I am never quite sure what to have with my Pumpernickel, but I like it with cheese and with honey. My husband hasn’t tasted this one yet and I’ll be interested to see what he thinks.

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I have just started making a sourdoug starter which is bubbling away nicely, so hopefully we’ll have some home made sourdough bread later in the week.

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Not so tasty for us, but a huge money saver for me is making my own dog food. I have only just started doing this and I actually find it really gross, but it costs me about $2 for a weeks worth of dog food, plus I can put my vegetable scraps to a good use, so it is a great thing to do.
Here is my dog food recipe…
In a saucepan, put any fruit or vegetables that you find dying in the bottom of your fridge, chopped up a bit, into a large saucepan (important note: no onions, leeks or grapes for dogs!)
If it doesn’t look like much you can add some carrot peelings, an egg or some frozen veg, also any leftover dinners that have been in the fridge a few days too long.
Add to the saucepan about 1 cup of rice or pasta and enough water to come half way up the pan.
Bring to the boil and simmer until really soft, maybe 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Leave to cool, then puree this all up with a stick blender.
Mix in about 2 kg pet mince from the butcher (most butchers have this but you have to ask for it).
When it is all mixed together well, divide the mixture into serving size containers. I started off using ziplock bags, but am now using plastic take away food containers because Fergus can eat straight out of them so it’s less handling of gross dog food for me.
My dog is pretty fussy, but he seems to love this as long as I keep a ratio of about 2/3 meat to 1/3 veg mix. Keep a couple in the fridge and freeze the rest.

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Now, with everyone fed, I started to look at cleaning and body products. These recipes were all so easy. I made this home made deodorant from Amy’s Homestead Revival Blog. Then I made some hair gel using linseeds (which are basically the same as Flax seeds I think), following the instructions that I found at The Hairpin, you need to scroll down to the bottom for the gel instructions.
Next I made some orange cleaner thanks to NellyMary at Just Like My Nan Made.

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Finally, I whipped up a batch of Rhonda’s home made laundry liquid which you can use for lots of different cleaning needs. Here is a link to the Down to Earth Blog, you just need to scroll down a little until you get to the recipe for the laundry liquid and there are lots of other cleaning tips too.

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This recipe makes a LOT of liquid, so make sure you have plenty of containers handy to pour it into, and also a funnel. As you can see, I did not have these things handy, so my floor got an impromptu mop as well!

After all of that productivity, I think tomorrow is going to be a day devoted to Art – yay!

I’ll let you know how I go with using all my homemade products in future posts.

All the best,
Sharee

Doodles on the Train

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If you thought this post was going to be about dirty old men in trench coats flashing their family jewels at people on the train – sorry, you might as well stop reading now lol.
What I’m talking about are the drawing type of doodles, you know, the ones we all do when we’re talking on the phone.
My daughter drew my attention to doodles a little while ago when she pointed out that I always write Hello in fancy cursive and then draw a box around it when I doodle. This led to me pulling out the notebook I keep near the phone to check out other recurring themes in my doodles.
As well as writing Hello, I often write the word ‘alphabet’ and the actual alphabet. I just like the way it feels to write these loopy words in the old fashioned cursive that I learnt at school.
Another common element in my doodles is flower petals. Sometimes these make flowers and sometimes they just make scallops around boxes and sometimes they are petals upon petals.
Often things are put into fancy boxes, and more rarely I will draw cubes or squares. (looking for examples of these to post but of course I can’t find any right now!)
I have been reading ‘Sew Wild’ by Alisa Burke and in this book she suggests doodling as a starting point for creating fabric designs. She says “Drawing – and even doodling – is the simplest and purest process you can incorporate into your daily creative routine”. Another book I am reading is ‘Art at the Speed of Life’ by Pam Carriker. I bought myself this book for Christmas and I love it. In the book different artists talk about ways of finding opportunities to fit art into your everyday life, and the importance of finding creative outlets for yourself.
Now, when we moved to Brisbane I had this vision of myself whenever I caught the train, working away at my writing on my iPad and getting heaps of work done. In reality, it is a race between the two boys to see who can be the first one to ask me if they can play on the iPad as soon as we get on the train. I don’t even get a look in. So, my new plan is that while the boys are busy with the iPad, I will take the time whenever we are on the train to do some doodling. I have packed a little Sketch book and drawing pen into my bag and I am set to go.
I quite like this, because I am not really a very confident drawer, but calling it doodling gives me license to relax and draw freely just for fun, without having to worry about how good the results are.
Here are a few pages I have done so far – remember, it is not meant to be great drawing, it is more about a flow of ideas and experimenting with different motifs and shapes.

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This was the first one I did, before I put my drawing book in my bag, so it’s on an envelope. I quite likes the crab drawing and I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with ways to draw jellyfish.

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Some of the flower motifs that are often in my drawings.

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This one had a bit of a dance theme.

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This one had a water theme, but it was inspired by the sad sight of a little boy being treated quite horribly by his parents, that’s why it’s a bit sad.

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And finally the one I did today. I was trying to draw the design I saw on a trivet in a gift shop, it came out completely different, but I really like it – I think I’ll add some text to it on my next trip.

I am already seeing that I can now pull a lot of the elements of these doodles out and build them up into fabric designs or prints, so it is working really well. It also gives me something to do on the train – perfect!
I hope you get a chance to do some doodling today – grab a pen and some paper and do some doodling now while you watch this great TED talk by Sunni Brown, Doodlers Unite
Happy doodling to you,
Sharee