Thursday, 30 July 2015

Our Chook Population Explosion

Nearly two weeks ago dear friends gifted us with ten hens and a rooster, bringing our chook population up to the grand total of twelve.  

The children spend hours in the chook pen lavishing attention on them and have named each bird

Such an inexpensive pet they provide hours of pleasure and best of all we see a return with egg production

Apparently the chooks need assistance in being 'put to bed' 

they appear to be incapable of walking up the ramp themselves;)

The chook pen and the neighbouring garden, which is currently dormant, are totally  weed free thanks to the hours put in by this team. 

We had no idea the chooks would prove to be so popular

Monday, 27 July 2015

Planning Epiphany

After nearly two decades of planning for our home education journey I'm continually humbled as to how much I still have to learn.

Two weeks ago I commenced my planning with the determination that this would be the term we'd correct all shortcomings, and began with the premise that our problems would all be solved by 'raising our work standard,' an assumption I continued with until my epiphany moment.

When planning, many factors come into play; your teaching style, the children's individual learning styles, family logistics, your educational philosophy, all have a role, not only in how you home educate but what resources you select. My personal philosophy and personality also influence the outcome. Two 'mantras' that continually run through my mind whilst planning are our family motto, "we desire books that feed the mind and nourish the soul" and my personal mantra,"there is more than one way to skin a cat." Our academic goal is also in the forefront of my mind, "we desire to have independent thinkers who can express themselves well orally and in the written word." 

After seventeen years these factors are long established in my mind, thus I began planning for this term. Wanting to be certain 'our work standard was high enough,' I headed over to Mater Amabilis and Ambleside Onlineit's been a few years since I've studied these sites in depth. Long ago I poured over their plans, selected the resources that would work for us and settled on our approach. This month I visited again, combed both sites which gave me a 'big picture' outline, then began selecting various books from the two sites.  My reason for chopping and changing is fourfold; the lists are American-centric (we're Australian),  Ambleside Online is Protestant (we're Catholic), budget wise it makes sense to use resources we already have and some of our resources are more appealing than the books suggested. I was also greatly blessed to have the patient support of a couple of friends who kindly responded to my copious emails. After days of study I ended up with a plan I was more than happy with. 

As I select, I enter my chosen titles into an excel spreadsheet. I'm blessed that PC who is a genius with excel data bases and pivot tables, has valiantly managed after great frustration to teach me the rudiments of spreadsheets.  I now love excel, though I'm well aware I'm only utilising a tiny portion of its capabilities. Once the books are chosen I find it useful to work out the finer details in a post on my learning blog, then the longer version is translated into a shorter, more concise form back on the spreadsheet. As I wrote my planning post I made a couple of interesting observations; each year my planning 'nuts and bolts' plans follow a similar pattern, I always begin with book lists and as I worked on the finer details of planning I realised my end result wasn't that dissimilar from previous years, my plans essentially haven’t changed for several years now and the standard was already high.  This was the moment of my epiphany, it wasn't the standard of work expected that was the problem, the problem was in the execution.

I emailed PC who was at work and shared my epiphany and he agreed, the standard of work set is of a high standard yet achievable, the weak area is in the execution. I realised our weak area needed to be addressed twofold, the children needed their work to be laid out in a manner that made it easily achievable and I needed to 'keep my finger on the pulse' more firmly. 

In the past we’ve tried a variety of spreadsheets for the children so they can clearly understand their expectations and to record their progress. Their preferred approach is more the overview approach, they want their sheets to show all the work expected for a week or a term, they enjoy the flexibility of choosing what to complete, when. After my epiphany moments I decided a new approach was needed as our current method isn't working satisfactorily. We had thought the children could manage the macro method themselves but obviously we're needing to teach a few steps with clarity. Previously I've seen other  homeschool lesson plans with far more detail than I've ever written, I haven't understood why the breakdown and have dismissed these plans as micro managing to a level we didn't need and truthfully it seemed like too much planning detail for me to organise.  I'm referring to plans that clearly tell the student how many pages/chapters are to be read for the day. I've always been a little more loose which hasn't always resulted with the desired outcome. Trying to visualise how to 'spell it out' for my children I thankfully remembered Jen has generously shared her plans, her visual helped immensely and thus I began my own plans, though in excel. The first teen took a long time as I had to channel my mindset and decide on layout, after the first plans were concluded I was able to cut and paste various parts for the other children and the pace picked up. The work set is all achievable if worked at in in increments. I’m only planning a week at a time to keep my 'finger firmly on the pulse'.

My previous 'finger on the pulse' method has been to 'meet' with my independent 'students' by the week's end, if not prior too. In this 'meeting' we look over work accomplished and discuss their 'highs and lows' and potentially 'nip any problems in the bud.' On a good week our meetings are productive, sadly some weeks our meetings are far briefer than preferred. Upon reflection I realised leaving our meeting to the week's end isn't working effectively enough, if the children are in a muddle or have been slacking in some areas, both they and I are too tired to really address the issue and we role it over for the following week but then the issue can snowball. In my renewed bid to 'keep my finger firmly on the pulse' we're meeting mid-week after dinner with PC present as well. This meeting is beneficial for several reasons; the children are keen to show Dad and receive his accolades, for others it's highly constructive for them to be accountable to someone other than Mum, PC enjoys the opportunity to be more involved and I benefit from a little more accountability too;) 

So how was it received? Well there were dramatic moments;)
On our first day I meet individually with each child from the oldest down. As each child received their pile of books and their sheet we discussed what was required and the change in expectations. I assured the children that even though their sheets now covered two pages it wasn’t necessarily more work, just broken down easier to follow. One child dramatically declared he would "be worked to death, working forever with never a spare moment," his sister after listening picked up her pile of books and performed a staggering, lurching 'dance' around the room before collapsing from the ‘weight’ onto a nearby lounge. They do amuse me. 

The next child had some more genuine concerns which manifested in tears. She’s at a tricky stage, wanting to be independent in her studies not grouped with her younger brothers but not yet reading to her grade level. However she insisted she didn't want to be listening to the history, science, geography  and faith readings I had selected as she wanted to be doing individual work. Thinking flexibly, remember my mantras, I realised the more important goal at this stage is to encourage her reading independence not to read xyz book. Focusing on that we began combing our bookshelves for books of larger, non-intimidating print that enabled her to have a book for each subject so she could continue in her studies independently. She joins us for a few Language Arts lessons otherwise she is happily working independently.

The younger boys? Well they're never enthused to start their lessons, they have chooks to catch, trees to climb and games to play, but as they are working directly with me, I've got it covered;)

Last week was truly a successful week with an impressive amount of work achieved, it continues to amaze me how the right 'tweak' brings about massive improvements. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Siblings 2015: July

This past week life has been 'bursting at the seams' with our oldest two lads and Carpenter's girlfriend home on holidays. We instantly went from a home of mostly younger and 'middle children' to a home dominated by teens and young adults. 

The freezing weather we, along with most Australians are currently experiencing, put an end to  outdoor plans, though the brave and hardy tried their hand at kite flying

with the homemade variety as well as the ready made.

Plenty of games of pool abound, with Miss Jelly Bean (11) generally emerging as the victor. All are keen to relieve her of her Championship status and put in hours of practice

The new drum kit has also been a regular source of entertainment with children either rapping out a beat or recording for posterity emerging drummers

We craved the comfort of the sun, braving freezing winds in our quest, however the winds quickly cancelled out any warming rays we managed to source

Big sisters are the best, providing loving care. Keeping shoes on reluctant shoe wearers has been a challenge

Drawing continues to be a passion for this lad, he is endeavouring to pass his love onto his little sister

 So happy to have her big brother home, being the one left behind has its challenges

The love of siblings, there's no other relationship like it.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

My Daybook: July 8th, 2015

Outside my window...
it's a miserable overcast day. Forecast tells us it's going to snow up on the mountains this weekend, the children are begging that we drive 2 hours up the Range just to see snow. We've never seen snow, it could be an experience, guaranteed to be a cold one at least

I am thankful...
to have nearly all of our children home. Einstein arrived home on Monday night, it's wonderful to have him home for a couple of weeks. I always find it fascinating how dynamics change as our 'children come in and out' of our home

I am thinking...
about the importance of habits, about modelling and about 'helping' children flex their 'habit muscle'. Parenting involves vigilance and it's hard work and we can't afford to relax. Talking habits I've been listening and reading Gretchen Rubin's insights on habits, really thought provoking. PC, I and our older children took some of her tests and found it totally insightful, lots of discussion material there

Learning all the time...
well it's holidays here in Australia, though as we postponed starting starting until Einstein arrived home, which he did on Monday we started later than our school contempories. I do however have plans to try to fit a little Sacramental preparations, some reading and spelling in, we'll see. Thus far the days have been full of birthday celebrations, dune buggy drives and playing on the new drum kit.

Celebrating the liturgical year.....
our focus has been more on birthday celebrating this week.  We've just celebrated our way through our Mega Birthday Week, the annual 'three birthdays in seven days' celebration. We went for banana splits instead of cake, by the third birthday the children were over ice-cream and we haven't even had the party food for the third birthday. Birthday lad declared he really wanted a break from lollies and chocolate and we're saving for when the Biggest Bro comes home

From the kitchen...
experimenting with broths, gluten free baking and kale juice with great success.
Our biggest conundrum at present is whether we need to buy a new oven or not. Our birthday lad asked for a baked dinner for his birthday celebration last night, two hours later the potatoes and meat were barely baked, we ended up 'steaming' them in frying pans, not eating until 7.30pm!
Why is it when you want your son's 16th birthday to be totally special all sorts of glitches appear. He was a trouper and rolled with it all, special boy.
We think the problem is the thermostat but we've already had repairs on this oven (a 6 burner Smeg) a few times, the last time our repairman indicated it's only economical to repair to a point. Have we reached that point? The thing is it still cooks cakes and quiche fine, it just seems to be a problem with baked dinners. Perhaps I should allow 5 hours for baking instead of 2

I am creating...
labels on our toy and dress up boxes. Don't know why I didn't do this over a year ago, I love them! The children and I now know where toys and dress ups go without pulling out the whole box to see. I had plans to make fancy labels with picture cues, in the end PC suggested I just use my label maker, which I did. Planning on labeling the boxes in the learning room  next, all the stationary and craft materials. Mmm wonder what I can label after than?;)

I am working on...
collating a mega booklist using Classical Christian 1000 Good Books List, Ambleside Online, Mater Amabilis and Jen's Considered Booklist. I'm cutting and pasting books into an excel spreadsheet, the older children have noted in 'their column' which books they have read, next I shall delete the books we don't need to read and select the books I'd like the children to read, being influenced by the books we or our library has I'll collate a final mega list. Want me to share?

Also planning for Gr 11 using AO as my base, as I tweak 'a little' for: Faith, Australia, what I have on my shelves and the free read section, so I probably won't be able to say "we're doing AO" by planning end, but starting from there will give me a confidence my 11th Grader is 'up to standard'

I am going...
to take Michelangelo to town at the end of the week to sit for his Learner driver's Test. Can't believe we are about to have our fourth child on the road, where have the years flown!

I am hoping...
to sort out an ongoing bureaucratic nightmare with Einstein and then take him to get his Green P's. We went to town this morning resolved the bureaucratic nightmare, then Einstein sat for and passed his drivers test. He now has his Green P's! (Provisional P2 licence) and is 'pretty stoked. Win, win!

I am praying...
  • for our older children; lots of decisions to make, college choices, career paths, and jobs desperately needed
  • for our teens at home, that we make the best of the 'years we have left', oh these years are slipping through our fingers fast
  • for this young mum, 22 years old and mumma of 6!! Chloe and her husband Ro, already blessed with three young boys, 3, 2 & 1, last Sunday were blessed with the arrival of their triplets!! Born by Caesar at only 28 weeks and 3 days and doing well thus far, their little girl Pearl is only 1.5 pounds! Please pray as they are so tiny

I am pondering....
anew the 'big picture' as I 'touch up' my plans for the next term. Whilst considering any plans for Michelangelo between now and when he graduates in 18 months time, I always keep focus on; what virtues, skills and knowledge do we want him to graduate with? This helps immensely in decision making.

I am reading...
through our own home library, plan is to only read books on our shelves whilst I take a hiatus from our town library. For many months my independent reading has mainly been twaddle, I ask myself 'how much impact does my personal reading choices have on our family reading?' Embarrassingly I believe it must have a major impact, not only in modelling but in my motivation to keep the children's reading level 'up to snuff', my standards 'slip' everyone's slip. Since I've 'picked up my game' I've also noticed I have more 'head space' my 'big picture' motivation is returning. I'd be interested to know if anyone else has experienced, observed this?

I am listening to......
the drum kit frequently being played throughout the day. We had a moment of insanity and bought the children a drum kit for their birthdays. Everybody's enjoying having a 'bash', from the toddler right up to the parents:)

I am hearing...
silence oh blessed silence whilst the baby sleeps and the three teens at home entertain themselves quietly. This afternoon my mum and stepfather have taken five of the children out for a birthday celebration. Lunch with Marnie and Timpa and then off the the ice-cream parlour, not sure who was the most excited, the children or the grandparents

I am struggling...
to be a strict mama, to help children flex their 'habit muscle,' tough call for my personality but I know I'll be doing them a favour in the long run

Clicking around...
Homeschooling the Early Years, agree with Ginny and I'm most intrigued with the handwriting books Ginny is considering
Inside Our Form Binder, love Celeste's ideas for mapping, thinking I should do something similar.
Her handwriting form is a great idea too
12 Things Every Mom of Many Wants You To Know, concur with Lydia totally! Yes, yes and yes!

Around the house...
I dream of an uncluttered home, however I don't think we'll ever achieve a minimalist look, at least not whilst many children of many ages and interests live here. So I'll settle for 'out of sight' as much as possible I guess

One of my favorite things...
photography. I've finished my course, which I loved and I'm pretty proud of myself for achieving. Now though I'm wondering, 'what next?' I want to continue to grow in my photography skills, though not planning on starting another course at this stage. I'd like to join in a photography challenge or two. Know of any great photography challenges that suits mamas?

A few plans for this week...
whilst we enjoy a break from lessons I'm thinking we should do something a little different whilst Einstein is home, not sure what though, as it's too cold for the beach. Mostly we'll just enjoy time together

A little peek at my day...
this morning Einstein and I had two major 'wins' in town.
This afternoon Marnie and Timpa have taken five of the children out celebrating.
My plan was to begin labeling those stationary boxes, whilst the house is mostly empty, I'm blogging instead

Monday, 6 July 2015

Please Don't Say Cheese: Online Photography Course Review

Last week our ten year old said, "Before I have children I want to learn how to take really good photos so I can take good photos of my children." Whilst she made me giggle she was 'spot on,' taking good photos of your children is important and something I wish I had learnt before I had my children. I also realised anew the power of modelling, as all things photography is what I've been modelling for months now.

Several months ago I embarked upon a new adventure, I began an online photography course with Robyn at Please Don't Say Cheese. I'd long been frustrated with my lack of photography skills and desperately wanted to improve but had no real idea how to 'go about it'. When I heard of the PDSC course I lamented that Robyn was in far away Sydney where she offers workshops to Sydney mums on the Northern Beaches. However after reading Chareen's review I realised an online workshop was a possibility.

Signing up for the course gives you a six month membership for an 8 week workshop, the time flexibility demonstrates an understanding and acceptance of busy mamas. There are other courses available as well, including 'in real life courses,' challenges and a VIP membership.

As a participant of the 8 week workshop you can access: Robyn's blog, video tutorials, images of all members and most exciting of all your course content! It is not necessary to own a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex camera) for the course, I only own a compact 'point and shoot' camera, though thanks to the course I have now learnt how to use my basic camera to a far better capacity than I was.

Covered were basic camera skills, exposure, composition and light, further the course challenged you to think photo potential in a creative manner, stressed the importance to avoid the 'cheese moments' and to tell stories with our photos. Lastly we undertook a lesson on how to edit our photos, in which I discovered I still had much to learn.

There are eight lessons in the course and many lessons have subtopics, some as many as five topics within a lesson. Each lesson is comprised of a teaching section, which is thorough and extremely well explained and an assignment. Robyn makes no assumptions as to your knowledge but explains all in terms that even a complete beginner like myself understood. At the conclusion of each lesson the content is summarised and then you are given your assignment, which you undertake and then select your four best photos to share.

Robyn continually encourages you to refer to the manual of your camera to familiarise yourself with all your camera is capable of. Robyn's mantra is 'practise, practise, practise' and the more I practised the more I saw wisdom in this mantra. Some days I would do a 'photo shoot,' take 200 and then only keep 5.

The assignments were challenging and interesting.  You read your lesson, put your new knowledge to practice, then it was time to be vulnerable and share. Robyn was always encouraging, though challenging to always do my best. Without Robyn's encouragement I would never have taken my camera off its auto setting and discovered manual and aperture priority. Robyn's feedback and practical advice on each submission was extremely helpful not only in regards to skills but in teaching me how to see the world creatively in a way I had never done before. Robyn has helped me analyse my photos, to notice positives and detractions in my photos, to be aware of factors such as background clutter, shadows on faces, catchlights present or not on eyes and iso noise (grainy).

At the conclusion of each lesson you must upload your image before the program allows you to progress to the next lesson. This systematic approach, building blocks of knowledge and skill was indeed wise, though for a girl who sometimes likes to read the last chapter of a book, yikes, it was difficult to follow the rules, blush.

During our lifetime there will be several 'game changer' decisions we make, in all honesty I can say undertaking an online photography course with Please Don't Say Cheese has been a 'game changer' for myself and our family.  The growth that I saw from one of the first photos I submitted

to my last really says it all. 

Robyn has kindly agreed to give my lovely readers a very special offer. 
A FREE trial of her newest version of the 8 week course - Moments That Matter! 
You can explore it for 3 days and if you decide to not go ahead, simply cancel and you will not be charged at all, no questions asked! 
Even better, a payment plan is available that enables you to pay in small increments over 6 months, making it even more affordable. 

Disclaimer: In exchange for my review, in which I have given my honest opinion, I was offered a free place in the Please Don't Say Cheese online photography course.