Monday, 28 April 2014

April 2014: The Birthday Bender and the Big Crash

Monday 21st April - Sunday 27th April

“When I have said my evening prayer,
And my clothes are folded on my chair,
And mother switches off the light,
I'll still be three years old tonight.

But from the very break of day,
Before the children rise and play,
Before the darkness turns to gold,
Tomorrow, I'll be four years old.

Four kisses when I wake!
Four candles on my cake!

A goodnight kiss for the three year old
to send him to sleep and to dreaming,
And blessings to the four year old
who'll climb out of bed in the morning.”

It has been a big week. A leviathan; a behemoth even. Phew! We are all exhausted. We’ve had soaring highs and crushing lows. Ok I’m exaggerating a little, but not much.

We went on a three day birthday bender, celebrating Little Deer’s impending 4th birthday on Easter Sunday with my family, on Monday with my in-laws who travelled especially for the day, and then on Easter Tuesday, his birthday proper, with a big bunch of beloved friends, old and new. Each of the gatherings were wonderful, joyous, beautiful occasions. We are so blessed to have these people in our lives.

We fully embraced the spirit of school holidays for the rest of the week and held the rhythm loosely, partly out of necessity and partly out of desire. But whoa! The long days of partying and playing hard caught up with us all, and we spent a couple of rather ordinary days recovering.

Just to keep it real and honest, and to let you know that not everything in real life is as rosy, as peachy and as filled with sparkly sunshine and cute little Waldorfy gnomes as it may sometimes appear in blog-land; we’ve had some stormy moments outside and in. All of us. We have been grouchy and grumpy, tired and fractious. While the weather raged and stormed outside, the tensions ran high inside, and as I watched the first snowflakes of Autumn fall, the boys temporarily distracted from their irritability, I reflected on all of the inner work of my own I have to do. 

I am working on my ability to stay grounded and calm on those long days when buttons are being pushed and boundaries tested. I’m working on being the anchor that holds us firm in the storm. But it’s hard, and sadly I am far more 'fallible human' than 'rock solid anchor' :D Sometimes things do unravel at home, and it’s not always lovely. 

Most importantly though, I reminded myself that family is about connection, or reconnection in this case. It’s about letting yourself be humble enough to apologise to your children when you do shout and have your own little version of the toddler tantrum. We all become unraveled sometimes. We are human. It’s also about forgiving ourselves and letting go of the guilt and that horrible heart-sore feeling that comes after you have faltered. 

Funny enough, as often happens, unrelated reading brought me to <this blog post> on what is known as ‘holding the space’, and it really resonated with me. We spent the rest of the week unplugging from technology and reconnecting as a family. With some extra sleep, some good food, and some extra loving kindness, we've picked up the unravelled stitches and life has moved on. 


Speaking of unplugging from technology, that is something that has also been weighing heavily on my mind of late. Again, seeing as I’m all about honesty in this week’s blog post, I’ll say it outright: I do find it hard to ignore my phone. Even when the notifications are off and the email is on manual fetch, the temptation to get distracted by social media is very real.

Again, like someone quietly pointing me in certain directions <this blog post> appeared in my newsfeed. Humph! The irony of course, is that my own children are virtually screen-free. We don’t own a television and our internet connection is terribly hit and miss, mostly miss, so that makes it easier. We do own a few DVD’s which are fished out when the boys are sick and we need a little rest and distraction, but we generally forget they are even there, but me? My phone is never very far away. 

So, over these next few weeks, I’m going to really work on that. I’m going to work on unplugging and not allowing distractions to, well, distract my attention from real life. Because what if my interactions with social media via a smart phone are coming at a cost of real interactions with my children? What if, one day, they are able to verbalise that they wished I wasn’t distracted by my phone? Oh heart ache. I know we won’t have these delightful years back again, to redo without the mistakes or the regrets, and being on a stupid smartphone is one regret I don’t want to have. I have removed the most offending apps this week and if it means I have to get rid of my smart phone and go back to the old basic dinosaur version, then that is what I will do. That is what I must do. 


But enough rambling, and on to home leaning. Being school holidays I haven’t felt the need to ‘do’ much at all. Strange really, seeing as we are ‘doing’ natural learning anyway this year, but I must admit I’ve felt more relaxed about it all this week. We’ve been inside and outside as the weather dictated. Just to reassure, both boys go outdoors in all weather, rugged up and in wellies, but they often choose indoors when the rain is driving, cold and sleety, and I can’t half blame them!

Little Deer (just 4!) learned to ride his 'big boy' bike without training wheels this week, which was very exciting for all of us, and a huge confidence boost for him. He has been very competent on his balance bike since he was 2 years old, and now he has finally taken to the pedal bike.

Mousey Brown (5) has been absorbed in all kinds of imaginative play this week, boosted by the addition of lots of lovely new dress-ups and necessitated by indoorsy weather. We asked friends and family to contribute something small to our dress-up box in lieu of toys for Little Deer’s birthday. It was fantastic fun and we received such treasures! Exquisitely beautiful handmade pieces, hilarious props, and precious antiques finds from op shops. He was truly blessed, and both boys are benefiting from the generous gifts.

{ Language, Literature, & Literacy }

How the Leaves Came Down
by Susan Coolidge

“I’ll tell you how the leaves came down,”
The Great Tree to his children said:
“You’re getting sleepy, Yellow and Brown,
Yes, very sleepy, little Red.
It is quite time to go to bed.”

“Ah!” begged each silly, pouting leaf,
“Let us a little longer stay;
Dear Father Tree, behold our grief!
’Tis such a very pleasant day,
We do not want to go away.”

So, for just one more merry day
To the great Tree the leaflets clung,
Frolicked and danced, and had their way,
Upon the autumn breezes swung,
Whispering all their sports among—

“Perhaps the great Tree will forget,
And let us stay until the spring,
If we all beg, and coax, and fret.”
But the great Tree did no such thing;
He smiled to hear their whispering.

“Come, children, all to bed,” he cried;
And ere the leaves could urge their prayer,
He shook his head, and far and wide,
Fluttering and rustling everywhere,
Down sped the leaflets through the air.

I saw them; on the ground they lay,
Golden and red, a huddled swarm,
Waiting till one from far away,
White bedclothes heaped upon her arm,
Should come to wrap them safe and warm.

The great bare Tree looked down and smiled.
“Good-night, dear little leaves,” he said.
And from below each sleepy child
Replied, “Good-night,” and murmured,
“It is so nice to go to bed!”

Last week we were all about 'Little House on the Prairie’ and the play it generated - covered wagons, pioneers, wolves, homesteading, maple syrup, travelling, and Native Americans. 

This week, we are all about knights, quests, dragons and weapons! We have read “How To Be A Knight” over and over, and we have had dress-up shows, lance making, twig bow and arrow making and of course ‘quests'. Treasure hunts and map making are all the rage. 

The search for chocolate coins hidden in a wooden chest is a noble (enough) quest for brave preschooler knights indeed! The renewed interest in knights has been further fuelled by receiving a knight’s costume at the party, Castle LEGO as a birthday present from us, and a having knight’s castle birthday cake. It has also tied in nicely with the Waldorf Essentials stories about the dragon. And all this without a ‘birthday themed party’ mentioned. I guess our friends and family know we have a 4 year old knight in training here at home :)

Mousey Brown (5) has wanted to practise letters and words this week. Labels, names, signs, clues for treasure hunts have all been requested and carefully copied. It’s such a wonderfully meaningful way for him to start literacy. 

{ Numbers & Mathematics }

Mousey Brown (5) has also wanted to know a lot about numbers and measurements this week. He has been devising sums for himself: “I'm going to work out what 16 and 12 make!” and then he will sit down with his abacus and work it out. I find it fascinating watching this self initiated learning take place. 

He also been carrying around a junior sized tape measure, and following Daddy while building, “measuring" this and that. He cannot yet read the tape measure, although he does recognise individual numbers, but he is content with ‘measuring’ things and comparing their length and depth.

Maths, logic and memory games made an appearance again this week, even a spot of domino tower stacking with Poppy!

{ Handwork & Artwork }

We have painted a few times this week, poster paints not watercolours. I really enjoy painting with the boys, particularly now that they are less inclined to want to paint everything but the paper! No more full baths required after a painting session certainly makes clean up quicker and easier. Mousey Brown (5) is deeply into symbolic painting now, spending a lot of time and concentration on the one picture. Little Deer (4) is still into colour exploration and delights in filling the entire page with colour, pattern and swirl. 

In our big handwork project,  Mousey Brown (5) and I made the birthday boy a hobby horse present out of an old, odd sock. Mousey Brown chose the felt and buttons and helped stuff the head. He helped sew on the mane with yarn and a darning needle, and then helped Daddy cut and sand the stick in the workshop. Little Deer (4) just LOVED it, and I do believe it was his favourite present.

{ In The Kitchen }

Blueberry muffins were on the menu this cold and stormy week. We are still using the organic blueberries we picked ourselves over summer, and they are just the sweetest, most delicious berries we have ever had. I have some kind of association with cold, snowy weather and warm, freshly baked blueberry muffins! Mmmmmm… The recipe we used was sugar, dairy and gluten free, and quite delicious. The boys did most of the work measuring and mixing, and apart from some over enthusiastic egg cracking, all went very smoothly.

We also spent a day harvesting the last of the ripe tomatoes and making a big batch of passata. The boys were involved in all parts of the process, but it’s fair to say the tomato "smooshing" was their favourite part.

{ Hands-on Science: In The Garden & In The Bush }

Wild, windy, stormy weather and the first snow of the cold season meant the end is nigh for our last, lingering tomatoes. We haven’t had our first frost yet though, so we had been leaving the fruit to ripen on the bush for as long as we could. We ended up pulling out most of the remaining plants, still heavy with tomatoes, and hung them in the shed to ripen on the vine. Hopefully we’ll get an extra batch of tomato sauce from them. Jack Frost isn’t far away!

Our recently planted carrot, parsley, pak choi/Asian greens, onion and salad greens have sprouted in the still warmish soil. I’m so thankful we got these in and established before the real Wintery weather starts to hit up here in the mountains.

We have been looking after our neighbour’s little farm for the last few weeks while they are away, every second day feeding and watering the animals, and collecting mouthfuls of juicy little cherry tomatoes from their polytunnel for our 'payment' :) We haven’t been collecting many extra eggs though and I suspect the marauding Eastern Quolls, Currawongs and Ravens have been enjoying fresh eggs daily. I do believe there have been night time adventurers breaking into the glasshouse too. Oh well, I think there is still plenty to go around :)

We all really enjoy looking after our neighbours animals and gardens, as I think it is not only a nice thing to do (which is quite helpfully reciprocated when we go away), but it also helps instil a sense of  belonging and community on this magnificent, windy, isolated mountain we call home.

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

April 2014: Easter & Our First Term Home Learning

Monday 14th April - Sunday 20th April

This week brought Easter and marked the start of Term 1 break in Tasmania. For us, it  also marked our first term as home learners and the 'school break' simply means we have 10 days of Daddy at home with us, which is always dearly cherished around here. We are really settling into this homeschooling lifestyle now, and it is a lifestyle. The freedom is wonderful. Not only the freedom to pursue interests, work at our own pace, and learn together but also the freedom to choose our activities without being restricted by a prescribed school day, school week or even year. That’s pretty awesome. 

We celebrated Easter in our own family way, and then prepared to celebrate Little Deer’s 4th birthday with family and friends. It’s been a wonderful, exhausting, blessed, crazy week. I’m not going to write any more this week, instead I’ll post pics from the wonderful week that was.

Oh and Hot Cross Snakes are definitely a thing. Hope your Easter break has been blessed.

~ Heidi x

{ Autumn Circle Time }

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Thursday, 17 April 2014

April 2014: Wet-On-Wet Painting (and Weather!)

Monday 7th April - Sunday 13th April

We had a quiet week, enjoying home days after what has felt like so many busy, bustling days out and about. Perhaps it’s that I felt a little off colour, or perhaps it’s the cooler weather and shorter days drawing us in, but we have all enjoyed being here.

I’ve noticed that I feel the need to ‘Spring' clean in Autumn every year. I think perhaps it’s the prospect of more time indoors in our little nest that spurs me on to sort, organise and declutter each Autumn. So this week, we spent a day reorganising, sorting and culling toy boxes. We now have a few boxes to donate to St Vinnie’s and the old, broken ‘treasured' toys were glued, fixed and repaired. With the rearrangement and minimisation of toys, came a new appreciation for old ones rarely played with. 

On Thursday we ventured out and went along to the Hobart Natural Learners Co-op; a delight for all of us! I had only intended to drop in for an hour or two, to say hi and pick up a few goodies for Little Deer’s upcoming 4th birthday from Owlet Mama’s Spiral Garden store, but all that changed. The children were having such a wonderful time together, throughly engrossed in their imaginative play of gardens, houses and goblin hunting, that I couldn’t bear to draw them away. It ended up being an absolutely gorgeous day. We’ve found some new special friends and the boys are still asking when they can go again to “special playgroup” <3

We had many building supply deliveries during the week in preparation for a big weekend house building, but the Autumn weather finally set in and it’s been rain, rain and more rain which altered our plans a little. Still, it’s nice to have more water in the tanks after running out (again!) Thursday evening. The misty, Easterly weather was balm to my weary, unwell week. Snuggling into bed, listening to the rain drumming on the roof is bliss.

{ Language, Literature, & Literacy: Story Time & Circle Time }

We have done a lot of reading and story telling these past weeks. The boys have been loving our seasonal selection of picture books, in particular  Elsa Beskow’s 'Christopher’s Harvest Time' (although to let you in on a secret, we do change September’s name to Autumn ;)

We also finished our very first read aloud chapter book: Laura Wilder’s classic ‘Little House in The Big Woods’.  We read chapter after chapter this week, each one delighting the boys. We have begun on the second book in the series ‘Little House On The Prairie’. It’s been so many years since I’ve read the series myself and it’s lovely to hear the nightly pleading of “Just one more chapter, pleeeeeease mummy!” We are identifying with elements of the series too as we take our own little steps towards self sufficiency, homesteading and preparing whole, nourishing foods. We have jars of jams, preserved, bottled and fermented foods in our own kitchen, and as we received a new batch of revitalised sourdough starter on Friday, we’ll be able to start bread making again (sadly we lost our beloved sourdough starter when we were interstate in January/February).

<Here> are some of the songs and finger plays that we’ve been identifying with at home this week. Some days we sing them all, other days we recite a much shorter collection. Still other days, we don’t sit around in a circle and sing together at all! Instead we sing during the day, when the songs and verses have more relevance to where we are, or what is happening.

I find Little Deer (3) absolutely loves Circle Time. He enthusiastically joins in with the actions, sings the songs and recites the poems at top volume. Mousey Brown (5) on the other hand sometimes doesn’t feel like joining us, but every time without fail, he suddenly appears along side us on the lounge room rug joining in as we start! :)

Here are some new verses we’ve added to our Circle Time this week:

* * * * * * * *

The Apple Tree (Fingerplay)
Here is a tree
With leaves so green.
(make leaves with fingers outstretched)
Here are the apples
That hang in-between.
(make fist)

When the wind blows
The apples will fall,
(falling motion with hand)
Here is the basket to gather them all.
(use arms to form basket)

* * * * * * * *

Eat an Apple (Fingerplay)
Eat an apple; (Bring right hand to mouth) 
Save the core. (Close right hand in fist) 
Plant the seeds. (Bend down touch hand to ground) 
And grow some more. (Extend both arms out) 

* * * * * * * *

Red In Autumn (Verse)
by Elizabth Gould
Tipperty toes, the smallest elf,

Sat on a mushroom by himself,

Playing a little tinkling tune

Under a big red harvest moon;

And this is the song that Tipperty made

To sing to the little tune he played.

“Red are the hips, red are the haws,

Red and gold are the leaves that fall,

Red are the poppies in the corn,

Red berries on the rowan tall;

Red is the big round harvest moon,

And red are my new little dancing shoon”

* * * * * * * *

{ Numbers & Mathematics }

I took an opportunity to read through the Australian Curriculum 'Foundation Year' standards one evening, and I find it interesting just how many of the Foundation Year standards are achieved entirely through play. Sorting? Comparing? Problem solving? Longer? Heavier? Mousey Brown (5) and Little Deer (3) cover these concepts daily out in the sandpit, playing with lego, or in construction and imaginative play. Sometimes we use ball games or skipping rope to practise counting and skip-counting games, using kinaesthetic learning. During a game of Hide-And-Seek this week, I overheard Little Deer count right up to 30, just for fun.   

We use a daily and yearly wheel <here> to keep track of the passing of our days, the seasons, and our own family rhythm. Our days on our weekly wheel are colour coded, which helps the boys associate regular activities to a certain colour and day: 

Monday - Violet
Tuesday - Red 
Wednesday - Yellow
Thursday - Orange
Friday - Green
Saturday - Blue
Sunday -  White

Little Deer (3) knows his 4th birthday is on the next red day (Tuesday), and so he is able to count through the coloured days to work out how for himself exactly how many sleeps until his special day. I love how empowering such a seemingly simple thing is to a (wannabe) fiercely independent 3 (almost 4) year old.

{ Handwork & Artwork }

We tried something new this week: wet on wet painting. I was initially a little unsure how to execute this, but with a few hints from one of the teachers at the local Steiner school and Brunhild Muller’s book ‘Painting with Children’ loaned to me by a generous friend, we muddled (or muddied!) through it :)

Actually, there wasn’t much muddying at all! It was an interesting process, certainly a lot more controlled and orderly than our usual free-spirited painting adventures at home. The three primary watercolours are mixed into separate jars and given to a child one at a time, to keep the colours pure. A water rinsing jar gives the brush a ‘bath’ and he dries his feet on the ‘bath mat’ before picking up new colour. The paper is prepared by dipping it in water first and sponging the excess off. 

The wet medium on damp paper really allows to colours to paint freely and smoothly. It’s great fun adding a colour and seeing the way they bleed into each other, forming secondary colours at their edges. It’s quite a mediative process. We learned through a little trial and error how to get the paper just right, not too wet and not too dry. 

When Mousey Brown (5) first began, he painted in a very symbolic way, painting silently, concentrating very hard on reproducing the same love heart painting over and over again whilst keeping the colours as separate as he could. When I gently suggested we try some free colour mixing, he seemed to lighten up and relax more, and enjoyed mixing the colour and experimenting with how the watercolour paint interacted on the damp paper. 

Little Deer (3) had dived straight in with his typical exuberance and his free-form paintings swirled, mixed and flowed over the wet paper. I got out some paper and a brush too and throughly enjoyed the experience. We’ll definitely incorporate more wet-on-wet painting into our home schooling.

We have returned to various projects this week. A little accidental unravelling of finger knitting was painstakingly re-knitted, beading was picked up again, and the beloved needle felting got another good run with both boys requesting little felt pouches to keep their ‘precious’ stones in.

We also did some 3D wet felting, making a little golden and little red apple mouse house, fittingly wet felting them over large Granny Smith apples. They turned out rather sweet and we are keen to try our hand at a few larger projects soon.

{ In The Kitchen }

Roasted chestnuts; Yoghurt pizza bases topped with produce from the garden; Sourdough baking; Tomato chutney; Warm, nourishing soups; Hot cocoas and bedtime stories…

{ In The Garden & In The Bush }

The trees in the Valley are changing, the chilly Autumn nights painting the leaves golden, orange and red. In the bush, the gum flowers have shrivelled and the new little gumnut babies are growing. Banksia is still flowering and the misty rain has already brought forth new green growth on the forest floor. We are looking forward to more fungi spotting in the next few weeks. 

In the veggie patch, we have rouge possum raiding parties breaking in each night. We trialled a CSIRO designed possum proof fence in Spring this year, but it seems these mountain possums are wily! Every evening, 5 or 6 possums congregate on the net above the ripening tomatoes and they’ve certainly wreaked havoc in the garden each night. Blueberry bushes trimmed right back to sticks, tomatoes trampled on and eaten, capsicum plants eaten to the ground, fat, juicy zucchinis hollowed out... *sigh* 

So we haven’t done as much Autumn planting as we’d hoped until we sort out a new possum solution. My fingers are itching to get planting and the weeks are slipping closer and closer to winter, but instead we’ve used the time to prepare beds for our first fruit trees and doing maintenance around the garden. Nature has provided us with planting of her own though, with new coriander, parsley, potato and pumpkin plants springing up on their own in the oddest of places. 

I’ve all but given up on the corn. I’m loath to pull them out just yet, ever the optimist, but I suppose there must come a time to admit defeat, and move on. The ears of corn are there and the silks lovely, but I think it’s just going to be too late for them to develop properly. However, there are many sunflower heads to harvest and beans, spinach, tomatoes, and berries galore. Scores of bees still visit our flowering herbs and marigolds daily, and the nasturtiums are keeping the bare ground covered beautifully. 

On the weekend, we did manage to start planting a few things in the still Summer warm soil. Mousey Brown (5) carefully planted his broad beans which he’d collected and saved from last season. Onions, snow peas, shallots, spinach, Asian greens, quick carrots, and rocket all went in. Looking forward to getting in a good crop of garlic in this year too. We didn’t plant nearly enough last year.

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