Saturday, 31 May 2014

May 2014: Establishing Rhythm

Monday 19th May - Sunday 25th May

As Autumn winds its way toward Winter, we find ourselves becoming more inward and enjoying quieter days at home. I’ve been using this inward focus to work on our home rhythm again. We have been tweaking little bits here and fine tuning bits there, to make our days flow smoothly. As we aren’t starting academic learning as such this year, our rhythm is more about helping our day and week flow in a way that meets all of our needs.

Without repeating too much about the concept of rhythm again, I thought I’d just mention the breathing-in and breathing-out phases that Waldorf education talks about. Helle Heckmann explains it well:

"In the inhaling or breathing-in phase the child directs his attention to an activity that basically relates him to himself. For little children each breathing-in period (drawing, water painting, and knitting, eating…) is very short because little children can only concentrate for short periods of time. In the exhaling or breathing-out period, the child relates mainly to the surrounding world (free play, free running etc.). For each breathing-in period the child needs a breathing-out period and so a pattern is established. This rhythm is something that you can bring into your home. You have to try to find out when the children breathes-in and when they breathe-out. And when the children are in the breathing-in period, you have to make sure you are present, so the child feels ah, here I feel my parents, they are there for me.”  < Daily Rhythm at Home and its Lifelong Relevance >

Rhythm is so important for my boys. My eldest (5) craves quite an organised structure. He likes to know what is planned and what to expect. I imagine it has a lot to do with his personality and part of his need to ‘ready’ himself. My youngest (4) at first glance appears to be free spirited and simply caught up in the moment, however, if he is not gently carried by a regular rhythm, I find that his behaviour can be tricky at times. He can be fractious, unsettled and often clash with his brother. However, when we keep to our rhythm over a number of days, and if I am present and prepared enough to guide the boys through the day, things run smoothly and the whole house has a happy productive feel. This feeling spills into their free play, which is more cooperative and has a deeper, richer quality. It is interesting to see the difference so dramatically.

{ Daily Rhythm }

Our daily rhythm has changed very little from the one we began to establish at the beginning of the year, it has just been tweaked a little here and there as we work out what works best for us. Of course, it is flexible and often changes depending on the weather, the state of the pantry, or any number of things that arise from time to time, but it has proved very useful for me guiding our home-days so far, and gives the boys a satisfying sense of knowing what happens next in their day.

Expanding on our weekly rhythm, which I blogged about < here >, this week I made a home-day rhythm wheel for myself. I added some very simple symbolic drawings so that the boys could understand the activity and move the wheel themselves if they choose to, but mostly this one is for me - a visual reminder of the rhythm I am working on establishing in our home.

Note: I didn’t add in all the times between ‘main’ activities, as these are filled with free play, and I didn’t want the daily wheel to become any ‘busier’.  
Also, while I have used the term, ‘Main Lesson’, this merely refers to our daily activity - painting, baking etc.

I feel that I can tend to hold the rhythm too loosely at times and I am easily distracted by things around me. Switching off wifi during the day and putting my phone on silent has been a great way for me to focus on the day without the distraction of media. Having a visual reminder on the wall helps to really absorb this daily rhythm, internalise it, and to let it flow from us more naturally.

Over these last few weeks, we’ve been re-establishing daily home care responsibilities for the boys, Mousey Brown (5) feeds the chickens each morning and collects the eggs. Little Deer (4) feeds the two cats and fills their water bowl. Part of our home care is encouraging the boys to scrape their dishes after meals and snacks, and to put the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. They also help set the table before dinner most evenings too. They really enjoy these responsibilities and it is a help to us all. It is often also a lesson in patience for me, as I try to graciously handle the occasional accidentally dropped egg or spilled cat food :)

Tidying their toys at the end of the day or the end of an activity, with our help and guidance, is also part of our daily rhythm. This is helped greatly by having a particular place for everything. The boys know where their toys live and where to put them away, and yes, before you ask, that is indeed an oddly shaped potato sitting in the downstairs room of the mushroom house! :D

I am pretty particular about reducing clutter and minimising, mostly because we are living in a tiny fraction of our one-day house while we are still building. We can’t have too much ‘stuff', we simply don’t have the space! But mostly, I have found that when too many toys are out the boys tend not to play with them or the quality of play is different, more chaotic. So we minimise clutter, we minimise mess, we minimise media and electronics, and we try to keep our house fairly free from sensory overload.

We also have rhythms at dinnertime - holding hands and speaking a blessing on the meal, lighting a dinnertime candle, conversation and presence around the table. We hold rhythm at bedtime - ‘bunny bread’ snack and a warm glass of milk before bed, a story by candlelight, and then as we snuggle down we share a few of our favourite moments of the day and remember the things we are grateful for, before we blow out the candle for the night. All of these rhythms and rituals help ease transitions. They establish a sense of comfort and stability and calm.

{ Weekly Rhythm }

I have been trying to establish a weekly routine of three home-days during the “school” week, leaving one day for a social meet up, and keeping our commitment to attending Friday morning at our local Steiner school, Mousey Brown (5) joining in with the prep class for the morning, and Little Deer (4) with the Playgroup. This weekly rhythm seems to be working well for us and means there is a nice balance between the inward, quieter days at home and the outward, social days with friends. I feel that both are of equal importance at this age.

Inspired by < Hinterland Mama’s > lovely little gnomes which represent the days of the week, I made some of our own this week to help the boys understand the movement of days and to have a hands-on way to understand the abstract concept of time.

Part of our weekly rhythm is to make sure we have a baking day, a drawing or painting day, a handwork day, and a hands-on science day each week. This will eventually become our Main Lesson time each morning when we move towards more academic learning, but for now, literacy and mathematic concepts are incorporated into every day experiences, and I try to designate days for certain activities so that we vary what we do and so the boys are grounded in the rhythm of regular experience.

We have been working on other ways to bring rhythm to our week. One way is to establish a routine of having certain meals on particular days. So far, we have established a routine of family roast on Sunday, curry on Monday, soup on Wednesday, pizza on Friday, and pancakes on Sunday mornings, and already the boys ask if it is ‘soup day’ or ‘pizza night’. It is amazing how quickly children pick up on this rhythm, and absorb it.


So this week, we spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at home, immersing ourselves in various arts, crafts, play and adventures. We spent sunshiny-showery days splashing in muddy puddles, exploring the abundance of fungi popping up around the bush and enjoying the damp, earthy, mossy smell of the Autumn bush. As we are still recovering from the cough and cold, we have tried to go gently on ourselves this week and remember, in particular, to honour afternoon rest time at home.

On Thursday, we ventured out to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery with homeschooling friends. It wasn't an educational trip as such, but it was certainly a social one. The boys both enjoyed themselves with their friends immensely. They tell me that the Antarctic ice display was their favourite exhibit, but I suspect that had more to do with their quest to melt hand prints into the ice!

On Friday, we spent the morning with Mousey Brown in his Kinder/Prep class at the local Steiner school, getting to know the new relief teacher and re-bonding with friends after the school holidays.

{ Language, Literature, & Literacy }

by Adeline White
The world is full of colour!
'Tis Autumn once again,
And leaves of gold and crimson
Are lying in the lane.

There are brown and yellow acorns,
Berries and scarlet haws,
Amber grose and heather
Purple across the moors!

Green apples in the orchard,
Flushed by a glowing sun;
Mellow pears and brambles,
Where coloured pheasants run!

Yellow, blue and orange,
Russet, rose and red-
A gaily-coloured pagent-
An Autumn flower bed.

Beauty of light and shadow,
Glory of wheat and rye,
Colour of shining water
Under a sunset sky!

< More Autumn Circle Time >

As usual, we have enjoyed practising pre-literacy skills and immersing ourselves in the world of literature, songs and stories this week. Play has been flavoured by stories we read or heard, and the stage has been set up and stories acted out.

Our alphabet wall frieze has been very popular with both boys this week. I often find Mousey Brown (5) studying the letters and isolating the sounds in words, then corresponding those with the letters. Both boys seem to be developing good phonemic awareness which I largely put down to our (seemingly) endless games of Eye Spy, as well as to our circle time rhymes and word plays. Mousey Brown (5) likes to identify blended sounds and first and last sound isolation, and is beginning to explore complete segmentation of words i.e. /c/, /a/, /t/ 

I haven’t been teaching these phonemic awareness skills, he has picked up these skills just by being immersed in rich language and literature.

Mousey Brown (5) continues to dictate long stories which I write down verbatim and he illustrates later. We both enjoy this process. It is fantastic to hear him compose complex stories involving many characters.

We have continued with 'On The Banks Of Plum Creek' by Laura Ingalls-Wilder and a chapter here and there of E.H Shepard’s 'The House At Pooh Corner', which has all of us in fits of laughter! I love this age where they finally ‘get’ humour. We have also continued to read many delightful seasonal picture books:

'Woody, Hazel and Little Pip’ by Elsa Beskow
‘The Story Of The Root Children’ by Sibylle Von Olfers
This week I'm reading: ‘Heaven On Earth’ by Sharifa Oppenheimer

{ Numbers & Mathmatics }

‘A Child’s First 123 Numbers’ by Alison Jay
No pictures of work this week, but just a few notes of some of Mousey Brown’s (5) adventures in the wonderful world of mathematics. Fractions have come up a few times. He surprised us one night by begging for one more chapter of his book and when I said no, he replied with, “Half a chapter?” Then, “A quarter? An eighth?” We were very surprised he knew this and when I asked him what came next, he answered, “A ninth?” in a very unsure voice! :D It just goes to show how much they are taking in all the time.

Cooking and baking each week has been really beneficial in terms of learning volume and weight. The boys understand cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup measures, as well as some teaspoon measurements. Weighting ingredients on the scales has meant they are reading numbers. They are very fascinated with measuring weight at the moment. Every trip to the grocery store takes quite a bit longer, as we have to weigh and compare all of the fruits and veggies we select in the fresh produce section! This week we discovered that our sweet potato weighed exactly the same as our bag of grapes. Fascinating stuff! :D

We tried < this > pumpkin and dark chocolate chip cookie recipe this week.
We modified it so that it was lower in sugar. The biscuits were delicious! 
Road speed signs are read and shouted at me loudly as we drive past. There will be no pleading ignorance for me if I’m ever caught speeding! 

Mousey Brown (5) is quite interested in shapes and geometry at the moment. He is making shapes out of paper, food and finding shapes everywhere. This week he said out of the blue, “A pyramid has 4 triangles on it”, which is quite interesting as to my knowledge we don’t have any pyramids, or other abstract geometric toys around the house. 

{Handwork & Artwork }

My handwork this week: Finally finished the play mat!

{ Science & Nature }

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Saturday, 24 May 2014

May 2014: Thank goodness for books!

Monday 12th May - Sunday 18th May

Lovely warm, blue skied Autumn days returned this week, and Jack Frost visited again, dusting a light cover of delicate white crystals overnight. We love these Autumn days!

Unfortunately though, we have our first proper cold and cough this week. Thankfully the virus was only fairly mild, though the cough unpleasant. It has meant some self-initiated quarantine time so we don’t share the bugs with others, particularly those who would be hit harder than us, but it hasn’t been all bad being quarantined. We spent much of the week curled up on the couch, in pillow nests wrapped in donnas, reading.

We still got out and about a few times using the week. We went on a lovely forest walk to Arve River with dear friends (who don’t mind chancing our bugs). It was a lovely day and the boys had a wonderful time running through the magical, ferny forest. 

After our walk, we spent most of the time trying to get a campfire lit with wet, green wood, but we did it and the rest of the afternoon was devoted to cooking sausages, drinking hot chocolates, and toasting marshmallows over the campfire.

On the weekend, we ventured out to Richmond on a warm, windy afternoon to pick walnuts with friends. At the end of the day, when the walnuts were picked, weighed and divided, the lovely older couple who own the farm were delighted to answer all of the eager questions and show the boys how the walnut harvesting machinery worked. 

The highlight of their day? Cleaning the leaves out of the harvesting machine, of course!

The week ended on another high note - the delivery of my childhood piano <3 I have missed this old friend for so many years, and I’m thrilled to have it home finally. The boys are equally thrilled too, if the sounds of the din, I mean music, coming from the living room are any sort of judge! :D 

{ Language, Literature, & Literacy }

Leaves At Play
Scamper, little leaves, about,
In the autumn sun.
I can hear the old Wind shout,
Laughing, as you run,
And I haven’t any doubt,
That he likes the fun.

So run on and have your play,
Romp with all your might.
Dance across the autumn day,
When the sun is bright.
Soon you’ll hear the old Wind say,
“Little leaves, good night!”

Our self-imposed quarantine this week (and the fact all of us felt poorly) meant reading, reading and more reading, until my completely voice gave out! A trip to the post office to pick up a parcel, saw a pile of new books come home with us (I am a sucker for the Post Office book displays!). I bought an Australian classics pack which included most of my childhood favourites, although sadly not Mulga Bill’s Bicycle. I’ll have to keep a look out for that one :) Here is a selection of some of our favourite books this week...

'Under The Harvest Moon' by Stella Gurney
'The Dog Who Belonged To No One' by Amy Hest
'Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ by May Gibbs
‘Clancy Of The Overflow’ by AB Paterson
‘The Man From Snowy River’ by AB Paterson
Chapter Book: ‘The House on Plum Creek’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We continued with our daily < Waldorf Essentials > stories also. However we only did a very short Circle Time this week, as no one had the voice or the energy to sing! 

{Handwork & Artwork }

This week we used the leaves we collected on Mothers Day in our handwork and artwork. We pressed the leaves overnight to keep them flat as they began to dry out, and the following day, we made pretty wax paper window hangings with them. 

Both boys placed their leaves into position, and then ironed the wax paper sheets together all by themselves (wax sides together in case anyone isn’t familiar with this technique). They were very proud of themselves. The window hangings are very beautiful, especially when the afternoon sun shines through them. We are planning on making a lantern or light shade out of one. Perhaps a project for the coming weeks?

We used more of the leaves for beeswax crayon leaf rubbings, and then painted crayon resist watercolour over the top, using just the primary colours yellow and red. 

Little Deer (4) spent a great deal of time on this project. I told a small story to accompany the painting about Red meeting his friend Yellow in the park to play with the Autumn leaves. Mousey Brown (5) quietly observed this story and continued painting. Little Deer  revelled in the story, expanding it as he painted and joyously danced the brush across the page delighting in bringing orange into the painting.

My reading this week: ‘Painting with Children’ by Brunhild Muller

{ Numbers & Mathematics }

We have been practising a lot of skip rope this week, with Mousey Brown (5) beginning to learn to skip alone. Mousey Brown and Little Deer (4) have also been practising skip rope with me swinging the rope (the other end tied to a chair) and Little Deer in particular is very proud of himself learning a new skill. As we jump, we count. We have also practising bouncing a balloon ball between partners or bouncing the ball on our own. We have also been playing kinaesthetic counting games using the balloon ball and bean bags - tossing, bouncing, catching, counting and skip counting. 

Both boys have been saving money to buy pavement chalk (so they tell me) and almost daily, the money boxes and wallets are emptied and the coins counted and recounted. Preschool children absorb math, whether it be playing Hide and Seek or dividing up treasures or food,  and so many of our daily activities expand math skills - recognising numbers in books or out and about, woodworking with daddy and measuring length, size, weight and amount, or simply cooking and baking in which they learn measurement and weight. Preschool math concepts are experimental, play-based, hands-on, every day life skills, and they are absorbing it all. 

{In The Kitchen }

We are beginning to harvest our own sunflowers and one of our favourite snacks at this time of year is sesame toasted sunflower seeds. They are a quick, easy and delicious snack and seem to please most fussy toddlers! Rich in healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they are a great source of VitE and B, magnesium, selenium, and copper. 

We toast them in a little sesame oil, the boys stirring them continuously until they are slightly browned and deliciously tasty, then we sprinkle a little Celtic sea-salt on top and Voila! A healthy, delicious, fast snack food. 

As well as helping me prepare dinner and snacks, the boys have been preparing a nightly fruit salad for the family for dessert. 

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

The leaves on the deciduous trees have turned and shower down with each gust of wind. The last of the apples in the surrounding orchards have been harvested, and the neighbouring cherry orchards are dressed in flaming orange. 

Winter wattles are beginning to bloom, banskia cones abundant, and Australia’s only true winter deciduous native tree, the Tasmanian Fagus, is putting on her yearly show of Autumn beauty. Fungi are everywhere. 

In the garden, we are noticing which of the late Autumn seeds have germinated and we are harvesting the last of our sunflower heads. The blueberries which were so abundant with berries this year have turned flaming red.

We also finally companion-planted our garlic, in amongst the raspberries. Garlic is a great fungicide and insecticide and helps repel raspberry leaf eating aphid as well as a few other insect pests. We planted lots and are looking forward to a bigger crop this year! We go through an amazing amount of garlic in this household! :)

What are you planting in your garden this Autumn? 
Heidi x

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