Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 5.00.54 pmOur pattern of doing school doesn’t neatly fit into any particular style. We are inspired by Classical, Charlotte Mason and Unschooling ideas, and are bound to fulfil Syllabus Outcomes from the Australian National Curriculum. We pick and choose what suits us, and what works with the resources to which we have access.

We use textbooks to teach Maths, Art, Science and English skills, and as a guide for teaching Science and History content. We read ‘living books‘ for pretty much everything else. Every single book in our home has educational value, or doesn’t last long. We aim to give our children a broad exposure to the wealth of human knowledge, and develop in them the skills to sift out the useful and interesting bits.

So, we always have a range of themes running at the same time. This month we are learning about Ancient Greek mathematicians and philosophers, set theory, Vikings, ships and submarines, Tudor England, Post-Impressionism, Atomic theory, sound (frequency, pitch, volume), Romans, Ernest Shackleton, the Great Barrier Reef, polar regions, auroras and skeletons. We will cover multiplication, fractions and area in the maths textbook, some basic grammar, comprehension and finding the required information, poetry memorisation, handwriting, telling a story based on a painting and retelling a passage in our English texts. We will recreate the techniques of some well-known art works, and learn a bit about the artists from our art textbook.

So how do we link it all together?


This year you will notice that many of our interest-led reading is related to exhibitions at the Australian National Maritime Museum. We bought a membership so that we can visit frequently, take our time each visit and not feel rushed to see everything in one day. It also helps that they have exhibitions about things that I have little or no expertise in, and an excellent childrens’ programme.

So far we’ve visited 3 times since joining. It’s March, and we joined in January. We’ll be there sometime before Easter, and likely during the school holidays too. We do school work when we visit during the term, and let the children explore for themselves during the holidays or on weekends (when it’s much more crowded).

For school excursions I generally put a few sticky notes in Robin’s day book with instructions on them, and questions to answer. The first time we went to see “Going Places” my notes for him said: “Draw what you see, What is it?, How does it work?, What is it for?”. He filled in those questions for 4 displays. Afterwards we read more about types of transport in Great Explorers (also published as Into the Unknown) and watched James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge. On their return visit, the children explained to Husband-of-Awesome how each display worked and related it back to the notes Robin had taken earlier. You can see what else we did here.

Our next visit will be to see X-ray Vision: Fish Inside-out, A Different Vision and Painting for Antarctica. We’ll be taking the oil pastels and some drawing paper to do some “inspired by” artworks. We will try to connect what we know about different types of fish to their skeletal forms (eg: placement of eyes or size and shape of jaws cf: to the environment the species inhabits). We will use what we know to extrapolate the situation for other species, then google it when we get home to test our guesses. We will compare the art styles we observe: x-ray photographs, x-ray paintings on rock and bark, oil pastel and gouache on paper. We will discuss visual art as a communication tool and talk about the information we understand from the works observed.

When we visit in the school holidays, we’ll likely hook in with the children’s programme (hopefully they will have some kind of play or performance on) and also visit Shackleton: Escape from Antarctica.

In preparation for both these visits we’ve been reading up. Our regulars include:

Doomed Ships by Penny Clarke

The Children’s Atlas of Exploration by Antony Mason

Great Explorers  By Stuart Ross and Stephen Biesty

Pole To Pole by Pamela Freeman and Philip Blythe

Fire to Life by Pamela Freeman and Philip Blythe

The Bones You Own by Becky Baines

We’ll (hopefully) get to the public library this week and find some other topical reading. But even if we don’t, we have enough to get started and the children will still have a useful experience at the Maritime Museum even if it were purely an art making activity.

The intention is that as we expose our children to more experiences and information they will become interested in new things, develop deeper understanding of the things they know, or discover connections between the things they have already known. The life-skill of learning in all situations.

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Weekly Review: 16th-20th March

This week both Robin and Wren were sick. They’ve been taking naps in the day time and volunteering to go off to bed early. We cancelled on violin and swimming lessons too.


Robin did 3 pages of Miquon Maths this week; multiplication and number patterns. We read Sir Cumference and the Knights of the First Round Table and Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter, then we estimated Pi using craft sticks following the instructions from Natural Math. We discussed that sometimes it was ok to use rounding up or down to make calculations easier and reviewed the parts of a circle, and finding area and perimeter. We practiced all this, and learnt about re-arranging equations by playing DJ Decibel by ABC Splash. Robin arranged speakers to fill the arena with sound, then estimated the size of circles to make robots dance. Lastly he read co-ordinates off a graph and compared them to the equation for the line passing through each point; this launched fireworks in the arena. Robin worked really hard to succeed at DJ Decibel, pulling together lots of bits of maths he already knew to solve new questions. He described it as “fun, but it made by brain sweaty”.


We had a brief discussion about Democritus and Leucippus and their early ideas about atoms. Robin noted that it would have been hard to believe in atoms when the idea was new, but he related to the analogy in our text of the ‘beach’ as an object, comprised of tiny particles called ‘sand’.


In First Language Lessons we reviewed the poems Robin and Wren had already memorised and practiced standing nicely and speaking them clearly. We talked about how punctuation gives us hints about tone and pace.

I began reading The Ark, the Reed and the Firecloud to the children. Usually when I read longer books to them I just read and read until my voice wears out or the book is done. This time we’re taking it much slower, just 2-3 pages a day, so they can really brew on the story and the characters. I think this will help when the number of characters increases and the action takes off later in the book. I read this book for myself last year and really enjoyed it, so I’m hoping the children will too. (I started reading its sequel for myself this week too – one advantage of napping children).

After spending a lot of time in bed and on the couch this week, we finally made it to the library on Friday. Robin borrowed two DK Readers (Sharks and Iron Man) and one book for Premier’s Reading Challenge (Princess Smartypants). He read Princess Smartypants aloud to Wren (who loved it). Wren borrowed books from her two favourite series: Queen Victoria’s Christmas & Friday the Scaredy Cat. She also regularly borrows Queen Victoria’s Underpants and other Friday books. This time Wren also borrowed a beginner reader and Dustbin Dad.


We played through the first case in QED Cosmo’s Casebook also by ABC Splash. Wren navigated the gameplay (deciding where to go and what questions to ask), I read the dialogue and Robin read out the information cards (lore, evidence, historic information). We solved a mystery and won the case. We also watched three episodes of Horrible Histories on DVD (which both children find quite confronting, but they asked for it and managed through nearly the whole of each episode). We own the Horrible Histories Book Box as well, it’s not bad, just basic historical outlines punctuated by toilet humour and complaining about parents/teachers/adults. They are quick reads to give a basic idea of the time period before you really start learning about it (from other sources), or to fill in the bits you’ve forgotten already. We bought it primarily as a source of “chapter books” so Robin can develop his reading habit.


There was a lot of resting this week, we didn’t even do swimming lessons. We did walk to the library. We visited with the friends we would ordinarily meet at the park as the weather turned wild that afternoon. Before visiting we talked about not sharing germs and hand hygiene.

Creative and Practical Arts:

Inspired by his reading about Iron Man, Robin designed and made a similar suit for one of his Barbies out of paper and cardboard. He intends to make a larger one to fit himself using cardboard and duct tape.

My cousin was in town this week to display a structure he had designed and built. Robin and Wren helped unload the structure from the truck for storage after it was dismantled. My cousin and Robin had a quick chat about building things for a specific purpose, not wasting materials, and the kinds of work he does as an architect. We looked at the photos of the structure (completed and being built) as we hadn’t managed to visit while it was assembled.

Wren and I weeded part of the vegetable garden and we picked one pumpkin to share with our family (it wasn’t quite ripe enough, but wasn’t bad). We also picked 3 eggplants, a good bundle of beans and a stingy amount of raspberries and strawberries.

We listened to the Suzuki CD a few times and practiced correct finger, feet and violin positions, but neither child was feeling very motivated to balance the violin very long (Robin managed 30 sec, Wren wasn’t having any of it).

So that was our week of sick kids. It seems like we did quite a lot considering they both ran fevers for nearly 48hrs straight, then melted into boogers and coughing. But I think that it’s more the case that the few things we did were quite challenging and I was happy for them to rest as much as possible in between.

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Chucking a sickie.

So, there’s fever & boogers in our house. What does this mean for school?

It depends who is sick.

If the students are sick:

  • We look after their condition. The most important thing is helping them be comfortable and get well.
  • Between naps, we scale school back to a bare minimum. A little Miquon maths, copying something into the day book, watching a documentary, playing an app, listening to Storynory.com.
  • Story time. We read books (aloud) that fit with the things we are learning about. Generally, we’d leave the activities until our student is well again.

If the parent is ill:

  • Get up, shower, dress, make breakfast, pack “school lunches” including drink bottles, medicate as appropriate.
  • Explain to the children why things will be different today and what they will need to do. “My throat hurts, I need to not do much talking today, and I’ll need a nap. I need you to do school by yourself, get each other a snack, and play quietly”.
  • Write a checklist if there are tasks that need done. Explain each item to the children. My list for Robin would generally include: 1 page Maths, read 2 picture books to Wren, answer 1 question in your journal, report back to me. Wren’s list would be 3 activities I’m happy for her to do unsupervised and that will keep her from distracting Robin while he does school (eg: drawing/colouring in with pencils, playing play-dough, building with magnet blocks).
  • Lie on lounge – direct as required.
  • Children sort out their own drinks, snacks and lunch from the lunch boxes made up at breakfast time, and whatever they’re usually allowed to help themselves to (at our house that would be fruit, vegetables, sandwiches, milk, water, cheese, crackers and nuts).
  • Get set up for a faux-nap. Put dinner in the slow cooker. Choose the longest DVD that engages your children. At our house that would be Fantasia (2hrs+). I play it on the lounge room TV, where I’m bedded in on the couch, and (here’s the wild part) I let the children bring some of their more precious toys *into the lounge room* too. This may not work so well if the kids were routinely allowed to bring their stuff into the “grown up” space, your milage will vary. For us, the combination of something on a screen (not too loud though) and precious toys keeps them in a kind of awed state, quiet but engaged. They still play, dance and sing along, but I get to doze enough that I can get through the dinner and bedtime routine.
  • After a faux-nap, we all go outside, the children play and I drink tea.
  • If Husband-of-Awesome is available after work, I dump everything on him and go to bed.
  • If Husband-of-Awesome is travelling for work, the children get dinner as late as I can manage (but generally earlier than usual), and we all go to bed early. The children get the added bonus of being able to read/look at books/listen to audio books until they run out of light, so they don’t feel too badly about the earlier bedtime.
  • If I’m sick more than one day in a row, I’ll attempt to run the activities from the children’s sick-day plan, while lying on the lounge, as they just don’t need to watch that much TV.
  • Congratulations! The children have managed practically by themselves, and you nearly got a nap. Hope you’re feeling better by the morning.

It bears saying that my children are 4.5 and 6.5yrs, and have been pretty well trained into our sick-day routine, and our kitchen rules. Until Robin was 3, and Wren was 1, they both took day naps, so if I was unwell, Robin watched Fantasia/Planet Earth/David Attenborough during Wren’s morning nap and we all napped in the afternoon. They pretty well played play-dough the rest of the day and I dragged myself off the couch for snacks and pitstops. Once they were both out of naps, we started training them into the routine above for those days when I would have called in sick to work (in the days before children, when I worked for someone else). It’s so much easier now they’re bigger.

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Weekly Review: March 9-13

This week Myself and Husband-of-Awesome were a bit under the weather, so we pared back the school schedule to match our energy levels. You’ll see from the lack of books that I’ve had a sore throat.


Robin continued on with Miquon Maths. He enjoyed the exercises on doubling numbers and worked ahead, completing his week’s work on Wednesday. He also enjoyed having Thursday and Friday off from Maths.


Monday we did a science experiment to demonstrate sound waves. Wren and Robin used their voices to bounce pepper off a membrane. Thursday we followed it up with a rubber band stretched across a chair to demonstrate frequency, volume and pitch. Robin read Pythagorus and the Ratios aloud, again, and we discussed it in terms of the new information learned from the demonstrations. We spoke about tuning and tightening strings on an instrument, and experimented on a guitar to confirm their learning.

All this fitted in nicely with their first violin lesson, which went pretty well considering how hard they both needed to concentrate to learn something completely new.

Robin read aloud from How the Body Works about the types of joints and how they move. Both children coloured a diagram to match, and correlated the information to the actual movement of their bodies.


After beginning the year with Book One from Writing and Rhetoric we have gone back to First Language Lessons. Robin resists writing, so the exercises in Writing and Rhetoric were proving stressful to all of us. First Language Lessons is gentler, aimed at younger children, and more varied in the activities for each day. We will still follow the pattern of summary and amplification from Writing and Rhetoric with the small stories covered in First Language Lessons. This week Robin wrote our address, read and retold one story, recited the three poems he memorised from earlier lessons (last year). Wren does the First Language Lessons work too, but without writing anything down – yet.

Wren worked through the activities for one “story” in her Disney branded activity book. She traced some words, did some sounding out and matched the pictures to the sentences. She narrated her own story which I wrote into her book, then she traced those words too. She traced our address also. Wren’s always had a lisp (‘th’ for ‘s’), so she and Husband-of-Awesome have been practicing ‘s’ sounds very deliberately all week. They’ve been looking for the different sounds in printed words too.

In God’s Great Covenant we started the review section for the unit we’ve finally completed on the Patriarchs. Robin read aloud Psalm 105 (clearly and noting the punctuation). He filled in the worksheet, mainly from memory, with some looking up the answers. Wren and I worked though the worksheet verbally and her recall was quite good too.

Robin spent a good portion of the week reading Thunderbirds comics to himself. He also read Heart of the Tiger and The Last Viking to Wren (her current favourites).

We had intended a visit to the local Library after lunch on Friday, but didn’t finish Friday’s school work on time. We’ll attempt it again next week in order to begin the Premier’s Reading Challenge.


We watched 3 episodes of History Hunters on iView (Romans, Vikings and Ancient China). Robin wrote his Latin classroom instructions into his day-book.

Creative and Practical Arts:

As mentioned above, Robin and Wren had their first violin lesson. They chit-chatted their teacher’s ears off, but still managed to do the lesson. We’ve been listening to the CD, practicing moving from resting position to playing position, making “bunny hands” in preparation for learning to hold the bow and I’ve been practicing getting the violin correctly installed on those little shoulders.

As the last piece of painting the children did was to colour in Van Gogh’s Sunflowers with paint, I thought we’d follow it up with Starry Night. Robin was happy to paint using only black and blue paint on yellow paper, and his work retained some of the features of the original – swirly paint and the town, tree and stars in similar positions. Wren was having none of that. She prefers Vermeer and made her own version of Girl with the Pearl Earring. She sketched it first with me guiding her to look for the shapes to build up the image. Then painted the clothes, eyes and blue scarf. After that she rained crazy grey paint over the whole thing, so just the eyes are peeping through.


Swimming Lessons as per usual.

We talked about resting when you’re ill and taking care of each other. We had a review of the safety talk about medicines and discussed why some medicines are ok for adults but not for children and why different sized bodies require different doses. We reviewed different kinds of medicines (preventative eg immunisations, long-term eg insulin taken for diabetes, and occasional eg antibiotics or cold & flu medicine), and some of the conditions associated with medicine use (eg: throat infection, fever, diabetes).

Both children have come down with fevers and mucus today, so school will be reduced further next week. At least I have my voice back, so we can read some books together. I’m predicting a few days of resting, possibly augmented by iView & SBS-OnDemand.

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Music Lessons 101

Our household is a reasonably musical household, by that I mean, we listen to music, experiment with music and have the a house full of instruments (drums, guitars, a piano, assorted wind instruments and percussion) courtesy of my husband’s musical hobbies. So why are we having the children tutored in music?

Music is one of the main ways that Wren, and even Robin, learns and communicates and I have no expertise in this area. As an example: Wren will dance or sing answers to direct questions in preference to just answering in words.  It can be impossible to determine, from her frolics and twirls, what she means when I’ve asked “would you like a drink of milk?”.

Wren has a tune for everything. When she takes in new information, if it has a tune it sticks instantly and she perceives herself an expert in whatever the tune was about. Things she hears in conversation are wedged verbatim into tunes she already knew, or some number she’s just whipped up. She has described people through dance: “his sneakers were like <insert Anna Pavlova here>”.

This led to the decision to explore formal lessons rather than just letting the children experiment on the instruments in our house. We want them to develop skills in making music, a trained ear and a solid theoretical and technical foundation. For that you need lessons.

A few weeks ago Wren listened to a couple of her 6 year old friends playing violin and this sparked a wider interest from both her and us. Her friends had both been learning the violin for about 12 months, one in the Suzuki method and one in a traditional method, who was just switching over to Suzuki.

We decided that  Wren should have lessons from an expert and it should be in something that she won’t be a able to learn by ear from the normal run of our household. We chose the violin because her friends were learning it, it is considered a difficult instrument to learn and will hopefully give her an area of expertise in our household. Wren is getting old enough that we need to start thinking about her formal schooling routine, so we brought forward the plan to get her lessons. We want her to learn to work hard at reproducing the information that she takes in; learning mastery of a skill not just familiarity with the tune.

Robin will also take lessons. He enjoys textures, sensations and mastering the things he is interested in, so having a stringed/bowed instrument and one that is close to his face, we think he will get a lot out of learning the violin.

Choosing a method and a teacher

Because Husband-of-Awesome plays by ear and I suspect Wren could too, I want her playing skills and musical knowledge developed at the same rate, so she will develop a trained ear and have a solid technical and theoretical foundation. On the other hand, Robin has a little of my musicality, so we want for him to get some skills and enjoy conquering a difficult task so that he has the opportunity to find an instrument he truly loves.

The decision to go Suzuki came from my own experience as a child learning the guitar, flute and piano. Because I have no natural ability I play instruments like some people two-finger type; I can get to the end, but there’s no grace, no love. Learning in the traditional method, I didn’t have any of those confidence-building-successes early, so never developed a love of any instrument I tried and desperately hated practicing. For Wren and Robin I want to try something specifically designed for children so that they can have those small successes to spur them on to want to work towards mastery. Suzuki is child-centred and supportive of the parents’ role in their child’s development. It models music learning after the way that first languages are learnt and intends incremental mastery of listening and “speaking” before reading is formally taught.

To begin, I Googled “suzuki music australia” and  found, to my delight, Suzuki Music Australia and followed the link to “find a teacher“. Through this I found a teacher and I asked her “how do we get started when we don’t own a violin and I don’t know anything about obtaining a decent one?”. Her advice was to contact the Sydney String Centre; which incidentally was the same advice my cello-playing brother-in-law gave me when I asked his advice on how to get started.

I’m really hoping that both children will develop a deep and abiding love of the violin, or at least find satisfaction in the learning process. We’ll review at the end of the year and see where their passions lie.

This week is the first week of lessons… stay tuned 😛


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Week in Review Mar1-7

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 5.21.08 pm
Art by Robin and Wren

This week was centred around excursions and working them into the weeks schooling.

Music (Creative and Practical Arts) – Following on from last week, this week we went on an excursion to Chatswood to get Robin and Wren fitted for Violins at the Sydney String Centre as next week they begin Suzuki violin lessons.

  • Discussed sizing instruments to people – fractions
  • Listened to the new CDs that support the violin lessons
  • Reviewed Pythagorus and the Ratios –  relationship of length and thickness of strings determines the sound

Going Places (HSIE) – As part of the journey, Robin was tasked with navigating from Chatswood train station to the destination and how to get home again.

  • Printed off a map from Google to work out how to get there
  • Discussed options on how to get there and how we could return (train station or bus stop)
  • Orientation, finding how to orient map to ground
  • Discussed how the different platforms work and how to check the indicator board for where trains stop (or don’t)
  • Discussed how we could do the journey differently next time; 2 trains and a long walk, or 1 train and 1 bus for increased fare and how to work out the trade off

An interesting aside, Robin made the connection between the eTag in the car and how it operated in the same way as the Opal card.

Whilst on our travels we saw the Voyager of the Seas cruise ship  and this led to a discussion on cruise ships and how different ships have different designs depending on their job. We recapped last week’s excursion to the Maritime Museum and what the functions of the vessels they went on were and a documentary on ice breakers (SBS Online) we watched two weeks previous.

Finally we discussed bridges an their functions – Harbour bridge vs. Footway at Darling Harbour. How the ability of the footway to open and the height of the Harbour Bridge enable, or restrict the type of vessel that can go through/under.

Reading – Reading aloud to both Robin and Wren this week as part of the GOING PLACES work we covered:

  • Ernest Shackleton – Polar explorer
  • Frances Drake – pirate and explorer

Excursion–  Picked up photo albums documenting last year’s work and activities.

Maths – We started Doubling! So we did doubling, doubling and more doubling. In addition to this we:

  • went to COSCO  and talked about unit pricing and competition in marketplace
  • Tested funbrain.com maths games

English – We continued with looking at the 8 parts of speech and introduced parts of sentences. and also continued with Gods Great Covenant – Joseph and Pharaoh.

  • Sentence recipe
  • Subject of a sentence
  • Predicate within a sentence

Read aloud – The following was read aloud by Robin:

  • Genesis 40-46 – Joseph and Pharaoh

Creative and Practical Arts – This week was a low impact week, due to all the excursions so we worked on a number of projects

  • Started getting building the “Spooky House diorama” from My First Batteries and Magnets book
  • Printed and coloured in anatomical diagrams of human skeletons
  • As a continuation of the Ernest Shackleton reading we created lots and lots of snowflakes.

Watched – Alice in Wonderland (Disney 1951) including the making of.


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Week in Review Feb22-28

l-3Going Places (HSIE): Maritime Museum – Making the most of our new membership and as an excursion with husband-of-awesome and my brother, we used this as an additional learning opportunity. Both Robin and Wren went on a Destroyer, HMAS Vampire; a patrol boat, the HMAS Advance; and a submarine, the HMAS ONSLOW. Both were fascinated with the inner workings of the ONLSOW. The both revisited the going places exhibit and then spent some time exploring the Nautilus.

Reading: Robin started reading aloud Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone after his older cousin started reading sections to both Robin and Wren when we last visited. His reading was clear and concise, only struggling with names and even so sticking within the boundaries of P.I.C.K and the 2-3 new words a page.

Maths and Science – Monsters Magic Cup  –  This is part of a larger citizen science programme through Natural Math (which we’ve previously used as part of a “Monday” maths with some of the local kids) and was an experiment to check the “approximate number system” within children as a precursor to algebraic calculation. We met Maria, one of the research coordinators who was thrilled at not only our support but in meeting the both Robin and Wren via Google Hangouts; which was a learning experience in of itself trying to get it to work.

Watched: As a follow up from the Maritime Museum visit we watched James Cameron’s documentary – Deep sea challenge – describing his passion for underwater exploration and the journey to build, test and then take his “Deep Sea Challenger” to the  Mariana Trench.

  • Read: 14 Journeys – Piccards and Don Walsh
  • Wrote the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, Why) for both Piccard and Walsh’s journey as well as Cammeron’s.
  • Created a Venn diagram of the two missions
  • Create a sentence and
  • Built a model sub with Lego.

Maths – Continue with grouping in addition, “finding 10s” and The Grapes Of Math.

English – We recently started looking at the 8 parts of speech. This is identifying nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, interjections and prepositions. Why we decided to do this will be the basis of another blog. This week we looked at:

  • Identifying the 8 parts of speech in random sentences;
  • using the Dictionary to identify “tricky” words;
  • in Christina Rosetti’s “Boats” poems; and
  • made some sentences with story cubes.

We also memorised the Boat’s poem.

Read aloud – This week Robin read through number of books

Watched – Fantasia: discussed taking music lessons

Watched – “Tectonics” on ABC iView as a follow-up to a section on plate tectonics in the James Cameron documentary. We then modelled plated movement with play dough

LatinSong School Latin Book 1 – Classroom instructions on singular and plural verbs (-te)

Bible – Continue reading through John

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