Soap ‘Dough’

Welcome 2013!


We started the new year with high intentions of more messy play. It was our first ever Messy Monday!

What better way to start of than my making soap. Messy and clean! This dough comes from the book “Little Kids Mould and Paint” and while you’d have to look at the book for the exact recipe it basically boils down to soap flakes and water. Once it dries – and this has taken overnight and is still going – they can be used to wash hands our whatever you would usually used a bar of soap for.


The Secret Garden is Guarded by a Ninja

Or something…

Audio books have been a big hit here for a while. We regularly download free ones from the great free sites available, or borrow them from our local library.

One that we borrow whenever we see it is the BBC productions of children’s classics.

This time we borrowed “The Secret Garden”. A favourite of mine as a child, Primus has been enjoying it, leading to a construction of the secret garden. With Guardian ninja.


I do like to see when exposure leads to expression. I like it even better when it is spontaneous and meaningful to the person producing it.

Schools put a high priority on products, tangible, measurable outcomes of learning. Products are teacher speak for something the children produce – a worksheet, a book report, a picture, etc. When I was doing my teacher training the necessity to produce was the aspect that surprised me and even back then, troubled me about school. It was not enough to plan and run an interesting and engaging activity for children and trust that some learning would occur. The words were burned into me during my prac when my supervising teacher gave me a blank lok and said “But… what are they going to have to show for it?”

It seems such a little ask, doesn’t it? Just do something for me that shows you’ve learned something. It’s not THAT imposing, is it? After all teachers need something to grade and parents always want to know where in the class their child falls. (Believe me, that’s the real reason we are going back to ABCDF-style report cards). And school isn’t supposed to be fun. It’s about learning. And learning doesn’t happen unless we can prove it!


Even if you thought learning needed proving (and I am personally far from convinced!) you have to question if a product even proves learning anyway. The vast majority of products that are graded in schools have a tenous grasp at best to what is learned. They fail all the established pschological criteria for measurement. The easiest to see is that we can’t always be sure that we are measuring what we think we areย  measuring – the validity of the measurement is often off.

There is always a gap between what a child can achieve in a product and what he or she is capable of taking in. The skills involved in producing a diarama, or writing a book report are actually pretty different from those involved in reading and understanding a novel. A child with an uninsipring diarama may have a poor understanding of the plot of the story, or they may just lack skill with scissors. Yet too often we confuse technical expertese in creating a product with a great depth of understanding.

Pretests are rarely done, so you aren’t necessarily measuring new learning. The child may already know all the stuff you were teaching them about insects. They may have come to school knowing insects have six legs and three body parts. The creation of a suitably legged and body-parted creature doesn’t prove a thing.

Of course factors like meaning (why would I write a book report for the teacher to read – he already knows what it’s about – he read it to us!), interest (I didn’t connect with the book at all. Why would I want to write about it?) or any number of other things (I’m hungry, when’s lunchtime?) can impact on a child’s performance.


To return to my secret garden, what does the ninja mean? I suppose it’s possible that Primus has completely misunderstood the story, and believes there is a ninja in it. I could grade him down for that. Or up, for creativity.

But I think the most likely explanation is that he was building a secret garden because he has enjoyed the book and it has affected him in that way only a good story can. And to me, that’s a great evalution of what I am doing as a facillitator, provider of ‘curriculum’. I have hit a spot, got the fires burning and fed his brain. To me, that’s what home education is all about.

Stanley F. Schmidt, I could kiss you!

Well, maybe not literally. But figuratively, yep, I could. And Sal Khan too.

Life of Fred: Apples by Stanley F. Schmidt is kind of a maths text-book, kind of a story, and with a bizarre sense of humour and an absolute resistance to ‘dumbing things down’, but you really have to see it to get it. (There are sample pages at that link) As well as providing a fun practise for maths concepts, there are so many conversation starters as well, snippets of information with no real bearing on the story, but great fun for us to share.

Afterwards I set C up with the Khan Academy while A and I played with some bean pouring and melon-balling.

The Khan academy (thanks to another friend for convincing me try it!) is a fabulous free resource begun by Sal Khan for maths learning. It is very no frills, but has a video and practise questions for many, many topics. When you register, you are shown a topic tree, you choose a topic and it will display questions on that topic. From this screen you can watch a video, or use a ‘scratch pad’ (think “Paint”) to help you solve the question. When you get enough right, you have mastery and the computer recommends the next topic for you.

Its lovely when you find something that works.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚ย  It’s even better when they are free or affordable.

Love those old books…

We borrowed a book from the library called Magnets, Bulbs and Batteries. In it was a picture of a model lighthouse. LE wanted to make one…

Yes, it works ๐Ÿ™‚ It has whale marks in the water, of course, and rocks around the lighthouse. We are going to replace the red bulb holder with a smaller one when we buy a globe to go in it! And it will be painted once it’s dry.

And A? He was drawing, and poking holes in clay with pencils. ๐Ÿ™‚

John Holt – More Reading

Hmm, can you tell I’m avoiding study?

Oddly enough, the reactionary view and the romantic liberal view of children are like opposite sides of the same coin. The hard-nosed types say that to fit children for the world we have to beat the badness out of them. The romantic child-worshipers say that in fitting children for the world we destroy most of the goodness in them. One group claims that children are undersized and defective adults; the other, that adults are oversized and defective children. Neither is true. There really are ways to help children, as they grow, to keep and build on all their best qualities.

Yes. Nothing more to add.

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense

I just read Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson. David Guterson was a high-school teacher who chose to home educate his children. (He also wrote Snow Falling on Cedars) It wasn’t bad – a lot of it was things I knew already, given my background and previous reading. But the final chapter was the one that really got me. Called ‘A Life’s Work’, this chapter is about how home education meets his needs as a father for connection with his children, as well as the children’s need for connection with their parents.

Progressives in the political arena, doing daily battle to rehumanize capitalism, have given us shorter working days, medical insurance, maternity leave, and child care. Progressives have made it steadily more convenient for ordinary people to perform their economic functions without children getting in the way…. The children suffer a loss of connectedness, a detachment from the web of communal affairs, a distance from from the life and work of the tribe – and at least as important, we miss them, too, for similar reasons….

In the end there are reasons beyond education to homeschool (Can we really detach education from everything else)… There is a love to be cultivated, an instict to be nutured, a need to be satisfied at both ends.

It was fascinating for me because I so often come at this from the direction of motherhood. After all, that is where I am at, and it is also what I have read on and studied. The different perspective was really interesting and very meaningful to me. There is a lot to think about in this idea of adults needing their children as much as children need their adults… I shall be thinking about this all day, I think.

The Homeschool Handbook

I just read The Homeschool Handbook by Mary Griffith. I borrowed it from a local library. It was great! I really didn’t expect it to be much, but I found it incredibly reassuring and relaxing.ย  I have been having a serious case of the wobbles and this really helped to easy my mind. If you are thinking about home education, this book makes it all seem so… normal! One of my favourite bits was the Afterword, which included just what I needed to hear:

One of the best things about homeschooling is that none of your decisions is every irrevocable.

The only problem – there is so much US-specific stuff in there. I skipped a fair bit of that. For that reason, I’d borrow, not buy it.

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