Monthly Archives: June 2012

Writing – a dying art or a necessity?


Like maths and reading, learning to write (as one of the three R’s), can be  worrying for some parents who unschool.   Again, like reading we are measured against the school system.  So if your child isn’t writing stories about what they did in the weekend by the time they are 6 years old, society may tell you that your child is behind, or missing out, or not learning all they should be….

Well, stop worrying!  Like reading, like walking and  like talking children will learn to write when they need to.

The thing these days is when do you need to write?  How much writing do you do  in your everyday life?  In your job?  The times they are a changin’ and as much as I love the written word, (I buy notebooks and new pens because I love them),  computers are a big part of everyday life.  In many cases they are even more that that.  There are paper-free classrooms popping up all over the country and children leaving high school hardly able 2 rite prpr englsh n e more bt who R gr8 texters….

I know I even write  ‘ur’ or ‘2’ sometimes, which shows how out of practice I am in putting pen to paper…

What do I write?  – Birthday cards
– lists (lots of these)
– quick notes to remind me or others to put the rubbish bins out/ not eat all the chocolate                                       – occasional letters to my Grandmother (the only recipient of a real letter these days)

Ummm….yep, that is about all…
(Oh I do keep a gratitude diary too, and I have alot to be grateful for, but mostly draw lovely flowers and hearts around a short sentence.)

So not that much.  No stories about what I did in the holidays that is for sure.
My novel is on the computer.  Ditto any children’s books I will write, my blog, emails…..

And so the kids… how amazing to see them picking up new skills.  Ollie said the other day how pleased he is with his typing skills.  He has always hated to write and it is lovely to see him just doing it for fun as he gets older.  He wrote a song this morning, wrote the whole thing out (and performed it at a homeschool event this afternoon too!!).  In the holidays he even started a journal!  He keeps lists in notebooks of survival items, and takes notes from survival books that would please any year 7 teacher trying to teach note taking!

I often tell other parents not to  worry.  It will come.  All good things take time.  When they need it, they will do it.

I  always promptly help spell out a word when asked, never get them to “sound it out”  (how frustrating when you are in the middle of making a treasure map and need to stop to perform for an adult who holds all the power!!).

One of the things that I quickly learned to let go of when we started unschooling was to have written “proof”.             I have never made the kids write down something to prove that they know it.  We have conversations, deep thinking, reading, questions, more chats, but hardly ever any written proof that they have learned, or retained knowledge from the topic.  And that is OK.  As I have said before it is none of my business what they need to learn.  I always offer to help them if they would like to write  better, or more neatly ( not my forte!).

We have signs all over the house from  Charlies businesses (I get alot of comments about the massage service and the gambling…) all so relevant, all done with passion.
All proof that when they need to, children will write, so let them play and trust that you will be called upon to spell out the odd word or ten to aid them in their life’s work – play.


New family traditions – Dates


As someone who loves change and spontaneity  I am amazed at how much I love having family traditions and regular happenings and am really grateful to the children for sharing their enjoyment and appreciation of things that have shaped our family culture.

One of the things is a date with both of us parents.  The system is….a day date on your tenth birthday and a weekend away on your 13th birthday.  ( I stole this off someone else…)

Of course I try and seize every opportunity for time with the kids, individually especially.  It is quite scary how time flies though and life gets busy. So I just love having these  reminders to hang out in a special way.

Last weekend was Hannah’s 13th birthday date.  This was 9 months late, but the important thing is that it happened…!  She loved the fact it was all about her.  We went to Wellington, stayed in a hotel (as opposed to the usual tent/tramping hut/someones lounge floor..), ate dinner at her favourite Turkish restaurant and visited The Weta Cave – a must see for a Lord of The Rings fan/ movie maker like herself.

Outside The Weta Cave, Wellington

It was so lovely spending time together, (no play fighting/rough and tumble/ TKD practice/Star Wars talk ).
We went to a movie and out for brunch, hung out at the hotel, took all the free shampoos, watched TV,  walked arm in arm and talked – uninterrupted.
Hannah, being so independent, can certainly get lost in the crowd as she just does her own thing and I have learnt that the best way to connect with her is have some quality time, alone, with no distractions (ie brothers).

I loved that she wanted to hang out with us.  I am lucky to be enjoying more and more time alone with her as the boys get older and more independent.  Having another woman in the house is a fantastic bond we have and I love that we can enjoy the same movies, share dates and  roll our eyes when the three boys act like, well…boys.

Hannah and Gollum….



Thanks for a special time together Hannah.   I am looking forward to Ollie’s 13th weekend away and Charlie’s 10th…

And I am all for creating traditions as we go along….I wonder what is next…..?
Overseas trip with Mum on your 15th perhaps? !!




Brunch at the fabulous and retro Meow Cafe, Wellington

The Unschooling Curriculum


What a contradiction in terms!  Of course there is no curriculum you can buy, but I like the idea that children do, in essence and over the years create their own curriculum.  As an educationalist (well, an ex teacher) I could analyse everything my kids do and easily create a document that spans 13 years of multi-discipline learning.  One that shows planning, evaluations, learning outcomes, objectives, key skills, strands, levels…. But hey, why bother when the kids will do it for themselves?

The great thing about children directing their own learning is that they know themselves well.  They have strong instinctive feelings that shout –  “Hey I LOVE doing this!  I want more!”  or  “I really don’t like doing this, it drives me crazy/bores me to tears…”    So if they decide what they need to learn, their curriculum becomes the perfect individualised package for them.  Sort of like us as adults finally getting to that stage where we know ourselves so well we don’t waste precious time doing things we hate.   And knowing that is is OK to not like something.

Let your children know that it is  OK,  hey it is fantastic, that they know themselves so well.

Here is an example of a personalised curriculum.  Hannah (now 13) is a reader and writer, she has been from an early age.  Last year she wrote a 30+ chapter fan fiction (sorry she won’t let me tell you about it!).  She loves to also make, and more recently edit, movies.  I have no doubt her future is something that involves books and/or movies.   A few  years ago she told me that she had written secret psychological profiles of everyone she knows – kids and adults, family and friends.  They included alot of in depth notes  like how that person reacts to stress, or to conflict and  their personality types.  Amazing details from months of observations.  I thought  what an excellent idea for a budding writer/movie maker.  To be a great observer of human nature and personalities is surely a pre-requiste for  any writer.
I made a mental note to use that idea if I ever end up teaching writing in the future (well you never know!)
Yet again I was astounded by the children and how capable they are of knowing what they need to be doing and  setting their own curriculum.

The hardest thing is that they are constantly compared to school going peers.  The fact that your child is learning a completely different curriculum to them is important to remember!  Of course they won’t be able to recite their times tables, they have never been made to learn them by rote, why should they?  I reckon if they ever needed to know them by heart it would take, what, a couple of hours to learn them?  Not 13 years at school that is for sure.

And the same with any other subject.  If you hang around with school going kids who like to “test” your  children to see how little they know, then just remind yourself of what they do know.  Write a list of their own curriculum and know that is is perfect for them, for where they are right now.
(Or be cheeky and test the school kids right back in your children’s subjects!)

Charlie loves doing maths.  When he was 4yrs old he would be in bed, reading at 9.30pm and ask for a page of maths problems.  By this I mean  56 + 48 =,   79 + 65 = sort of level.  He did them for fun!!  He did them very quickly and in his head.  Then he spent a year playing shops.  He made price tags, had a set of fake money and everything was priced in the living areas of our home.  A year of this, and him adding up  $98.55 + $25 + $123.50….in his head and giving you your change.  He just put the maths he loves into a real life context, and did it for as long as he needed to and often re visits it.   He continues to love maths, quantifies everything, does worksheets that Wayne brings home (designed for his class 4 years older) and still sets up shops.  He has a gambling game going at the moment and  plans for a real cafe in our home one weekend.

I love how  three kids can all be so very different.

Hannah and Charlie have very obvious passions, ones that are impressive to others who can relate to the academic subjects that they enjoy.  It is easy and tempting to show them off, a 4 year old reading, a 5 year old doing this maths etc….

Ollie  is quite different.  He learns in a different way and his self  taught, passion driven curriculum is amazingly impressive but will not be found in any classroom in the country.  He is keen for me to do a whole post about him, so watch this space!

It really isn’t any of my business what these three lovely people are out to learn in this life.  My job is to support them and nurture them.  Having been with them so far on this journey I can honestly say that me imposing any curriculum on them would have  –
a)   Bored them senseless & turned them off learning
b)  Created many arguments
c)  Hindered them from being who they are today and who they will become tomorrow
d)  Stopped them from flying (creatively speaking)
e)  Changed our close and loving relationships as a family
f)  Turned me into a control freak

But who really knows??
I can only say it seems to be working wonderfully thus far.
So far so good.
All is well

Ollie as a tutor


Ollie is a people person.  People are attracted to him and vice versa.  Young children flock to him and I know he is a role model for many younger children.   He also has an amazing memory and observational skills.  He loves to share all the knowledge he has acquired and is a natural teacher.
One of the things he does is to make and sell  paracord bracelets.  These are survival bracelets, that not only look good, but can provide many feet of strong parachute cord in an emergency situation.  The inside of the cord can also be pulled out and used for fishing line, sewing etc…

We have a cool group where, once a week &  down the road, we gather with other homeschooled families.  We have entered a group in a Ukulele Festival and so have our own  ukulele group (18 children). We also do craft, play games, run around alot (the kids) chat (the adults) and eat cake (all of us!).
A couple of weeks ago Ollie led everyone  through making paracord straps for their ukuleles, so we can go busking and stand up and play.  Then the following week he taught everyone to make paracord bracelets, with the rest of their cord.

Ollie demonstrating the bracelet knot

He was such a natural communicator.  I was so proud of him.  He was patient with everyone,  helped everyone, showed them clearly what to do then went around and let them do it themselves in such a respectful  way.  He gave positive feedback and  was so inspiring!

It is such a lovely moment as a parent to see your child stepping out for themselves, making their own way  in the world and doing it with such confidence and respect.  To see   Ollie  inspiring other children, chatting to adults about the best knife to get, sharing his skills and knowledge with such  ease is a wonderful thing and truly warms my heart….

Ollie patiently helping someone in his quiet confident way

Mid Winter Camp- wonders and capers


We have just returned from an amazing weekend away with our wonderful Homeschool group of friends.
We have about 20 families, give or take, that hang out together regularly once a month and do all sorts of cool things.
Sometimes just a walk, or a picnic, we go roller skating, swimming, camping, go to museums, have Forest school, writing workshops, film festivals, wearable art displays, science activities, wood work ……and every year, close to the solstice, we have a mid winter camp.  Last year some folk did actually camp outside as there were lots of us and it wasn’t really that cold.  Not this year!!  We woke up to SNOW!!

We were up at Sixtus Lodge, tucked in under the Ruahine range, and it had been pretty wintery, but to actually have lots of snow was magical!  We don’t usually get ‘snow-on-the-ground’ in the North Island of NZ, so this  made the whole camp very exciting!  As you can imagine there was alot of snowball action, snow people, tricks and laughs and much wet clothing.  Charlie and a friend spent a couple of hours making a snow base!

The snow base….

In the afternoon, some hardy souls even got to go horse riding as the road cleared a bit and was safe enough for the horses.  One 5 year girl had told her Grandpa that she was going to bring him a photo of her riding a horse in the snow.  Her mum thought that was a big ask, but she definately manifested up her vision perfectly!

I just love hanging  out with such great friends who have so much in common with us and our way of parenting.  Being together for a weekend with  so much love and friendship is so nourishing.  Such a feeling of community, like so many of us are really wanting to get back to, is  a precious gift.

Some of us in fancy dress
celebrating all things Indian!

We had a delicious curry night,
with a huge array of gourmet wonders
enhanced by some Indian outfits
and a touch of Bollywood music
to dance to…..

Another highlight for many,  was the concert night!

It is so fantastic to see kids (and adults) get up and perform to a crowd.
Such a wonderful way to  increase confidence and also to inspire others to try it  out. We had songs, poetry, ukuleles, drama and even a maths demonstration!

Charlie was determined to perform himself, alone, as he wants to go busking alone too.  He did and like a true performer didn’t want to stop!!   He was just incredible, oozing confidence, up there singing and strumming his ukulele!


Ukulele group at the concert.
They played ‘Count on Me’, by Bruno Mars
And ‘These Boots were made for Walking’
They rocked!!

I am constantly reminded that the world is full of  wonderful people and how everyone has a story to share.

Thanks to all the wonderful  people in my life who share adventures and  live their dreams alongside mine.

8 course meal


A couple of weeks ago Ollie and a friend (both 11) cooked our families an 8 course meal!

It was amazing, very yummy, and beautifully served.  They did it all themselves, prepping over two days and working hard all day Saturday .

These were the courses we had ….


The Chefs!! They had  chef uniforms so really looked the part too!

Veges and mashed, piped, then baked potatoes,
Chocolate brownie and ice cream
Stewed fruit

It was perfect and really a lovely way to eat .  Being waited on was a treat and  having small portions  put in front of you!
I love having older children now who  have such creativity in them and a desire to express it.  I love the confidence they have to carry through a  project, especially one involving me not cooking!!
Ollie really appreciates our life and is constantly telling me how grateful he is to be living this life we have and the great freedom he has.  Things like this just cement this feeling for us all.
I was so proud of them   taking on such an epic (and delicious) job.

As part of it we had to dress up as someone from Harry Potter and Charlie and his friend were house elves.  This  worked out well as they served the drinks and cleared the table all night, bowing and scraping, banging their heads against the wall, ironing their fingers etc….as all good house elves do!!  They were totally in character all night!
I went as Hermione at the Yuke Ball (4th book), and not only did I wear makeup  (!!) but fitted into my old ball dress from when I was at University and 20 years younger , even after 8 courses too…..

The Harry Potter clad guests….. with one of the chefs slugging it back behind us!!

We had some quizzes in between courses too, one Harry Potter and a  Star Wars one.
It is great  to support the kids in their passions, and having wonderful friends who love to hang out with and be involved with their kids too really enriches out lives so much and gives us a strong sense of community, which I am really grateful for.

How on earth do you top an 8 course meal though???
Must be a full week retreat for parents, all meals, cleaning and pampering included…something like that guys???

mmmm…watch this space…..

How and when does an unschooled child learn to read?


Oooohhh,  one of the biggies!  Along with maths, of course, reading can be a  huge issue for parents.  Why is that?  Isn’t walking pretty important?  Talking?  Being kind?  Being able to figure things out?  Thinking  for yourself?  Know yourself?
Reading  should be easy after that. And you know what, it can be!
Why does a child learn to walk?  Because you are walking and  others around them are.  They want to explore the exciting world of walkers they are born into.
So why would a child learn to read and write…ditto!   Interesting in this day and age.  If your child is surrounded by computers, TV,  Playstation etc, then DO NOT expect them to sit down and read a book or a write a story!!
If you have always read to your child,(and continue to do so until they do not want it)
–   have lots of books
–   have regular trips to the library
–   make time to read and explore the books
–   have adults and siblings around them who READ books then there is a high chance that your children will        learn to read!
However, this will possibly not happen at 5 or 6. s  This may happen very suddenly, especially if the child is older.  Be assured that if your child is 8, 9 or 10 and still not keen to read, it will happen!  There are plenty of stories of late readers in our homeschool group, find some  you can talk to, keep reading to them and relax!  One friend had a daughter who was not reading at all at age ten.  She suddenly started and could read well almost overnight. The following year she went to school and when tested her reading age, at 11, was well over 14 years!
At the other end of the spectrum Hannah, my first, taught herself to read purely through asking questions the year she was 4  –    “What does that sign say?”   “How do you spell….?”      I was pregnant through  all this and after Charlie was born she could read extremely well and was reading Harry Potter to herself before she was 6!
I have shared Charlies  ‘learning to read’ story in another post (FAQs).

You hear of children in orphanages who are 3 or 4 and do not walk or speak, you can work out why that is.
If a child is in a literary desert then  they will no doubt have a hard time learning to read too.  If you want them to read, read yourself.  Just like if you want to  them to behave , behave yourself,  to be kind, be kind yourself.

It is a tough job being such  a big role model, but you never know it  may be a good influence on you and your own personal development!!