Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three. Confucius

03 June 2017


Hi Everyone,

In this post I will address how we cover Science in our learning these days. Our approach has remained fairly steady since I wrote about science a few years ago. We are still utilizing the CSIRO Double Helix magazines as a springboard for musing and discussions. These magazines are relevant, current, and have regular competitions, activities, world news, question and answer sections, and interesting articles. At about $40 annually for a bi-monthly publication delivered to your home, we find it a worthwhile expense.

In addition to the Double Helix there are a myriad of science programs and centres running throughout Australia, often through universities, if you google you will probably find a club near(ish) you, particularly if you live in an urban area, and they are usually very happy to include homeschoolers individually or as a group. Cost is generally an annual subscription, and then a minimal charge per hands on activity.

In South Australia we have Bright Sparks, run through the Adelaide University, and most capital cities have an equivalent. Bright Sparks meet up every couple of weeks minimum and deal with chemistry, biology and general science in a hands on, engaging way.

In conjunction with Double Helix, Jay and Freida do Stemsel science classes. Stemsel stands for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Social Enterprise Learning. Fundamentally established as a charitable organisation to enable people to become more employable all over the world and consequently make a difference, Stemsel now educates many children around the world in practical and thinking skills, for a relatively low cost to the pupils. I love this philosophy, but really my kids just love the hands on, respectful teaching style of their Stemsel teacher. There are cool things that are taught across the board, for example the children programmed and mounted a light sequencing board and fridge alarm (see illustration) which was the first formal teaching experience Freida has had of engineering, and she loved it. I think it gave her a different perception of her abilities and challenges stereotypes/preconceptions around what girls are capable of in a scientific environment.
Fridge alarm design and computer program

If we are looking for a bit of extra guidance, we have the R.I.C. Publications Australian Curriculum Science books to use as a resource. These books suggest various activities/experiments, discussions and offer condensed text on relevant topics which I use to quickly and effectively introduce a concept which we then discuss and address depending on learning styles, and our mood on the day.

For example, we recently looked at the structure and adaptablity of plants to region/usage and human requirements. This led to a recommendation to watch a Catalyst episode on GM in wheat and springboarded into a valuable discussion on the ethics of genetically modified food, the meat industry, seed producers, chemicals etc. I do not follow the lessons exactly but we loosely follow the topics through in the order presented in the book.

Our worm farm template from Adobe Worm Loos
Our beautiful red worms
As well as these activities, the kids will often cook, garden and build (chemistry, physics, biology) as well as dragging out kitchen ingredients to make some wild combination of stuff to just see what happens, which is cool too. Scouts and a generally active lifestyle teach a lot of physics: how to capsize a boat and right it, how to balance on a rope ladder across a river; hiking and camping teach biology/food and nutrition, sustainability etc.

A lot of this incidental learning is cross-curriculum (meaning it will cover several learning areas at once)... real life does that beautifully :)

A moment of quiet contemplation in the middle of a biology lesson
On top of the world

Talk Soon, Cynthia x

31 May 2017

Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS)


     Hi Everyone,

Humanities and Social Sciences is, to me, one of the easiest Learning Areas to incorporate into our daily lives. The nature of homeschooling encourages lots of discussion, learning about and getting out into the world around us. Since the children were quite young they have enjoyed learning about history and the world around us. The Education Department formula for this topic has changed in shape a little but remains relatively stable in that it deals with people, places and things.

     For a few years now we have used the  Story of the World program as a resource. SOTW is written by Susan Wise Bauer in the Classical Education  style.  The following brief account of Classical Education will give a sense of the SOTW program. 

     The Classical Style of education as the name suggests means learning as the Ancient Greeks did, based on the Trivium model of learning. The Trivium consists of three basic stages in learning.
      The first stage is called the Grammar stage because it's laying the foundations for  middle and later schooling. This is done through the learning of facts (phonetic rules,  poems, stories, the basics of foreign languages, birds, animals, people etc). This is not  seen to be a particularly self expressive age and occurs between around 5-9 years of  age. 

      The second stage is the Logic stage because by now most children are ready to ask        analytical questions about why things are the way they are, rather than just accepting  the facts that are presented to them. This is seen as a time when children can use their  faculty of logic to critique and evaluate text, look at reasons behind major historical  events, utilize algebraic reasoning and learn the logic of scientific methods. The logic  stage encompasses the ages when children begin to think abstractly, so often suits  children between the ages of about 10-14 years of age.

      The final stage for a Classical Education is called the Rhetoric stage, and builds on the  first two stages. By the Rhetoric stage, the student is thinking and expressing  themselves with originality and self assurance. At this time, students begin specialising  in what they feel is their preferred direction. This may take the form of specific camps,  workshops, study trips, whatever suits the individual learner. This stage usually begins  at around 15 years of age until the completion of secondary schooling.
       Reference Susan Wise Bauer: What is Classical Education?

      The SOTW books are presented in a narrative style, much like a story book of history with the facts straight.    We often sit around the lounge and I will read the narrative while Jay and Freida draw, do craft or some other relaxing passtime. They will ask a question or comment if something pops into their head. We all love this time and value the process of hanging out as much as anything. There is a companion book of advanced map work, relevant craft/cooking activities and an extended book list as well as stencils which can be scanned for project type activities if you wish. You can really just adjust the material to suit your family, your kids learning styles and abilities. Jay and Freida will often draw a picture related to the story on poster board and write a short response to the story, and on other days they love the map work, it all depends on where we're at.
Scout Gliding Camp
      Another major facet of Jay and Freida's HASS curriculum is Scouts
     Jay started Joey Sea Scouts about six years ago, and Freida a couple of years later, and I can honestly say it has been one of the most enriching communities our children have encountered to this point. The Scout Creed:

                   'Yesterday's Values, Today's Adventures, Tomorrow's Leaders' 

really says it all. The kids have learned respect, community responsibility and discipline while having a blast camping, boating, hiking and playing games at an affordable price....not much to not recommend it really.

      Having said all this, we have been very fortunate to have kind, intelligent Scout leaders, but  this really does seem the norm. The kids are required to wear a uniform which may not  suit some people but my kids don't have an issue with this, they actually seem to enjoy  it as they don't have to wear a uniform any other time. 
A busy bee in our garden
     In addition to this we attend cultural festivals and education days, the children contribute to a charity of their choosing (from their pocket money), and care for their own animals. We grow and actively use vegetables from our garden in cooking. We compost and keep a worm farm. We actively look at waste and how to limit it at home and in the wider environment.

This everyday unstructured learning and responsibility for self, others and the environment is essential to grow compassionate, kind, well balanced adults, in my opinion. 
      Talk soon, Cynthia x



29 May 2017

The Australian National Curriculum

Hi Everyone,

Okay, today I will give a summary of my take on the Australian Curriculum in 2017. Apparently there is a revised version 8 (rather than 7) but as far as I can see it hasn't changed in any way to affect homeschooling, especially the F-10 age group. I have linked the underlined text above for you to check out the overview yourself, and I have given a brief account of my experience with the new(ish) curriculum below.

Fundamentally the learning areas have changed a little in name with the switch from the South Australian Curriculum Framework, but the basic premises are the same.

English is still English and remains fundamentally unchanged in its drive for literacy and expression through the written word, usually addressing phonics in the early years and graduating to understanding text/meaning at a deeper level later on. One change I did notice is that the curriculum now makes mention of facilitating the acquisition of English for Indigenous or new Australians under the heading English as an Additional Language or Dialect.

Mathematics is still Mathematics and pretty much remains unchanged from the South Australian Curriculum, but outcomes/expectations have been slightly altered for continuity across all states of Australia.

Art is now The Arts, as always encompassing Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music and Visual Arts.

Languages Other than English (LOTE) is now simply Languages and encompasses a choice of 16 different languages including Auslan and Classical Languages in conjunction to a set of approved international languages.

Design and Technology is now Technologies and use the terminology Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies as it's subheadings which is pretty self explanatory, I think.

Society and Environment (SOSE) is now Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) and encompasses Geography, History, self concept etc in the lower grades and moves into Civics and Citizenship and Economics and Business in the higher year levels.

Health and Physical Education remains unchanged in that it deals with health, self care and body awareness and positive social awareness.

As a longtime homeschooling parent, I have generally remained consistent in my expectations of our children and our style of learning. I do read basic documents related to curriculum as changes are made and I find this keeps me on track and reminds me what's going on in education and the world in general. I believe that an open attitude is a healthy attitude as a learning facilitator and parent.

I ignore recommendations relating to assessment and testing as I don't see this as a necessary aspect of a positive education, and generally as homeschoolers we have the option to delve as deeply or loosely into a curriculum area as we feel comfortable. I do not personally feel disempowered by loosely adhering to a prescribed education framework and have never encountered negativity from reviewers sent to monitor our homeschooling setup. I know the review process is troublesome for some families, whether in practice or philosophically, but I honestly haven't found this to be the case for us or anyone we know to this point, touch wood :)

I make minor title adjustments such as those pointed out above but basically curriculum areas remain pretty stable over time as does my approach. I tend to program retrospectively, fitting what we've done into a learning area, not vice verse and this allows a certain freedom of style a heavy pre-planned curriculum doesn't. We do tend to work quite traditionally in English and Maths as the children enjoy this but supplement book work with lots of hands on activities which all fits nicely into any curriculum, I find.

Apologies for publishing this article out of sync I will return to writing curriculum areas in my next post.

Talk Soon, Cynthia x


Hi Everyone,

In this post I will talk about our approach to mathematics over the last couple of years.  When the kids were younger we had an approach that looked a bit different to how we do maths now so I will talk you through the changes we've made. We are still using a lot of concrete learning experiences and books to supplement, but the children have adopted workbooks for mathematics and English as mentioned in previous posts. 

·      The children are still cooking and making and measuring and walking and talking maths on a daily basis as natural learners buzzing along with the business of concrete learning. Jay is doing chess club and both kids regularly play chess and learn an instrument which I hear strengthens the maths (left) side of the brain. 

     Both kids regularly play games such as Cashflow, Monopoly, Yahtzee and various card games which the children have been doing for years. I feel these games develop their counting, thinking and strategic skills as well as learning how to handle money/choices wisely and with compassion for other players in the game and consequently in life.

     The children are now working through the Targeting Maths Workbooks. This is an Australian Curriculum based series that provides a comprehensive mathematics program for roughly six/seven year olds to teen age learners. Topics covered are fairly well explained but I find I have to give some additional support for concepts, perhaps that's a maths thing. Illustrations are quite colourful and most concepts are well covered. As with the English workbooks, topics are broken up into roughly week size blocks, which we do at our own pace and generally end up completing a book a year.

      The cross curriculum nature of so much of our learning means that many activities and  resources we use for  Science, The Arts, Technologies, Health and Physical    Education, English, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Languages are inevitably linked  to Mathematics, and to one another. Because this is such an important aspect of natural    learning, I will give a brief nod to point this out as we come across it.

      Talk Soon, Cynthia x


28 May 2017


Hi Everyone,                                                                        

In this post I will be looking at our English curriculum these days.

At a younger age, Jay and Freida  were fulfilling their language and literacy needs primarily through sharing story books, dramatic play and discussions. We now do a variety of activities for English, such as going to plays and reading the accompanying texts on a fairly regular basis (mainly Shakespeare for Kids which makes storylines                                         accessible before introducing tricky Shakespearean language). The kids also attend wonderful homeschool drama classes as well as the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy.  We find the balance between the individualised, wholistic nature of the homeschool drama classes and the more formalised approach of Helen O'Grady appeals to our children. 

To supplement the regular activities the children do we use Spelling Conventions, an Australian Syllabus based series for younger children to approximately teen age. Written by Harry and Lauren O'Brien, these books are broken into about 35 units, so last approximately a year if your kids do one unit a week. We alter the amount we do quite a bit, depending on how much the kids feel like doing (sometimes twice that amount, sometimes half) and how busy we are doing other stuff. On average my kids tend to finish around one book a year.

An average unit is broken up into three word lists (there is also a my words list that we never use). These lists are (1) a phonics focus (ie oo sounds or oi sounds) (2) basic list of high frequency words (ie commonly used words) and (3) difficult words. Then there are exercises for using the words in context, punctuation, secret word codes, sign language words (Auslan), grammar, dictionary definitions for words, etc. As I said in a previous post, my kids love these books and bright illustrations make them a bit interesting.

We attend a homeschool bookclub,  play a lot of board games such as Scattegories, Story Cubes, and Conversation Cards . All of these things are wonderful resources and literacy prompts, but I still firmly believe that sitting down and listening to your child, talking about things that matter to them and connecting to them on their level, while encouraging them to actively listen to others is the single most important learning lesson you can impart to your child for school and for life. 

Talk soon, Cynthia x

23 May 2017

Our Learning Approach Now

Hi Everyone,

I've been having a look at past posts of this blog and thought it was time I shared how we are covering the Curriculum Learning Areas these days. 

The way the kids are learning has changed due to Jay and Freida getting older and seeking more formal learning opportunities. As a homeschooling parent, I am philosophically in tune with an eclectic/natural learning approach, I believe in a variety of equal intelligences (Howard Gardner) and don't push bookwork. Having said this, our children are enjoying a school at home approach as a regular part of our schooling. As a family we love books so maybe that's enough motivation to want to learn grammatical rules, and building the chook house is reason enough to learn to multiply on paper, who knows why and I guess it doesn't really matter.

What I did learn from Alexandra (our eldest now at university) was that if you don't at least offer the alternative of standardised work, particularly in English and Maths, homeschool kids can become anxious that they're not up to the same level academically as their school going peers.

Invariably I have found over the years that homeschool kids are at least as intelligent and proficient as kids who attend school but regardless this concern tends to arise from tween/teen aged children and is a very real and important issue to some kids. No matter what your philosophies may be as a parent, sometimes children just feel what they feel and it's our job to honour that. I guess my lesson in all of this is to accept that natural learning is rolling with your kids' preferred style at any given moment and if that's a bit formal, so be it.

Personally I have never felt the need to go down the NAPLAN route, but I am now comfortable with giving my children some formal texts if that's what they want and enjoy. I simply act as a resource to facilitate their learning while they're using their work books. I never obviously monitor what they're doing, and I only help out if they ask or appear frustrated, other than that I hang around reading or whatever while they get on with the business of learning.

I will look at specific learning areas in future posts, based loosely around the Australian Curriculum Standards as that's what we are asked to use as a framework for the homeschool review process here in Australia. I will detail our curriculum and resources, referring back to past posts to tie in earlier/foundation learning with what we are doing now.

Talk Soon, Cynthia x

21 May 2017

Working and Homeschooling

Hello Everyone,

Today I'm talking about my experiences as a working (outside of the home) and a work at home homeschooling parent. It's a bit of a loaded topic but as I have done both I'm comfortable commenting on the subject for the sake of sharing my experiences :)

When Alexandra (now 20) was young I was a sole parent and lucky enough to work in an industry that supported me taking her to work with me from the age of 9 months, once I felt able and impoverished enough to return to the workforce. I also worked fairly late into my pregnancy so the physical/mental transition back to work wasn't a huge wrench.

Taking Alex to work with me went relatively smoothly until she started school, when I just altered my work hours to accommodate her school day. I remarried not long after this and arrangements went fairly smoothly until problems at school started and worsened over the course of several years, putting a strain on us all emotionally and until we decided to school Alexandra at home.

In the meantime, we welcomed Jay into the family unit, and he was a toddler by the time we withdrew Alex from school.  I was mainly at home, doing occasional relief days at work when my husband was available to look after the kids.  I left work within the first few months of homeschooling Alex, where I remained for nearly ten years, until Freida was six and Jay was nine.

I'm telling all of this to illustrate the diverse nature of homeschooling families, we're not all two parent married forever units with a massive single income. There are plenty of those, as are there plenty of awesome single mums and dads, blended families, and low income couples meandering the homeschooling path these days.

I returned to work a couple of years ago, to do the kind of work I felt driven to do, in child protection. The intensity of this work really stretched me emotionally and physically and I'm not sure how I managed to do it for over two years and continue with homeschooling outside of an amazing support network and equally amazing, humble, compassionate kids at home who got my intentions and understood my fatigue and stayed on task as learners. I think the outsourcing of dance, drama, scouts and science facilitated our natural learning style.  It also meant that the demands of my work schedule didn't impact too heavily on the children's ability to learn from people more knowledgeable and talented than me in their areas of expertise, and allowed them to have fun with other kids.

I have since stepped back from work and will take time to focus on homeschooling while my kids are young, but they don't see my years at work as damaging or torturous as my guilt at being an 'absent' parent would trick me into believing. When I mentioned my tiredness, thinking I was the most impatient, negligent homeschooling parent ever they would look at me quizzically and say "it's fine Mum" and as they appear happy and content I just have to believe them.

Fortunately, I had the option to alter our lifestyle to accommodate being at home with our kids, and most homeschoolers I know are proficient at adapting their outgoings to suit a one income wage bracket. However, not everyone has the option to homeschool without working, nor do they necessarily want to. The camaraderie, feeling of achievement and  joy of working keeps many people in the workforce by choice.

Working as a parent (especially a primary carer) can be guilt inducing though. Especially working as a homeschool parent, in my experience, can leave you feeling as if you are in a definite minority group.  I think this will lessen generally over time as more people choose to homeschool and society caters more for homeschooled kids and their families who need/choose to work.

I know of several workplaces where companies have a kids room set up for employees where there is a lounge, computer, air hockey, pool table etc where older kids can spend a few hours to a day a week hanging out and allowing both parents to work guilt free for a limited time. This is still definitely rare but is becoming more common all the time.

As for being a stay at home parent again, I am loving the natural rhythm of our days. We are generally more relaxed and are finding time between activities to chat about what is going on in ours and the wider world. We are able to decide each day what we feel drawn to do, and after several years of a fairly closely timetabled life, my appreciation for free time as a family unit is massive.

I have a renewed respect for those courageous souls who continue to homeschool while working outside of the home as well as those committed stay at home parents who face the question 'so what do you do?'  on a regular basis. I have an appreciation for the many different forms that homeschooling families take and a renewed desire to not judge anyone's journey. I have hope for a future more accommodating to working families and their children as homeschooling continues to grow in popularity.

Right now though, I'm off for a hike at our local conservation park with my beautiful children, just because we feel like it :)

Talk Soon, Cynthia x

19 May 2017

Trusting the Process: When an Eldest Homeschooling Child Leaves the Nest..........

Hello Everyone.

Well the time has come for our eldest child Alex to fly the nest and head off to the UK for two years of study and work. We homeschooled our girl from nine years of age when school just wasn't gelling for her, and what a journey it has been since. From those first tentative years of homeschooling when she was strongly attached, a bit quiet in groups and unsure of herself to now, a beautiful young woman, studying at university, earning her own money and ready to travel to the other side of the world to open the next chapter of her life.

The sadness I feel at losing the company of my daughter and my friend for a couple of years is (almost) compensated for by the joy I feel for her excitement and courage. What an endorsement for the potential of homeschooling a child in a close and loving environment.

At the begining of our homeschooling journey I was warned by various people that "you can't protect her from life's bumps" or "she will never develop resilience if you remove her from school" etc. After leaving school there was an initial period of anxiety created by several factors but I firmly believe this lessened because she had the time and space to find her own boundaries and utilise them. She has independently worked through the avenues required to enter brick (as opposed to online) university, study for several years and arrange a study swap to an international university, all the while working part time in hospitality as part of a team.

This does not fit with a common conception of homeschoolers as mollycoddled, over attached and lacking in motivation and social/life skills. We practised natural learning with Lex as she was a suitably curious, motivated learner, and I never did need to set an alarm for her to get up early to go to work or uni....go figure! Even our younger kids (now 8 and 12) set their own alarms for science, dance and drama class, or to feed their animals. All three kids enjoy the company of people of all ages, their friends and a laugh. We have our challenges, but overall in the 10+ years we've been homeschooling, we have resolutely decided that it works :)

Talk soon, Cynthia x

Those Who Trod the Path Before Us....

Hi Everyone,

I have been thinking about the origins of homeschooling, the changes it has seen in recent history, and the people who caused these changes to happen .
Homeschooling your children was once the norm because the majority of children stayed at home. They learned within the company of their family and wider community and grew into mostly well functioning, intelligent adults.

Over the past hundred and fifty years, schools have appeared, become entrenched in our society and finally insisted on compulsory attendance for all children.This state of affairs was pretty much accepted as the best thing for the children until fairly recently when parents started questioning the status quo.

Homeschooling has experienced a resurgence in popularity as more parents are considering it as a viable education option. As word of the benefits of homeschooling spreads, so does the number of courageous families taking the plunge and setting out to homeschool.

The homeschooling journey for our family was one which gradually resonated and became entrenched into our lives. My experience has been one of community and sharing of knowledge and resources. I will be forever grateful to the experienced homeschooling parents who patiently answered my endless questions about hs and how they functioned within the system.

I am particularly grateful to those who exposed me to natural learning as a genuine alternative to a formal curriculum. Eleven years ago when we began homeschooling, natural learning was difficult and took a lot of faith and self belief to stick with, and if it wasn't for the generous sharing of information and resources by an experienced few friends, I would still be floundering, trying to work out what is the best route for us, I am sure.

Authors and free thinkers such as John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Linda Dobson also expanded my thinking and knowledge base around homeschooling. And of course in Australia, Beverley Payne and her comprehensive website and constant input that has helped so many fledgling families find their homeschooling feet.
So remember the importance of sharing your experiences....they really do help those who come after us :)

Talk Soon, Cynthia x