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