We're still here!

No, there is nothing wrong. Everyone at Casa Christenson is happy and healthy. I have just found that life is taking up a lot of time these days, in a good way. So far this year we have been steadily studying our various lessons and I am always impressed by how much learning we can fit into each day.
As you can see from the photos below, our playroom, which is in the centre of the house and usually the centre of our learning, is a rotating state of mess created by papercraft (we download 3D block nets free from Pixelcraft and 150 or 180gsm paper from Officeworks), Hama beads (oh my gosh these tiny plastic tubular beads go everywhere and I usually my burn fingers when I get ironing the things wrong!), many Lego tableau vivant (if you are a parent, I don't need to describe to you the agony of stepping on a four by four piece of hated hell. I managed not to scream like a toddler last week when one sneaked under my slippered foot late at night - I felt like such a grown-up), washi tape and paddle pop sticks (who knew these two things could be combined to create such amazing yet frustratingly fragile structures!) and of course watercolour painting. Monday mornings the playroom is transformed into a pristinely tidy music room when our wonderful violin teacher comes over for an hour and a half to teach the children. I do my best to ensure the playroom is immaculate for a couple of days a week so we can do some formal lessons in safety from Lego foot bruises. Even Basil is allowed to enter because everything he can tear apart with his teeth (gosh that list is long!) is put away and he can relax during grammar and Latin. If the playroom is too messy, we do our lessons in the kitchen. Or the front deck. 

As a part of our daily tasks, the children have to read out loud to someone. It was never specified that the someone is not me, but the children grab a book every school day and head downstairs to a grandparent. They all enjoy reading on their own too and even though I have many photos of them reading for pleasure, they don't do it as often as they listen to audiobooks. Without effort and within an hour, they can trash the playroom with their craft, not make any noise, and listen intently to an audiobook in a dazzling display of multitasking. It does make me wonder how they can do all of this and I still have to remind them to brush their teeth!

For the last couple of years, I have taught spelling as a separate subject using All About Spelling. Unfortunately, it was one of those tasks that was first to be taken off the daily list if we had to cut our day short. Or I had Zoe teach the other two their lessons, which they all enjoy until the firstborn gets too bossy and everyone gives up. In the third term, we have done away with the tiles and whiteboard (there is an app that can be used instead of the tile board but I haven't bothered with it yet) and cut the lessons in half. Now the children do more writing, more actual spelling and the lessons are easier for all of us. Interestingly, the children's spelling is improving faster than when I stuck mostly to the lesson plan. This is an excellent program for changing and tweaking to suit individual learning, and I highly recommend it. 
Another awesome program we have been using this year is Get Smart Grammar using sentence diagraming. I was part of the generation who suffered from a failed education experiment that threw out route learning from some QLD schools in the 70s and 80s. As a result, I am learning grammar (and multiplication tables!) along with my children and I had never heard of sentence diagraming before we began homeschooling. Every week we learn a new grammar concept and we practice it for the rest of the week diagraming one or two sentences every day. It wasn't until we began learning Latin together that I realized the need for a firm understanding of English grammar to get the most out of a second language.
The children haven't really noticed that I added Latin to our grammar lessons (or did I add grammar to Latin?) to make one lesson. I am using Getting Started with Latin which was very inexpensive and very easy to follow. We study one new word or concept a week and then translate a few sentences a day.  Grammar and Latin do take some time for me to prepare for the week, but I quite enjoy the lessons and the children seem to complain less when I spend more time on preparation. Which is quite lovely that they notice my efforts, even if they only show it in their lack of whinging and moaning. 

The trampoline gets a daily work out and the children get to help out the octagenarians (Nana and Papa) and NannyO in the garden as often as they think of it. Heath splurged on a 3D printer and now we get to make lots of useless pieces of plastic and the rate of one layer at a time! I must admit though, I have used it more than anyone as this technology fascinates me and I love checking out new things to print from Thingiverse.

The start of this year was quite eventful including the arrival of Heath's brother, Addy and his wife Kimmy, from the US. We had suspected for some time that he would just 'rock up' without notice though he did give us an hour's warning with a cryptic email telling us something will be delivered that day. All school went out the window for a week when they arrived and for a few days before they flew home. We only saw them a few times in the months there were in Australia as they were staying down the Gold Coast but the time the children spend with their uncle and aunty was really special. Henry, in particular, couldn't get enough of his uncle's time and challenged him to chess almost every waking moment they stayed with us.
We fit in a weekend at Fraser Island after the heat of summer and stayed at a lovely unit with a view of the eastern horizon. The children saw their first sunrise over the water but it was way too early for holidaying Lec so I slept through it. We saw quite a few dingoes this time and Heath even used his snatch strap to rescue a car that had broken down. We drove almost to the tip of the island again though we were a little disappointed with Champagne Pools as it was full of people (how dare they!) and not enough water to swim in. I love how the island's geography changes so much between our visits. There is always something new to discover on Fraser.

In addition to our regular lessons, NannyO has begun teaching the children embroidery stitches a few times a week. I am amazed at how much they all love this class, especially NannyO! There are some frustrating times but for the most part, the children persevere in the task and are doing very well. In their free time, they are in the yard or on the front deck building things. The teepee out of bamboo in the backyard was lots of fun though the construction of... something out of the offcuts from the old cubby house, on the front deck, sent all of the adults in the house into a bit of an 'Oh my gosh that is going to fall on your head' tizzy which I resisted as I know children have to take some risks in life. Ok ok, once I saw what they had built I asked them how structurally sound they thought it was and what would happen if it fell. I made them tell me about the possibilities of cranial injuries and within a few minutes of this line of questioning from me, they decided to pack it up. Playdough is much more fun and less likely to involve a trip to the hospital. They can also listen to an audiobook while they construct their mermaids, so it is a win-win. The girls were in the year's first Australian Girls Choir performance just before the mid-year holiday. Even though it was a really long day for them both they were excited to be on stage again and I enjoyed the show. Late in term two, we paired down our daily tasks to just a few for a couple of weeks. We were all very tired for some reason so it was nice to do some half days for a while. The board in the picture above looks something like what each child has in their daily task books but for a couple of weeks, I just wrote what they had to do on the board. They would race through the tasks, ticking them off then they would be on to creating or building something for the rest of the day. Would you believe that I think I have heard the word 'bored' mentioned to me twice this year? And I was so excited to hear it that I cuddled the child and told them how wonderful it was that they were bored! Of course, said child trudged off disgusted and didn't mention the word again!

We get out and about as often as we can because we live in such a lovely city and just down the road from the galleries and the museum. One day there was a bus strike and we spent the day bus hopping through the city. Earlier in the year, it was decided that Henry and Lily needed new beds so Heath set to and built them. Henry and Basil helped... sort of. The end result was wonderful and both children are very happy.  The final picture in this set is Zoe's mapping of a mini house. It took her hours and it has some really intersting details including a bathroom. She thinks archeticture might be a good profession to pursue. 

Our wonderful first born turned 12 at the end of last month. Zoe loved her gifts and spent the day doing whatever she wanted. Which was - 5amish wake up, chocolate with breakfast (just kidding, I said no to that! It was porridge), computer time (gosh the house was quiet that day!) morning tea at Max Brenner at Southbank, to eat her fill with liquid chocolate (luckily she didn't really notice that the place was disgustingly filthy and the crockery was cracked, we will have to find another place to spend birthday morning teas!) ending the day with dinner with the family. She helped me make jelly and her requested cake of pavlova (OK I cheated and bought a case from the supermarket so it was just whipped cream she helped create!) and we all sang happy birthday. It was a special day and even though we didn't do much, it made Zoe very happy so for me, it was mission success. 
As you can see from the x-ray above, we also had a check-up at the Lady Celiento orthopedic department. Zoe passed her examination with flying colours and it is possible that it was her last check-up. Her hips are forming normally and aside from a scar and some minor nerve damage (that only affects a small area of her thigh skin), the surgery, nightmarish casting and months of horrible splinting was all a success. As is our Zoe :) 

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2017... and here I was thinking we took a year long holiday!

I was wrong, my photo gallery tells me that this year has been non stop learning. Even if we didn't think much was going on, we have done plenty! I joke sometimes that homeschooling is a permanent holiday, but I think the truth is more like permanent school or the kind of learning that was the norm before the institution of school was invented. It is just the children are so used to asking questions and finding answers, that they don't notice the seamless lessons in everything we do. When you think about it, all parents are homeschoolers - some also send their children to school. Heading into our fifth year of home education, I can't ever imagine using the institution of school again. I understand the need for it of course, but I feel so very blessed that we just don't need it for our family.

In term four, Zoe decided that she wanted to join Lily in the Australian Girls Choir. Luckily their birthdays are quite close together, and I was able to put them in the same class. I wondered how Lily would go sharing what was 'her' thing, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the increase of singing in the house since Zoe began lessons. The end of year performance had some songs from Annie so you can imagine them singing 'It's a Hard Knock Life' every morning while they do their chores. Even Henry joins in! They were the cutest pair dressed for the end of year concert, in all white. 

Violin lessons are going very well and they even manage to play every day. Well, most days. We try to make playing (not practicing, because they are actually playing) a part of our daily routine. Our teacher, Eleanore from Music Generation, is just amazing and I am so happy with the children's progress this year. The above video was taken after their first lessons together, they usually have solo lessons, one after the other and I know it was a bit of a challenge for Eleanore to get all three to be quite long enough to play! Another challenge was that none of the children had heard the song Silent Night! Yes, I know, mummy fail. I have had quite a few of those this year! Nana, Papa and NannyO joined Heath and I for the little concert and the women all cried! The playing was much nicer in real life :) 

This year we have attended three robotics classes run by the Logan North Library and organised by one of my wonderful home schooling friends. These classes use laptops, iPads, Lego and a variety of packages specifically made for children to learn coding. The video above shows Henry coding his robot to make different noises once he had it spinning. We have a great time in these classes and love that they are totally free!

Near the start of the year, Heath decked out the Prado and we headed to Fraser Island for some 4WDing and our first family holiday. We stayed in a three bedroom house in Eurong and trekked all over the eastern part of the island. The first stay was during a bit of a heat wave and we didn't know much about tides which meant we were stuck in one place while we waited for the tide to go back out. Even though we had heaps of sunscreen, hats and swimsuits, the children and I ended up with some pretty bad sunburn on our legs. Yes, another mummy fail but the monkeys all swore they would never get sunburned again. Lessons learned, we forgot about the first trip, because our second trip in May was amazing. The weather was magic and it seemed we almost had the island to ourselves. We drive up to Rainbow Beach on Thursday to catch the short barge across, then head back home on Sunday. There are a few weekend visitors, but for the most part it is a very peaceful part of the world. We are looking forward to going back as soon as the new school term starts.

Excursions... this year we have had so many that I did kind of lose track of them. We checked out the free tour of the Brisbane City Hall clock tower. I haven't been there since Heath and I were married and I had to get a photo of the children in the same place where we had some of our wedding photos taken. We went for a quick trip up the ancient lift to have a peek at the bell through grimy perspex for a couple of minutes,  Lily was a bit beside herself thinking that the bell would toll and make us all deaf. Our tour guide, whose name was Zoe too, assured us we would be out of there before it went off. She was right and as we were descending in the left, she made us aware of the far off sound of the bells. It seems the cement surrounding the lift well is an effective sound barrier.

Even though the children knew nothing about Marvel comics - not a single character or movie, we all loved the Marvel exhibition at GOMA. Lily created her own super hero, Pineapple Girl, who throws pineapples at her enemies. I wasn't sure which end first, so we had quite the discussion about which fruit or vegetable would make the best weapon. The rough end of the pineapple was decided to be the weapon of choice. The actual exhibit was excellent and the children spent much more time that I expected checking out each character and the movie sets and costumes. It was possibly one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen, and I didn't think I was that big a fan of super heroes! Then we went home and watched the Guardians of the Galaxy (I & II), which are now among our favourite films.  

Movieworld and Wet N Wild became an almost weekly outing at the beginning of the year as our wonderful friend, Albie, gave us a yearly pass. The children loved both theme parks though swimming at Wet N Wild was some serious fun. I had to be careful about timing, as two hours is our limit or I am faced with three out of control exhausted monkeys who forget they have an awesome life. Another great excursion we had was at and old farm house that was turned into a museum, Wolston Farmhouse at Wacol. The children had a hands on experience about what life was like in the 1800s while the parents watched them being bossed around by the housekeeper. I found it lovely that my monkeys didn't really mind being told what to do and followed instructions well. I wanted to see if the housekeeper could come home with us because I would love it if the children always did as they were told!

Of course the biggest event of the year was the furry addition to our family, Basil the miniature schnauzer, in July. Basil came to us from a wonderful breeder north of Brisbane. Andrea & Georgina also run dog obedience classes and puppy classes came with Basil. A good thing too, as it turns out none of us really knew much about training a puppy! Check out the pics of our little guy, he really has been the highlight of the year and none of use can imagine life without him. Yes, we think he is the cutest puppy in the world!

Some days being with the children 24/7 can be... tough. Then some days they do this, and it reminds me why we have chosen this path. By the way, I have no idea what they were pestering me about before the video! And I understand the irony of the misspelled word before the #16 reason ;)

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two Birthdays...

Henry's eighth birthday was at the end of September...
We started the day SO early (which is quite normal for a birthday) as you can see from the photo of the Boy yawning in front of his gifts. It was still dark. His favourite gift was from NannyO, a hand knitted horse that he just loves. We had to wait quite a while before we could head down to the Cheesecake Shop to pick out his cake, because for some reason they don't open before dawn . Of course, he chose the largest Black Forest cake in the store and we were eating it for a few days. Then froze what was left!
Once the rest of the world was awake, we made our way to the QLD museum for Gladiator School, which was supposed to be a children's lesson about what it may have been like to train as a gladiator. Unfortunately, it wasn't the best organised lesson and giving a dozen or so five and six year old boys plastic swords with very little supervision, perhaps wasn't a great idea. Poor Lily was hit a few times but she did her best to look after her little brother, protecting him from the kids who struggled with self control. It was school holidays so none of the children were home schooled and to my three, it really showed. Lily told me repeatedly she was very happy she didn't have to go to school because it was so noisy and the boys were very naughty. Not much thought went into behaviour management with only two very young (and clearly not trained in crowd control) girls teaching a class of about 20 children. All the kids should have been at least seven years old but most were about five and they should have had parents with them, but I was only one of three parents who didn't drop their kids off and leave. At least we know better for next time! It was actually the first school holiday class we have ever been to and now I know why I avoid public places during the holidays. It is just so chaotic!

Following our dangerous gladiator class, we made our way to our traditional morning tea at Max Brenner's for milkshakes and enough chocolate to choke a horse. All sword fighting was forgotten as we ate our body weight in chocolate. We all went home and as it was Henry's day, he got to tell everyone that it was time to play Minecraft! Our lovely framily (friends who are close enough to call family) came over in the afternoon to help us celebrate and we had a marshmallow and toothpick building challenge. It was a great end to what The Boy said was an awesome day. 

For the birthday boy, Lily made a custom cardboard car. They spent an entire afternoon on the front deck, driving by braille and making enough noise to annoy the neighbouring magpies. 

Two months after Henry's birthday, we were awakened at a ridiculous hour again for Lily's 10th birthday. As this is her first year in double figures, she gets four presents instead of one for each year since she was born. Zoe helped me pick out a couple of Minecraft books, Lily wanted a beautiful pink dress and a drone to share with her siblings. But presents were not really the focus for this birthday, for Lily it was all about the cake from the Cheesecake shop and chocolate at Max Brenner's! I showed her how I could write with chocolate on her banana bread but there was no room for bread when there was so much sweet goodness to eat! Gosh, I am glad there are only three birthdays a year so we can recover from our chocolate overdose. The rest of the day was spent binge watching some horse show on Netflix, playing Minecraft and eating marshmallows and cake. Life couldn't get any better!

How I Support Maths Learning...

Maths is one of the subjects that used to fill me with fear.  I used to wonder how I could ever teach the subject when I totally gave up on my formal maths learning at about the age of ten. After that, I failed every single maths exam and during year 9 and 10 maths (same teacher for both years) my bestie and I played games and tuned out from what the rest of the class was doing. That's right, the teacher completely ignored us unless we disturbed someone else and left us to play 'squares'. Thumbs up for public schooling in the 80s! Of course, during my signwriting apprenticeship and years in the trade, I taught myself many short cuts to achieve the math results I needed to get the job done. It doesn't mean that my methods of figuring out dimensions and measurements were wrong, I just always thought there may have been easier ways of doing things. It was in my head (and heart) that I was a complete maths failure because I failed maths exams at school and that was the only measurement of maths success that was valid to society.

Interestingly, one of our favourite games at the moment is squares! It was a great flashback to my high school maths classroom when I found this one online somewhere (free PDF). We take turns to multiply two dice together up to six, and mark off one side of the product's square. I was amazed at how fast Henry picked this up as he hasn't really learned how to multiply. I loved this game so much that I found some ten sided dice and made my own board of square to play. However, due to the exponential increase in factors and products, the game board is much larger and it takes a lot longer to complete the game. It doesn't matter though as we just pick up where we left off next time we play. A skip counting page is handy to have if you are still learning multiplication (yes, me!).

Lots of our maths learning in this lower levels involves games and hands on activities. We all love games so I try to find as many cheap or free games as I can online. The nrich website is a wealth of information and activities and I have spent many an hour just checking out the different resources available. It is really easy to make hands on activities such as paper Tetris and place value cups. A good thing to remember too is that some of these actives may only be used once for the child to grasp the concept. It is not a waste of time if it works and the child learns! It also proves that you don't need clutter creating expensive 'educational games' to create a love for learning.

Recently we bought some guides in the Beast Academy maths curriculum. This is a comic based maths course and it has lots of information. We also have a few work books to go with level 3 but I am finding Henry is getting more out of the books using them as reading out loud practice with Papa every day. The Boy has also been inspired to do some of the activities so I have printed out a few pages from the Beast Academy website so we can play together. If you are interested in Beast Academy you will have to get it from the US as there doesn't seem to be an Australian distributor. I was lucky enough to get it preloved from a good friend but I would love to get the next two levels too so I might have to wait until they pop up on the Aussie Homeschool Forum classifieds

Late last year we switched maths curriculums from Easy Learn Maths workbooks to Maths-U-See from Maths Australia. I love this program! It is a mastery based curriculum in that the student must master each concept before moving on to the next one. Each lesson adds to the previous in very small increments. After the student watches the DVD lesson with Steve Demme which takes a few minutes (a funny guy so I usually watch too!)  they use the blocks and do one to three pages of the worksheets of each lesson. My children then come to me and explain the concept until I am satisfied that they understand it. If they have shown me that they get it, they do the test page and they are done maths for the day. I started each child at a much lower level than they were doing with Easy Learn Maths so they could experience mastery confidence from the start. This is very important - if the child doesn't feel confident with what they are doing, there will be frustration and tears. There are lots of concepts my children know really well and a few that are new so some lessons can take more than one day. If I think they need more practice, they do a couple more lesson pages (there are six for each lesson) the next day and try explaining the concept to me again. They usually know it very well by this time so they complete the test and move on to the next lesson. I have decided to stick with Maths-U-See as our main maths curriculum (it has levels from pre-school through to senior) and use supplementary games and activities to add more fun when we need it. Below is a stop motion Lily did a few months ago that shows there are many ways to display understanding!

Maths holds no fear for me anymore. I still have much to learn in this subject and I love that I am able to learn with my children. Zoe is beginning Maths-U-See level Epsilon (fractions) and I am really looking forward to seeing where I can increase my knowledge and understanding in numbers. Who would have thought that I would really look forward to maths lessons? Not my 10 year old self!