What happens when all the toys are put away...

Here is an update on our experiment - putting away the children's toys. (And it is an experiment, like every other parenting decision because honestly, who really knows what they are doing?) They still have quite a few soft toys in their bedroom but all other toys are put away out of sight. Of course everyone is still allowed to play with their toys (and no one has really noticed that they have about a tenth of the toys they had a year ago), but it seems they only want to play with one or two at a time - that is when they actually look for them. Most of the time the children just play with whatever is at hand. Like stones under the back stairs, leaves on the ground or dead bamboo sticks. So many more things happen when there are fewer distractions...

One Friday afternoon when we had our Super Neighbours over, The Epic Five (as the five children call themselves) began cutting pieces of bamboo and string to create bow and arrows. They didn't get far with the arrow making or shooting but they made the bows look authentic enough to hang off a shoulder so they could pretend to be hunters. I have no idea of the premise of the game and no one was bothered that they couldn't actually shoot arrows. Heath was fascinated though and began to look up on youtube how to make really cool bow and arrows out of a few other things found cheaply at Bunnings. The result was some awesome bows with dowel arrows that the children - and especially Heath - had a great time shooting at small targets. The favourite target was the box from my new computer. The bows, arrows and the targets are all put away for now, but I am sure we will bring it all out again in the near future. I had a few shots and it is surprisingly difficult and oh so satisfying when it actually works and the arrow goes thunk into the box target.
When the Epic Five are together at our house, it is rare they play with toys. They usually draw pictures and write stories together in the playroom and sometimes have some music on for a dance party. Or in the backyard they set up jumps so they can pretend to be horses competing at jumping. I listen to what they are playing but I must admit, I can't make much sense of their games! I love that they all come up with games on their own and only need adult input when someone gets physically or emotionally hurt. The latter is happening more often as we move into a season of four pre-pubescent girls. 
I have found the key to the children spending time in the playroom, or anywhere really, is to make sure they keep it neat with everything it its place. Of course this is not an easy thing to do, my monkeys would much prefer to trash the room and move on to somewhere else to mess up. But when I make sure they clean up regularly throughout the day, it makes it really easy for anyone to take out the craft materials they need to create, or to choose a toy or manipulative to play with for a while. They are getting better at putting things back where they belong once they are finished playing and I am getting better at not nagging. I think... Regardless we start each school day in the playroom with lots more of me reading to them and we have even started verbal Latin lessons. I have been learning Latin for a few months now and Zoe joined in when I started but now all three are repeating after me 'Sum nauta' and it is so cute! 

Henry has been working on his alphabet this year and over the last few weeks, everything has been sinking in. At Christmas, he couldn't recognise about half of the alphabet. So we used hands on activities to help him recognise each letter and their sounds. He also loves Reading Eggs and wants to work on 'cracking eggs' most days. Now he is reading three letter words and trying to sound out many more. I find it interesting that it took Henry about six months to reach this stage and it took Zoe (who began prep at four and a half) nearly three years and a lot more tears and frustration. Henry has also shown an amazing ability to absorb mathematical concepts. Last night I was showing him a fractions book I was working on for Zoe and he told me one half is the same as two quarters and then he continued telling me the next equivalent fractions up to six twelfths without looking at the book! Then I thought that is a bit of a fluke maybe he doesn't really understand what he was doing but then he gave the equivalent fractions of one third up to four twelfths! Zoe started on fractions this year and only last night (with some help from Henry and the new book) understood equivalent fractions. Not that I usually compare the children to each other but I found it fascinating how Henry's brain works so differently. He is now doing the same maths workbook that Lily worked on when she started homeschooling. It seems a little too easy for him but I don't want to rush through it and miss something important and he is happy enough to just do a few pages a day.

I think there is something to be said for waiting until the child is older to introduce formal literacy studies. Finland's education system is very good for many reasons (more info here) and I especially like how they wait until the child is seven before formal education. And they are not given exams or any kind of testing until they are 16! Imagine not being tested every week on what the teacher should be teaching you and is it the student or the teaching being assessed? Imagine the teacher having time to be with you and make sure you are learning to read and write and appreciate literature. Imagine enjoying being in a classroom where there are hands on activities every day because there are no more than 16 students in every class. Imagine going to school for the sole purpose of learning...

The above video is the children playing with the Edison robots we bought them for Christmas. They get them out every now and then, program them to sumo wrestle, load them up with Lego pieces then giggle and squeal until all the Lego falls off! It really is very funny to watch. Then they pull all the blinds down, program the Edisons to follow a torch light then walk around backwards through the dark rooms in the house - with the Edison following their torch beam like a flashing, beeping orange puppy. There is a drag and drop app for the Edison so the children can learn really basic coding but none of them have shown too much interest in that as yet. Maybe they need to see me playing with the app on my computer and that may inspire them.

Speaking of computers, Heath spoiled me with a new one - a mac for something really different! - and I am finding it a very steep learning curve because macs are so different to PCs. I will get used it because it is such a pretty computer and suits my minimalist aesthetics with so few cables and a sleek profile. Not to mention a whisper quiet operation! 

This pendulum activity took a while to plan and wait for the right day to execute. Then of course the children were more interested in finger painting the entire canvas rather than actually enjoying the random motion of the pendulum. Oh well. I really enjoyed it! Thanks to my uni buddy Naomi for the large canvasses. I think the rips in the canvas will be fun to use to teach the children sewing!

This is NannyO in her her workshop. How cool is it? Look at her, she seems very happy doesn't she, not even noticing me taking photos of her :) 
We hardly see her anymore she is so busy making things. The children love to visit and ask for things to be made - usually stuffed knitted animals! We now have a large menagerie that the children use for their vet games.

A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to be a part of a first aid course organised by a homeschooling group. This included CPR as well as sings and bites. Henry and Lily enjoyed the bandaging part the best... I must remember to get our bandages out so they can practice more! It was a lovely couple of days out with some lovely families.
Someone asked me recently if we were a part of a nice homeschooling group. I didn't really know how to answer as we do know of a couple of groups who take part in various activities and we join them occasionally, but I am not really sure if I would say we are a part of a group. We still have Spanish in the Park and there are a few families we meet up with while we are there but that is the only regular activity we do with other homeschooling families. It is not that we don't want to, it is more that I don't feel like we need the constant company of other homeschoolers. Much to the bewilderment of many homeschooling mums I meet, I am not on Facebook and there seems to be lots happening on social media but despite what people may think, I know I am not missing out on anything. I have one thoughtful friend in particular who remembers me when an event is being organised and she sends me a text or email. 

Our Super Neighbours loaned a pottery wheel to us and I am having a great time reliving my semester of throwing at uni. The children haven't given me very much time on it because as soon as I sit down to practice, they are all next to me begging for a turn! Or food. Why are they always hungry? Snacks aside, all three have had a couple of turns and have decided that it is more difficult than it looks. Of course I have forgotten most of what I learned at uni, despite having one on one tuition with an amazing ceramicist. We have been checking out Youtube and there are lots of teachers who are willing to show us how it is done. There are also a few real life classes I am thinking about taking... when I can find some time! Meanwhile I try to play in mud as often as I possible. Once we grow in confidence and proficiency I will look into getting our work fired. Until then we are also learning how to recycle our clay! 

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