Learning by somersault


My daughter is six-and-a-half. In Australia, she would be enrolled in a school. As it is, we are on the other side of the world, so her learning is a little less structured.

She is at a Dutch school a couple of days a week. But here, school for six-year-olds is more play and less formal learning.

She’s rapidly learning Dutch, and her little mind is blowing and growing as she becomes a small bi-lingual human being.

Meanwhile, I am keen for her to learn a little literacy and numeracy for when we are back in Australia. I don’t want her to be too behind. So she is doing distance education one or so days a week through the public school system.

Between various work opportunities for parents, my daughter’s Dutch school, bike riding, visiting forests and living with lots of people, there isn’t a lot of time to do home education. And admittedly, structure and routine isn’t her parents’ forte.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter had a break through with her reading. Sounds started to blend. And she started to ‘get it’. It was exciting.

The logical next move would be to build on that, add more words, try more sounds. But being the unstructured, slightly chaotic folk we are, we went back to other things, and formal learning slipped on the back burner.

Two weeks later, after a four-day week at school {early mornings/not enough sleep/four days speaking in a second language}, my daughter was understandably exhausted.

After a day or so recovery, we attempted a little home schooling. There was resistance. Hesitation. Immediate giving-uppage.

As a parent/’supervisor’, I was frustrated. I possibly lost my rag more times than I am proud of.

We escaped, and went to the forest. She played on a fallen log with her little sister, and went from floppy girl on floor to alive and amazing human, playing in nature.

At home, we tried a little more learning. After one happy and successful worksheet, she was off up the stairs, busying herself with other things that interested her.

Next day, we make a pact. Nature play first. Then learning. Both children learnt to somersault and swing like monkeys from the monkey bars. It was 4pm by the time I could finally drag them home, and sit down for a little learning.

But of course, 5pm is a little late to start homeschool.

So I am pulling my hair out. Not because of my daughter’s strong-minded, spirited personality, but because of my own disorganised chaotic parenting. I’ve done this all wrong.

That night, my husband and I have a D&M. I’m failing, I said.

You’re not. She’s tired. She’s learning a whole other language. Maybe we just need to step back, and she’ll learn to read when she’s ready.

The next day, slept-up and back to former glory, my daughter bounced out of bed. She grabbed the reading sheet, sounded out a word or two, then insisted we go to the park. I need to practice somersaults. Bring the worksheet, Mum. Somersault, then word. Handstand, then word. Then the blood will be in my head, and it will work better.

The girls ran ahead. Pippi Longstockings and her little side-kick, Annika. We waited, while Pippi climbed over the fence, rather than walking around it. She couldn’t do it at first, so persisted until she could.

Somersault. Headstand. Climb tree. Word. And repeat. She disappeared into the bushes at some point with the reading sheet, to practice sounding out words on her own. Then I sat on the grass in the sun, with Pippi and Annika, and sounded out more words.

The girls played hide and seek. Climbed more trees.

It was after 6pm by the time we left the park.

This morning, I still didn’t have a structure or organised plan. But I did have a well-rested happy little girl, who was easily convinced to do her worksheet before anything else. By 9am, she’d done two beautifully, and a craft project. Now, she’s upstairs, happily chatting away to others in the house.

I don’t know if I am cut out to be a homeschool mum. But I am appreciative that my daughter is who she is, and learns the best way she knows how.

The memory makers + the memory takers

memory makers and memory takers

Hanging out with one of my best friends in the whole entire world last weekend made me realise something.

I have a terrible memory.

My friend recalls details about my past I have no recollection of. She remembers the details of my 20th birthday – who stayed where and what we did. My memory of the day is sparse.

She remembers every little aspect of our trip to India together. Of when we first met. Of studying together.

I am so grateful to have a friend who also doubles as a memory bank, and only wish I had met her when I was five. Or earlier, preferably.

As I sort through the debris of my memory, there are icons that stand out.

From my childhood, it’s my special imagination olive tree, where I spent days cooped up in its branches. I remember the barren paddocks. The kangaroos on dusk. I remember being followed by our old German Shepard, Sammy, as we walked through the scrub.

Through my adult years, the particularly traumatic, or the particularly emotional moments are the memorable ones. Any occasions coupled with alcohol are vague wisps of something reminiscent of memory.

Memories are so important, aren’t they? Aren’t they – us? We are but a sum of our memories.

I think about this a lot in relation to my kids. What memories are we making for them? Each little day, piled on another day. Those moments, cutting out paper on the kitchen floor, or swinging in the hammock, or playing in the sand…this collection of moments in time. Which ones will stick? Hopefully the good ones?

As I take my phone out to snap a particularly important moment – a lost tooth – for instance, I think about this process of memory keeping. If I take a photo on my phone, am I purchasing insurance for my memory of that moment – or my child’s memory?

When I need to remember something in particular, I write it down. Even if I never read the note again, the act of writing helps commit the memory. Is it the same with taking photos?

Maybe. Maybe not. There are a million photos stacked on my hard drive, and in books, and on my computer. My husband thinks it’s ludicrous. I will never ever get to look at all those photos surely. But I haven’t the heart to delete them. I have to keep them. This bank of memories. It’s much more reliable than my own sieve.

I wonder sometimes whether the act of taking the photo itself diminishes my ability to simply remember the moment.

When we travelled when Elka was about two, I was walking back down the mountain, and she was running towards me. The joy on her face, and the childish enthusiasm of her run made me want to snap a picture. I did. And she immediately turned on her heel, and ran away from me. It was like popping a bubble. The moment evaporated with the click of my camera.

Lately, I find my memory’s worse than usual. And the reason why is obvious. There is so so much to remember.

I don’t mean commitments, or appointments etc. I remember those things quite easily.

I am busy, yes, with preparing for the launch of my book, and the other things on my plate. But it’s more than that.

We are flooded constantly with potential stimulus for memory. Each time I scroll through social media, the list of things I could potentially remember exponentially grows. And grows.

Trawling social media feels a little like using a metal detector on the beach. We look and look, and wait for something to stick. And at last the beep goes off, and that particularly cute image of a cat wearing glasses glues.

And the minefield of visual information is competing with the actual stuff in my life I should be remembering.

Like that wonderfully cute and hilarious thing Rosie said the other day. What was it again, that made us crack up so much? I have no idea. I swear to myself I need to write those comments and quotes down when they happen – not later, because later they are definitely forgotten.

I wonder what all these images, and all this information will do to our collective future memory. Will it be sharper, as we expose ourselves to more? Or will it diminish, as we rely more and more on technologies to remember things for us? {Phone numbers. Calendar dates. Passwords…} Maybe there’s just not enough space in our tiny human brains to handle the vast amount of material coming our way.

So, this week, I am conscious about where I place my attention. I am going to aim to place it carefully on things that matter. Precious moments with my children. A beautiful children’s book. I am going to gaze into that moment, and let it gel. Then, when it has settled, I’ll break my gaze and carry on.

And I really should remember to write that stuff down. And take a photo.

How’s your memory? And how do you make it better?

The funny little family

silly little family

My husband and I love movies. Who doesn’t? It’s been a while though since we watched something together. So the other night we snuggled down to watch a movie on Netflix.

Is it just me, or is there not a whole lot to choose from on the Australian Netflix? Gregor does not do drama, so that kind of narrows things. And we are fussy.

We eventually settled on Easy A, which looked pretty fine.

It was. Not a super great movie. But it was easy to watch, and entertaining.

The thing we liked most were Olive’s parents, played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci. Her parents laughed and joked with Olive, who was meant to be in her late teens, and their younger adopted son. They joked about their son being adopted. They joked about the sexual persuasion of Olive’s boyfriend.  It’s hard to convey the jokes themselves without sounding inappropriate and unPC. They really weren’t bad though.

The point was, the parents were so light with their kids. They had fun. And more than that. They talked to the kids as equals.

It was an unusual Hollywood nuclear family portrayal. Or maybe I just haven’t watched a lot of movies lately. Maybe this is becoming a normal portrayal. Just a family, having fun.

Afterwards, Gregor and I sung the praises of the film – well, mainly the family. ‘I’m watching this movie again if ever I need inspiration,’ said Greg. It clicked with us.

We have a lot of fun in our sunshine house too. It’s not entirely a co-incidence that my two-year-old has a wicked sense of humour – and has had since she was about six-months. She’ll make a joke, and cackle with laughter.

My older daughter gets pretty subtle humour too. We joke around the breakfast table most mornings and every evening.

One of the main things that attracted me to Gregor when we first met was his wit. When he went on holiday,  he’d send funny little emails that had me in stitches – and not just because of his dodgy English. *soosages*

His humour can be very subtle and hard to pick though. Or maybe I am just gullible.

At some stage, Elka, my oldest, wanted to set up a joke school. She’d be the headmistress, and the purpose of the school would be to teach other people when Daddy was joking or not joking. {Rosie was assigned crèche responsibilities.}

Laughter has gotten us out of many a pickle. Just yesterday, I was a wee bit hung over after my little birthday party at home with a couple of people. It was hard going getting through the afternoon. Especially as tired little Elka was pushing all the limits, and Gregor was at work. But humour saved us. We turned potential snow storms into silly jokes.

Even my arguments with Gregor are quickly diffused by a little light-hearted joke. Thank goodness. I am no good with conflict. Especially long-lasting conflict.

I guess those early *soosage* emails were a sign of good things to come.

Are you are laughey family too? What part does humour play in your life?

Great Fathers {Sunshine Sundays}

Good morning. It’s Father’s Day in Australia. If you need to whizz to the shops and buy roses for your special father, then do it NOW before they are up. You may even have time to make a coffee for him, before he’s out of bed…

I think I will do the coffee thing for my husband. He’ll like that.

I would like to say that as far as fathers go, my girls are pretty lucky. When I quizzed my daughter what she would like to write in her mini book about her dad, her poem went something like…

All The Ways I Love My Dad

I love my dad because he’s special.

I love my dad because he’s so kind.

I love my dad because he’s beautiful.

I love my dad because he sings lovely songs. 

I love my dad as big as a big watermelon. That’s how big I love my daddy.

As big as her four-year-old frustrations and her temper tantrums can be, they are no match for the biggness of her love for her dad. She tells me, when she is feeling particularly warm and generous towards me, that she loves me as much as she loves Dad, and that is an incredible lot. She reaches her hands as wide as they can possibly go to show how big the love is.

At night, my daughter has a game she invented before bed. It’s called the ‘clappy game’. Basically, the clappy hands have to decide who’s taking her to bed. She positions Gregor and me at either end of the living room, and proceeds to clap. The little clappers head towards the parent of choice, and the decision is made.

Mostly, the clappies head towards their dad. If they head my way, it’s usually because she feels bad the clappies usually choose Gregor. And often, once I am lying down with her, she’ll whisper, ‘Actually, I really feel like having Dad.’ She doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, but then I can’t deny they have a special connection.

‘It’s ok, sweetie,’ I whisper back.

The fact is, he loves his girls so purely and so simply. He oozes love for them from every pore of his body. She knows this.

Maybe it’s a learnt thing. Maybe it’s hereditary, his way of loving.

His grandfather, Opa, loved him like that. Pure. Simple.

Gregor talked about his early memories of feeling loved by his grandfather, and I am sure that affection is at the root of Gregor’s self-esteem and self-love.

When we visited Opa in Austria a couple of years ago, I watched Gregor sit with his grandfather. ‘Ja, Ochi,’ he would say softly, tenderly, as his grandfather recounted tales of his youth. He held his grandfather’s hand in his.

When we said goodbye, my husband’s eyes welled with tears. Opa sang – an Austrian mountain song. We all cried.

Opa passed away in July. The news wasn’t a shock – he’d been sick. But it never makes sense when someone leaves the world, no matter how old or sick they are.

How can he not be here anymore?

I only met him a couple of times. He didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak German. But his presence in our sunshine lives was so strongly felt. Most mornings, he came up in conversation during breakfast. ‘This is Opa cheese,’ my four-year-old would say, referring to the blue vein.

She frequently drew pictures for Opa.

I’d print off photos of the girls to send to him, or make him albums or videos of things we had been doing. He’d ask for one of me too, and tell Gregor how lucky he was to have found me.

Now he’s not there to send them to.

It’s not just talk of Opa that fills our house, though. It’s his love.

It seeped into Gregor, from when he was a little boy living in Austria, through to the last conversation he ever had with his grandfather a few days before he passed away.

Opa was generous in a way I’ve known few people to be. Maybe it was living through horrific times, war, famine etc.

Maybe he was just wired like that. But he kept giving.

Thankfully, generosity, like love, is hereditary.

The happiest people I know are the most generous

And through Gregor, Opa has taught me too to be generous. It’s not my default position, but surrounding myself with the likes of Gregor and the presence of his grandfather has made me not even question the biggest selfless act.

Maybe because there is a simple equation. Being generous makes you happy. Or maybe you need to be happy to be generous. Maybe both.

Opa’s physical presence has left the world. On the day he died, my daughter told me Opa’s very flat now, and living on a star. But his kindness and generosity are in Gregor, in me, in the girls.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to get so sentimental. Father’s Day does funny things to the brain.

Please, link up your ‘father’ post, or share anything you would like to on the topic, either in the linky, in the comments or on social media at #sunshinesunday.

Happy Father’s Day. Love and be generous today. xx

 Loading InLinkz ...

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is full of sunny goodness.

A+ in Dreaming

A + In dreaming

My four-and-a-half year old daughter received her first report card a few weeks ago.

I scanned the boxes and ticks, my stomach tightening. My daughter’s sweet waif like spirit was being reduced to a few squares. A few ticks.

She was being marked on attendance and rhythm, and keeping beat in time to the music. It was perfectly innocent, and designed to show where her strengths and weaknesses are and where she needs to improve.

I am not ready for this.

Meanwhile, my daughter sprung around the house, legs flailing and arms outstretched as she talked animatedly about her children who live in Eng-a-land, and learning about lizards from Mr Salt in homeschool.

How do you grade this stuff? This ability to dream and create and spring around enthusiastically?

Reports and the such have been on my husband and my mind lately as we start to look at schools for my daughter.

I don’t think we are ready to have the way she holds her pen etc. and the way she keeps rhythm quantified. I try and capture some of her stories and lovingly store her creations in a Tupperware box in the cupboard, or hang them on the fridge. This stuff is not good, bad, average, weak or excellent. It just is, and as a mother, I love every bit about it as an expression and extension of herself.

I run a little Imagination School for a group of homeschoolers once a week. It used to be fortnightly, but they requested we do it every week as they love it so much. *Fills my heart.

We do simple little activities, like making mini books, or postcards from far away lands. We read, we make treasure hunts and tell stories. These boys have never been tested on their imaginative, creative ways, and so they continue to expand like the universe. Their ability to imagine is limitless.

This stuff isn’t testable, and nor should it be. But it’s the stuff that’s underpinning creative thinking, problem solving and the ability to think abstractly, which are fundamental to learning and innovation.

Even though she doesn’t attend Imagination School, my daughter counts down the sleeps until it’s on. We talk about Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, a previous life spent in Eng-a-land and Imagination School most hours of the day. On home days, we make and do with whatever is around, using our imaginations to make the world a prettier place.

For now at least in our little sunshine home, we are nurturing all those things that can’t be boxed or ticked away.

Do you have a dreamer?

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is full of sunny goodness.

Linking with Essentially Jess.