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.

A little bit of learning

home learning

We have been skiing, sleighing, ice-skating, drinking koffie and kaffee in cafes most days and hanging out in some of my favourite European cities.

European adventures cannot be underestimated. But my favourite day might surprise you.

My favourite day was spent mostly inside, in a small cottage in the mountains. It was raining, and cold. My husband had driven to Vienna to try and resolve some crazily complicated passport problems. When a sudden and urgent drive to Vienna was on the table, both my girls protested: ‘No!’ and so did I.

Inside, we had important things to do.

At about 9am, we started my eldest daughter’s distance education material. She has ten days worth of material, including videos of books, audios, maths workbooks and writing workbooks. She has to make video recordings and art. She has to read books with her parents, discuss the material and do associated projects. The material could be daunting.

But apparently, depriving my daughter of formal education until she was well and truly six meant she was hungry for learning, and no amount of printed material was going to scare her away.

We started with Day 1. My youngest sat on my lap, and listened along with the stories. She joined in projects where she could. Within an hour or so, Day 1 was complete.

‘Day 2!’ said my eldest. We sunk our teeth into the next day’s material. And the next. And the next.

One of the projects was to make a shopping list. So we sent Granny Annie into town to fetch ‘bread’ and ‘salami’, written by my daughter’s hand.

By 4pm, the girls were still in their PJs. Granny Annie and I were keen for fresh air, and to get the girls outside. Reluctantly, they tore themselves away from the stories and the books and the maths workbooks and the art projects to feed a hungry sheep, and show me the igloo they made yesterday.

We sat in the rain, on the snow, on a picnic blanket, of all things, in the forest. My daughters made a pretend fire, and hosted some sort of wicker-like nature blessing. Granny Annie danced around us, waving sticks, while we sang Kumbaya.

As soon as we were home, my eldest insisted we commence Day 6. She squeezed in projects between dinner and bath. Helping me make dinner was a side project.

A week ago, when my daughter started skiing for the first time, and refused to stop until it was impossible to ski anymore, I saw a new side of her personality emerge. A side which reflected persistence and passion for learning.

During the week, she learnt to knit. When not learning or skiing, she sits by the fire and knits a brown scarf.

Before bed each night, her little sister in bed, she plays board games and card games with her grandma in Dutch. She’s learnt a bit of chess, and tonight is learning backgammon.

Through it all, she learns Dutch, often answering my English questions in Dutch.

In the last few weeks, my Facebook feed has been filled with ‘first day of school’ photos; this significant milestone marked with a picture of a smiling child dressed in school uniform.

My daughter’s first day of school photo was less conventional. She lay on a hedge, wearing a furry lime green hooded jacket. She was mad at us for picking her up from the Dutch school she was visiting. She was under the impression this was the first day of school, as she knew a first day of school to be. She hadn’t factored in she would then be dragged across the continent, and that learning would include learning to ski, knit, play board games and eventually homeschool.

We are doing things in a funny way. But as this beautiful person beside me grows, and develops in ways beyond my imagining, I am thinking the funny way is a good kind of way.

There are lots of ways to learn. And I am open to all possibilities. So is she, thankfully.

Imagination School

An image for "When Alien's Came To The Byron Bay Library" created in Imagination School.

An image from “When Alien’s Came To The Byron Bay Library” created in Imagination School.

I’ve mentioned ‘Imagination School’ a few times here, and on Facebook, and realised I have never really given you the low-down.

It kind of began on our honeymoon eight years ago, walking through the wetlands of Kakadu.

‘What do you really want to do, if you could do anything?’ asked my husband.

I thought of the sum of all dreams, and realised it would be to run a creative school for kids.

I love kids. And as a kid, I loved being creative. It was a path I followed into adulthood, having studied art history and creative writing. My first real job was working in an art gallery. And now I am a professional writer.

Lots of my friends at school did Brownies, or played netball or soccer. I did sewing classes. We had an amazing teacher – Mrs Corry – whose house we visited after school. We’d have afternoon tea, then as a group, we’d work on our projects. We made quilts, sweaters, suit jackets, pants…

I was laughing the other day at the outfit I made for our overseas adventure when I was 10. A soft tailored navy jacket with shoulder pads, and soft balloon trousers. Fashionable!

All of my after  school activities involved creativity and imagination. Our primary school was pretty excellent for promoting creativity in their curriculum. And my high schools too had excellent art and drama departments. I was lucky.

I had always imagined myself as an adult inspiring kids to engage with creative projects after school.

The conversation with my husband had long been forgotten when I did a talk about imaginative activities at a community event sometime last year. Shortly after, a lady contacted me to see if I would be interested in running a regular group for their homeschoolers. Yes, I definitely would be.

Particularly when I met the kids, and connected so well with them.

Our classes were fortnightly to begin with, and are now every week. We have so much fun. We make books, stories, and lately an animation. We play imaginative games, and storytelling games. We act out fictional characters and situations.

All our activities are collaborative. I bring a small bag with a few props and prompts, but the kids will take up my initial suggestions and weave something new and fantastic.

I feel like I could write a book of all the fun imaginative games and activities we’ve invented.

I love how imaginative these kids are. I also love how well they work together. The older kids help the younger kids. They all inspire each other. They are – this group is – a total testament to homeschooling.

Anyway, here’s the animation we made last week using the children’s watercolour paintings, Adobe Photoshop CS6 and iMovie. Hope you enjoy it.

May your day too be filled with creative, imaginative fun. x