Star’s Reading Journey Continues

A year or so ago I wrote a post on my old blog about Star’s reading journey and how she was learning to read through life and her own determination. At that point she was 9 years old and was at a place in her journey where she could technically “read” but not at a place where she could read anything she wished fluently and with confidence.

Star’s learning to read journey has been mostly following an unschooling path. The only directed learning being when we were still homeschooling with a Waldorf curriculum and Star learnt the alphabet through Waldorf main lessons, and completed Waldorf language based main lessons when she was 7 years old. 

I explained in my previous post how we have always provided our children with a home filled with a love of language. We adore books. We have always read to our children. They have grown up on picture books, fairytales, folk tales, mythology, poetry, songs, and books of non fiction. As Star and Bear have got older we have read longer chapter books and novels; Bear only recently stopping listening to Scott and I read at night (it has been a gradual decrease over the past couple of years) at the age of 15 years old. And they are surrounded by as many books as we can fit into our tiny house!

Over the past year Star has been sporadically continuing to advance her own reading ability. At times it has been difficult for her. She has wanted to be at that place where she can read with the ease and confidence that she sees the rest of the family reading with but has struggled with frustration and not being ready to read books that are at the level of her maturity. During this time, as always, we have supported and trusted

Supported her by offering any help we were able to, in whatever form she wished. Whether that was listening to her read, helping her with words and sounds she couldn’t figure out, helping her with writing, spelling, and grammar, giving suggestions of books to read, visiting secondhand bookshops to look for a book she might like, encouraging perseverance without pressure or expectations, and always, always reading to Star.

Trusted in her. That she would follow her own path and find her way in her time. Showing Star our unshakable trust and certainty in her ability to learn to read with confidence. Reminding her we are all individuals, we all learn in our own way, and that it will happen for her.

To meet Star’s maturity and interest over the past few months we have delved deeper into the wonderful world of fantasy! Earlier in the year I read Star the ultimate classic of fantasy; The Lord of the Rings. This was so thoroughly embraced and loved by her, sparking a desire to learn more about Middle Earth and Tolkien’s amazing world. Star was gifted her father’s beloved Tolkien Bestiary, that was bought for him by his father, which she adores, and also his copy of The Silmarillion. We bought her her own copies of the three books, The Hobbit (which I have read to Star previously), and a Middle Earth Album of painted pictures which she treasures. 

Star began to learn and recite songs and verses from The Lord of the Rings so we bought her a special writing book which she is using to copy down her favourites, pasting pictures torn out from a secondhand Lord of the Rings address book her father found at a tip shop alongside each song. She even began testing us on the verse of the ring, getting us all to learn and recite it! She is now using her book to write down poems from other books, learning them and reciting them for her own enjoyment. 

Star watched the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies (looking away during the goriest parts), and we luckily found a secondhand copy of the old animated movie. We also gathered all of her father’s Tolkien books (Scott has had a passion for The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s books since he first read The Hobbit at age 10; The Hobbit being the book that began his lifelong love of reading) and Scott is currently reading Star Smith of Wootton Major. 

Following on  we read the Sword of Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks which Star says are now her favourite books besides The Lord of The Rings, and I am currently reading to her First King of Shannara; the prequel to the trilogy. I have also entered into the absolutely Stunning world of Ursula Le Guin with Star; just recently having finished the second of the Earthsea books, The Tombs of Atuan. Ursula’s writing is so well-crafted, original, and intelligent, and Star eagerly awaits the third book. Not too long ago we also found one of Brian Jacques’ Redwall books The Legend of Luke at a secondhand bookshop, Star and Bear both really, really enjoyed this. Since then we’ve been keeping our eye out for more and recently found The Pearls of Lutra, which I have just finished reading to Star, was likewise thoroughly enjoyed, and Bear has snuck away to read himself.

I must also mention that even though we have mainly been adventuring in the world of fantasy, over the past few months Scott has also read to Star books by Gerald Durrel. Her favourite was certainly The Bafut Beagles; at night whilst I was getting Strong to sleep in the loft I would hear Star and Scott rolling with laughter to the antics of Gerald and the Fon (the ruler of Bafut with an insatiable appetite for alcohol), and the little animal characters. Star also enjoyed A Zoo in My Luggage nearly as much, and less so The Aye-Aye and I as it contains much less humour.

In the last couple of weeks Star has started reading Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (a book I loved when I was young). And much to her delight and all of our happiness she is not finding it frustrating! She has been reading some most nights, has read more than she’s ever read of a book before, and tells me the title of each chapter as she reaches it. I’m so pleased she has found a book that is at a level she can fluently read and is also meeting her maturity and interest. I can see already that she is gaining in confidence and this is increasing daily as she reads with ease from books that previously she would have dismissed as too daunting.

Star has arrived where she is now through her self driven learning, in her time, and along her path, not according to someone else’s schedule and unrealistic expectations. I wonder how her reading would have progressed if she had gone to school; would she have been reading fluently earlier or would her self confidence and belief in her own ability to learn have been shattered. I am just so very thankful that we will never know.

One method of Making Soy Milk 

Since we have begun transitioning to a waste free lifestyle one of the more dramatic adjustments I’ve made in the kitchen is making our own vegan milks, and also tofu. I have attempted and succeeded making several different milks so far, our favourite being almond and soy; soy the most versatile in my opinion, and  what we are all used to the most as it is what we have predominantly drank In the past.

It was very important to me; a fundamental step in transitioning to waste free living, to stop buying tetra packs of long life vegan milks and plastic packaged tofu. Happily we have now reached the stage where I have been making our own milks for several months, and I have also begun making our own tofu, thereby drastically reducing our waste and recycling production. 

Making soy milk is very cost effective, and although more involved and time consuming than making nut milk, can be achieved quite easily every few days once you have practised it regularly and it becomes routine. I now use two different ways to make soy milk; the longer method I use predominantly for drinking as it is creamier and yields more milk, and the quicker method I use when I am using it solely for making tofu or in other cooking. I thought I’d share the longer method here first.

Soy Milk (This recipe is a slightly adjusted version of one found in How It All Vegan, a very much loved vegan cookbook in our home! I have also gained wisdom and knowledge from the wonderful Natural Tucker by John Downes)

(This recipe makes roughly 2.5 litres)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups organic dried soy beans, soaked overnight in plenty of water (they will swell up to approximately 4 cups when soaked), strained and rinsed well
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 7 cups cold water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract (optional)
  • 5-6 tbs rice malt syrup 
  • Nut milk bag or piece of muslin for straining

Method

  1. Begin by blending one third of the soy beans in 1 cup of the boiling water, and in a large pot add 6 of the 7 cups of cold water. Pour the pulp from the blender into the large pot, then repeat this process with the remaining two thirds of beans and 2 cups of boiling water. Use the last cup of cold water to rinse out the blender and add this to the pot also.
  2. Place the pot of raw gó puree (as it is called at this stage) over a medium heat on the stove and slowly bring to the boil, stirring often to prevent it from catching on the bottom. When the puree boils foam will rise to the top of the pot. Turn off the heat, cover and leave to cool until it is at a temperature you can handle with your hands. It is now called simply gó puree.
  3. When cool enough strain the gó through muslin or a nut milk bag (I made my own nut milk bag from cotton muslin, it is extremely helpful), squeezing as much of the milk out of the pulp or bean meal as you can. The remaining meal is called okara and is absolutely awesome kept in the fridge for up to a few days or in the freezer for several months and used in vegetable patties, soy loaf,deep fried balls or baking. When we have too much we sprinkle it over our garden beds, put it in the compost, or sprinkle it on the ground outside for our resident wallabies.
  4. Place your now strained soy milk back into the large pot (give the pot a wash first to remove any remaining pulp) and add the salt, vanilla, and rice malt. Place on a very low heat for half an hour, stirring often, you do not want the milk to catch or burn. Turn off the heat and the soy milk is ready! 

    I usually wait for the milk to cool a little, remove any skin that has formed on the top (another very useful and delicious by product of making soy milk called yuba), bottle, and place in the fridge. A creamy and delightful soy milk that will keep for up to a week in the fridge!

    Unexpected turns and bends along the road

    When we first moved to Tasmania from South Australia over 9 years ago it was a hard to believe dream come true. Scott and I had longed for years to buy a block of land to settle down on but our reality in Adelaide was moving from rental to rental each year trying in vain to find somewhere that brought us happiness; none of them ever quite right, and only ever earning enough money for what we needed to just get by. So when we saw a property in Tasmania advertised in the back of an Earth Garden magazine that we thought maybe, just maybe we could afford, it was like stepping onto an emotional train ride that was filled with near derailings, but that I knew would somehow get to its destination if we kept trying and persevering. And a little over three months later we had a hard won home loan, Scott had a chef position lined up in Franklin, Tasmania and we were in the throws of moving. I just couldn’t believe we’d done it, we had our long dreamed of block of land! 

    I do believe that Tasmania is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we are so privileged and blessed to be living here. Over the past nine years I have grown and changed and my beautiful family has blossomed. We embarked on our homeschooling journey when we moved here, and what an amazing, incredibly rewarding, and eye opening journey it has been and still is! Tasmania has offered us so much and even though we have been through some very trying times we have learnt and loved so much together. I sometimes look back on the young me as I was growing up and dreaming of my future and think, I never would have thought this is what my life would be like and how I would be living it, but I am so happy this is how I am living my life and that I have listened to my heart and been open to the unexpected turns and bends along the road.

    Nearly two years ago I was heavily pregnant and getting ready for the homebirth of our little angel Strong. In April of 2015 he blessed our lives as he was peacefully born in front of the hearth in our small wooden house, and his beautiful presence brought a spectacular change to our lives. In the following months I fell more and more deeply in love with my adorable angel and if possible more deeply in love with Bear and Star; the most wonderful loving brother and sister. In other areas of my life though, I felt trapped, down, drained, and at times very anxious. I was unhappy with how we were living; with the practicalities of day to day, I needed inspiration, release, freedom, change, motivation, and some universal guidance! 

    It was around this time that a few pieces of our life ordered themselves into just the right positions and Scott and I knew it was the time for us to go on the camping road trip around mainland Australia that we’d been wanting to do for years. We got ourselves organised (well, mostly!) and when Strong was 5 months old set sail on the ferry to Melbourne.

    We didn’t end up making it all around the mainland but over the following 13 months journeyed through parts of South Australia, Victoria, NSW, and QLD, and made our way up the east coast as far as Daintree Village in far north QLD. It wasn’t a luxurious trip, we had hard times and awesome times, we travelled basically and simply, but it was an adventure, and was what we needed.

    Sitting in our Soulpad tent, June 2016, in a camp in Babinda, far north QLD, the wettest town in Australia, rain falling outside as it had been for a week during a late running wet season, the air wet with humidity, our clothes, bedding, everything(!) damp from constant moisture in the air, the ground outside turned to a sludgy mud swamp, we were discussing as a family our future plans. Get the hell out of Babinda!! Well, yes definitely that! But seriously, as we talked about exciting plans, directions we could possibly take, I felt it was the right time to mention an idea that had slowly been taking form in my mind;.to perhaps leave Tasmania, sell our beloved home and property, and move back to the mainland…….It was not completely out of nowhere, Scott had also been thinking these thoughts and we had touched on it in conversation as we drove through ever changing landscapes, but I was concerned about how Bear and Star would feel and react. But, they were really open to it.


    Going back to the land of South Australia and even certain parts of Victoria and NSW was like rekindling a deep connection that doesn’t ever diminish regardless of how long I am away. It is also where all of our family lives. But to leave Tasmania; the thought of it sends a wave of sadness rolling up my body.

    We have now been back home in Tasmania for about 5 months and have just recently put our block up for sale. I still question what we are doing, I think we all are at times, but then we also feel it is our next unexpected bend in the road that we need to follow. It is very exciting, scary, and unknown but a journey that has many opportunities for us. We want to be mortgage free, we want to start anew with fresh ideas, we feel that we need to be closer to our family again, we want to give our children new opportunities, and being back on the mainland will open so many new doors for us. We don’t know what’s going to happen; how long our place will take to sell, how much it will sell for and how much we will have to start the next stretch of our journey with, AND…….how it will feel when we leave our home of the past nine years; the place that made our first dream come true, the home I thought we would never leave……

    Starting EC Late

    Our nappy and toileting journey with Strong has been a very different one from those with Bear and Star. With both of my first two bubba’s we used cloth nappies for their whole nappying years. With Bear I also used homemade reusable wipes soaked in my own organic solution. With Star I was less diligent about this using organic or natural disposable wipes. 

    Bear went from cloth nappies to very quickly being toilet trained, mostly of his own accord, during the day at around two years of age and overnight soon afterwards; Star similarly doing so during the day but taking much longer at night times. With both however I did not give much thought to the possibility of not using nappies, however environmentally conscious I was, and had not heard of ‘elimination communication’ or EC.

    When Strong was born 21 months ago I was very determined to once again use cloth nappies. And this was how we began. But without our own washing machine this time round, and with a journey to the mainland fast approaching I found cloth nappies unsustainable and too draining to handwash, and impractical and unrealistic for travelling (I have become much more ready to acknowledge my shortcomings as I have become older despite my often very high ideals!) So, we regrettably fell into the regular use of disposable nappies, be as they were the most environmentally friendly we could find wherever we happened to be on our travels (this unfortunately meant sometimes buying the worst plastic disposables in small towns and less progressive places, adding further to my ever increasing waste guilt!)

    We left home when Strong was 5 months old and for those first months of journeying he was in disposable nappies, however we always embraced the warm weather and gave him plenty of hours nappy free wherever possible. I have always thought this important and likewise Bear and Star had many hours nappy free as babes. But It was not until he was 13 months old that I began to read more about EC, was inspired by what I read, and decided to embrace it. The ideas, reasoning, and practice of EC resonated with me very much; being connected to your child in a way so as to learn the signs, signals, patterns, and behaviour of their bodily functions more intimately and respectfully, eliminating the need for nappies.

    To begin EC at this stage was, as I read, more difficult as having worn nappies from birth Strong had learnt to ignore the signs of his body but I was very willing to do what we could in the ways we were able. We bought a pack of flat cloth nappies, a couple of pilchers from op shops, and nappy pins (which were very hard to find!) to use at night and when we were going out. Initially we just used a bowl (it was originally his placenta bowl) for a potty, holding him over it to wee and poo.

    Notes from my diary at this time explain how he first started weeing into the bowl,

    I’ve been catching his wees maybe half the time. This is usually when he wakes up in the morning, when he wakes up after a day nap in the ergo, and after a feed. I haven’t been that successful at catching his poos yet, only catching half of one so far. He’s adorable when I place him over the bowl; I say ‘wee’ and tap his willy, he smiles and wants to sit in the bowl. When he sits in it this is usually when he starts weeing, so then I pick him up again, holding him over the bowl and saying ‘wee’ again, telling him it’s come from his willy. The only thing is that afterwards he wants to play or touch his wee and poo and gets upset when I take it away! But I just explain that we are tipping the wee on the grass and putting the poo in the toilet, and do this so he can see. I then clean the bowl and put it near him so he can play with it if he wants.’

     I kept the bowl close by, in easy to grab reach, and he loved to play with it and sit in it. Then after a while we bought a potty he could sit on, which he loved, although I still held him if he was pooing as he didn’t like to sit for this.
    I began paying very close attention to Strong’s behaviour and any patterns that I could discern, and when at camp he wore no pants unless it was too cold, in which case I would put him in a cloth with no pilcher and pants, or just pants so that he would still feel the wet sensation when he did a wee. 

    I started to notice particular patterns, especially with wees, so at these times I started gently sitting him on his potty, saying ‘pssss’ and ‘wee wee’, at the same time tapping his willy so he would begin to connect where his wee was coming from. When he did a wee on the ground or in the tent I would also gently show him his willy and say ‘wee wee’.

    Excitedly and surprisingly quickly, Strong began doing some of his wees in the bowl and then on his potty, and we started to get into a rhythm. In early May 2016 I wrote, 

    On the 7th, night before we left Tyalgum, Strong did a wee and poo at around 6pm in the bowl! (Before bed).’

    And about a week later,

    ‘Today, the 13th, after I took Strong’s night nappy off I sat him on the potty before putting a cloth on him (it was too cold this morning for no nappy) and he began to get off but then remained seated and did a wee straight away. I think he is beginning to understand that the potty is for weeing in.’

    Soon I had discerned the main times when Strong regularly eliminated and wrote on the 17th,

    ‘I am getting better at knowing when Strong needs to wee and poo. He’s mostly weeing first thing in the morning, after he wakes from a nap, and after he feeds and boobs. I’m not catching all of them but he’s certainly beginning to understand that the potty is for weeing into, and if he wees during the day on the grass I’m not bothered at all.

    I have noticed he is needing to do a poo in the mornings but even though I’ve been watching for his signals he always seems to do one in his pants when I’m not looking, or as he did the other day, in his nappy before I’m properly awake. We’ll get there though, I’m so glad we made this change.’

    Poos were much more difficult to catch and it was some time before Strong began to understand the connection between his feelings of needing to poo and how to do this, but to start with when he began to do a poo I would take him to the potty to finish and say ‘poo’, showing it to him afterwards.

    After wees I would show Strong how we empty the wee on the earth and give a tree or the grass a drink and as he started to become used to this rhythm he really loved this part! Poos of course were a bit different, and as we were travelling we would wrap them in paper and take them to the toilet block, or bury them when there wasn’t one, but we always talked to him about it and told him what we were doing.

    Over the following 5 months throughout the remainder of our mainland journey our practice of EC with Strong was up and down. There were times that we spent up in far north Queensland, where we experienced an extremely wet and humid winter, that it was impossible for me to dry Strong’s cloth nappies and had to resort to buying disposables again but during this time we always kept him out of nappies as much as possible during the day. In this way I could more closely observe his signals and patterns, and he slowly began to understand his own body’s functions and feelings. ‘Wee wee’ was actually one of his first words which he still uses for both wee and poo. 

    At another time we stayed with family which made things a bit more difficult and Strong spent more time in nappies during the day, but the progress we had made was not lost. 

    During these months Strong would happily sit on his potty for wees but really didn’t like the feeling of sitting down for poos so I continued to hold him over the potty. When he became more aware of the sensation of needing to poo and what it meant he actually developed a real concern about the process, and for a while when he began to do a poo he would get visibly upset and seek support and comfort; the poor little fella. We of course gave him all the comfort he needed and I always spoke to him about how pooing was a good thing; expressing happiness for him that he had done one, and continued to say ‘poo’, telling him it came from his bottom. I think this fear came from the realisation of his bodily function of pooing; before the whole process having been covered up by a nappy.

    Once we returned home and Strong was 18 months old we were really able to embrace EC wholly again. And as we started transitioning to waste free I started using cloth wipes (we are all using family cloth) permanently. Due to Strong’s reluctance to poo on the potty I started just taking him to the toilet, holding him over the seat, and gradually his fear of pooing was overcome. Then, a couple of months ago I brought his potty out again and he was super happy to use it! Gradually, with our encouragement and by my communicating with Strong and having learnt his patterns and signals (signals such as becoming a bit frantic, clutching his willy, getting upset for no other obvious reason, my own intuitive signals when I just suddenly feel like its time for him to go, for poos certainly in the past he would start to look very worried and begin to get upset and seek support but once he moved on from his fear it became more of just a slightly concerned look, suddenly stopping what he was doing, a look of deep concentration on his face, saying wee wee, and of course a red face and starting to grunt gives it away!) he has become more and more independent with his toileting and all of his elimination.

    So now at 21 months Strong only ever wears a nappy at night and is almost completely toilet trained during the day. At home he goes to the potty mostly of his own accord (I just help him with his pants if he’s wearing any) when he feels the need to wee or poo, to the point where if he starts to accidentally wee he will stop it and run to the potty to finish. He will usually say ‘wee wee’ first and then go to his potty, sometimes running if it’s urgent! He has now even started standing over his potty to wee sometimes, gorgeously imitating his Dad and big brother. He is not concerned at all by pooing anymore and excitedly squeaks and points down at what’s in the potty. Strong also really loves a book that I’ve been reading him; a book we’ve had since Bear was a bubba, called Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi. He particularly loves the last page and questioningly points at all the animals and their poops. 

    Sometimes I see that Strong needs to wee or poo and remind him to go to his potty or ask him if he needs to go, and before a nap and bedtime I will ask if he can please sit on the potty and see if he needs a wee before his sleep, which he does happily. If he’s outside he steps off the verandah and wees on the dirt! Strong still has occasional accidents but that’s totally not a big deal with wooden floors and he very adorably helps to clean it up by getting the ‘wee towel’ and wiping it up, or trying to help with the mop. He also loves to help carry and empty his potty into the toilet. 

    When we are out I just try and keep on top of regular visits to the public toilets where Strong wees or poos with no worries. If he does have an accident whilst we are out it is always in the car when we haven’t made it to a toilet or suitable stop in time and we’ll hear a little ‘wee wee’ from the backseat.

    Strong’s night nappies are now often close to dry unless I don’t get them off fast enough in the morning, which I’m pretty amazed by as he still boobys heaps during the night! And he never has accidents whilst napping on me in the ergo or on the lounge during the day. 

    Now, looking back over the years and our recent journey with Strong, it would have been lovely if I’d come to EC earlier. It really does bring another path to deeper communication and connection around your child’s bodily rhythms, and a heightened awareness and respect for their elimination needs. If I was to have another bubba I think I would practice EC right from the beginning. It really is no harder than having to wash countless nappies, or purchase and deal with the huge accumulation of waste produced by disposable nappies. But in saying that I did not start until later and cannot be sure of how the process would unfold in  those first few weeks in particular, after a bubba’s birth. My thoughts are though that it would be a much more holistic and pleasant way of managing a bubba’s waste and working their elimination needs into your daily rhythm, and blend another bonding ingredient into that most special of times getting to.know each other.

    Making Almond Milk

    As we have begun altering our lifestyle in accordance with living waste free there are changes I have made in the kitchen to meet our vegan needs and wants. One of these changes, which has been a dramatic one, is making our own milks.

    Preparing homemade vegan milks was an extremely important, and for me an essential part of getting closer to living waste free. The long life milk tetra packs that we were buying were a huge contribution to our weekly waste accumulation. I have always taken them to our local waste transfer centre where there is a recycling station, but as tetra packs require very sophisticated recycling equipment due to their multi layers, I always doubted they were being recycled and feared they were simply ending up in the tip pile with all the other rubbish. And, importantly, our goal is to reduce all waste including that which is recyclable, by preventing the need for its production in the first place, thus reducing energy consumption and lightening our footprint on sacred Mother Earth.

    Also, making any food from the raw wholefood ingredients, in my opinion, is always going to be the healthiest and most delicious option for my family. I can choose exactly what ingredients I use, how much to include, it is super fresh, and made with a lot of love!

    So, I thought I’d begin sharing the milk making journey that I embarked on several weeks ago; starting with almond milk.

    We discovered that Star loves almond milk whilst we were on our year long adventure, so this was one of the first milks I attempted. It is not one that I have ever made before, but thankfully it is very simple to prepare! It also tastes wonderful! I do not use it for all purposes, I do not think it works very well in hot drinks, but it has become our favourite milk to use in smoothies and milkshakes, and is perfectly fine as a milk replacement in other cooking. All the children enjoy it on its own, and I love that the almond meal you are left with after straining can be used in other recipes, such as vegetable patties or for baking.

    I have discovered though that it does not keep in the fridge as well as soy milk for example, and so have decided to just make it in small batches which we basically use in one or two days. This is totally okay though as it is so easy to make and there’s something very nourishing and holistic about using a milk you’ve just made to make your day’s smoothie!

    After some research and experimenting here is how I make it:

    Almond milk

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup organic (if possible) almonds, soaked overnight in water, strained and rinsed
    • 4 cups water
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 1 tablespoon rice malt syrup

    Method

    1. Place almonds, water, salt, and rice malt in a blender. Pulse to break up the almonds then blend on high for about 30 seconds.
    2. Strain almond milk through a nut milk bag (I made my own from muslin cloth that I already had) or a piece of muslin, squeezing as much milk out of the almond pulp as you can.
    3. Place the milk into bottles and refrigerate. Place the almond meal into a container and refrigerate for later use (it will keep for several days) or put it into the compost. 

    When we have an overabundance of almond or other ‘meal’ from milk making we either sprinkle it onto our vege garden beds or put it in the compost, so nothing is getting wasted! And there it is, an easy to make, delicious, and healthy milk that is now in regular rotation in our waste free, vegan kitchen.

    Unschooling; Why It’s The Chosen Education For Our Children

    Unschooling is a term that can conjure thoughts and images in people’s minds of children who do nothing and learn nothing, and of parents who essentially uneducate and unparent their children. When I originally heard the term I thought it was very negative, and of this style of homeschooling was very ignorant. Due to this ignorance I had pessimistic preconceived ideas about unschooling that I’m sure many other people have; children who are unschooled must be missing out on so much, there are things that they need to know that they can’t possibly just learn without instruction, and children shouldn’t have the daunting responsibility of choosing what they learn, and how they learn it, laid at their feet.

    For us, the path to unschooling has been a convoluted one; a journey through homeschooling that we have woven with evolving different styles and our own growth and experiences. We have now been homeschooling for almost 9 years, and I would say unschooling for the past 2 to 3 years. Prior to that we homeschooled using the Waldorf curriculum for about 3 years, and before that the Montessori curriculum, also for about three years; following on from Bear’s early education at a Montessori school. The way that we home educate, and my personal philosophy about home education, is now so far removed from those early years. We have arrived here, at our life together unschooling, not simply because of my self education about different methods of homeschooling, but largely through years of learning by experience what is the most authentic, individual, and efficient way for our children to learn and be happy. Unschooling is the best choice for us because it is about being us.

    I think when people have deep concerns about unschooling education it is because they are comparing it to the linear education provided at schools. How can unschooled children learn everything that is learned at school? Won’t there be gaps in their education? My answers to these questions would be; well, they most likely will not learn everything a child would learn at school, and yes, there will definitely be gaps in their education. There are gaps in every child’s education! BUT…… I am more than happy if my children aren’t learning everything that is taught in schools, and that there are gaps in what they learn, because what my children are learning through living their lives with freedom is so much more individualized and meaningful for them and for the lives they are and will be living. 

    Bear, Star, and Strong are learning everything that they need to know to navigate through their lives. Bear and Star did not lose their innate curiosity and drive to learn once they reached the age of five, or suddenly begin to need to be forced to learn. They learn so much more because everything they learn is either by choice because it is something they are really interested in, or they are learning simply by living and carrying out tasks that are needed for everyday functioning of our family life. We do not coerce them to learn information or skills that they will never use, or simply forget, and they are less likely to forget what they do learn as learning happens through ways that are specific to their individual personalities, and when participating in practical, real life activities and situations. They are also able to follow their passions and interests deeply and as extensively as they wish. Of course, we do have certain expectations of our children, and there are limitations that we work with, such as where we live, and our income. There are also important considerations, such as health, and our ethical beliefs incorporated into everything we do on a daily basis. But within our family dynamic Bear, Star, and Strong are encouraged and supported by us in every way we are able, to explore their interests as far as they need to.

    Just recently Star said to me how she thinks that she learns more through unschooling then when we followed a curriculum, and both Bear and Star have said how they prefer unschooling to how we used to homeschool. They are happy because they have freedom. Their learning is not separated from what they choose to do, it is an intrinsic part of their whole lives, and a natural, inevitable occurrence. They are directing their own learning simply by doing what they enjoy. That is not to say that they find everything easy, some things they choose to follow they find difficult but they continue to try because it is something they are driven to do. Star is not yet at a place where she finds reading easy but she continues to try and is most certainly improving because it is extremely important to her, and in our family she is surrounded by books and immersed in stories everyday. And, naturally, when the children do need help or guidance we give it lovingly, to the best of our abilities.

    Over the years Scott and I have needed to deschool to arrive at the place where we are now. The ingrained societal expectations; that one must go to school and must learn what is deemed necessary, or for the rest of your life be flawed and forever behind all your peers, are hard to shed. But we have shed them. And as a homeschooling mama I now find myself at a place where I am at complete peace and wholly confident and happy with the educational path we have chosen. I do not believe children need to spend most of their young lives at school. I do not believe what is taught in schools is needed for one’s happy and successful life, honestly I think the current school education system falls very short of this for most children. I am actually aiming higher for my children; higher in the sense that I believe every child is more than just another cog in the institutional wheel rolling towards its final destination of ‘Workforce’. Isn’t that a terrible word in itself ‘workforce‘, doesn’t sound very appealing to me! 

    I want my children to be able to follow their dreams and their happiness and I believe to do this they need their own space and time to learn what they need, when they need to. And, excitingly we, as parents are blessed to share this journey with our children; share their learning and our learning too! We certainly haven’t stopped learning since leaving school, personally I have learned so much more! I myself have been on a journey of discovery; discovering what I really love to do and learn, which I think I would have come to earlier in life if I’d had the freedom to do so. I believe school should be a choice; a choice that a family makes if it is the right one for them, as we have chosen unschooling.

    In essence, I believe unschooling is the best education for our children because they are able to direct their own learning in an holistic, authentic, and natural way that is specific to their individual lives, personalities, needs, and interests, live their days in a supportive, loving, sharing and respectful environment, and have the FREEDOM to be who they are and follow their hearts and dreams and happiness!!

    Ring Out, The Solstice Bells

    Litha has just passed; a day of festivity, fire, and food. The Summer Solstice landed on the 21st this year, and we looked forward to and prepared for a day together around table and fire.

    On rising we played Jethro Tull’s Ring Out, The Solstice Bells, followed by the whole album Songs From the Wood on repeat (we are all in love with this album!), and Star, Strong and I went outside to pick fresh Tea Tree blossoms for our table and altar. We were hoping to feast outside in the sunshine and light a bonfire but even though the day was bright it was a little too chill and windy so our celebration centred around kitchen, hearth, and altar.

    Firstly we breakfasted on a solstice smoothie of banana, strawberries, and cherries, and then looked forward to a late lunch of layered bean dip with flat breads, kebabs cooked on the fire, fresh green salad, and potato salad. The morning passed in the kitchen; Star eagerly helping with the cooking, Bear at times entertaining and playing with his little brother at other times reading, and Strong keeping close by absorbed in play, watching all the happenings, and reminding me to sit for a cuddle and booby in between. Amid the preparations we shared a first solstice drink; the awaiting boysenberry syrup opened.

    Then when all was ready we came together to ready the table; Star setting the final touches. Blessings were sung in honour of Earth and Sun, and the feasting began.

    To follow our main meal we deserted on Summer pudding made with local raspberries, strawberries, and silvanberries, garnished with the seasons first cherries, and served with homemade vanilla ice cream.

    A beautiful meal enjoyed by all; the richness and bounty of Summer’s early offerings very much appreciated, honouring Earth and Sun. All our food homemade with love and attention, and all efforts made to keep our celebration as waste free as possible.

    The rest of the day was spent in relaxation. A couple of family card games of canasta played while Strong napped, lounging around the fire, and as the evening drew nigh Bear and Star played outside, staffs in hand, as the sun set on his longest day.

    Why Waste Free, and Our First Steps

    Why now? Is probably the more appropriate question. This is not the first time Scott and I have thought about living waste free but it is the first time we are doing something about it. Many a time I have stood staring at the plastic wrapped something on the supermarket shelf, thinking how this one thing, possibly just this one meal will leave behind such a heavy, toxic burden for Earth and our future generations to bear. How is that okay? How is it justifiable? Well, in the past we have had to justify it. We have children to feed, we live on a low income, and importantly it is so bloody hard NOT to buy plastic packaged, wrapped, sealed, stickered, contained, bagged, tagged, tied everything within this system that has been forced upon our lives.

    So, why now? Firstly, we have been triggered into action by our mainland journey. Whilst away we stayed at some breathtaking places, some lovely places, and some quite mundane and trying places; some were large, some small, and some we were the only people there. But we were always connected with Earth; the cycles of day and night and the seasons, the elements, the land, water, plants and trees, and the animals and insects. And everywhere we went we left behind our rubbish. Bags of it. Lots of it. It was impossible not to. We were, of course, responsible with our rubbish but it was created nonetheless and that can never be undone.

    Secondly, simply, now is better than later and it is the right thing to do. I don’t have lots of facts and statistics about how messed up Earth is becoming, or has already become, I actually find the truth too scary to dwell on, but I have my intuition. I know what is acceptable, respectful, and healthy for our Earth in all her forms, and our bodies, and plastic is none of these. Plastic is not needed.

    We have now been transitioning to waste free living (or as close to waste free as our family can be) for about 5 weeks. It will be an ongoing journey and we still have a long way to go to be at a place where I’m content. It is a challenging journey that takes commitment and discipline, and I know that we will not always be perfect but we are doing this, and we will do our very best. And, it’s exciting! It takes guts to go against an ingrained system but it is so rewarding to know you are living by your own standards, morals, and ethics, not just blindly following the often misguided convention, which is too often there to largely benefit those at the top.

    Our first steps have mainly been in the kitchen and the bathroom.

    In the bathroom I am now making our own toothpaste and I have implemented a system of family cloth. We were already using natural, plant based, locally made soap that we are continuing to use, and for cleaning I am buying eucalyptus oil from a naturopathic apothecary where the bottle can be refilled. We were also already using the most earth friendly, waste free, biodegradable toothbrushes that I could find so will be continuing to buy these. I have made Strong some cloth nappies for night times (he does not wear a nappy during the day as we have been practicing elimination communication on and off for a few months and are now consistently), and I plan on making my own moon pads.

    The kitchen is big for us. It is our main waste producer and we are very much food lovers, Scott being a chef, and I a very enthusiastic vegan! Being unschoolers we are home a lot and with our children all the time so there’s a lot of food preparation going on! So, firstly we began to be much more prepared for our food shopping trips, and where and how we shop has changed quite dramatically. I now make sure we always take our reusable bags when shopping, we have increasingly been taking our own jars, containers, and cloth bags for nearly all our food items, and we now mostly shop at farmer’s markets for fresh and locally made food and a wholefoods shop for nearly everything else. The supermarket has thankfully now become a shop that we only purchase a few items we are still relying on, the most important of these being Scott’s cow milk in plastic bottles (which we recycle) until we can hopefully find a dairy where we can purchase milk in affordable, reusable bottles, passata in glass bottles (which we are reusing) until we make our own tomato puree when tomatoes are in season (very soon, Yay!), and tofu in horrid plastic packaging but this will not be for much longer as I have ordered nigari (an ingredient needed to curdle soy milk) from the wholefoods shop and will begin to make our own very soon. And when we need a food item that we can’t buy using our own container we look for the best option available and buy as large a quantity as we can afford.

    I am now making our own soy milk and almond milk, cashew cheese and cream, and vegan parmesan. Scott is making a lot of our own bread and otherwise we are buying bread from the local organic bakery using our own bags. We have always made most of our food from scratch but now we are endeavouring to be as self responsible as we can possibly be, making as much of our food from raw, whole ingredients as we are able. I have also just purchased a kombucha culture and stater tea and am super excited about making our own delicious kombucha!

    In addition when we go out we are making sure to remember our water bottles, and containers if we think we might be buying any food to take away. Recently I bought Star some take away sushi when we were out all day; I had a container for the sushi but forgot about the horrid little soy sauce fish! I am now taking a small travel bottle of tamari with us if we are going out on one of our big shopping days in Hobart. We have also and very importantly stopped buying any spontaneous packaged snacks and treats when we are out.

    In essence, we have begun to be very mindful of everything we buy. When it comes to non food item purchases we are buying secondhand whenever possible. We already bought our clothes from op shops and love the tip shops for other household items, and of course online local trading of secondhand goods is a great option.

    Lastly but not in the least, we have got back into our garden since arriving home, giving it some love and energy. It is not a huge garden, we have actually scaled down it’s size so we are not overwhelming ourselves with responsibility and upkeep that we cannot maintain (which has happened before) but we hope that it will provide us with a small tasting of our vegetable needs over the coming seasons.

    And, we have lots of plans! Summer is a time where we look towards preserving and whatever we can do to prolong Earth’s beautiful bounty of fresh fruit! There are so many exciting opportunities!

    We have only taken our first steps but we are already noticing a drastic reduction in our waste accumulation, and I hope in the near future that I can look back and see how we have moved towards a waste free life in huge bounds!

    Unschooling November 2016

    We arrived home from our year long adventure in mid October and throughout November settled back in; hibernating and nesting. The children have been thoroughly happy to be enveloped in the surroundings of their old familiar home; rarely, if ever, wanting to leave the house or go anywhere.

    At first we undertook the rather large occupation of unpacking, reorganizing, cleaning, finding our places once again in our cozy, immobile home, and planting our feet on new, untrodden paths. But, as new rhythms began to gradually emerge, the children have been spending their days doing what they love.

    Bear, after much anticipation and excitement, fairly launched himself at his Xbox, making the most of that crazy long unheard of stuff called electricity! Now that we agreed he was old enough, he began playing Skyrim, a game he has thrown himself into. Gaming is not something that sits too happily with me, especially violent games, but the passionate way in which Bear approaches them, his depth of involvement and thought, his evident learning in so many ways, and just the amount of absolute joy he derives from playing tells me how important this is to him.

    Not long after our return home we gave Bear more responsibility and freedom with choosing the games he plays. It was something he asked for and we decided it was very important at his age that he be able to do this. We are now seeing a whole lot more zombies and guns in his game choices but despite my internal ‘eeeks!’, I can see from his enthusiasm and passion that in letting go we are allowing him to grow and experience what he needs to.

    Scott has also been spending some game time with Bear. He enjoys playing games to some extent on his own but in sharing it with his son; discussing game strategy together, giving each other ideas and hints, getting excited about their latest awesome armour or weapons and how much strength they have, they are sharing a common interest. And I know this is just as or more important than what they are actually doing.

    Bear also launched himself into his stored books; unpacking his eagerly awaited collection and creating his own personal library in what is now his own room. We have already visited our local secondhand bookshop to keep up with his voracious appetite, he has been rereading old favourites, and reading more adult fiction recommended by his father. At one point he was starting a new book each day, tallying how many he was reading at once. It is difficult to keep up with what Bear is reading, and even more difficult to stop him reading too late at night and prevent his resulting exhaustion!

    Bear has always had an amazing imagination, and this hasn’t lessened in his growing years. Since being back home he has been thoroughly enjoying his Lego collection that he had been looking forward to resurfacing. He did have a small Lego collection that we travelled with but not to the extent of what was awaiting here. The creativity and technical ingenuity that he puts into his constructions is really awesome; recently his creations have been all about zombie apocalypses and weapons. Bear has also been heading outside to do battle either with one of his newly made Lego zombie guns or one of his wooden weapons made by his father that were also excitedly unearthed from storage. He is often followed by his 19 month old brother who adorably echos Bear’s war cries and battle stances, wooden weapon in hand.

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    Bear and Star have been playing more imaginative role playing games together since being home too. This has been much to Bear’s joy as Star had not wanted to play these types of games for some months whilst we were away. It warms my heart to see Bear in his element.

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    Star, also was very excited to return to our little abode and uncover her stored treasures. She began by unpacking and arranging her dollhouse with all it’s furniture and dolls, and then turned to her books, finding and organising them all on the bookshelves. Star is still to find her complete confidence with reading. I read on a blog post, unfortunately I cannot remember where, that homeschooled/unschooled children often say they cannot read until they can pick up any book they wish and read it fluently. This really resonated with me as up until recently Star had always said she couldn’t read even though we knew she could. We would always interject with, ‘but you can read!’ but realised after some time that this was not helping her. What she meant was that she couldn’t fluently read any book she wished. Recently though, Star finished a Tashi book quite easily and quickly and was very happy with herself. Proudly, she also said one night how now she could recognise some words that before she couldn’t even read.

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    Star has also been making the most of the electricity. Screen games do not hold the same interest for her as they do for her brother but on most days she has been playing for an hour or two or watching a movie; invariably Annie, her favourite.

    Art has always been something Star has really enjoyed and had a flair for. During the last three weeks of our adventure we stayed at a friend’s parent’s shearers quarters (quite luxurious for us!) whilst outside the largest storm in South Australia since the 60s blew, poured and thundered. Throughout those weeks Star spent many an hour with paintbrush in hand, completing over 20 beautiful watercolours. Since returning home she has painted less but turned her hand more to drawing again, pulling out her large sketchbook that was too big to take with us.

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    At times she draws alone, and others loves to spend time with me, drawing together, Strong sometimes joining in too. Star often asks if we can spend the time when Strong is napping sharing a game or activity. We have been revisiting a lot of our board games that we left stored, awaiting our return. It is not often a long time but it is special to share these uninterrupted moments together.

    Star has loved being outside too, back in her familiar bush home surroundings. When the weather has been fine she has loved riding her bike, bouncing on the trampoline (she too has a little follower; Strong calling and pointing as he runs after Star up the hill in the hopes of joining her on the trampoline), playing an imaginative magical game with her big brother, going for walks, and joining us in the garden. She has her own small garden bed in which she’s growing a tomato and some herbs. She is not fond of weeding but loves the process of garden to kitchen, and after helping me to plant some seeds to germinate inside, eagerly awaited and watched as Golden nugget pumpkins and calendula sprouted and grew. Star also has a growing interest in medicinal herbs which I love to share with her.

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    Another thing Star loves to do is cook. Along our camping journey she cooked many a meal with her father and her interest, independence and skills grew. She has continued to cook since being home, mostly loving to cook meals that involve a lot of chopping, dough, or a batter. Recently Star chose two recipes from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (our much loved and used cookie recipe book); making divine fig bars with her father and chocolate pumpkin brownies with me. She really enjoys doing as much of the cooking as she can by herself.

    Strong has not missed a step since returning home. We feel that on some level he does remember his home and birthplace that we left when he was only five months old. When we arrived back we pulled out all of Bear and Star’s stored baby and toddler toys to add to his small collection that travelled around with us. He loves to build towers and stacks with blocks, exclaiming with joy as they climb higher. Strong loves animals and will eagerly bring an animal from the children’s collection over to us to hear the noise it makes, mimicking afterwards. Another toy he has been really enjoying is the play kitchen, cooking us delicious cake and food to eat, adorably eating some ‘nyum nyums’ himself too.

    The luxury that Strong has most enjoyed since returning home would certainly be running water and regular baths. He loves nothing more than playing with water. In the bath he is so happy, needing only a couple of cups for entertainment. And when out of the bath any cup of drinking water (actually liquid of any form) can very quickly become his pouring vessel if Strong can get his hands on another cup or we give him one. With much concentration he pours water from one cup to the other until all the water is spilled, and then asks for more. If it’s a lovely day he can spend a very busy time with a large bowl of water and a few cups. This invariably ends with the bowl being upturned, pleas for more water, and a wet, naked bubba.

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    Strong has such an affinity with nature after spending so much of his first and second year camping, that he really is most comfortable and happiest outside. He loves exploring our bush home, play fighting with anyone who will battle him with one of the children’s wooden weapons, now wielding his own little axe and staff his father made for him, riding his trike, pushing his big brother’s old Tonka truck around, joining his brother or sister on the trampoline, digging in the garden, inspecting interesting stones and sticks, watching our resident birds, and generally getting up to any mischief he can!

    And of course, Strong just loves being around us, joining in whatever we are doing. He has developed more of a love for books and will now sometimes listen through a whole story, other times point at the pictures for us to name, often repeatedly. Now that we’re home and are able to listen to more music Strong has developed a real love for it and become a little groover; excitedly moving to the beat as soon as a song starts.

    Then at night it’s hugs and beautiful baby-open-mouthed kisses for everyone as we make our way to bed. We climb the loft stairs, Strong calling ‘eeyah’ and ‘eye eye’ at each step until we reach the top and snuggle up for booby and sleep.

    An Introduction

     

     

    My family and I have just returned from a year long adventure on mainland Australia. We left our little bush cottage in Tasmania and set off, not really knowing where we were going and what we would do, and how it would affect us.

    Now, upon settling back home we are embarking on some new and some not so new journeys, and it’s here I’m going to write about and share our experiences.

    Our last year on the road has helped me and my family to see what was not working in our lives before, inspired us into action in areas of our lives that need it, opened our minds to new opportunities and paths in our life together, and cemented what is really important and essential in life.
    This blog will follow our journeys through Unschooling (a continuing journey that we have embraced, and that has evolved naturally over the last two years of our 8 years of homeschooling), transitioning to (as close to as possible for us) a Waste Free life, Natural Parenting (following nature’s inherent wisdom to birth physiologically, safely, and sacredly, mothering with nature’s amazing biological gifts and our innate knowledge and intuition, parenting with love and openess, sharing our lives with our children respectfully, and loving them for who they truly are), and Celebrating Earth (from living within native forest, gardening, and bushwalks, to crafting with natural materials, organic wholefood and vegan cooking, and following the wheel of the year. How we live and how I stay connected with our great mother Earth).

    My family includes myself Danielle, my loving, supportive, outrageous partner of 17 years Scott, my beautiful, rambunctious 14 year old Bear, my sweet, willful 10 year old daughter Star, and my adorable, rascally  1 year old boy Strong. We’re a family brimming with imperfections, faults, incredible differences, laughter, tears, weirdness, and happiness. We live with a lot of LOVE, having chosen a life together with ‘less’, over one apart with ‘more’.

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    If this sounds like a blog you’d like to continue reading I hope some of what you find here is what you were looking for, or surprisingly what you weren’t. I’m writing this blog to express my passions in life, and share my family’s earthly experiences as we journey through our lives together.