Bear’s Love of the Fantastical

As I lay in bed in our loft with my sleeping bubba, I listen to the sounds from the kitchen below, of rolling dice, and the voices of Scott, Bear, and Star. They are adventuring in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Scott the Dungeon Master, Bear and Star playing several characters each. It has become a regular nightly activity recently, and a growing passion of Bear’s.

Whilst we were away on our road trip last year Bear sold his collection of Pokemon cards and used the money to invest in a trading card game Magic, The Gathering. As we travelled his love of Magic grew and he played in his first tournament at The Wicked Goblin games shop in Cairns. By the time we returned home late last year it was apparent that we needed to find a games shop so we could support Bear’s growing interest.

We found Battleaxe at Kingston, and shortly after started taking Bear to weekly game nights of Magic, The Gathering. His collection of cards grew, his knowledge and skills of the game increased dramatically, and he developed his own individual playing style and stratagem. During this time we noticed that there was also a Dungeons and Dragons game night at Battleaxe. Bear has had a long held interest in D&D, years before we had bought him a starter set, it is also a game Scott played when he was younger, and something we knew we could share as a family.  We couldn’t manage to take Bear to Kingston twice a week but after playing Magic for a few months he decided to give D&D a go.
Bear has now been attending the D&D game nights for a few months and he may love it even more than Magic. More recently we were able to purchase for Bear a Monster Manual, Player’s Handbook, and Dungeon Master’s guide so he could really immerse himself in the world of D&D, be better prepared and knowledgeable for the campaigns played, and be able to develop his characters more easily and in more depth. He has devoured these books, having read them all completely, and astoundingly to me remembers all of what he’s read, able to call upon facts, figures, and information with ease.

A couple of weeks ago he also asked for special writing books. He is using these to create characters and monsters, write his own campaign, keep a book of spells and game notes, and one of his character’s Hannaman is writing a book of his adventures (Star also now has a special book that she too is using as a spell book and for game notes for one of her characters Hamfast). Bear’s writing, which has always been a source of laborious and tedious frustration for him and diligently avoided, has improved dramatically,  his Lego even packed up to clear his desk! It’s amazing how Bear’s passion has transformed writing into a useful tool that he is using to expand and further his interests!

Two nights ago Bear and his sister played D&D on their own. For several hours sounds of laughter, excitement, and exuberant enactment emanated from  his bedroom. Bear embracing the role of Dungeon master as they adventured in the beginnings of his own campaign.

In addition we also bought a campaign book (Scott, Bear, and Star had been playing a short campaign from Bear’s old starter set but needed something more) and after days of preparation; Bear and Star developing their characters and Scott reading and preparing for his role as Dungeon Master, they have started adventuring! I hope to join in and play soon, when Strong is a bit older, but for now it makes my heart glow to hear their adventuring and time shared together from above.

As well as Bear’s adventures through Magic, The Gathering and D&D, another fantastical love that he has been pursuing is Manga. He has always enjoyed reading Manga but his interest has grown in intensity over the past months and we have been supporting this as much as we are able. We gifted Bear several novels at Yule just past, after finding a much larger source at a shop in Hobart; Area 52. The only problem is how fast he reads them! He does come back to them though, reading them several times, and appreciating the artwork, his favourite of his new additions Biomega by Tsutomu Nihei. There’s something I also find particularly awesome about Manga, perhaps it’s the artwork and the way it conveys so much of the story, combining the art of storytelling with the visual art of drawing. We will endeavour to keep up with Bear’s insatiable appetite for Manga, which also extends to Anime!


Apart from these passionate interests of Bear’s he also, of course, continues to explore alternate worlds through his mainstay loves; reading fantasy and science fiction novels, gaming on his Xbox, role playing, and Lego construction.

Bear has always thrived when immersed within his very active imagination, and through his passion for the fantastical he is life learning in HIS way.

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.

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!!

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.