Life-learning in Cape Town…

So… here’s what life learning in Cape Town looked like for our family (lots of photos in this post!)…

Nature Studies & Wildlife

Cape Town is so ridiculously beautiful, that the opportunities to do nature walks abound.  We visited Kirstenbosch Gardens (a number of times)… fed the fish at Silvermine… marvelled at the Kirstenbosch bonsai trees… explored all the different types of fynbos on the Cape peninsula… and fell in love with the gorgeous 300 year old camphor trees and the ancient oaks at Vergelegen Wine Estate.

Inside Africa's oldest oak tree at Vergelegen Wine Estate.

Inside Africa’s oldest oak tree at Vergelegen Wine Estate.

Joah and the hungry guinea fowl at Kirstenbosch Gardens...

Joah and the hungry guinea fowl at Kirstenbosch Gardens…

kirstenbosch stream

We’ve watched the seals at Kalk Bay harbour and Hout Bay harbour.  We’ve visited the Simon’s Town penguins.  We’ve taken the cousins to the Cape Town Aquarium.  We’ve visited the snake park at Imhoff Farm (and petted a very large corn snake).  We’ve explored the natural history museum (at Cape Town’s Company Gardens).  We’ve petted farm animals at Imhoff.  We’ve lived in a baboon-friendly neighbourhood.  We’ve caught tadpoles.  We’ve watched Southern Right whales from our veranda at Misty Cliffs.  And we’ve gone on many rock-trotting expeditions… searching in rock pools for starfish, sea urchins and anemones  (which the kids call “squooshees”)…

Cousins and clown fish at the aquarium...

Cousins and clown fish at the aquarium…

The penguins at Simon's Town...

The penguins at Simon’s Town…

Bunny cuddles at Imhoff Farm...

Bunny cuddles at Imhoff Farm…

Joah loved this little goat...

Joah loved this little goat…

Needless to say – Cape Town has endless opportunities to learn about (and surround oneself with) nature.

Reading & Writing

We found a wonderful online programme called Reading Eggs… which both kids have really taken to.  Reading also happens naturally and organically (we read bedtime stories – mostly Roald Dahl stuff – my favourite children’s author)… and Morgan loves to scrapbook and write little notes to herself.  The kids are learning at their own pace – and we’re happy with their progress.

Morgan busy with Reading Eggs online...

Morgan busy with Reading Eggs online…

Some of our many books...

Some of our many books…

Art

Well… obviously… there’s lots of art.  We draw, paint and create on a regular basis.  That’s just a given in our family.

They collected sea shells… then painted them and glued them together to make interesting shell-art...

They collected sea shells… then painted them and glued them together to make interesting shell-art…

One of Morgan's illustrations...

One of Morgan’s illustrations…

Drawings… lego… and pizza dough!  :-)

Drawings… lego… and pizza dough! 🙂

Crafts

Morgan loves to craft.  She seems to have taken after both of her grandmothers (who are both very gifted in making things with their hands).  She has been sewing, beading, weaving… and is also busy with cross-stitch and the creation of felt fashion accessories for herself.  This is something she enjoys naturally… and she has done everything on her own (I can’t sew at all!).

Morgan with the felt accessory she made for her hair… and a necklace she knitted.

Morgan with the felt accessory she made for her hair… and a necklace she knitted.

Experimenting with a big-bum pant-suit… :-)

Experimenting with a big-bum pant-suit… 🙂

The happy little crafter...

The happy little crafter…

She loved her knitting so much, that she'd take her knitting with her to Kirstenbosch Gardens...

She loved her knitting so much, that she’d take her knitting with her to Kirstenbosch Gardens…

Baking & Cooking

Both of our kids are interested in what happens in the kitchen.  Morgan, especially, loves to bake.  I’m going to enrol her in a cooking class soon.  🙂

Baking bran muffins

Baking bran muffins

Joah - cooking his own breakfast...

Joah – cooking his own breakfast…

Baking choc chip cookies...

Baking choc chip cookies…

Physical Exercise

Our kids love to run, climb and explore.  They’ve been hiking,  swimming, rock trotting, beach walking, bike riding, ice skating, tree climbing and so much more…

The climbing course at Acrobranch in Hout Bay...

The climbing course at Acrobranch in Hout Bay…

Clearly, my kids don't have an issue with heights...

Clearly, my kids don’t have an issue with heights…

Bike riding in Noordhoek...

Bike riding in Noordhoek…

beach

Friends

We’ve met a number of people during our 7 months in Cape Town… and all of us have made some new friends.  Morgan and Joah’s new friends are Jonty, Tyler and Anna… (not to mention all the other kids they met at our favourite hang-out’s like Imhoff Farm and Noordhoek Village).  They also loved the visit from their cousins (a very special treat!).

Cousins and ice-cream!

Cousins and ice-cream!

Joah, Morgan, Anna & Jonty… and all the Easter crafts, bags & hats they decided to make...

Joah, Morgan, Anna & Jonty… and all the Easter crafts, bags & hats they decided to make…

Joah, Jonty & Tyler… with lots of lego!  :-)

Joah, Jonty & Tyler… with lots of lego! 🙂

Playing "shop-shop" (like true mini Greeks) with acorns and little playground friends...

Playing “shop-shop” (like true mini Greeks) with acorns and little playground friends…

Music

Joah has been showing a keen interest in music… so we bought him his first guitar.  Warms my heart to see him play it.  🙂

Nick and I are both musicians… maybe Joah is following in our footsteps?

Nick and I are both musicians… maybe Joah is following in our footsteps?

History

Cape Town has a number of interesting historical sites… and we’ve visited many of them (including many museums).  We’ve been to the Rhodes Memorial, the Simon’s Town museum, the South African Naval Museum, the Toy Museum, the South African Natural History Museum, the District Six Museum… and we’ve done a boat tour of the V & A Harbour (which also explained some fascinating history of the area).

History used to be one of my most loathed subjects at school… but these days, it fascinates me.  All of us enjoy the history & museum expeditions… so many stories to be told.

The Rhodes Memorial

The Rhodes Memorial

Dino dioramas at the South African Museum...

Dino dioramas at the South African Museum…

Sad stories at the District Six museum.  Morgan (especially) gets very serious in places like this.  She's very disturbed by the idea of apartheid.  She finds it hard to believe that this country used to be so segregated.

Sad stories at the District Six museum. Morgan (especially) gets very serious in places like this. She’s very disturbed by the idea of apartheid. She finds it hard to believe that this country used to be so segregated.

The Toy Museum (in Simon's Town)...

The Toy Museum (in Simon’s Town)…

Simon's Town Naval Museum

Science

We’ve visited the science museum (lots of experiments to try).  We also have various concoctions and science experiments at home.  Just 4 days ago, Morgan built a basic water purifier after hearing our stories about water pollution (the planet and the environment are topics that we regularly discuss in our home).  They also built a big (working) windmill out of fiddlestix – which (again) raised the topic of clean energy and how we can use less dirty resources in our homes and lives.

Joah building at the Cape Town Science Museum...

Joah building at the Cape Town Science Museum…

Building with fiddlestix...

Building with fiddlestix…

Experiments at the Science Museum...

Experiments at the Science Museum…

Nick giving Morgan some chess lessons at the Science Museum...

Nick giving Morgan some chess lessons at the Science Museum…

Fun…

And – of course – there has been loads and loads of fun and games and free-play.  We are BIG believers in free-play and time for kids to just be kids… to invent their own games… do their own thing… and entertain themselves.

Tweedle-Dum & Tweedle-Dee...

Tweedle-Dum & Tweedle-Dee…

Games with old boxes...

Games with old boxes…

Joah and the fluffies...

Joah and the fluffies…

… and last – but certainly not least…. LEGO!

The Lego Movie Set (see videos below)...

The Lego Movie Set (see videos below)…

lego2

We are a Lego family.  We all love lego.  One of our favourite family treats is buying a big box of Lego… and then building it together.  And – because we have now amassed a significant amount of Lego – the kids and Nick decided to make a few Lego Movies.  Here they are:

 

 

 

 

More Play. Less School.

When I was young… and really, I’m not that old… I played.

A lot.

In fact, when I was Morgan’s age, most of my play was uninterrupted, unsupervised, free Me-Time.  My mom got on with doing her thing… and she let Soo and I do our thing.   She’d call us in for dinner when it started to get dark – but other than that, we were left to our own devices.

Back then, we lived on a smallholding in Benoni that we fondly (or not so fondly) referred to as “The Plot”.  We had 6 acres of land… a swimming pool, a trampoline, loads of trees to climb, fields to explore and animals to interact with.

Some of the things we did during those years (and this is a small list):

  • Built our own tree houses.  One was in the willow tree… the other was in the apricot tree.  For a Christmas present, my parents renovated the Apricot Treehouse – into a *proper* treehouse… complete with roof tiles, carpets, balcony and trap-door with rope ladder.  Best. Christmas-Prezzie. Ever!
  • Built our own forts.  This was one of our favourite games… pretending that we were stranded on a desert island and that we needed to ‘survive’ and build our own fort and hunt our own food.
  • Raced BMX bikes.  We even had a BMX bike track in the back of our ample yard.  My dad made a deal with a friend who had a earthmoving machine.  The friend got a Cosy-Gas-Log-Fire… and we got a BMX track (which made me the envy of all the boys in my class at school).
  • Milked the cow, collected eggs from the chickens, picked fruit from the trees, helped my mom to make jam and to bottle and preserve fruit…
  • Had rotten apricot fights (see photo at the top of this post).
  • Rode the horse.  His name was Billy, and every Wednesday, I would canter him up the road to Jill’s house for horse-riding lessons.
  • Climbed many things (oh, how I loved to climb!).  Apart from climbing every large tree on the property, we could often be found on the roof (of the double-storey house)… or on the roof of the garage.
  • Digging for “secret treasure”… (or burying secret treasure… including Prince Charles & Lady Di coins from my parents’ collection which were never retrieved from the earth of The Plot).
  • Playing Matador with Rooster Fight.
  • Swimming (and inventing all kinds of pool-games).
  • Making pots and other little things out of natural clay found in a small pond right at the end of our largest field.

(Again – this is just the tip of the iceberg)…

Performing a play for our family… (including aunts and uncles)...

Performing a play for our family… (including aunts and uncles)…  (I’m on the left).

Soo and I on the balcony of our favourite treehouse...

Soo and I on the balcony of our favourite treehouse…

Indoor games with my sister and cousin...

Indoor games with my sister and cousin…

Soo and I (with cousin Clare and her stepsister Kathy and stepbrother Mark)… at The Plot.  We used to love climbing right on top of the roof of the house...

Soo and I (with cousin Clare and her stepsister Kathy and stepbrother Mark)… at The Plot. We used to love climbing right on top of the roof of the house…

Soo and I playing a game we had invented which involved the wagon, a chair, some dolls and a sign...

Soo and I playing a game we had invented which involved the wagon, a chair, some dolls and a sign…

Dress-up (my mother had made both of these outfits from scratch)… I was a mermaid, Soo was a rag doll...

Dress-up (my mother had made both of these outfits from scratch)… I was a mermaid, Soo was a rag doll…

My tramp party… (come to think of it, I often liked to pretend I was a tramp)...

My tramp party… (come to think of it, I often liked to pretend I was a tramp)…

This is Soo and I with our cousins, Clare and Jenny… and those are our Easter Features.  During Easter time, my Mom would (as a treat) buy chocolates and sweets of all shapes and sizes - and we'd be allowed to create edible "Easter Features"…

This is Soo and I with our cousins, Clare and Jenny… and those are our Easter Features. During Easter time, my Mom would (as a treat) buy chocolates and sweets of all shapes and sizes – and we’d be allowed to create edible “Easter Features”…

Back then… my mother didn’t hover around, checking up on me all the time.  We were allowed to go for walks on our own… (in fact, that’s how I’d go and visit my best friend Sonja…  I would walk to her house, on my own).  We were allowed to ride our bikes in the street – and I was allowed to ride my horse to riding lessons every Wednesday – on my own.

Back then, there was very little on the TV that interested us.  Occasionally, we’d hire a video from the video store -but only on special occasions.  If we played inside, we’d make up our own games… and I was never bored.  There was a piano I could play… or other musical instruments I could experiment with.  There was a small typewriter that I could type my short stories on.  There was loads of art supplies, paper, pens and other creative materials.  We had a massive bookshelf, bursting with books of all sizes and topics.  We had a bag of paper dolls that my cousin had given us.  We had pets to play with (dogs, cats, hamsters, rats… and on occasion, we looked after spiders, captured snakes and a newly-hatched guinea fowl called Henry).  We were allowed to bake or create our own kitchen masterpieces (I used to make chocolate fudge… and Soo’s favourite recipe was Creme Caramel)…

There was a record player – and we could play our favourite music… and choreograph dances and write and rehearse plays.  There was a generous collection of records – both for adults and for kids.  There was a dress-up box – with countless items to dress up in.

And then, there was the privacy of our rooms.  Soo and I had a huge bedroom.  The upstairs section of the house was our domain.  It had it’s own balcony and bathroom… and it’s where many, many friends and cousins visited… and where many, many games were played (and fights were had).

I often say that I survived my rotten school-experience – simply because of the variety of what was on offer at home.  My play-needs were met.  My creative-needs were met.  I learned more at home than what I did at school (and it’s also where I began nurturing my talents and passions).

The things that I’m good at today…  the talents and the skills that I’ve developed and which earn me an income today…. were ALL birthed and nurtured at home – in the creative and free environment that my mother had created.

I don’t think Mom realised it at the time…  but in retrospect, I look back on those years – and I’m so… relieved… that I had an *outlet* for my creativity… and for my curious and adventurous spirit.

Mom – recognising my creative gift – sent me to art classes with my aunt.  Unlike school (with things like potato prints and only 3 colours of vile powder paint – red, blue and mustard)… my aunt challenged me creatively – and refused to patronise me with “easy” projects.

The same was true of music.  My first piano arrived in our home as a birthday gift for my 8th birthday (because Mom had wisely detected my love for music).  School didn’t teach me music.  I taught myself music… on that Bentley.

Additionally, my mother had me join an amateur children’s theatre production company called Protea Choral Society… and I loved it there.  In so many ways, I felt at home in those creative spaces… where there was singing, dancing, composing, storytelling and art (none of which were on offer at my school).

Performing as Boy George in the children's production, "Mini Pops"...

Performing as Boy George in the children’s production, “Mini Pops”…

My creativity survived in spite of that awful, soul-destroying experience known as “school”… because my mother had equipped me with the resources I needed most… and had set me free to use them in whichever way I chose.  Without Mom even realising it, she had plugged me in to the Interest-Led-Learning lifestyle which I now carry forward with my own children, today.

Thank-you, Mom.

No… seriously…. THANK-YOU, Mom!!!

The reason why I write this post (apart from wanting to publicly thank my Mom)…  is because I have noticed such an enormous change in the world we live in today.

Play… and opportunities for children to play…  and create… and initiate and learn (in a natural way… in a natural environment) are now very, very different.  No longer are children encouraged to ride their bikes in the street… or walk to the home of their friends… or do anything – really – without constant adult supervision and monitoring.

Even children’s playgrounds have morphed into plasticky “safe” zones…. rather than organic spaces where kids can still push the boundaries (and learn in the process)…

I find this to be very sad.  I think kids are really missing out on something special…

I recently read a BRILLIANT article about WHY this might be the case – and what we (as parents) can do, to turn the situation around.  I strongly recommend THIS ARTICLE to all parents.  Seriously, it’s such a good, thought-provoking read.

Secondly, I watched a brilliant TED talk by Dr. Peter Gray (recommended by Ken Robinson).  It’s called “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Mental Disorders”.  Here it is:

Nuff said.

More PLAY… less “SCHOOL”.  Children learn best during play.  The glaring evidence is all there.  Whether we take any notice of it is still up for debate.

What world-schooling looks like for our family…

(this is going to be a long post… with lots of photos…)

A few months ago, I wrote a post (also with lots of photos) about what road-schooling looks like for our family (after we’d embarked upon a 6 week road trip around South Africa).

Followers of this blog will know that our kids don’t go to school and we educate our kids differently (although I’m reluctant to pigeon-hole our educational philosophy with names like homeschooling / unschooling / life-learning / interested-led learning / whatever!)

I will say this though:  we have our children’s best interests at heart – far more than any self-appointed expert or well-meaning stranger.

And, I’ll also say this:  I do not believe there is one *right* way to educate a child.

So.  That said.  Here’s a quick look at what “school” on the road (and around the world) looks like for our family:

ANIMALS, PLANTS & WILDLIFE…

penguins?

The kids learned about manatees at the aquarium at Disney’s Epcot… (there were lots of them in a big tank – and we watched them being fed).  Later, in Titusville, we went on an excursion to find manatees in their natural habitat.  Their first popular hang-out area was empty… but we eventually found one languishing happily in one of the canals close to Merritt Island.

We also learned about tigers and bats at Disney’s Animal Kingdom…

We watched a documentary on Great White Sharks – on a huge curved IMAX screen at the Science Museum in Tampa.  Now that we’re in Cape Town, the conversation (about Great Whites) has returned… the kids met a Cape Fur Seal (called Pirate) in the Hout Bay Harbour yesterday.  Knowing that Great Whites eat seals – Joah has expressed concern about Pirate’s safety.  There’s also a second-hand store in Kalk Bay that had a bowl of shark teeth.  The kids were fascinated with the serrated edges – and reminded me how sharks grow new teeth (whenever old ones fall out).

In Tampa (and this was a first for me too) – we watched pelicans dive for fish off the pier at …. beach.  Loved it!

The kids have seen a lot of alligators  in their natural habitat.  We went on an excursion to find some… and we did!  (Although it’s definitely not hard to find gators in Florida).  There have been lots of discussions about the difference between gators and crocs.

The Wild Centre in the Adirondacks offered a wonderful immersion into the wildlife of the area.  We watched a short documentary on moose… the kids watched river otters play (and listened to an interesting talk given by one of the museum volunteers)… and, of course, we learned about trout (a lesson Joah will never forget).

moose

trout

otters

There was also an opportunity to sniff the scents left by beaver, mink and otter (and to try and determine which was which).

smells of the adirondacks

The Natural History Museum in DC had fantastic displays on all kinds of wildlife (both alive and extinct).  One of the museum volunteers gave a talk and a demonstration on different spiders.  She had a few tarantulas and showed how they could shed their entire exoskeleton.  The museum had a fantastic bug and butterfly display too.

The art museum in Baltimore also had a fabulous bug display…

bugs

The Wild Centre had an interactive exhibit on different bogs.  For some reason, Morgan really loved the bogs.  There were different mushy things to touch and sniff – and they had a mock-bog that you could walk on.

wild centre

And in Fort Christmas (Florida) – the kids learned how to bleed a tree and make turpentine

turpentine tree

And… they studied varies samples of plants, shells and fossils at the Museum of Natural History…

natural history museum

AMERICAN HISTORY

lincoln

One of the things I appreciate and respect about the United States… is how they have preserved their history.  There are endless historical sites (not to mention all the museums) that you can visit… and almost everything has been beautifully and carefully curated.  I could spend months… years… in the United States – simply drinking in all the museums, monuments and history!

Needless to say… the kids experienced American history first-hand.  It began with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC… followed by a visit to the theatre where he was shot… and the house (across the road from the theatre) where he died.

Morgan didn’t care too much about Abraham Lincoln… UNTIL…. she saw a large model of a slave ship (in the American History Museum).  The story of the slaves had an enormous impact on Morgan.  She was utterly mortified.  She kept imagining Adelaide (who worked for us for many years)… in that situation.  She stayed at the slave exhibit for a long time – and she asked me a lot of questions about all that.  She was particularly revolted by the idea that slaves were viewed as “things” or “shipments” or “merchandise”… instead of people.

When I told her that Abraham Lincoln was one of the key people in the fight to abolish slavery – suddenly, he was no longer just a huge, marble statue.  Suddenly, he was a very important man –  “Like Nelson Mandela” she said.

Learning about maritime history and tobacco ships… and slave ships… at the American History Museum...

Learning about maritime history and tobacco ships… and slave ships… at the American History Museum…

fort christmas

We enjoyed an unexpected treat at Fort Christmas – where we were able to walk through numerous restored cabins from the early 1800’s…(perfectly preserved and furnished).

old school house 2

Also at Fort Christmas was an old school house where the kids got a taste of what actual *school* might feel like…

white springs

In the town of White Springs (Florida)… we had a fantastic history lesson about a famous medicinal spring, the tourism that grew around it… and Stephen Foster’s music.  The Stephen Foster Museum houses 10 gorgeous, moving dioramas dedicated to Stephen Foster’s most famous songs.  There’s also a bell tower with the world’s largest tubular bells.

We visited a lot of museums – and the United States certainly knows how to *do* museums.  As far as American History goes, I think the National Museum of American History (in DC) was one of our favourite visits.  We spent the whole day browsing (and didn’t come close to seeing all of the exhibits).

Oh – and one more American History experience…  we learned about the Street Car (or Trolley) on a tour of downtown Tampa.  Here’s a pic:

tampa street car

… and while on the trolley, we learned about the historic region of Tampa called Ybor (famous for it’s Cuban community and, in particular, it’s cigars)…

ybor

Oh… and also the ridiculously gorgeous Tampa landmark (which we briefly toured) – the Henry B. Plant Museum…

history

EGYPTIAN HISTORY

Morgan and Joah’s keen interest in mummies and ancient Egypt came (ironically) after Universal Studios and “The Mummy” Ride.    So… I purchased a book all about “King Tut” – and read it to the family as we drove from Orlando to Tampa.

There are 3 museums in particular that had awesome exhibits which explained more about ancient Egypt.  The Natural History Museum (in DC), the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (which boasted interactive exhibits)… and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (which even handed out treasure maps to the kids so that they could locate important pieces on their own).

Morgan and Joah’s Greek grandparents were born and raised in Egypt… so there’s an extra incentive to learn about the area.

egypt2

IMG_1614

egypt

CHOCOLATE MAKING

We visited a chocolate factory and museum in Pennsylvania.  We watched a documentary on the entire chocolate-making process (from cocoa bean to finished bar of chocolate)… and then the kids watched as factory workers created all kinds of yummies with melted chocolate.

chocolate factory

DINOSAURS

Joah has a *thing* for dinosaurs… and we had ample opportunity to learn about – and experience – dinosaurs whilst on our American Road Trip.  From Dino Land and Dino rides (in Disney’s Animal Kingdom)…. to the huge Jurassic Park section at Universal Studios… to the more serious dino exhibits at the Natural History Museum (in Washington DC).

Probably the best dino experience came courtesy of the Indianapolis Children’s Museum…  they had a gob-smacking section on dinosaurs – most of which was interactive.  Joah’s favourite part was getting to stroke the *real* fossilised bone that once belonged to a T-Rex.

Even here in Cape Town, Joah’s dino-fascination remains in tact.  He has been bending the ear of our hosts, Meg and Miles, with all his T-Rex facts – and has been begging me to buy Cheerios (because they come with collectable dinosaurs).

dino fossil

(Above):  Joah touching the T-Rex femur…

dino

dinos

IMG_1596

AIR & SPACE

We had ample opportunity to learn about planes, jets and rockets.  First we visited the Kennedy Space Centre… and then, we visited the National Air & Space Museum in DC.  The kids had loads of questions – and it was so much fun to *show* them instead of just *tell* them.

The National Air & Space Museum had a huge section on “How Things Fly” designed especially for kids.  There were endless interactive games and experiments that helped the kids better understand how flying is possible.

air and space

flying

flying lessons

Joah *flying* a Cessna...

Joah *flying* a Cessna…

Experimenting with a shuttle cockpit...

Experimenting with a shuttle cockpit…

morgan and plane

space

TRAINS

We had loads of opportunity to learn about… and to experience… trains.  Firstly, there was the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel & Museum (our hotel used to be the old train station).  There were lots of steam trains that the kids could climb on… a small museum explaining the history of the trains… and a large model railway.

The Indianapolis Children’s Museum also had a lovely section on the history of rail…  (and loads of interactive things for kids to see and do).  We also learned more about trains at the American History Museum.

I have a *thing* for old steam locomotives – so there was a lot of ooooh’ing and aaaah’ing from me.

trains

chattanooga

model train

SCIENCE

Science lessons came in numerous forms.  We visited MOSI (the science museum in Tampa)… again, with endless interactive exhibits, experiments and learning experiences.  It was also where we watched the documentary on sharks… and visited the planetarium… and a hurricane simulator (speaking of simulators, we had also experienced a tornado simulator in Epcot)…

Experimenting with electricity currents...

Experimenting with electricity currents…

Inside the hurricane simulator...

Inside the hurricane simulator…

Mirror maze...

Mirror maze…

Loads of interactive water experiments at the Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa...

Loads of interactive water experiments at the Glazer Children’s Museum in Tampa…

And… speaking of science, we also visited the birthplace of Thomas Edison (which housed a lovely museum  explaining more about his various inventions).   As a gift, the kids were given a lightbulb pendant (which they still have).

Nick and the kids outside the house where Edison was born...

Nick and the kids outside the house where Edison was born…

ARTS AND CRAFTS

As you probably know, I’m an artist… so wherever we travel, the art materials go with us.  Needless to say, there was endless opportunity for drawing, painting and scrapbooking as we travelled…

Morgan creating designs with her new airbrush (a Christmas prezzie)...

Morgan creating designs with her new airbrush (a Christmas prezzie)…

Painting and scratching designs into foil at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore...

Painting and scratching designs into foil at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore…

Scrapbooking...

Scrapbooking…

There was also the opportunity for experiments with various crafts.  In White Springs, the kids learned about pottery making, weaving and they even visited a blacksmith who helped them make an iron hanging hook!  🙂

At the blacksmith...

At the blacksmith…

Morgan proudly displaying her woven coaster...

Morgan proudly displaying her woven coaster…

And… of course… we also visited art museums, including the National Portrait Gallery and the (ridiculously awesome!) Walters Art Museum in Baltimore…

art national portrait gallery

washington

GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE

Well… nothing like travel to teach kids about geography and about the world.  They now *get* it…  they understand that the world is far, far bigger than South Africa.  They understand that the United States has various time-zones and climates – and that it’s possible to wear shorts and swim in the sea in Florida… but, if you drive north for a bit, you can enjoy snow, frozen lakes and ice-fishing in upstate New York!  🙂

Walking on a frozen lake in the Adirondacks, New York...

Walking on a frozen lake in the Adirondacks, New York…

Now – they can’t wait to explore other countries!  I think the travel-bug has bitten!  🙂

OTHER THINGS…

This post is already too long… but I have endless photos and stories to share of what we saw, experienced and learned during our 2 month road trip in the USA.

What we love most about this kind of learning is that it’s fun… it’s exciting… it’s interesting.

When you can see… experience… experiment… touch… taste… smell…. it’s so much easier to *get* the lesson at hand.  That’s what world-schooling is about – it’s about learning and growing and understanding and exploring… while journeying.

And yes… there was loads of play-time and fun-time too!  (We’re big believers in play-as-learning)

And yes… (for the cynics)… we also are covering reading, writing and counting.   Don’t worry, we’re not spawning two illiterate, undisciplined terrors.  There are still rules and chores and not-necessarily-fun stuff that they have to do…  (as we all have to do… dirty dishes and invoicing being a case in point!)…

Some of our books & learning materials...

Some of our books & learning materials…

But, in all… this way of life really works for us.  It’s really important for Nick and I that our children love learning.  I never want them to see learning as a boring, hateful chore… or as something they are *forced* to do.

Anyway… on that note… I’m going to end off (Joah wants to swim – so I’m going downstairs to watch him).

Here’s a few other posts about our educational philosophy (for those interested):

What “school” on the road looks like…

In just a few weeks we have already learned soooo much – just by getting OUT of our usual environment and exploring!

I say “we” – because it definitely isn’t just the kids learning… I’m learning too!

As for the kids, they have both been very busy experiencing life and learning through seeing / touching / visiting and asking lots of questions…

Here’s some of what we’ve learned thus far:

FLORA & FAUNA

We’ve visited a giant baobab tree (and Morgan tried to climb it).  We all loved that tree… absolutely magnificent.  If I had said “baobab” before – I would have received a blank look.  Now, the kids know exactly what I’m talking about – and they want to know when we can visit another one.

climbing baobab

Morgan and Joah now know a LOT more about olives!  They’ve picked them… tasted them… and know that they grow best in arid regions like the Karoo.  They also know that you can make lots of different things out of olives… including oil, chutney… and even jam!

olives 2

They’ve hunted for wild mushrooms (but since I know nothing about which mushrooms are what – I thought it best NOT to fry them up in a pan for supper!)…

mushrooms

WILD LIFE

We have learned about hippos.  Joah and Morgan now understand that hippos are herbivores (but prefer to say “vegetarian-like-Aunty-Tracey”).  They also know that hippos are aggressive and territorial (Jessica being the only exception to this rule)… and that crocs are very wary of adult hippos.

That's sweetened Rooibos tea (not petrol!)...

That’s sweetened Rooibos tea (not petrol!)…

feeding hippo

We know that female hyenas have fake testicles and a retractable ‘penis’.

We know that a baby giraffe gets it’s first jolt of life – and takes it’s first breath when it “drops” out of it’s mother at birth.

I always knew that vultures eat dead things… but never knew that they are SO uninterested in living things that there are rabbits happily sharing cages with them (at Moholoholo rehabilitation centre).  A rabbit wouldn’t dare share a cage with an eagle or owl!

We learned that honey badgers are virtually indestructible – and are even immune to snake venom and bee stings (!) – but, in spite of this, their survival is being threatened by elephants who are doing a very thorough job of destroying their natural habitat (in this part of the world).

The kids now understand the difference between reptiles and mammals… and are starting to understand amphibians.

tortoise

They now understand that praying mantis’ come in different colours and sizes (depending on the region)…

We’ve watched a swallow build it’s nest from mud…

We’ve got up close & personal (and I have touched) a baboon spider or tarantula (not sure which).  The kids know that spiders don’t have to be scary… but are actually rather fascinating!

spider

The kids have played with a tortoise… stroked a cheetah… fed a hippo… scratched the head of an eagle… visited lion, leopard, wild dog, baby giraffe, ostrich and hyena.  They’ve fed sheep… petted lambs… fed apples to warthogs… hunted for mice & crickets to feed a wounded owl… gathered porcupine quills… shouted at baboons and impala… and can tell you exactly what an adult kudu looks like (after one almost collided with our car!).

lamb

Feeding apples to warthogs (with their cousin, Kyra)...

Feeding apples to warthogs (with their cousin, Kyra)…

FOOD & COOKING

They’ve visited a working dairy and now understand how cheese is made – they even sampled slithers of strong cheddar and parmesan.

cheese

Morgan sampled her first pomegranate (but it was a bit too sour and she didn’t like it).

We have spoken a lot about alcohol – ever since the kids saw two drunk children begging for money outside the OK Food Store (to buy more cheap wine).  We’ve had the “alcohol is not for children” talk… and the “everything in moderation” talk (when they wanted to know why WE had purchased a bottle of wine).  There were also lots of questions about how grapes are made into wine.

Morgan invented another recipe… this one with custard, nutella and sugar.  She was also glued to the hotel TV (in Bloemfontein) for her first-ever episode of Masterchef.  I suspect that if we had DSTV, Masterchef would be her favourite TV show!

STARS

The stars are gorgeous out here in the Karoo… Nick has already pointed out the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt to Morgan… and there have been many questions about planets.  Morgan also knows that “Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system and has lots of moons”.  As I type this blog, Nick and Morgan are outside – watching for meteors (so far, they’ve spotted 4).

Morgan also uses her Leapfrog Reader to learn more about the Solar System (hence knowing about Jupiter and the moons).

space

ART

There has been painting & drawing…

art

They have collected pebbles in the stream and painted them…

painted stones

Morgan has been collecting and painting rushes…

art 2

READING & WRITING

We’ve had lots of fun making “Nature’s ABC’s” .  As you can imagine, there was much enthusiastic participation with this little exercise!

ABC 6

ABC 1

ABC 2

ABC 4

ABC 5

“I spy with my little eye”… has been a great travelling game to practice phonics (especially for Joah).

And – of course – bedtime stories.

MATHS

There has been much arguing about money.  Nick gave Morgan and Joah a small allowance and there has been much counting (of money)… and comparing their money… and trying to persuade us to give them more (money)…

Morgan has become a lot more interested in checking price tags on items at the shop (or the craft market).  Now that she has her own R15, she wants to know what she can afford to buy with that amount (not much!).

They’ve also counted the rings on tree stumps in an attempt to determine their age.

And they’ve played numbers games on the iPad.

LANGUAGES

“Mommy, what’s ‘come’ in Afrikaans?”

“Kom”

“I can also say ‘come’ in Greek, Mommy!”

“What’s ‘come’ in Greek, Morgan?”

“Ela!”

“Very good, my girl”.

MUSIC

Joah composed a song in Garage Band on the iPad.  Seriously.

They watched a 6-piece marimba band in action (in Hoedspruit).

marimba 2

Clearly – Morgan remembered what I had told her about the marimba – because, just 3 days ago, she made her own marimba with thick chunks of wood (from the farm) cut into different lengths.  She lined them up on the lawn and whacked them with sticks – and showed me how the tones of the wood changed depending on the length and thickness of the cut.

I was very impressed with what she had learned!

HISTORY & CULTURE

They learned what life was like in the 1800’s and early 1900’s at the Fransie Pienaar Museum.

fp museum

They learned about road engineer Thomas Bain and the 240 prisoners who constructed the Swartberg Pass 126 years ago.

They were fascinated by cultural dancing and storytelling at Kyra’s school in Hoedspruit.

cultural dancing

PALEONTOLOGY

They watched a 40 minute physical theatre presentation (about our ancestral history) in Hoedspruit…

physical theatre

They also visited dinosaur fossils in Prince Albert!

They understand (and have touched) a stalactite and stalagmite in the Cango Caves… and understand the amazing process of how these formations came to “be” – and how many hundreds of years they took to form…

SOCIALISING

The kids have met lots of lovely people – and everyone has been exceptionally kind and friendly towards them.  There was an old granny who enthusiastically demonstrated how some of the local dinosaurs would have walked (in the fossil section of the museum at Prince Albert)…. to the local farmer (and owner of our Karoo cottage) who took the kids to feed his sheep and pet his lambs.

They’ve also had the opportunity to play with smaller friends.  They absolutely loved spending lots of quality time with cousin Kyra in Hoedspruit (who introduced them to all of her school friends).  And here in the Karoo, they’ve befriended Edwina (the 8 year-old daughter of the owners of the guesthouse in Klaarstroom where all of the cast of Faan se Trein are living).

We’ve also been having lots of serious talks about “strangers”.  I believe that most people are good… and most people would NOT harm a child.  So, the whole “don’t talk to strangers” advice is – to me – horrible advice which makes children scared and suspicious of everyone.

I have told Morgan and Joah that they MUST talk to strangers.  If somebody greets them, they should greet them back.  If somebody smiles at them – they should reciprocate.

My only rule?  They mustn’t GO anywhere with strangers.  But talk?  Absolutely!

PLAY & EXERCISE

The kids have had loads of opportunity to run… play… build lego… jump on trampolines… dig in sandpits…swim… paddle… go on walks… wrestle with their dad… climb on jungle gyms… and just have F-U-N.

sand pit

Lego on cousin Kyra's trampoline...

Lego on cousin Kyra’s trampoline…

exploring

swimming in waterfall

IN CONCLUSION…

There are many different ways to ensure that our children are educated and prepared for life.

I don’t believe that there’s one “right” way – and that everything else is “wrong” (come to think of it – I feel the same way about a lot of different things… religion included).

I believe that parents know their kids better than anyone else – and more than anyone else, have their child’s best interests at heart.  Whatever route those parents decide to take (when it comes to education)… is their choice.  And there are many options:

  • Traditional public schooling system.
  • Traditional private schools.
  • Montessori schools.
  • Waldorf schools.
  • Charlotte Mason schools.
  • Bush-schools with a nature-based curriculum (like Southern Cross school in Hoedspruit).
  • Schools with a curriculum based on a certain religion (like Christian schools or Muslim schools).
  • Homeschooling (in it’s many, diverse forms).
  • Unschooling / Life-Learning (in it’s many, diverse forms).
  • Online learning (including learning games & apps).
  • Private tutors.
  • Online tutors.
  • Correspondence learning.
  • Apprenticeship.

And… of course… so much more.

Where did so many of us get the idea that there’s only one “right” way of educating our kids?

In closing… I salute parents and teachers and everyone else who cares deeply about children and wants them to receive the best possible education.  We may differ in opinion on what “best-possible-education” actually means… but I think we all have the best interests of our children at heart.

And that’s a good thing.

Other posts on education that you might enjoy:

People who live differently…

expandToday I thought I’d share some of my favourite websites of people who live and think outside of the box.  Enjoy!

TRAVELLING FAMILIES

All of the families here are self-funded.  I know that there’s some people who have the (mistaken) belief that families who travel long-term are either very rich… or they leech off other people.  This isn’t the case at all.  Most of these families have deliberately chosen to sacrifice things like stable jobs, homes, cars and “stuff” so that they can travel the world with their kids.  They earn a living in a number of different ways – but mostly, they rely on their laptops and the internet.

Edventure Project – Jenn, Tony and their 4 children have been travelling the world for years.  I’m a regular reader of their blog.  One of my favourite articles is this one where Jenn talks about her very unconventional upbringing by parents who have always thought completely out of the box.  Reading that story made me more than just a little bit jealous (in a good way).

Going Anyway – One of the most inspiring blogs I’ve read.  Jill and Chris (and their 5 children – one of whom has profound Cerebral Palsy) – went travelling all over Asia for a year.  In spite of the nay-sayers and doubters – they “went anyway” – and discovered that long-term travel benefitted their family in such profound ways, that they’re currently back in Australia (their home country), taking some time to sort a few things out before they hit the road again.  I just love the “can do” attitude of this family.  The world has so many whingers and grumblers – and this family just goes out there and makes things happen.  They even MADE a wheelchair that could accommodate Sparky’s travelling needs (because they couldn’t find anything suitable on the market).

Escape Artistes – Theodora is a single mother who has been travelling the world with her 12 year-old son, Zac, for over 3 years.  Her blog is definitely not for the faint-hearted.  She is VERY frank… (and very funny!).  I actually think I’m a bit scared of her (in a good way, of course!).

Continue reading

An unschooling success story (one of many)

I totally *get* that many people are so sceptical about this whole unschooling / life learning idea – because it is, admittedly, so far removed from the mainstream ‘norm’.

I watched this lecture by Astra Taylor (who went to school only when she was 13 – and still has some deep reservations about her decision to do so).

I would suggest that anyone tempted to dismiss or ridicule the idea of “unschooling” – just have a listen to what Astra has to say….

What ‘school’ looks like for our family

Not too long ago, I had my own graphic design business and I worked days, nights and weekends.  My children were introduced to day-care and nannies when they were babies.  We lived segregated lives.  I saw the kids in the morning when I dressed them and drove them to school (their nanny would pack their bags and feed them their breakfast).   And I saw the kids in the late afternoon – when I collected them from school.

Then we all ate supper (cooked by the nanny) as we sat in front of the TV.  Then there would be some play.  And then the kids would bath and go to bed.  And then Nick and I would watch more TV (or catch up on work) until we fell in to bed too.

You can read a bit more about that season of our life here… (and what eventually was the ‘last straw’, as it were).

These days, life is very different.

  • There’s no more graphic design studio (I shut the whole lot down in November 2007).
  • There’s no more TV (we turfed it… deliberately).
  • There’s no more nanny (she returned to her home country with the aim of setting up a little business of her own).
  • And there’s no more full-time day-care (or… even school).

These days, everything has changed.  I facilitate the education of my children.  I don’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves with a label like “homeschooling” or “unschooling”… but we probably lean more towards the unschooling philosophy (although I don’t like the term itself – because when people hear that word, they tend to assume that we’re not doing ‘anything’ with our kids… or that we’re un-parenting).  I prefer the term “Life Learning”.

Learning isn’t “school”.  Learning is life.  Learning happens every day (and we love learning!).

We aren’t (as a family) too hard and fast on things like Rules… or Systems… or Time-Frames.

Every day is different.  Every learning experience is fresh and new.

Yesterday, it was all about butterflies and moths.  Morgan and Joah had discovered a big moth in our kitchen and they’d captured it in a jar.  They wanted to know the difference between a butterfly and a moth – so I googled them some youtube videos which we watched together.  Then, we browsed a few photos of different species of butterflies and moths.

IMG_1063Above:  Joah loves bugs and beetles.

After a lot of questions, the kids were satisfied with their moth knowledge… and moved on to lego.

We LOVE lego.  We have a small mountain of lego.  The kids build new creatures and structures every day.  They’ve enjoyed creating robots recently… and today, Joah made a “Giant Crab”.  Morgan likes building towers – and she likes adding string and other bits and pieces to her interesting creations.

unschool

unjoahunschool2

Yesterday, they discovered an interesting beetle which they captured – and kept in a jar – while they built it a lego house (which it promptly escaped).  Which got them to re-think lego-bug-houses and how to make them.

And we do art.  If you visit my online store, Eezil, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how much my children enjoy art.  There’s always lots of drawing and painting happening in our home.

IMG_0770

Sometimes, we’ll bake.  A week ago, we were baking and decorating cupcakes… (and eating them, of course).

Sometimes, we count.  Morgan, especially, enjoys counting.  She counts everything… lego pieces… beads… toys… you name it!  She has easily picked up the basic principles of addition and subtraction (especially when I present a problem to her in the form of cupcakes:  i.e.:  “You made 12 cupcakes – and Joah ate 3 of them!  How many are left?”).

I recently purchased a counting set which allows me to break things up into tens, units and colours (and is making it easier for me to explain numbers to Joah).

countAbove:  Learning about tens and units.

Neither of the kids are super-keen to dive in to reading and writing… (yet)… (although they love being read to).  Morgan knows and understands the alphabet (phonetically).  She can write all the letters – and read basic, 3 letter words… but she doesn’t like being forced to do it… (so I’m not going to force her).

Nick and I aren’t measuring or comparing our kids to other children.  We don’t have this magical number / age or system-of-progress in mind.  I’m perfectly content to allow them the freedom to develop at their own pace.  I’ve also noticed that most un-schooled / life-learning children… tend to start reading and writing at a later age (say – 8 or 9).  I see that the Waldorf Schools also encourage parents to hold off on the early reading & writing… “expectation”.

We do have a selection of Leap Frog readers – which help kids to read.  Morgan prefers this method… but doesn’t want to be forced to do it every day.  If I let her learn at her own pace, she usually ‘reads’ the Leap Frog books on her own (without needing to be nagged).

read

tag

One of life’s greatest gifts is the ability to read.  Books and stories have enriched my life, and I want the same for Morgan and Joah.  The difference is that we’re not forcing a specific time-frame or schedule… (but we play alphabet games – just for fun… and we’ve even made up our own Phonics-Song… which the kids love to sing while we drive in the car).

I have full confidence that, (like thousands of un-schooled children before them), my kids will learn (with our guidance and encouragement)… how to read and write (at their own pace, in their own time).

And yes… there’s “screen time”.  We don’t have a TV (so my kids aren’t exposed to endless advertising or questionable content).  But we do have a movie room and an X-Box.  In the evening, the kids will watch a movie or play Lego on the X-Box with Nick.  Nick enjoys this “downtime” with them – and my kids are VERY good at that Lego game!

We also go on a lot of outings.  Museums… play dates… swimming… occasional pottery class… beading classes… lots of different play grounds… (not to mention preparing for a life-style of world travel).

IMG_1129Above:  The East London Museum.

So – there you have it.  A short little walk-through of the way we view education – and what works for our family.

If you’re curious about this whole ‘unschooling’ thing – here’s some interesting links:

  • I have written a long blog post about how I believe the “System” fails children (and how it failed me) here.  If you want to better understand why “school” just doesn’t make any sense to me – it’s a great place to start (even if the post is a bit ranty).
  • Seth Godin was written a brilliant manifesto on why the system has failed (fantastic food-for-thought reading)
  • Sir Ken Robinson has been re-imagining the education system for years… let’s just say that I spent hours watching every video on this page and saying:  “Yessss!!!”  (I also loved his book called “The Element – How finding your passion changes everything”).
  • TED video “Play, Passion, Purpose” by Tony Wagner.  (Excellent video which also had me nodding in agreement).  “The world no longer cares about what you know – but about what you can DO with what you know… and that is a completely different education problem”.
  • A TED talk on why John Bennett (a maths teacher) believes that maths instruction is unnecessary.   Don’t diss the title until you’ve listened to what he has to say.
  • If you click on only one link in this section – click on this one.  Ken Robinson explains everything beautifully (in animation format).
  • Wondering how unschooling children get to university or college?.  Here’s an excellent post about college (dispelling the myths and presenting some other educational options).
  • Here’s one radical viewpoint that I resonate with on many levels.
  • Interesting Video with 3 stories from different families and children.
  • An explanation on unschooling in FAQ format from a 19 year old who has never been to school.
  • A mother who unschools her kids (and has done so for years) answers questions in an FAQ format here.
  • A post from a homeschooling mom who gradually moved to unschooling.
  • Another post (with lots of photos) written by me.

Quick Disclaimer:

Obviously, I’m not saying that unschooling… or even homeschooling is for everyone.  I have many friends who send their kids to school – and they have happy, well-adjusted kids. This blog is about our choices – and why unschooling works well for our family at this particular point in our lives.  We’re not trying to convince… or ‘convert’ anyone.  We’re just sharing our journey.