On the tools

We have been taking things pretty easy from a purely academic point of view lately. Even though our year runs to a general kind of plan, it is not rigidly fixed. We are actually ahead of schedule on the bits I need to keep on top of. It seemed as good a time as any to devote some much needed attention to fixing our decaying verandah.

There is half a dozen medium sized projects which need to be done, all with the verandah as the common theme. The boys love working with tools. Whether they are hammering rocks into rubble, cutting wood or building things, they really enjoy the physicality of it. I like to encourage them in this.

It is not always easy. If I am not arbitrating arguments between them or stopping everything to feed people, I am falling over them, negotiating to get my tools back, or having my previous work enthusiastically undone as I focus on a different part of the job. Still, there is no denying they are keen.

Working on the pavers

On of our jobs involves pulling up a large section of old pavers in one part of the yard, and relaying them in another. This has been a lot of fun in its own kind of way.

The pavers in question need to be laid out in a flat plane which angles to a certain drainage point. This means lots of working with spirit levels and string lines. There is also lots of measuring to work out how much paving we need, how much we can find, and how we are going to deal with any difference between the numbers.

Despite having to think it all through, most of that kind of work ultimately comes down to digging and shovelling dirt. The boys think its great. Outside of helping me, they have also constructed a series of roads under the house.

We stop sometimes to deal with broken tools or various cuts and scrapes. They have both given themselves that distinctive graze in the centre of the back which comes from crawling out from under the house and standing up too early.

The other project we have been working on is replacing a series of supporting poles under the verandah. This was a great project for the boys. There was a lot of cutting and drilling big bits of timber, then holding it all together with heavy bolts. We got to use the car jack and a collection of makeshift props to hold the verandah up while we cut away the old posts. The highlight of the show was having a legitimate reason to dig holes under the house and fill them with concrete to act as footings. My father in law was helping for that particular project, and the boys were with us every step of the way.

Replacing the verandah stumpsWhile these sorts of jobs involve a fair amount of maths in the planning part, it would be a stretch to suggest that the boys really picked up on that level of detail. They understand the importance of measuring and cutting carefully, but I certainly cant claim that they manage much of that on a practical level. They will dig holes wherever they are standing, and will take hammers and saws to whatever is in reach. They require lots of direction and the whole process can be slow and frustrating at times, but overall we enjoy ourselves immensely.

Outside of the physical exercise and gross motor skills, I think that more importantly, this style of work builds a lot of self confidence in the boys. There is a lot of safety and responsibility involved in working with tools like this. There is a great deal of satisfaction for them in building on a grand scale. They get a sense of being one of the adults as they struggle to haul around a bag of concrete or not to overturn the wheelbarrow. Last of all, they dont just get to help, they get to help repair the house we live in.

There is no doubt in their minds that they could pretty much build their own house if they wanted to. It gives them a surety in themselves far beyond the size of the finished job.

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Getting a social life

I spend a lot of time considering the social skills of my boys. They seem to me to be very outspoken, clear and adaptable in talking to a surprisingly wide variety of people about a lot of different things. Still, I would be lying if I said they had lots of friends and people over to play all the time. They just don’t.

My oldest boy started going to parkour classes the other day. The class is in the afternoon, and it only occurred to me as we pulled up that they were timed to start fifteen minutes after school finishes.

The club where the classes are run suddenly filled up with about a hundred and fifty kids. As well as the parkour class, they were playing ball games, riding bikes, having a birthday party, doing a martial arts class, and just generally running around doing crazy kid stuff.

I found myself sitting next to a couple of young lads who were just hanging out, so we struck up a conversation. They were five and six. One of them had just lost a couple of teeth and proudly showed me where they were growing back. His mate accidentally dropped his snacks all over the floor, but then went on to happily explain that the floor was being cleaned all the time and he was quite comfortable eating off it.

There was so much loud positive energy in the building with all these kids enjoying themselves. For the first time in a long time, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. If this was going to school, my boys should be going there, not staying at home.

Once I got over the sensory overload, I took a closer look at what was going on. I had stumbled into an out of school hours (OOSH) childcare session. Their tagline, rather tellingly, is ‘in a world gone mad with rules and regulations, we help kids be kids.’

It was only then that I realised that although all these kids were wearing school uniforms, this was the bit they had not been allowed to do all day. What I was actually watching was the opposite of school. Is this why they were all having such a great time?

climbing on a net

What really triggered this latest round of thinking about socialising was an article about the president of a school principals association who was making the point that school is not the place to learn social skills. A couple of days later I stumbled on another article, this time about the states Department of Education trying to stop people going on holidays during school terms because of the damaging effect this has on children’s education. We recently spent several weeks in Bali and I classed all of it as educational. I feel that fewer things teach life and social skills faster than travel. For mainstream schools around here, apparently that is none of their concern.

Any homeschooling parent who has been grilled about how their kids will grow up to be socially incompetent (which is every homeschooling parent) should see the irony here.

We never started homeschooling because the kids were struggling at school or to guide them through an immoral world. We just started it because it seemed to produce good academic outcomes, an interest in learning, and a high degree of emotional fitness.

I love that all these extracurricular activities are available. There are actually many more of them than I ever realised. By getting along to these classes, it is just one example of how we can get to what certainly appears to be the social highlight of the school day, without having to sit through the school day first to get there.

Do we get to have it all? I am not sure. We seem to get more than most, though.

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Daily life in Woolgoolga

I am writing this as a blog challenge from an Opinionated Man on daily life around the world.

I live outside a small coastal town just down the road from Coffs Harbour on the north coast of NSW, Australia. It is really hot here and it often rains. It is the subtropics. We have about fifteen banana trees growing in our back yard. They are very popular around these parts. These ones are  a bit small to fruit yet, obviously.

Backyard bananas

I homeschool my two boys, so we are around the house a fair bit. There is an empty block next door to our place. Sometimes we use it as a small archery range. The whole thing backs onto a tea tree swamp.

Every time we go outside, we get bitten by mosquitoes. It is just a question of how many. Kangaroos regularly come out of the swamp and hang out in our back yard. Snakes and goannas pass through from time to time. Possums live in our roof. A small flock of bush turkeys also live here. I like the bush turkeys. They share an unintentional sense of humour with chooks.

Looking into the tea tree swampThis is my washing line. I saw a photo of a washing line on a website recently which described it as ‘innovative green technology.’ It generated what I found to be a staggering discussion on such a mundane household item.  Quite a few people gave a large number of reasons as to why they felt it would never work at their place. Others felt it had a pioneering, or even rebellious nature to it. A surprising number imagined their neighbors creeping around and checking out their undies and ‘doing things.’ A lot grudgingly conceded that it might be OK for a third world country. Inevitably, one bright spark decided the whole thing was photoshopped.

Every house has a washing line. They are very simple. They dry your washing.

Washing lineIf I walk for about five minutes, I will find myself at the beach. Here it is. There are lots of great beaches around here. I tend to take them for granted, which I have to admit is kind of a waste. They are certainly cleaner than any others I have seen around the world.

Woolgooolga beachA couple of minutes in the car will see me in Woolgoolga. It is not a very big town and probably wouldn’t be very remarkable if it wasn’t for the massive Sikh community that lives there. They make up half the towns population, and for reasons which I don’t have room to explain here, they also own most of the local farmland.

I like going in to town and seeing people in turbans and saris, and hear them speaking in another language. I have not found anything quite like it anywhere else in rural Australia. They also have this temple which you have to drive past to get in or out of town. I have never been in there, but I sure like the look of it.

Woolgoolga sikh templeSo there is a bit about my place. It all seems quite ordinary to me, but that is definitely a subjective term. I am sure it is all quite exotic to someone. Now there is a funny thought.

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Pemuteran and what happened next

We are in Bali at the moment, and have returned to Ubud from the north coast. We have just spent five days in Pemuteran and in a sense they marked both the high and low points of this whole trip.

Shortly after we arrived in Pemuteran, one of the boys elaborately vomited throughout the restaurant at the resort where we were staying. Over the next couple of days, his brother and I also became unwell. None of us were able to see anything the area had to offer, we were all miserable, and we felt suffocatingly insulated at the resort.

We had actually booked a driver back to Denpasar and were about to change the tickets for the flight home. Australia was less than twenty fours hour away, but then suddenly, everyone felt better. We decided to stay, and I am very glad we did.

image

Next day we chartered a boat to take us snorkelling out in the bay. The conditions were just incredible. Three kilometres offshore, there were absolutely no waves or swell. The water was so still, it was like swimming in a pool. It is such a shallow bay that even out that far, we were still only in about five metres of water. The hills surrounding the bay look just beautiful from the water. We could easily see Java on the horizon across the straights.

The boys have been snorkelling in a tea tree lake before, but never in the ocean. They don’t generally like the waves. This was a perfect introduction for them.

I was not able to get any photos underwater, and am only able to name a couple of the things that we saw. There were different corals covering most of the sea floor. There were also a multitude of different fish of all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some swam individually, and others in large schools. I often think of fish as being silver or sandy coloured, but these were all kinds of iridescent and vivid blues and yellows and purples. Also wandering around the reef were large numbers of big blue starfish.

Pemuteran from the bay

Diving and snorkelling is a major attraction to Pemuteran. Some of the local businesses go to a lot of effort to repair the reef which has been badly degraded from overfishing, explosive/cyanide fishing techniques and anchor drag. The aim is to restore and maintain a healthy growing coral reef. The reef itself actually runs right up to the beach. We went to another area in the bay where they are building an artificial reef for coral to colonise. There was a sunken boat there as a little something extra to look at.

The boys loved it, especially my eldest. We were out for two hours from start to finish. We went out the next day as well, this time in a wooden outrigger canoe. We studied outriggers when we were looking at ocean going canoes and learning to make bark canoes. It has been quite a point to see so many and now to have been in one.

At the dive centre where we hired the boat, there is also a turtle conservation area. They were incubating a cluster of 416 eggs. There were also a couple of sick sea turtles which were recovering from something – eating plastic bags probably. It’s an unfortunately common problem with turtles. As magic as the reef was, the beach itself was littered with plastic and rubbish washing up on the sand. I get the impression I am used to uncommonly clean beaches at home.

We didn’t originally plan to go back to Ubud, but we figured that some familiarity would make the boys more comfortable. Also the logistics of trying to organise things without a proper internet connection was very difficult. When our time was up, we hired a driver and began retracing our steps.

Just on the edge of town we came across a large troop of monkeys going for a swim in the ocean. I guess they get hot just like everybody else, but I had not expected to see them jumping off the rocks and diving underwater. We stopped for a cautious look at them. This was a much tougher group than the ones we met at the temple.

image

Finally, to the sounds of Kylie Minogue’s ‘the locomotion,’ we set off up the mountain. A while later, my eldest boy asked the driver to ‘turn that horrible music off,’ and then shortly afterwards started throwing up. Travelling with carsick kids is never much fun. It was a long difficult trip across the island.

Back in Ubud, we have spent our time just relaxing. The only real thing of note we did here was visit some silversmiths. The Lord of the Rings has quite an influence on the boys’ imagination, so they have been wanting to get some ‘magic rings’ while they are here.

I have never seen a jeweller at work, so I was a little surprised at how simplistic their set up was. The silversmiths worked either on the floor, or at banged up little desks under the verandah of the jewellery shop. We were given a little talk about how they alloy pure silver ingots with copper before working it. They used a paste of tamarind and salt to polish the final piece. We probably ended up paying more than we should have for the rings we finally bought, but that seems to be the nature of holidays. The boys were happy.

So we head home this evening. There is a tropical cyclone just crashing into Brisbane where our plane lands. It has been working its way down the coast with winds of up to 200km/hr, and is expected to keep going some way further south past our house leaving flooding rains, cut roads and plenty of storm damage in its path.

It should be an interesting trip home.

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Across Bali to Pemuteran

We have been spending some time in Pemuteran on the north west coast of Bali. I meant to post this a few days ago, but the internet connectivity was not up to it.

Going from Ubud to Pemuteran, we spent the bulk of the day travelling over the peak of the island. Even the main road is narrow and winding, and full of people on scooters. It was a slow and relaxed kind of trip.

It was pretty to drive through. We passed lots of terraced fields, villages and rainforest. The mountains here are not especially high, but they are very steep, and cut by deep gorges.

Sengak monkey temple

Along the way, we stopped at Sengak monkey temple for the boys to have a look. Balinese temples are fairly open with lots of courtyards. There were tall trees growing all around the temple, and in places, up through the courtyard and walls. It was very picturesque, with a ‘lost temple’ feel to it.

The guide told us there were six hundred macaques living there. He carried a small pouch filled with leaves for them to eat. If they got to be too much, he also carried a small slingshot.

They were pretty cute and funny. They would jump up onto our shoulders and heads to be fed. We were surprised to notice that they smelled a lot like horses. We had lots of fun there.

After leaving the monkey temple, we went over the heights of the island. The clouds covered the mountain tops. There was a lot of jungle. In the middle of the central mountains are several large shallow lakes. We took a break to look out over Lake Tamblingam and Lake Buyan. After a rest, we wound our down the other side to Pemuteran.

Looking over Lake Tamblingam

Pemuteran lies on a thin strip of beach on a shallow, very protected bay. There are lots of reefs around here, including an artificial one. There is also a program, which we haven’t explored yet, for protecting turtle nesting sites in the area.

Steep hills and cliffs lie just behind the beach. It looks like the sea used to wash against them, slowly eroding them into the thin, flat strip of land we see today. I wonder what will be here a hundred years from now. A sea level rise of half a metre would see the waves lapping at the base of the cliffs again.

Unusually for us, we are spending our time here at a resort. It is very expensive by local standards. We are living in the archetypal tropical island paradise so often fantasised about in popular imagery.

The immaculate lawn outside our air conditioned villa is covered each day in a spray of freshly fallen frangipani flowers. Walking down a well maintained path, I can sit at the bar next to the pool, and gaze down the black volcanic sands of the beach. In front of me, traditional style outrigger canoes ply the reefs of the Flores Sea. Behind me, jungle clad hills reach to the sky, swathed in cloud.

The beach at Pemuteran

Delightful as all of this is, it is a jarringly unlike what I see when I set foot outside the gate.

Pemuteran is a noticeably poorer area than Ubud. The straight road into town is uncommonly broad with fast moving traffic. There is a constant need to walk in the stinking mud on the side to get anywhere. It leads past a number of tumbledown concrete and bamboo compounds. They are full of dirt, rubbish, and rangy chooks. My wife watched some people slaughter a pig in an amateurish kind of fashion in their yard today.

Such a stark contrast is a strangely dissatisfying experience. I am not sure how I feel about it.

Lucky, I guess.

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In and around Ubud.

It is a struggle to pick my boys up and carry them around anymore. They are both extremely large for their age and also very articulate. I often forget that at six and four years old, they are still only very young.

This trip has completely turned their world upside down. While this is all a big adventure for them, the first bit was often more the struggling type of adventure rather than the fun kind. As every parent knows, when the kids are miserable, everyone is unhappy.

Rice fields around Ubud

It is always blisteringly hot. The boys can’t walk down the road without the (quite legitimate) fear of being hit by traffic. Although the adults think the food is great, the kids are constantly confronted by it. We find ourselves searching for bland familiar foods that they can relate to. Also, outside of their iPods, we did not bring any toys. They really just want to sit somewhere and play Lego.

On top of this, through unfortunate timing, my wife had to sit through a series of job application processes and an interview. She had to do all this with no real personal space on a dodgy computer via a slow and intermittent internet connection. That is pretty much the opposite of a holiday.

The boys don’t have the capacity to get out and do much. Even if they did, most of the activities going here are adult focused. There are heaps of places to go for massages, yoga classes and a whole swathe of new age treatments. That is largely the draw card of Ubud, but it is of no interest to the kids. After spending so many years in and around Byron Bay (Australia’s backpacker hippie Mecca) it is funny to see the same stereotypes and hear the same conversations here.

I took the boys to the Bali bird park the other day. It was a very well run bird zoo which the boys enjoyed immensely. Lots of the birds just lived out in the open or in big aviaries. All the signage was done with neat little pictograms which explained the birds habitat, food and nest type. The boys thought this was great, and spent as much time reading the signs as looking at the birds. There was an amazing Toraja style house from Sulawesi, which was actually used as the owl house.

Toraja style house.

We hired a driver to take us out there. Once we arrived, he hung around in the car park for several hours waiting for us to come out. Although he has taken loads of people there, he has never had the available money to warrant going inside. The boys just could not understand this, despite questioning him persistently about it on the way home.

To try and give the boys a sense of belonging in the area, we spent another morning wandering fairly aimlessly through the many tangled little pathways off the main streets. This was an interesting morning in itself, just taking a relaxed look at the details of a different kind of ordinary. There were new plants and animals to look at, unusual styles of buildings, people going about their various jobs.

We passed quite a few little fields tucked away between the houses. Generally, they are growing either rice or bananas. Usually they look a bit tatty, but I notice that the fields next to the expensive villas are in immaculate condition. Exploring down a flight of steps, the boys found a large snake skin draped along the path.

Finding a snake skin on the path. Ubud, Bali.

As much as being a fun little walk to go on, it really gave the boys a sense of space and an understanding of where they are. They feel much better for knowing their way around and not being lost all the time.

Also, I like the idea that we can wander at random with two small children down unknown twisting pathways and still feel completely safe. Everybody I meet is polite and friendly. This is quite at odds with most of my other journeys abroad, and several at home.

We made sure to buy a heap of craft stuff for the boys to play with as well. They make origami figures and elaborate little board games and draw pictures. It gives them some space for quiet time which was much needed.

As the boys settle in, their confidence is growing. My four year old ordered some lunch for himself and his brother off a street vendor yesterday. The guy seemed very unused to being approached by foreigners, and the boys did not end up liking what they ordered. The fact that they thought it up and organised it though, was pretty impressive I thought.

Food from street vendors. Ubud, Bali

Our time here is nearly up. We have hired a car and driver to take us across to the north west corner of the island tomorrow. We plan to spend the next bit of our trip snorkeling at Pemuteran.

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The opening days of Bali

So we are over at Bali. Simply getting here was an adventure in itself. It was an eighteen hour day of driving, hanging out in airports, and a six hour flight. Despite a few dramas, the boys handled it a good deal better than I kind of thought they would. After being unable to relax the entire flight, my four year old fell asleep just as the plane was landing.

At this point, I might as well hand full credit for this entire trip to my wife. She thought the idea up, and then organised all the details. My contribution largely consisted of saying ‘yes.’

Typical street around Ubud, Bali

We had someone pick us up at the airport. I was a bit surprised at the trip from Denpasar to Ubud. I thought we would leave the city, drive through some farmland, and then arrive at the town. In fact, it is all a big stretch of urban sprawl. I only knew we had made it because our driver stopped the car.

There is lots of brick and stonework here, often badly laid. As much as people are building, just as many places seem to be cracked and falling apart. There are carvings and statues everywhere. Streets are narrow and filled with people on scooters. There are lots of elaborate gateways and generic dogs.

Balinese gateway and dog

We are staying in a little lightly built place with two main rooms, one on top of the other. It has woven bamboo walls and a thatched roof. Whenever the boys jump around upstairs, the whole place shakes. From the top room, we can look out onto a small field next door. There are coconut palms and banana trees around the edge.

Moss quickly grows over all the stonework, aging it straight away. Trees and plants grow everywhere they get the opportunity. There is a real sense that without constant human intervention, the whole place would revert to jungle in a couple of years.

The boys vacillate from having the best time of their lives to wanting to go home. They are frequently over tired and over excited. They talk to everyone – shopkeepers,  other tourists, random people we meet.

They are particularly taken by the little spirit offerings people leave everywhere. These are made by folding a leaf into a tiny basket, and then leaving some flowers, a pinch of food and an incense stick inside it. The boys found someone making them while she was filling in time behind her shop counter. They cajoled her into showing them how it was done. The boys refer to these offerings as god food.

God food, Bali

We spend a fair bit of time hanging around in cafes and restaurants. A constant game is spotting the geckos. Each room seems to have about half a dozen.

Also while sitting in a cafe, we were able to have a closer look at tuff. This is a stone formed from volcanic ash, and is kind of a high density pumice. It is a common material for building and sculpting. So yes, it is possible to sit on the street drinking coffee, and still manage a geology lesson.

Money is another fairly constant talking point for the boys. Very commonly, we will spend several hundred thousand rupiah in a single transaction. We are used to dealing with relatively small numbers at home, so the boys (and the adults) find the numbers confusing. They cannot understand how money is valued so differently in different parts of the world. I am unable to come up with a sensible explanation.

Anyway, these are some of our initial impressions of Bali. It seems the volcano climbs might be a bit much for the boys. That is not such a big deal. There is still plenty to do in a relaxed kind of way.

I don’t find being here the greatest culture shock I have ever had, but we are definitely somewhere very different from home. I asked my eldest boy what was the most unusual thing he had found about being here.

He could not really give an answer, though. ‘Everything is unfamiliar,’ he said.

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We are going to Bali

For a long time, I had no great desire to go to Bali. It seemed like the place to see drunken Aussie bogans on full display in a foreign country. Not a pretty sight.

I have had a number of people change my mind on this, though. The end result of these conversations is that we are going to be spending a couple of weeks there. We leave tomorrow.

Bali map

There are a bunch of reasons for doing this. We have been waiting (impatiently at times) for the kids to be old enough to get something out of an overseas trip. Also we were looking for somewhere relatively cheap without being poverty stricken, and exotic without being overwhelming.

Really, we just wanted somewhere easy and interesting. In a similar way to how going camping was something of a trial run for greater things, our first international adventure doubles as a potential lead in for something bigger down the track.

Things have been pretty relaxed around here lately with our homeschool. Learning never stopped over the summer break. It just slowed down. We are comfortably ahead of schedule.

It seemed both unnecessary and counterproductive to fully get into schoolwork for a couple of weeks, only to then stop and go on holidays. Of course, most of the focussed lessons we have been doing lately, have in some way been related to Indonesia.

The bulk of Indonesia is made up of a large volcanic chain. There has been quite a lot of discussion over plate tectonics and how volcanoes work. There are active volcanoes in Bali so depending on how things go, we will get to have a good look at one.

Those particular lessons were something of a double edged sword. I also had to spend quite a bit of time reassuring the boys that the volcanoes were not going to erupt underneath us while we were there.

Bali lies just on the other side of the Wallace line, which should be interesting. This is the line which divides Asia and Australasia from an ecological perspective. Outside of domesticated species, all the plants and animals will be foreign to us. We spent a lot of time looking at maps and talking about barriers of movement. Birds and fish, for instance, might be easily able to cross a sea barrier which is impassable to plants and animals.

We also, of course, spent some time reading and discussing the difference in culture. My oldest boy, especially, is very much into the idea of living in a hut. I think he will enjoy seeing a village which more or less lives up to his expectations.

There are lots of terraced hills and rice paddies where we are going. The idea of a stepped landscape was an interesting one for us. We liked the photos. Of course it was later reimagined.

Minecraft rice paddies

We have had to get plane tickets, passports and vaccinations. This trip has been a point to count down to for quite a while. There is a lot of excitement over going, but for all the preparation, I don’t think the boys really understand what they are in for. Despite that, I am sure they will handle it well.

I think we are all going to have a lot of fun.

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Herbalist

In a previous career, I spent several years and extreme amounts of effort studying and practicing as a herbalist. I enjoyed herbalism immensely, and if it payed the bills, I would probably still be doing it.

With this background in mind, I was charmed to come across our latest board game. ‘Wildcraft‘ arrived earlier this week. We have had to play several games a day since opening the box.

Wildcraft

Basically it is a race game. The premise is that you need to get to the huckleberry patch at the top of the mountain, pick lots of berries, and make it back to grandma’s house before nightfall. There are a few things which set it apart.

In terms of game mechanics, it is a cooperative game. You either win or lose as a group, not individually. There are very few games around which work like this. I think it is a nice touch. The game takes this idea as far as having ‘cooperation cards’ which you use to help other players who are moving too slowly or struggling with the various challenges the game presents.

You don’t even have to have all the players make it to the top of the mountain. As long as someone gets there an enough berries are picked, it doesn’t matter who does it.

Dandelion

The cooperative elements of the game means it is actually very difficult to lose. Winning or losing does not really matter here though, because that is not where the joy of the game comes from. The main attraction is in the story of the various mishaps which occur along the path, and being able to get hold of the right herbs for each given situation.

If you want to, there is an actual story which goes with the game that you can download and read as you go. I don’t know what it says. The boys have so much fun playing without it that whenever I make the offer to print it out, they will not let me.

It is a highly visual game. Cards are designed so that even pre literate kids can very quickly learn what the different herbs are, and when to use them.

In real life, many medicinal herbs are fairly scrappy plants which are often ignored, or treated as weeds. Once you know what to look for, it is not uncommon to find a few kicking around most gardens.Comfrey

We took the deck of herb cards and went for a wander around the back yard. Mint has overtaken one of our garden beds, and we also found some yarrow which has survived some fairly serious mistreatment. A dandelion seed had blown onto another garden bed and grown into a nice healthy looking plant. There was a patch of comfrey tucked under some palm trees.

Although we could not find any, plaintain and chickweed often grow in damp corners of our yard. Yellow dock also commonly makes an appearance in neglected drainage lines around the place. Calendula, chamomile and coltsfoot have all been in our garden at some time or another, but we do not have any at the moment.

Not listed on the cards, but still good to have around, we also came across lavender, lemongrass, rosemary, thyme, chilli, aloe vera, ginger and tumeric. Not a bad collection considering how little attention the yard manages to get.

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Silly sentences

My oldest boy is very resistant to writing. It is a real source of frustration to me. We use reading eggs as our main English program. We all like it. He can read and spell well enough, but he very rarely writes anything.

I have seen a number of articles linking writing skills to fine motor development, and suggesting that it doesn’t need to start until aged 7. This argument makes sense to me, but I don’t think that is the issue here. He is capable of writing quite well when he gets the urge.

He just will not do writing exercises. We have tried writing stories, and sending letters to people, but the idea of a whole page full of words is too much for him. He is happy to label maps and diagrams, but that is not really enough to count as writing practice. Worksheets make for a good mid range size of work, but he goes to extraordinary lengths in his refusal to do them.

Writing silly sentances

Anyway, my youngest boy randomly pulled a game off the shelf yesterday and said he wanted to play Silly Sentences. I bought it for $2 at a second hand shop a while ago, but we have never used it much.

It is a pretty neat game. Words are printed on cards that click together like a jigsaw puzzle. Different word groups are marked with different colours. Nouns have an orange stripe on them, adjectives have a blue stripe, and so on. The cards only click together if they make grammatical sense. A lot of the cards also have pictures on them to prompt reading.

I liked the colour coding a lot. Without having to try and explain different groups of words, I was just able to say ‘you need a green word next,’ and that was enough. We had loads of fun playing with these, and only really stopped because it was time for bed and I wanted to finish on a good note.

Silly sentances

My youngest boy put together about ten sentences and was very proud of himself for being able to read them. My eldest didn’t make so many, but he did copy all the ones he made into his exercise book.

I think it helped that the sentences are all kind of nonsensical. ‘The caterpillar jumped over the spotty hat,’ is the kind of thing you end up with.

It was great to see him write a whole series of sentences. I think his refusal to do it for so long has been more  a lack of confidence than ability. This game was just the perfect amount of writing and level of fun for him to really engage with. I think we might have stumbled onto the right tool to help move him up to a new level of writing.

I certainly hope so.

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