Six months and beyond – Being five without school.

It’s June (Winter) here in New Zealand and we are halfway through our year without school. I have to say it really has been the most extraordinary journey and best decision we have made for Alex and our family. It definitely wasn’t without a lot of worries in the beginning, wondering if we had done the right thing. I know many people would have loved to see me regret it and fail, but we pushed on through the comments and judgment and followed our hearts.

It can be a lonely old time doing life differently, I wanted to write this for parents and caregivers who are looking at delaying school for their child because I understand that lonely feeling. I understand you feel challenged by everyone, from your family, to the person you meet in the park, that asks your child how old they are and instantly says “off to school soon then” when they proudly state they are nearly five years old. You get questioning looks when your child says they are not going to school until they are six, or you get looks of concern that your child is behind in some way. When you are tossing and turning at night wondering if it will all work out, this blog is for you. It’s to highlight the positives of extending your child’s time at Kindergarten and home without the academic and social pressures that school life brings. This is our journey but one that will be similar to all those parents who have gone before us and those that will follow along in all our footsteps.

To change the world, start with one step. However small, the first step is the hardest of all. Dave Mathews

Before we made a decision, I did countless hours of research. Because Alex has never been pushed to learn something I saw that he was developing naturally just as the research stated he would. Homeschoolers and Unschoolers have been on at us for years and we are only now starting to see this research in the mainstream media.

Children are amazing learners, they grasp a concept so quickly when they are ready to learn it. When children are given the freedom of uninterrupted play, learning on their own terms, at their own pace, you will see amazing things happen. You don’t need to teach something before it needs to be taught, because a child will naturally inquire and want to learn in their own time. It just takes patience from the adult to let this happen.

As Alex has grown in the past six months, his confidence has soared. In the past, he was one of those children that would happily plod along in the background, he would let the louder or more confident children talk ahead of him. He is a great thinker and sometimes you may assume that he is off in dreamland, but he is actually taking it all in, this will later be translated through his imaginative and creative play.

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Everyone Wonders about Reading and Writing

It was interesting to read in an article written by an occupational therapist that children are often not developmentally ready for writing or mark making before the age of 5 years and three months going by the (Beery Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (Beery VMI). The article also goes on to talk about how children may learn to write their name at four years of age but this can lead to what’s called a ‘Splinter Skill’. The child doesn’t understand the fundamentals of what they are actually doing apart from copying a familiar picture. Parents do get very excited if their child is writing their name before their 4th Birthday, but by pushing children too early, you may be doing them more harm than good, when frustration starts and they end up disliking something we really want them to enjoy and love.

Around the age of 5 years and 4 months, Alex started to want to write letters and numbers. We have never pushed his letter and number writing and it’s been completely on his own terms. Some evenings he will sit at the kitchen table as I make dinner and ask me to tell him what individual numbers he needs, to write down a large number, such as 1 million 4 hundred and twenty-three. He often writes letters together to form words, sometimes he will ask for me to write something and he will copy and other times he will just write letters and ask what words they make. The same article I mentioned above also talks about how sometimes it can be confusing for children to use upper and lower cases together. This was definitely something that Alex communicated and when he writes letters he will write in capitals, or ask for it to be written in capitals when he copies it. I know that once his brain is ready to unscramble this, it will come naturally.

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I love this quote from the Heart School.

What I most enjoy, is watching Alex’s urges and interests immerge. Because his days are not filled with schedule and bussiness he is able to potter and tinker. He is very interested in the outdoors, hunting and gathering with his Dad. He has an interest in bugs and plants and he is always creating something whether its a hut, a hideout, making something for his bike, wooden rifle, or building random things like a drone. He has a mechanical mind and grasps concepts readily. The urge to transform is seen through everything he does.

I feel quite privileged to see this all unfold as I don’t believe his imagination and inquiry would be at the same level had he been attending school. Free play with loose parts is our philosophy for our children, there are a few other factors that go along with this, but having loose parts available, adding to them when you see the play progress and not having an expectation of where their play is going to take them is such an important part of watching and letting them grow.

With the added time that Alex has been able to spend at home, we have built a great relationship. I feel quite lucky to get to know Alex as a Five-year-old because obviously, it is very different from being four. We have the most amazing conversations about the world and how something works, we can also laugh about farts and poo. He has a day each week with me while Frankie is at in-home care and for me, that is really special.

I feel like this is only an introduction to how wonderful an extra year at home or at Kindergarten can be. No parent will ever regret spending more time with their children. My advice – If you are sitting on the fence about it, do some research to back up your decision, because you will be challenged, A LOT. Find a supportive Kindergarten that is very open to children staying beyond the age of five. This is a huge part of your journey and these teachers may be your biggest supporters. It’s sad but so many Daycares and Kindergartens make a big song and dance about turning five. But really the celebration should be about the child’s next step, not about turning five. Take heed, if we ever really want real change, this is definitely one area that needs changing!

Most importantly though, follow your gut instincts, you will know in your heart if your child is ready to embark on their next journey. Learning isn’t about ticking the ‘milestone’ boxes, it’s about your child following their own path in their own time which is usually different to our adult agendas.

It starts with us – Be the change you want to see in the world. Mahatma Gandhi

Becks.

I have some commonly asked questions that I will continue with a follow-up question and answer blog. But for now, if you are wanting to know more or have any questions feel free to ask them in the comment section below.

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Winter Warmer – Milo Afghan Slice

Winter has definitely arrived in this part of the country the past week.  I have had the fire roaring most days and going outside calls for winter woolies, hats, and gloves.

Thinking ahead to the long weekend here in New Zealand and hoping that we will have some nice weather to get outdoors and go on some adventures, I have been filling the tins with some budget-friendly but also very scrumptious snacks to take away with us.

Thankfully our friends at Countdown have added some new items to their Winter Lock Down deals that we have now stocked up on, including soups, oats and something my children really love Hot Chocolate and Milo.

With a huge big bag of Milo in the house, I wanted to try making a Milo Afghan Slice.  This Milo Slice isn’t as sweet as your tradional Afghan biscuit, so if you like something slightly less chocolatey, give this recipe below a go.

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter softened
  • 1/2 Cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 Cups plain flour
  • 1/2 Cup Milo
  • 2 Cups of cornflakes or Weet-bix

How to make:

  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add sifted flour and Milo. Stir into the butter mixture until combined.
  • Add Cornflakes or Weet-bix till just mixed.
  • Press mixture into a 20cm slice tin.
  • Bake at 180 degrees for about 25 minutes or until the mixture has set.
  • Ice when cold with chocolate icing or dust with icing sugar.

Serve your Milo Afghan Slice with a nice hot milky Milo.  On extra special days, I will froth the milk and add a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

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Frothed milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon for an extra special Milo drink.

Thanks to Countdown for sponsoring the Milo in this post and inviting us to work on their Winter Lock Down promotion.

Check out more recipes on the blog.

Becks

 

 

A Book Review – James and the Birthday Balloon.

Recently I was sent this beautiful book, James and the Birthday Balloon by Nicola J. Rowely to review, thank you, Nicola. I always know when we are onto a good book because Alex will ask for it to be read over and over, James and the Birthday Balloon is one of these books.

James and Ruby are best friends, on this day James wakes up very excited as it is Ruby’s birthday.   At Ruby’s birthday, they each receive a special balloon.  As James and Ruby are running along excitedly, Ruby loses her balloon and it floats off into the sky.  As Ruby is distracted looking up, she falls over and hurts herself.  Ruby has to go to the hospital, she is scared.  James wants to help make his best friend feel happy again,  How can he do this?

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Ultimately the messages spread through the book are about kindness, sharing, and empathy for others.  What I love so much about this book is that the messages are simple and very relatable for young children.  Alex instantly fell for the story as Ruby lives on a farm, much like his cousin and best friend Meeka.

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The simple, realistic pictures and facial expressions are bright and bubbly.   Younger children who may not be at the reading stage would easily be able to tell the story through the illustrations when looking at this book alone.

A delightful story for all ages.

You can purchase this book from Amazon or Fishpond.  For more about Nicola J. Rowley and her books see her web page.

Becks

To see more of our adventures head to Facebook or Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

Fruit Fingers, a Sugar Bowl and the Kitchen Table

One of my early childhood memories is sitting at the kitchen table in my Nana’s house having morning tea or ‘smoko’ was what we called it then. We would have scones with jam, a homemade biscuit or if we were lucky, a store bought biscuit, my favourites being fruit fingers which looked like little pillows or a fly trap biscuit. I always remember she set the table with jam in a little jam dish, a slice of butter also in a little dish, the sugar bowl with the crocheted cover and milk was always in the milk jug.

I spent a lot of time with my Nana while my Mum and Dad worked on the farm. Nana and I would make the scones each morning, I would sit on the bench next to her so I could see. Nana had one of those old fashion sifters and I was able to sift the flour into the bowl for her and then I would watch her crumb the butter and flour together. At the end, I would make my own little scone.

When my Nana passed away I helped my aunts clean her house. Some of the little items I kept were things like the sugar bowl, a gravy jug she always used at Christmas and when all the family was staying. A spatula I made for her when I was 11 years and other little tidbits that were part of our everyday activities.

Since having children I see the importance of creating these memories for my own two children. It wasn’t until Alex started Kindergarten and that I listened to Kimberley Crisp speak about rituals that I really understood the importance of creating rituals in our everyday. Everyday rituals done with care and love create a feeling of safety for children and in ‘our’ world of busyness, this is so important for them.

These days, life for so many people is always on the run, running from one thing to the next, eating in cars, at the work desk or in front of the tv, screen or while playing on their phone. Many families no longer have together time at the table, many children find it a foreign concept to sit at the table to eat. I really think that many of us have lost the art of sitting together at the table conversing without a screen to distract us.

We have all heard dinner battle stories from parents who can’t get their children to eat or stay at the table. Although I will probably jinx myself by writing this, but by creating a beautiful table, including our children in the preparation and sitting together as a family at dinner time, I can truly say that generally, our evening meals are a really lovely time that we all enjoy together.

The Table Setting:

When we moved into our own home when Alex was just shy of one year old, Mum gave us her old kitchen table. I grew up with this table in our kitchen so it has always been special to me. I love wooden furniture and the blemishes from years of use, I imagine the stories they could tell if only they could speak. As time has gone by we have simplified our dinners to fit with our growing family. This is a time we share our daily news and plans and remember holidays or days at the beach and this seems to be a time that both Alex and Frankie enjoy with us.

Even though our children are young they use adult utensils, plates, and glasses. For my birthday this year, I asked for a new dinner set, the Churchill Blue Willow set which I have always loved, it’s not hidden away just for visitors or birthdays, we use it every day. We have glass water tumblers, (the sturdy cafe water glasses which can handle the odd bump or knock). I like to have a bottle of water at the table so we don’t have to get up to refill from the tap. I find that when you give children something beautiful that they tend to treasure it and take care than if I was to give them a worn plastic cup.

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We serve the food at the table so everyone can choose how much of something they would like. I have never forced my children to eat something they don’t like, one of them is fairly fussy and the other will eat mostly everything, but arguing with a child over not eating a piece of green vegetable is not something we do.

We will generally have flowers on the table and lately candles going into the cooler months. Both Frankie and Alex love having a candle to blow out the end of the evening meal. (While Chris was away in Fiordland recently we had a treat of roasting a marshmallow over the candle each night, it was a good time to think about Dad in the bush and that he would be making his own dinner next to a campfire).

At times I will ask Alex to help set the table with me, Frankie is beginning to join in and do this too, usually by bringing the tomato sauce bottle to the table. I think by getting them to join in and help set the table it helps transition them from their play, too now we are going to be sitting down to eat dinner.

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Modern Table Etiquette

Back when I was young we were taught table etiquette and we especially had to use it at my Grandparents house in Otaki. There was no leaving the table until everyone had finished, placing your knives and forks together when you had finished, no smacking your lips together or talking with your mouth full and definitely no elbows on the table which is something I hadn’t heard again until recently. I mentioned it to Alex one day and now it is something we try to adhere to when sitting at the table together for dinner otherwise a little voice pipes up. We don’t have phones or the TV on while we eat together so then no one is distracted.

Although many people will think this is ‘old-fashioned’, sitting together at the table, having a conversation and using proper table manners is important for children to learn. It also shows them that dinner time or anytime when eating food is a special time that we all have together and in turn, this creates a ritual that will become part of who they are.

Do you sit together as a family for meal times? Do you have any customs or traditions around meal times?

For more of our stories and adventures, check out our Facebook page or Instagram.

Becks

“Hey Mum, they thought I was the Big Bad Wolf”

A little while ago Alex and I were at a local bike track, this track is near the river, overgrown and wild.   There are two bike tracks next to each other, and this day Alex had decided to ride on the overgrown one.     I was sitting on one of the jumps so I could see him but also relax in the sun.     I watched a group of children and adults walking along the track above us and then turn and head down to towards the adjacent bike track.   It’s not often that we would encounter others at this track during the week.

After a while, I heard giggling and screaming and two girls, sticks in hand lept over the large bank at the end of the track and skidded down our side sending out a huge puff of dirt, they were barefoot and completely oblivious to us. It was quite out of the norm so I sat there watching them.    As they reached the bottom they saw Alex riding his bike, he had also noticed the girls and had come to a stop and stood there staring at them.   The girls had then tucked themselves inside the wall of another dirt bank and sat there for a while peeking out and talking.   Within minutes, they jumped up and ran back up the bank, looking back at Alex and glaring at him like he was a monster.

Alex peddled over to me and said he had heard their conversation. “Mum, they said I was the Big Bad Wolf”!

It then struck me as to what I had just witnessed, and that these two girls, were completely absorbed in their imaginative play and game.

I have often pondered that encounter, it made me so incredibly happy that I was able to experience it in all its beauty, but it also made me very sad because it’s not often that you see children so immersed in their imaginative play while outdoors.   When our children are out at parks they are often there for a specific task, be that a walk, a bike ride, to play on the equipment or with toys. These days our parks are not designed for children to go into their own world and imagination.

When you are able to watch children fully immersed in their imaginative play like the girls above, you start to wonder why we as adults are so quick to entertain our children with fun parks, movies, toys, lessons and STUFF.  As adults we seek things that have a learning outcome, falling to the pressures to extend our children’s worlds every second of the day. Do Children have time to play these days?

Going back to sitting on that jump within the dirt bike track, I ask myself some questions.  How many times have we overlooked the two girls running up and down the bank?  How many times have we made a move and interfered with the situation, by talking or telling the story before it unfolded?

In that single moment,  all three children were learning valuable life skills such as problem-solving, coordinating themselves, cooperating and thinking flexibly?  How many times would’ve we just waved it by as “children just playing?”

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play, children learn how to learn”        –  O Fred Donaldson

Becks

Follow our day to journeys on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Going Against the Grain

Over the past few weeks, my newsfeed on Facebook and Instagram has been flooded with photos of five-year-olds in their slightly too big school uniforms, smiling for the camera as their parents eagerly celebrate their child’s first day of school.

Before I had children I heard a colleague speaking about a friend who was sending their son to a Kindergarten that children ‘Just Played At’.  I remember quite vividly scoffing at the idea and thinking to myself, well I would never do that, why would you disadvantage a child like that.   It’s interesting how much our thinking changes when we have children and what comes naturally to us as parents changes our thoughts and views of the world around us.  However, I do know that many people think exactly like my pre-children thinking.  My hope and dream is that one day that will change.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not been an easy decision to make, even though I am comfortable with our decision that Alex will not start school at five, I am still human and it can be very hard to just switch off from what is “normal”.    Along with the various children on my Facebook feed, it’s been harder to see a number of Alex’s friends heading off to school, although I do have to remember that these children are in fact 6-12 months older than Alex, so we are very lucky that starting school later is quite normal in our lives.

I have been asked many times over if I will change my mind and send Alex to school when he turns five.   I think the hardest part of this is actually explaining myself over and over.  The other difficulty is having to listen to people justify their own choices to send their children to school at five when I think they would have preferred to keep them in Kindergarten.   I actually wonder if many people would choose to wait if there were more Kindergartens that were open and supportive of having children stay on past their fifth birthday.   Although many places say they do allow children to stay on, this is only lip service.    To really be supportive of children staying on after they turn five, there needs to be a culture within the kindergarten that needs to be nurtured, not just some words on a sign or the enrolment booklet.

Thankfully for us, Alex started at a Kindergarten that was fully supportive of children staying until they were six years of age and they encourage this.  At the time he started I wasn’t quite aware that we would go down that road, all I knew is that I wanted Alex to be able to Play in a beautiful and rich natural environment.    I think when people hear about a Kindergarten where children ‘play all day’, they think that the children run ruckus and the teachers sit back in a chair talking and drinking coffee.   This is far from what it is like.

Alex’s teachers are present all the time, they just aren’t crowding the children, commentating on their play, fixing their problems or putting in them up in the tree when they can’t climb it but are desperate to be up there with their friends.

The teachers work at a respectful distance, not too far and are available whenever a child needs support.   They talk to the children like they are real people, not with funny voices and childish words.    Instead of strict routines or low and behold no routines, they have beautiful rituals around morning tea, exercise, and stories at the end of the day.  Birthdays are celebrated with love and care, not fast food and mums trying to outdo each other with cakes and treats.  When the time comes for them to go to school, they don’t graduate in some fake celebration intended for university and training institutes.  The child is celebrated in a way that they know they are ready to fly into life having had these special years of childhood to grow their roots.

Many people will ask “but won’t Alex be disadvantaged with his school learning, how will he learn to count, read and write”.    For us these things are done in our daily lives already.   Alex learns his colours and numbers from play, from spending time with us in the kitchen, in his dad’s shed, with his grandparents, his teachers, his aunt, and uncle, his cousin, and friends.     Through play, building huts, climbing trees, making swords and creations he learns mathematical concepts and physical laws.  Every day he learns information that will be used in school and throughout his life.

He also learns many skills through play that you don’t learn by reading a book or by sitting still on the mat.   Through free play with other children he learns how to communicate, he learns empathy for others, for animals, insects, and plants.    He learns how to self-regulate, he learns about grit and resilence when things don’t always go his way.   He learns that adults in his world can’t and won’t always sweep in and make it better when he is sad or fix it when it is broken and give in when he is angry.

Having an extra year learning all these skills through play and nurturing the roots to make solid foundations is important.  In my opinion at the age of five children are only just starting to secure those roots, why would you stop this and put them in an environment which they are generally just not quite ready for.

Below I have listed some links to articles and further reading in regards to the importance of Play in the early years.  These articles along with many conversations with teachers, fellow parents, professionals and watching my children I was able to make a very informed decision about keeping Alex in Kindergarten.     In this day and age it is to easy to go with the flow of societal norms, sometimes we don’t question something until it’s too late.   By sharing my experiences I hope that I can reach many parents who might be questioning the current schooling systems here in New Zealand and across the world.

Feel free to make contact if you have any questions or feedback.

Becks

Further reading and Podcasts:

Books:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. Fred Rodgers

Free to Learn – Peter Gray

The Sacred Urge to Play – Pennie Brownlee and Kimberley Crisp.

Podcasts:

“Research shows that the majority of children are disadvantaged by starting school at age 5 and the children’s brains need them to be physically active as the neuro science shows that movement and learning go together.” – Nathan Mikaere-Wallis

http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2595176/what-3-to-7-year-olds-need-to-learn-nathan-mikaere-wallis

https://www.ted.com/speakers/sir_ken_robinson

Facebook Pages to follow:

https://www.facebook.com/KimberleyCrisp.ProfessionalDevelopment/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make your own Driftwood Christmas Decorations

 

This year we are spending our Christmas at the beach, it inspired me to make some beach themed Christmas decorations.  I have always loved how people create beautiful decorations out of driftwood and this year since Alex is a bit older and likes to do crafty things as well I thought we would give it a go.

So today I will show you how to go about making a driftwood Christmas Tree and a Twig Star.  But before we head into that I would just like to say a big thank you to the Kiwi Mummy Bloggers Group which I have joined up with to bring you 12 Days of Christmas – A Blog Collaboration by Kiwi Mummy Bloggers. More info at the bottom of this post.

On Tuesday morning after dropping Frankie at care Alex and I headed off the beach to find driftwood. When looking for driftwood for your Christmas tree, try finding flatter pieces that are going to join snugly into each other and also of similar thickness.  It may even be good to set the tree out on the sand once you have gathered your pieces so you know you have enough of the right shape and length.  You will also need to find a piece that will be the backboard or the trunk of your tree.

Driftwood Tree

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There are many ways to make a driftwood tree, but this way you don’t have to use a drill.   You will need to purchase a good quality super glue or Epoxy glue from the likes of Mitre 10 Mega or a hardware store.

To make the Tree:

  • Place the piece of driftwood you will be using for the trunk of the tree.
  • Next place each piece of driftwood on the trunk from the longest at the bottom of the smallest at the top.   Try and fit the pieces into each other.
  • Once you are happy with how the pieces join together, slowly remove each piece starting from the bottom and glue the back to the trunk, making sure they fit together snugly.

 

 

  • Leave to dry as per glue instructions
  • Decorate with natural treasure such as mini seed pods and pinecones, natural buttons, shells or you may like to add mini lights and sparkly decorations.

You can tie the top of the driftwood if you are going to hang or place in a small container to have a standing tree.

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Twig Star

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For this star I used some branches from a tree I had pruned back and left to dry in the woodshed.   It’s important that whatever wood or branches you decide to use that they are as straight as possible and all the same length.  You will also need natural twine, bakers twine or Washi tape.

 

To make the Star:

  • Set the star out on a flat surface.
  • Once positioned, carefully glue each piece at the point
  • Leave to dry as per instructions
  • At each point, wind twine around the ends or use Washi tape.
  • Tie twine to a point on the star and hang.

These stars look great on the Christmas Tree or hung around the house.

While I was making my decorations, Alex also made some decorations, using the driftwood, I just helped him with the glue as Epoxy glue isn’t forgiving.

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I hope you have fun creating some driftwood and twig decorations and if you need more inspiration head over to Pinterest.

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Have you been following the Kiwi Mummy Bloggers 12 Days of Christmas? Yesterday  Caroline from Caroline Larnach Handmade blogged about making handmade Christmas stockings and decorations for Baby’s First Christmas and tomorrow we have a post on Christmas on the road from Julia over at @Parentalmisadventures.

Be sure to check them out.

Happy Christmas Everyone

Becks 🌲🌲🎅