Montsalvat Arts Festival

When I was a little girl my Mum had a book about mud brick architecture in Eltham and it included a lot of photographs of Montsalvat. I loved looking through it and imagining building myself a house and studio in the same style. We didn’t live in Melbourne and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I was able to visit the place properly.

Today we went to the Montsalvat Arts Festival. The weather forecast was terrible but it didn’t end up raining, it was a beautiful day.

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There were live bands, exhibitions and various children activities. We drank hot chocolate, ate gluten free cakes and drooled over a vegan paella that ran out before I had time to return and buy it. The children played with friends and I enjoyed the gardens and buildings.

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I’d love to have a studio here, it’s such a peaceful place. I love Eltham, it’s like a little bit of Tasmania in the middle of Melbourne.

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“Create” said her soul. “About time” said her heart.

Simple joys that emerge from nowhere

It’s dusk. Outside two of my children are playing basketball. The air is chill and my fingers are cold. The street is quiet, it’s winding down time. Families at home together winding down, eating, the end of the day. My baby is sleeping beside me but I know if I try to move into the kitchen and start cooking he will wake up. How many years have I spent like this I wonder? Immobilised by the power of a sleeping child!

The last few months have been a soporific, milky blur. We have been unschooling through necessity, there just hasn’t been time for structured activities but this week we made a tentative start towards incorporating more planned learning. Really the kids have done just fine in the last six months even without strewing, life is a teacher and children are curious, they want to learn, they want to know their world. That being said I love the Waldorf curriculums we have and I’m looking forward to suggesting some projects. Lili is now seven so it’s time to get more serious about learning to read.

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At times recently I’ve felt overwhelmed by what is happening in the world, by what is happening in my country. Raising the kids amongst so much doom and gloom has felt like a burden. Somehow I made choices that situate me between a potential war of civilisations, if I fall for that rhetoric. I won’t fall for it though and I won’t succumb to fear. I turn from negative thoughts and focus on the beauty. Small things like a shelf of loved objects or laughing with the kids.

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Zeph is preparing for high school next year and I will keep homeschooling the younger kids. We will be spending a lot of time travelling but I think it will be worth it, the school curriculum is great, it’s kind of Sudbury style but a bit less alternative.

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So while we plan ahead and whilst the outside world gets ever madder and ever more destructive I reaffirm my commitment to giving my attention to all that is good. There is absolutely no point in being worried about outcomes, what matters is our present, what matters is simply to keep trying. And this is the curious paradox, the more rotten things seem, the more likely we are to surrender our expectations and then simple joys just emerge from nowhere.

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I tell my children all the time to ‘just be the best version of you that you can be‘ and it’s about time I applied the same logic to myself. It’s so easy as a Mum to focus on what we are doing wrong, I need to focus on what I am doing right. Our daily life is full of simple pleasures, simple beauty. And the hardships are just there to orient ourselves towards what is important.

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Our Homeschooling Journey

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I didn’t know that homeschooling was an option when I was a child, it was fairly unheard of where I grew up. It wasn’t until my oldest child was soon to start school that I started to look into it properly. I knew that I preferred alternative models of education and so I had started to search for schools based on the kind of pedagogy that I liked such as Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Steiner schools. But we didn’t live near any of these schools and many of them had fees that were outside our budget so I started wondering if our children could learn using these methods at home.

I started to talk to a few people whom I knew were homeschooling, I borrowed books and within a short period of time I realised I was fairly ideologically opposed to the school system. I read John Taylor Gatto and started to really doubt that I could comfortably put my children into school. I looked into homeschooling requirements in my State and I registered us for homeschooling. But my partner wasn’t convinced and when I fell pregnant with my fourth child just months before my daughter was due to start Prep I lost confidence and decided she needed to go to school.

I enrolled her in a nearby State primary school and it certainly wasn’t bad and my daughter loved her first year. I stopped thinking about homeschooling because it seemed to be going so well. But I still experienced a gnawing concern over where I would send my children for high school, the State high schools in my area being totally dismal.

When my oldest son started Prep I decided it was better to transfer them to a private school that continued through to Year Twelve. And this turned out to be a terrible decision as it didn’t work out at all well for my son. After a period of attempting to persevere with it we withdrew both children and the following year they went to the local state school. By then we had moved to another area and it was a much larger school. By midway through the year my son no longer wanted to go and I was struggling to get him out the door in the morning. I had continued reading about homeschooling and I felt so uninspired to continue pushing him to attend an environment that to me just didn’t encourage a real love for learning. By then I had convinced my partner that we should try homeschooling and so finally four years after I had wanted to do it the first time, we began.

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I still didn’t have much confidence so when I heard of a nearby homeschooling co op we joined and this is how we homeschooled the first year. Three days a week we attended with several other families. It was very involved and I found it difficult to balance my parental commitment with my housekeeping tasks but it was a great first step into schooling outside the school system.

I then decided to continue on my own.

I had noticed a stark difference in my children’s behaviour, they were much calmer and much less hyperactive. One of the key benefits of homeschooling was making our own schedule and spending time together. The kids attended taekwondo classes.

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I had investigated curriculums and decided to invest in materials from Oak Meadow, an online School in America that is Steiner influenced. I was also quite drawn to the Unschooling philosophy but not so sure about pursuing something so unstructured.
Over time I also discovered Charlotte Mason and I found the idea of Unit Studies really helpful for homeschooling multiple children. I realised that I am too eclectic to follow any one method by itself. It is this freedom and flexibility that I love about homeschooling. We follow what we find inspiring.

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Our journey is still only really just beginning. Homeschooling is an ongoing adventure.

Egg Carton Prints

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Making egg carton prints is a really easy and cheap activity for a rainy day.
It really is as simple as

Cut. Dip. Print!

Materials Needed

Egg Cartons
Acrylic Paint
Brushes
Plastic palates
Watercolour paper

Keep your egg cartons and then you can chop them into smaller pieces.

Make a mixture of acrylic paint and water that is the right consistency to stick and to not be too thick and then simply dip the egg cartons in the mixture and then print onto watercolour paper.

It may take a few efforts to get a distinct image but this overlaying is part of the fun.

 

Recollections

It’s four years since I started this homeschooling blog and  I have at times questioned why I am blogging. Now my oldest child is in high school and my ‘baby’ is six  and we have a new baby. It has taken a long time for me to trust our journey into homeschooling. In many ways I wish I had not allowed the children to return to school because we would have established such a grounded pattern by now but at the same time I am glad they can compare the school system with homeschooling, although sometimes they forget.

I have been looking back through some of our old photographs, the children have grown so much and it makes me realise how quickly this time will pass and that they will soon be adults.


Parenting in this age is so difficult, we are no longer held safely in the embrace of the village and we are deluged by choice. By the time we figure out the best way to approach things our children have already grown up.


I knew that I wanted to homeschool before my oldest child started school eight years ago.


It frustrates me that it can sometimes take so long to trust your intuition or so long to realise that if you want something enough then you don’t need the approval of other people.


Homeschooling can be so challenging.

 


But it is also so incredibly rewarding to actually be with your children as they grow and learn.

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Every week I have days when I wonder what the hell I am doing.

 
When it all seems like too much.

But I’ve learned to just take a deep breath and ride out the feeling of being overwhelmed because it will pass and soon enough we will be feeling inspired and joyful again.


Homeschooling takes courage and stamina, there will be times when it feels like the whole world is against you. It’s still very counter-cultural in Australia, people think it is strange.
But even on the bad days I love it and I recognise it as an amazing gift.
We are just getting back into it now after the birth of Little Man and we are finding our feet trying to get things done with a baby in the house. It’s different and tiring, sometimes I want to pull my hair out. But it is also deeply satisfying.

Within another five or six years my oldest children will be nearing the end of their ‘schooling’ and Oliver will be just beginning. He will probably be the fortunate child who has a parent who knows what she is doing! I want to treat the coming years with the reverence they deserve, the teen years are so critically important.

 

In the context of the wider world there are so many challenges, if I let myself I can be overcome by fear. So I pull back and remind myself that I just need to do my best and to trust in God, the Source of all.

Birth

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Difficult experiences sometimes cause the words to sit thick for me and to refuse to flow. I want to write the story of my sons birth but it holds back and what comes out is rigid and formulaic. Still I want to mark the present with some words, to tell it in the best way I am able even if that telling has no movement and is not inspired.

A little over six weeks ago Little Man came into this world. And for the first time, I had an extended babymoon. For more than forty days I didn’t clean or cook or do anything other than cuddle him, feed him, sleep next to him and watch his siblings enjoy him. I did occasionally have to break up a squabble or holler at them to sleep but all in all we were taken care of and it has been amazing. As a result I am rearing to get back into normal life, I’m actually looking forward to cooking! I want to spring clean the house but my little breastfed man isn’t ready to let me do that yet.
Step by step.

Little Man was born in hospital even though I had planned to homebirth. Once I discovered that I had Gestational Diabetes I lost my confidence to birth at home. I knew that I was feeling larger than in my other pregnancies and so I was influenced by the big baby fears. I really didn’t want to be induced but I also knew the likelihood of going into labour naturally before forty weeks was slim. Little Man was induced at 39 weeks and four days and his birth weight was 4.31 kilo’s ( 9.5 pounds) and he was the biggest of my five children but only by 200grams. Did I make the right decision in giving up my homebirth? It’s hard to know, I knew that I could easily birth a baby up to 4.26 kilo’s which is why I asked to delay the induction. Would a couple of hundred extra grams make all that difference? If I had birthed naturally at 42 weeks he may have been 4.8 kilo’s, is that too big for me?

The hospital birth was not pleasant even though I went into it trying to have a positive attitude. I know that had I birthed at home it would have been completely different. I will probably never know if I can birth a 4.8 kilo baby without complications. I feel very sad that it is unlikely that I will have more children and that I end my experience with childbirth with fear.

I had been induced before with my third baby but that experience was nothing like this time. I wonder about the variables, did they allow me to progress more gently? Was it less harsh because I was younger and stronger?

The labour lasted one hour and ten minutes according to my paperwork but it was two hours and twenty minutes from the start of the pitocin. Induction is so horribly metallic and unnatural, it felt like being throttled, like my body was going to shatter. I trembled uncontrollably at transition and whilst this is common, it’s not normal for me, I thought my body was shutting down. I’ve never had a labour like this and I feel grateful to have come out of it with us both well and healthy because it felt wrong. I don’t have any desire to itemise the unpleasant aspects, the unnecessary invasive fingers and the trail of ever-changing staff, the doctor who insisted it was likely there would be a shoulder dystocia before we even began. As it was he came out in one contraction, head and shoulders in one go. I think I pushed once.

I’m grateful to have a delightful and healthy little boy. I’m not traumatised by the birth but if I was a first time mother I may have been. I knew what I was getting into consenting to another hospital birth.

I have given birth five times, I know the potential for birthing to be a wonderful experience, I know how the medical system ruins this. But there are also times when birth needs to be medicalised. Was this one of those times? I am still unsure. In the week before the induction I thought about refusing but I was too uncertain. It saddens me that there is no in between and that I could not have a more gentle and intuitive experience in hospital. I began contracting naturally after having my waters broken, that wonderful soft altered state when you feel the beckoning of ancient women. I experienced the sensation of being pulled in and the warm trust that they would take care of me. It writes like a cliche but it is real. But after four hours of irregular contractions the doctors pushed me to start the drip and I accepted with resignation, I knew I was on their turf.

I wish that this last birth could have been an empowering experience that I could relay to my daughters with confidence. I still feel unfinished as if  I glimpsed the transformative power of birthing but never quite made it there. Birthing is as much about women and the sacred as it is healthy babies, I believe this.

Fortunately my private midwife was with me during the birth and her presence gave me the courage to cope.

And here he is, my precious little man! I adore him and I feel so incredibly blessed to have him. He is a surprise gift, the baby I tried so hard to avoid and now he fills my days with happiness.

I’m grateful for my baby, I’m grateful for food and shelter and to not live amongst warfare. I’m grateful for a free healthcare system to treat the complications of my pregnancy. I realise that untreated diabetes could kill both mother and baby and I have wondered what outcomes there are for mothers like me in circumstances where they have no medical care. Although in many ways I think GD is related to the kind of society we live in, the foods we eat, our lack of movement….It isn’t a contradiction to be grateful for medical care whilst recognising how it could be better. And I want it to be better for all women.

written for him in the weeks after his birth

I watch my son as he grows accustomed to the workings of his body. His digestive system assails him like a storm taking him by surprise. He is caramel breath-ed fitra, a wondrous small soul. He gazes without blinking, his mouth a perfect circle and I gaze back at him.
I hold back tears when I realise we all begin like this, we enter the world in a state of complete trust. Complete grace.
His innocence is beauty that I experience as pain. There are not enough hugs that can hold him. He smells of fermented milk and angel smiles and he is entrusted to me.
This little boy is the greatest miracle that ever existed!
The movement of his breathing is profound all encompassing love. His days fill me with the curve of his newly learned smile and his curious intense gaze. I merge into his timing, sleeping and waking and seeing with him. He brings delight to my perception. Over six weeks we have lived each other’s movements, the world is his comfort in my embrace.
This precious gift that I moved mountains to try to avoid is now the greatest swelling of joy in the centre of my heart.