Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mental Arithmetic and Natural Learning

I'd like to put in a good word about mental arithmetic. Although it was one of the things I least liked when I was in primary school my children learned maths largely by working sums out in their heads, without using pencil and paper. I learned the value of children working things out mentally when Thomas, at the age of four, asked ‘Is half of a quarter an eighth mum?' We stuck to teaching him maths mentally from that point, only letting him use paper once we knew he fully understood the concepts he was working with.

Our eldest child was mathematically capable very young and we introduced workbooks at age five. She raced through the Rigby Module graded books and at age seven began to do the same with the Mortensen system, which uses coloured ‘bricks' similar to Maths-U-See. By nine she had begun to lose the plot and had started to believe she wasn't any good at maths, even though she could do the exercises in the maths book with over 90% accuracy. She hated doing the ‘working out' on paper as she could often ‘see' the answer in head and didn't understand why all the steps, which she didn't understand, had to be written down. We backed off and she didn't do any maths bookwork for two years, instead using maths to solve problems every day but in her head.

At the age of eleven we gave her a maths test for her grade level – which was two years ahead of where she'd left off doing maths bookwork. She achieved 95%, with long division to four decimal places the only sums she got wrong. She had correctly worked out the multiplication to four decimal places, even though we'd never taught her how to do large multiplication sums. She'd never done or seen long division before… As with her younger brother, this was a powerful demonstration of our children's natural ability to calculate and problem solve in their heads. It made me even more determined to allow Thomas to learn in this most efficient and obviously effective manner.

We didn't use a mental arithmetic book or short tests the way I learned at school decades before. I made the mental arithmetic problems as real as possible, keeping them in context with their everyday lives. I trained myself to see and use any opportunity to gently weave a mathematical calculating or problem solving question in here and there, trying to keep it natural rather than making it sound like a test or lesson.

In this way I built a ‘hidden' structure to our unschooling, learning naturally lifestyle. Most people think of natural learning as the children simply doing what they want when they want and haphazardly learning what they need to – the criticism I hear most often is that this produces gaps in the young person's knowledge and skills. That's not what we did at home: the structure was there, but it wasn't overt or obvious. By keeping homeschooling records I could see what my children were learning and when, what they needed – or I wanted them - to learn next. I could tweak our learning environment to produce the desired results. Nothing was haphazard or unstructured about it. And once I understood the power of learning in this way, instead of abandoning text and workbooks altogether, we used them they were most appropriate and useful.

I believe that mental arithmetic skills are one of the best tools we have in our brain's ‘tool box'. Like spelling and grammar, mental arithmetic is a foundation ‘tool' – it's like my husband's favourite and trusty hammer, an owner builder it is something he'd be lost without. It is quick, comfortable, does the job and does it well. Without the hammer we wouldn't have the lovely house we have today. Teaching our children how to use these foundation tools – mental arithmetic, spelling and grammar – in whatever way works best for our young learners and ourselves, is an essential part of our homeschooling lives.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
"Have a homeschooling question? Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia for more original content. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaNewsletter. Visit www.alwayslearningbooks.com.au for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Focus on what you want and why you want it.

How are things in your life right now? Mine could be better, that's for sure, but every now and then I'm reminded that my cup is half full, rather than half empty... Of course, if my aim was to drain the cup and finish the drink then I'd be okay with the half empty cup analogy, but you get what I mean, don't you?

Today, The Drewsletter landed in my mail box. I like reading Drew's rambling posts, mostly because they give me time to reflect on how my own life is going. But more than that, he offers valuable tips from his own insights on how I can tweak my attitude so that my cup feels abundantly full most of the time.

I'm not saying I agree with everything that Drew writes, or believe what he believes, or apply his philosophies of life to my situation. I am saying that I'm happy to learn from any source that speaks so directly to my need.

Here's a taste of what Drew had to say today:

"I recommend that you start your day by taking 10 to 15 minutes each morning sitting someplace quiet. Think about what you'd like to create in your life and allow yourself tap into the feelings of your desires. (An effective way to do this is to ask yourself WHY you want what you want).

Think about money flowing to you. Think about living in perfect health. Think about feeling inspired and connected in your work. Think about being in a relationship that amplifies the joy in your life. Put your awareness on that which feels good. Practice. And then watch what happens.

Change your thoughts and you change your life. The power is yours."

By now you are probably asking; "How does this relate to homeschooling?"

We are often confronted by many questions in our daily homeschooling lives, and we are definitely beset by many doubts. By sitting and imagining how we'd like our day to unfold, what we want to manifest, how we want things to turn out - and by asking that critical question 'WHY' - we begin to slowly change the way our reality occurs.

We can't change everything, but what we can change - most powerfully - is our attitude to everything that does happen. How we choose to react determines how situations pan out.

You may be unhappy with how your son isn't learning the maths from his maths book. Forget about the book, forget about the lesson, forget about his apparent learning block, or laziness or whatever. Think about WHY you wanted you son to learn maths in the first place. Remember your true goal. Then imagine him achieving whatever it is you think maths will help him achieve. Chances are you will discover why he isn't happy learning maths using the approach he is at the moment...

Practice choosing the thoughts that feel good to you, that make sense to you, that reflect what you truly want and believe.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
Have a homeschooling question? Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia for more original content. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschooling Australia Newsletter. Visit www.alwayslearningbooks.com.au for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Converting Homeschooling to Natural Learning

For those new to the concept of learning naturally and wanting to know more, but feeling a little unsure about the transition, I asked the members of my Learning Naturally Yahoo group to share just one way in which we have converted a school-at-home practice or belief into a more relaxed learning naturally approach.

For example:

I remember the day I recognised that my motivation for asking my children to do 'book work' wasn't so that they would learn something (academic) but because I needed reassurance that they had, despite 'doing nothing' for a few weeks, had actually learned quite a bit. Instead of asking them to do bookwork to learn I started asking them to do bookwork to keep my paranoia about the effectiveness of homeschooling at bay. By doing a few pages of book work for a few days they could quickly and efficiently dispel my lack of confidence (until the next bout of doubt would hit).

My children didn't like doing bookwork for reasons that didn't make sense to them. Helping mum feel okay and reassured was, to them, a legitimate reason for doing something they really didn't want to do.

What did my children teach me? Life isn't about achieving goals that will one day lead to a better paid job: it is about building relationships and friendships and giving our time selflessly to others to help them feel okay too.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
Have a homeschooling question? Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia for more original content. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschooling Australia Newsletter. Visit www.alwayslearningbooks.com.au for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Saturday November 29th is "Buy Nothing Day".

According to http://www.buynothingday.info/main.html "Buy Nothing Day is a holiday, a street party to celebrate sustainable lifestyles, a break from the shop-till-you drop culture. It is what we make it. You can just take a day off or organize something."

Why buy nothing on just one day?

The main reason is to give us time to pause and think about what and how much we buy effects the environment, our own well-being and that of other people, especially in developing countries. However, by not buying on one day of the year we are making a personal statement that life isn't just about making and spending money, that there
is more in life than simply the economy. We're saying we're tired of the endless focus on economic growth at whatever cost: we want change. And we want that change to be kinder to our fellow humans and all other life on the planet.

Buy Nothing Day was started in Canada by Ted Dave in 1992 and is promoted by the Adbusters Media Foundation (Canada) http://www.adbusters.org.

As I produce the Home Education Association Resource Directory and promote advertising I can't help but think about consumerism and the endless drive for economic growth. As someone who creates products for people to buy I participate directly in the market economy. I want people to buy my books - the money we earn is put directly into our savings account so I can go on holidays! (Actually, for the last year we've been spending it on groceries...)

As a participant in Buy Nothing Day I'm not saying I'm against the whole concept of capitalism or buying and selling. But I am concerned about the 'why' of not only selling, but also creating products and services in the first place.

Often as a homeschooling parent I couldn't get my children to do things that didn't make sense to them. By challenging me constantly to come up with sensible reasons for my requests I began to realise that a lot of what I did or wanted to do wasn't because it made sense, not to me or my future, or even my well-being, but because it was the 'done' thing - others expected it - and few seemed to know why!

Gradually I changed what and why I did things to reflect need. I began to understand what was truly 'needed' and what was desired or 'wanted'. I began to differentiate
between need and want. Up until then I would treat a want with the same urgency as a need. Up until then I would demand that my wants be met as though they were needs. I began to see that the consumeristic lifestyle we enjoy in our society is based on this misunderstanding.

Buy Nothing Day for me celebrates the fact that I, personally, finally know the difference between 'want' and 'need' and feel confident that when I go shopping I can turn away from things I want but don't need. And even when I buy something I want, I know I don't have to, it isn't necessary, the item isn't vital to my survival. And I remember as I buy this unnecessary but wanted item that I live in the lucky country during a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. I give thanks for this as I make my purchase.

© Beverley Paine

You may reprint the above article provided you include this information:
Have a homeschooling question? Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia for more original content. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschooling Australia Newsletter. Visit www.alwayslearningbooks.com.au for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Making Progress

Last week I asked myself 'what do I want from life' and came up with the usual answers but instead of feeling inspired by these as I usually do, only to find myself no further forward, I tore them up and asked again, 'what do I want from life'. This time the answers were based on who I am now, not on who I think I ought to be... I've been waiting for some magical transformation for years - for me and for my husband - and it simply wasn't happening. Worse, I was blaming myself and him for not making it happen.

I now have a direction and some goals to aim for that I feel absolutely certain we'll reach. Because they are based on who we are, not who we think we ought to be, or want to be. I am amazed at how much weight has been lifted, and how I can divert, like water of a duck's back, thoughts and actions that a week ago I would have allowed to add stress to my life.

My friend Sally, said "Let’s assume that the first step one needs to take before beginning any new journey is to know where you’re starting from. In relationship terms, this means fully accepting who you are and what your life situation is now. Be honest with yourself and, without wishing it were any different, just spend some time taking stock."

Of Daffodils and Diesels

This article dates back to our early homeschooling days: I read it in a newsletter I received long before the Internet, before personal computers were household items! It inspired us to think beyond the traditional way education is doled out in school and helped set us firmly on the natural learning, or unschooling path. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did all those years ago.

Author Unknown

I'm not very good in school.

This is my second year in the seventh grade, and I'm bigger than most of the other kids. The kids like me all right, even though I don't say much in class, and that sort of makes up for what goes on in school. I don't know why the teachers don't like me. They never have. It seems like they don't think you know anything unless you can name the book it comes out of.

I read a lot at home—things like Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and the Sears catalog—but I don't just sit down and read them through like they make us do in school. I use them when I want to find something out, like a batting average or when Mom buys something secondhand and wants to know if she's getting a good price.

In school, though, we've got to learn whatever is in the book and I just can't memorize the stuff. Last year I stayed after school every night for two weeks trying to learn the names of the presidents. Some of them were easy, like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, but there must have been 30 altogether and I never did get them straight. I'm not too sorry, though, because the kids who learned the presidents had to turn right around and learn all the vice presidents.

I am taking the seventh grade over, but our teacher this year isn't interested in the names of the presidents. She has us trying to learn the names of all the great American inventors. I guess I just can't remember the names in history. Anyway, I've been trying to learn about trucks because my uncle owns three and he says I can drive one when I'm 16. I know the horsepower and gear ratios of 26 American trucks and want to operate a diesel. Those diesels are really something. I started to tell my teacher about them in science class last week when the pump we were using to make a vacuum in a bell jar got hot, but she said she didn't see what a diesel engine has to do with our experiment on air pressure, so I just shut up. The kids seemed interested, though. I took four of them around to my uncle's garage after school and we watched his mechanic tear down a big diesel engine. He really knew his stuff.

I'm not very good in geography, either. They call it economic geography this year. We've been studying the imports and exports of Turkey all week, but I couldn't tell you what they are. Maybe the reason is that I missed school for a couple of days when my uncle took me downstate to pick up some livestock. He told me where we were headed and I had to figure out the best way to get there and back. He just drove and turned where I told him. It was over 500 miles round trip and I'm figuring now what his oil cost and the wear and tear on the truck—he calls it depreciation—so we'll know how much we made. When we got back I wrote up all the bills and sent letters to the farmers about what their pigs and cattle brought at the stockyard. My aunt said I only made 3 mistakes in 17 letters, all commas. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on "What a daffodil thinks of Spring," and I just couldn't get going.

I don't do very well in arithmetic, either. Seems I just can't keep my mind on the problems. We had one the other day like this: If a 57 foot telephone pole falls across a highway so that 17 and 3/4 feet extend from one side and 14 and 16/17 feet extend from the other, how wide is the highway? That seemed to me like an awfully silly way to get the size of a highway. I didn't even try to answer it because it didn't say whether the pole had fallen straight across or not.

Even in shop class I don't get very good grades. All of us kids made a broom holder and a bookend this semester and mine were sloppy. I just couldn't get interested. Mom doesn't use a broom anymore with her new vacuum cleaner, and all of our books are in a bookcase with glass doors in the family room. Anyway, I wanted to make a tailgate for my uncle's trailer, but the shop teacher said that meant using metal and wood both, and I'd have to learn how to work with wood first. I didn't see why, but I kept quiet and made a tie tack even though my dad doesn't wear ties. I made the tailgate after school in my uncle's garage, and he said I saved him $20. Government class is hard for me, too.

I've been staying after school trying to learn the Articles of Confederation for almost a week, because the teacher said we couldn't be a good citizen unless we did. I really tried because I want to be a good citizen. I did hate to stay after school, though, because a bunch of us guys from Southend have been cleaning up the old lot across from Taylor's Machine Shop to make a playground out of it for the little kids from the Methodist home. I made the jungle gym out of the old pipe, and the guys put me in charge of things. We raised enough money collecting scrap this month to build a wire fence clear around the lot.

Dad says I can quit school when I'm 16. I'm sort of anxious to because there are a lot of things I want to learn.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tree of Sustainable Business Relationships

Copyright Nov 2008, Sally Lever, Fruitful

I love trees and feel blessed to live in a house that is surrounded by them. Some are huge, majestic and noisy in wild, wintery weather. Some, like my recently planted crab apples, seem perilously fragile by comparison and very dependent on the wooden stakes that support them. It is autumn (fall) here in the UK and the native deciduous trees are quickly being stripped of their leaves by high winds and heavy rain, leaving their stretching forms silhouetted against the cool, grey skies.
Trees play such a large part in our lives. On a practical level, they are the lungs of the earth and they are each self sustaining eco-systems in their own right. On a more subtle level, they can be symbolic of many aspects of human life. I’ve used this idea to map out some ideas on maintaining sound, sustainable business relationships.


Groundedness – Ensure that you feel centred before any business meeting. Take time out to breathe, stretch, be in your body before conversations that require you to contribute or make decisions. Work on methods to keep your cool and build these into your daily routine.


Support – Keep a list of people in your mutual support network and maintain regular contact with them. Make it part of your routine to give to these people. You can give referrals, tips, a lift in your car, pointers to useful resources, etc.

Strength – Make maintaining your health and wellbeing a business priority as well as a personal one. You cannot function at your best with others when you are feeling under the weather.

Uprightness (integrity) – Know your personal and business values (qualities such as honesty, fairness, compassion, simplicity etc). Have these written down where you can refer to them often and where you can use them to make decisions.


Vehicles of communication – Review how you communicate with clients, colleagues, employees and associates. Decide what needs to change, what needs freshening up, what needs to be stopped.

Flexibility – Make a point of asking for and listening to new ideas. Respond to complaints with curiosity and an open mind. Recognise the gift in the opinions of others. In particular, think of objections as opportunities to demonstrate your commitment and improve your service to others.

Growth – Look at your business relationships as a reflection on where you need to develop. Particularly think of the relationships you’re finding challenging. Make a note of what these tell you about yourself.

Reaching out – Make a note of what you currently do to “meet people where they are”. Check up on your clients’, suppliers’ and colleagues’ understanding of your business purpose. Aim to improve your methods for educating them on your offering and the benefits it will give them.


Relationship with (sun)light – Ponder on how you relate to your spiritual nature. Notice how that shows up in your business life, if it does at all. Make a point of using your intuition as well as your knowledge in your communication with others.

Nourishment – Ensure that you nourish your business relationships. You can do this by providing encouragement, practical support for others and inspiration. Remember also to provide yourself with regular doses of inspirational material.


Beauty – Take some time to notice what is beautiful about your business and the people who are involved with it. Work on those elements that attract most clients to your business. Notice what keeps them hovering around. Use those strengths to under-promise and over-deliver.

Gratitude – Make space each day for expressing your gratitude to those with whom you work. This focuses people’s attention on their strengths and their successes and helps them to empower themselves to achieve even more.


New life – Get together with others to start a new project or joint venture or rejuvenate an old one. When dealing with others in your profession or trade, focus on cooperation rather than competition, co-creation rather than power struggles.

Congratulations! – Celebrate your successes with those who helped you.

Sally Lever is a homeschool mum, small business operator, downshifter extraordinaire and Life Coach. Her regular newsletter arrives in my inbox in the nick of time when I need inspirational words that help me find my direction the most! Sally's beautiful generous nature combines with her tremendous empathy and insight - do yourself a favour and subscribe to her Fruitful newsletter to get a regular dose of uplifting wisdom too!

This article was reproduced with Sally's permission.

Great Offer from Natural Life: my favourite alternative education and lifestyle magazine

Everyone needs heroes, people who inspire them and show them that with enough grit and determination almost anything is possible. Canadian homeschooling mum Wendy Priesnitz is one of mine.

She started homeschooling her girls about a decade before I began our wonderful home education adventure. At around about the same time she became involved in publishing and politics, working hard to create a better social and ecological environment, not only for her children, but for the children of the world both now and into the future.

I know what it takes to educate your children at home and pursue with passion your life interests beyond the family nest. It's sheer hard work, most of the time frustrating as change often comes incrementally. You have to look hard to see it sometimes!

Wendy and her husband Rolf produce a fantastic magazine that continues to inspire and remind me that my goals, although lofty, are achievable. Natural Life is one of my favourite reads.

Natural Life is offering a 2 for 1 subscription until the end of November. You can buy (new or renewal) one subscription and get another one for free. This is a great idea for holiday gifting - particularly (for us oldies out there) for young parents just starting out and wondering about the many paths ahead.

Details about this great offer can be found here:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Home Education Association: South Australian Group

Home Education is a legal alternative to school based education for children in South Australia.

Families interested in teaching their children at home are urged to obtain a copy of the Education Act and Children's Services Act and become familiar with the regulations that apply to school attendence. Information about applying for exemption from attendance at school can be found on the Department of Education and Children's Services.

There are several homeschooling support groups in South Australia and these offer companionship and support for parents and children, as well as educational opportunities, excursions, activities and camps. Home educators seek the best education possible for their children and make use of the whole community, learning from many sources and in many different environments, as well as the home.

HEASA is the South Australian chapter of the Home Education Association Inc. of Australia www.hea.asn.au. It is a friendly on-topic Yahoo group that discusses any aspect of home education in South Australia, plan activities and events that support and promote the option of homeschooling, as well as helping to build the Home Education Association of Australia.

To belong to this group you need to be a financial HEA member living in South Australia. Membership is by invitation only. Please email Beverley with your HEA membership number to receive an invitation join.

If you wish to share your experiences as a home educator or would like to make contact with other homeschooling families in your area please consider listing yourself as a contact person on the HEA Support groups and Contacts SA page.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Cape Jervis - House for Rent or Sale

Our son's house at Cape Jervis is looking for a caring tenant, or a family in need of buying a lovely home! Cape Jervis is a quiet, small 'village' 25 minutes south of Yankalilla - it is where the ferry leaves to go to Kangaroo Island. It is about the same distance to Victor Harbor, approximately 75 minutes from Adelaide.

We've uploaded some photos and more information on:

It is a little isolated for most homeschooling families, but might suit a couple of single parent homeschooling families who could share the space and the rent. Due to two unhappy experiences this year, our son doesn't want to rent it to any more unemployed people: he is looking for people on secure wages or government payments.

Of course, if someone wants to buy a reasonably priced four bedroom house on a quarter of an acre in the country they are most welcome! We can take you down for an inspection and treat you to a cuppa and cake on the way back at our place.