Friday, 30 April 2010

Cane Toads

This week’s homeschool group was with a National Park ranger, who gave a talk about cane toads and frogs. Cane toads are a huge pest in Australia; yet another example of the idiocy of Western mono-agriculture.

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Settlers decided to grow sugar cane in Australia. It’s not native here. And the crops were attacked by cane beetles. Some bright spark found this toad, and imported them here, because in lab conditions, the toad eats the beetle.

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Only in real life, the beetles live at the top of the cane, and the toads on the ground, rarely meeting each other. Then along came the unpleasant side-effects of introducing a species into a new environment – the cane toads breed like rabbits (another nasty pest in Australia), and don’t have any natural predators here to keep the numbers in check.

And they’re poisonous. So local animals that eat them, like goannas and red-bellied black snacks die. The toads are also efficient competitors for food, thus reducing populations of other native Australian animals. The little blighters are spreading rapidly around Australia, at a rate of roughly 40km each year.

The kids learned about how to identify the cane toads, and not confuse them with other native frogs; Littletree found it to be fascinating – she’s always very interested in wildlife and loves documentaries.

Of course, the homeschool group ended up, as usual, with the standard tree-climbing session. Which is, of course, totally illogical. I’ve been assured many times by wyse wombyn that if I let my child wear pink dresses, she won’t be able to climb trees, or think for herself, so I find this behaviour very confusing. :P

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***Updated to add***

Just a few minutes after I posted this, Purple was doing some work in the garden and called Littletree out to see something – he’d unearthed a couple of cane toads under a log. Littletree gave a short lecture about how to identify that they’re actually cane toads, and explained about how even the tadpoles are poisonous – apparently the tadpoles are the main threat with them as fish eat the tadpoles and die. Littletree then got us to catch the toads in a plastic bag and we put them in the freezer, which is, apparently, the humane way to kill them. She was so excited about it :)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Life Drawing Update

I have been a bit slack with uploading photos of my life drawing adventures, but I created a Flickr album for my art, which you can see HERE

I’ve started working with different mediums, like working on better paper than butchers’ paper for a start

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And I tried out some different kind of pastel (working on extreme perspective)

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On one 40-minute pose I did a series that I really love; the first one was a nice, “polished” piece, done in 30 minutes entirely with my (non-dominant) left hand.

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Then I still had some more time left, but I felt the picture was done, so I started experimenting. I did the exact same picture again, but using both hands simultaneously, and without looking at the paper.

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That took around two minutes, and I really liked it, so I did the same thing again, only holding a different colour in each hand

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Then I decided to do a series of one minute sketches, left-handed, one after the other, all on the same paper. I did five sketches, one minute each, in five colours. I love the effect!

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I also started trying out pencils

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and watercolours

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What I love most of all about this class is that the model is often breastfeeding

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Where else can you do breastfeeding life drawing classes!? :D

Monday, 26 April 2010

Random acts of Science

I picked up a book of science experiments from the library for Littletree, and managed to motivate Purple to do some with her.

The first experiment was making a fire extinguisher out of bicarbonate soda and vinegar. I love mixing up bicarb and vinegar – there’s so many fun things you can do, like the time we made sodium acetate and hot ice.

This experiment was pretty cool, Mix a little bicarb and vinegar in the bottom of a jar, give it a moment to build up some gas

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And then put a lit match into the jar. The match went out instantly every time.

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We tested putting a lit match into a similar jar without the gas, but it didn’t go out.

The next part was to put a tea light into a small jar, and “pour” the gas onto the candle. The candle went out.

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After trying several versions, Littletree put the lit candle in a jar and put the lid on, timing it to see how long it took for the candle to go out. According to Littletree’s experiment, it takes seven seconds for a tea light to burn up all the oxygen in a salsa jar.

Making fire extinguishers is perhaps appropriate, since Littletree spent the evening before playing with sparklers and the long-exposure setting on my camera.

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Friday, 23 April 2010


Littletree got a cool kaleidoscope kit – one that you make the kaleidoscope yourself.

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She had a great time putting it together

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She now has a clear understanding of exactly *how* it works, because she made it herself and followed all the steps, experimenting with it as she went.

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The top of it comes off, so you can change what trinkets are inside, making all different kinds of things you can see.

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Here’s what it looks like, without any beads inside:

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Of course, now Littletree spends ages changing the little trinkets, and seeing what she can see :)

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Monday, 19 April 2010

Birthday Party

This weekend we had Littletree’s birthday party :) My sister, brother and niece came up for the week, which was wonderful.

Since there was no way I could even begin to match the extravaganza of last year’s birthday (here and here), I decided to go with the ultimate in low-key. We held the party at the local playground in our village, which was great, as the kids could just play and run around rather than needing any games.

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I decided not to make the usual “party” food, and instead made a big selection of home made dips – Hummous, Labaneh, Baba Ganouj, Guacamole and Tahine, served with an array of carrot and celery sticks, and some crackers, with a big bowl of fruit on the side.

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We did have Pass-The-Parcel with live music

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Loads of balloons

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And a big chocolate birthday cake

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Most of all, Littletree had a great day!

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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Monday, 12 April 2010

Surprise Flower

I was getting a little depressed about my garden lately – it’s been raining a lot and I’ve not had a lot of time to get in and do much with it. A few things died (the death of my motherwort was particularly distressing).

But yesterday morning we got up to find a wonderful surprise poking up from amongst the weeds next to our woodpile

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How lovely! Then Purple reminded me where it came from; it was a “surprise” gift from my friends Rinka and Garden, for my birthday almost a year ago.

They gave me a few roots, wrapped in green tissue paper. I had no idea what they were – just looked like uninteresting roots. Rinka and Garden weren’t saying anything. I just got the cryptic instructions; “plant them and see what happens”

What a wonderful gift!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

New Articles – Unrestricted Eating

It seems I’m a bit behind in the times. Several of my Natural Parenting articles have been published lately – shows how much I’ve been checking the Essence of Life website where I work since I stopped managing the forum there.

So, there’s an extended version of my post on Children learning when they’re ready HERE

And an article on the Unrestricted Diet part of Radical Unschooling, which I allude to frequently. You can read the full article HERE

It’s basically talking about the idea that if we trust children to eat what they feel (as we do as adults), then they will be confident to trust their bodies and be healthy naturally. If we put a lot of restrictions on them, we’re showing children that they can’t be trusted to know their own bodies and make healthy choices.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Question of Invention

Littletree and I have been having an interesting discussion over the past few days – she asked me, “what was the first thing that was ever invented?”

It’s a good question.

My initial response was: probably the Wheel.

Littletree saw right through that, and asked: but how did they make a wheel? They must have had some tools. So the tools were invented first.

“So how did they make the tools?” I ask

And so on it goes.

Littletree suggested paint. Because there are cave paintings, so of course, they had paint.

We got on to pondering what constitutes an “invention”. If someone picks up a rock to crack open a nut, that rock is being used as a tool. But is it an invention? It’s still just a rock.

And what about language?

I’m immensely enjoying this discussion; it’s wonderful to have intelligent conversations with my child, to be discussing and deducing and learning with her. Littletree has a way of seeing the world and thinking about things that is totally different to what I’m used to. I guess it comes from having an unprocessed brain ;)

So everyone out there in internet-land, your challenge, should you choose to accept it: Post a comment; what do you think was the first thing ever invented?

Monday, 5 April 2010


This morning, being Easter (well, in some people’s minds, at least) – some of our neighbours hosted a little breakfast party.

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We don’t normally celebrate Easter, being that I’m Animist, Purple is Jewish and Littletree is Hindu, and especially as we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, where it’s a totally inappropriate time of year for Spring celebrations. But it was wonderful to sit on the deck in the rainforest enjoying a feast with friends. And what a feast it was!

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Slovakian traditional aniseed breads, Hot Aum Buns

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Home made quince jelly, carob bunny jellies

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Oranges dipped in a special coffee liqueur

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And beautiful hand painted eggs.

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Funnily enough, there was a sprinkling of chocolate eggs around, but no one ate any of them – even the children ignored them in favour of all the luscious foods. But they do make nice decorations!

Saturday, 3 April 2010


Someone posted a link to this article, “When Less is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in Schools”, which says that children learn mathematics better when arithmetic is not taught until sixth grade. When this was trialled in schools, by the end of sixth grade, children who had never been taught arithmetic until the start of that year did much better than children who had been taught since kindergarten.

You can read the full article here

It seems that perhaps the Australian Government caught wind of this concept when writing up the new National Curriculum, but it looks like they didn’t read past the title, leading them to come up with the fantastic idea of teaching multiplication only in the fourth grade, and leaving out 7x7 entirely from the curriculum.

Here’s an excerpt:

One thing we learned is that the expression "times tables" is forbidden. In its place there is continual reference to "multiplication facts". For example, one of the goals is for year 4 students to:

Understand and become fluent with multiplication facts and related division facts of 2, 3, 5, and 10 extending to 4, 6, 8, and 9.

Ignoring the fact that this sentence is ungrammatical and clumsy, we were puzzled by the curious exclusion of the number 7. Pondering it, this exclusion appears curiouser and curiouser.

The plan is for year 4 students to be able to multiply by 1 (presumably), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10. So they will also know 1 x 7, and 2 x 7, and so on? Then, all that will be missing is a single maligned multiplication, poor old 7 x 7.

For the full article, look here

I look at Littletree and dread the thought that she might end up in a school, where she will be taught to hate mathematics, and be expected to wait till she’s 9 (grade four) to learn her times tables. Well, all except 7x7=49.

At home, I know she’s thirsty for learning. I know she’s fascinated with arithmetic, she does some random acts of addition and multiplication several times each day. She’s fascinated with astronomy and geology and biology – subjects she might never learn in 12 years of school. I know I did next to nothing from those subjects in my schooling career.

I imagine the new National Curriculum will result in a lot more homeschooled Australians.