A Matter of Distance & Why it Matters

As told in a previous post, we are now home schooling our boys.

So when I’m tasked to teach about distance and measurement I take the opportunity to make it real.

I have been designing and building our chicken yard recently and in the eleventh hour I made an alteration to the design as you will come to see.

“This is the design I did for the chicken yard.” I tell the Little Fellas.

“There are two ways to get to the yard to collect the eggs. So this eraser represents a three metre length (~ 3 yards)”. I say holding the eraser against the rough sketch I made on a notepad. “The same length as the sleepers I have in the backyard for making the retaining walls.”

We measure out the two ways you can get to our soon to be chicken yard using the eraser as our 3 metre representation.

“So one path is 15 metres in distance going the long way around the raised gardens from the top of the stairs. The other way is . . . ” We measure it out.

“The other way is 9 metres from the top of the stairs. So one way is shorter than the other. It’s six metres shorter.” We are learning subtraction also. ✓

I encourage the Little Fellas to follow me in the story and consider things a little further.

“Where the chicken coop is going, is not going to be in the middle of the chicken yard. There are two yards separated by the coop. One is long, the other short. In my first design I had the coop closer to the fish pond and as we’ve measured it, it is 15 metres from the top of our steps and pretty much in the middle of the garden. The coop doesn’t have to go there. We could swap the long yard with the short one and move the coop closer to the other side of the garden. What if we did that?”

distance pp

We measure out the distance it would take to get to the chicken coop if we switched the yards and the coops location.

“6 metres.”

“So we now have a 15 metre walk or a 6 metre walk. We’ve reduce a potential return walk of 30 metres down to 12 metres.”

The Littlest Little Fella speaks his mind, as he is apt to do.

“But what if we like going the other way Daddy? Through the garden beds.”

“You can always still do that. But you try to tell me that you’re going to be happy to do that when you want a nice hot egg for breakfast and it’s pouring with rain outside.”

The eldest Little Fellas face twitched. He saw the logic of time and distance immediately. He is our chicken carer.

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Lessons from Our First Week of Home Schooling

homeschool pp

Gran – despite her robust diet of packaged meals, meat pies, toast & jam, dry biscuits and Promite, fizzy drinks, milk chocolates and prescription medicine – still has a fairly tenuous grip on life. Especially after her near dead experience last November.

Grans health (and a society gradually contracting as a form of risk management for our global community against COVID 19) is the reason we started home schooling this week. Our schools are currently still open, but will wind down next week, breaking early for the Easter holidays. However, over the last two weeks we’ve yanked the Little Fellas from their extra-curricular activities in order to preserve our Gran. So as a family unit we have already been home together for a fortnight.

The first twenty minutes of our home schooling adventure on Monday morning felt really awkward.

Really awkward.

Plus my mind was starting to fill with thoughts that bubbled up to the surface and distracted me from spending time with the reading that was going on before me. After a time however, my thoughts began to consolidate and I saw the potential and the potential pit-falls before me.

“How are we going to sustain this? And for how long?”

“Our kids education is in our hands.” Gulp.

There was a real sense of being personally responsible at a ground zero level. The home ground. Our little paradise was not just an adjunct to learning, it was now a learning institution.

Both of our school teachers were really very generous and helpful in setting us up with materials and getting us access to the on-line learning that they use in the school.

As an aside – I really didn’t want to be writing anything of the COVID 19 virus on this blog and so I’ve held out until now. But this is how we have come to adapt over the last couple of weeks and when the Little Fellas look back on this in years to come they can see a little more of the world that was not apparent to them at the time. If you’d told me I’d be writing about my experiences of home schooling our kids a month ago I’d seriously have laughed. If it is indeed possible to laugh seriously. (?)

So after our first week of home schooling, these are what I have noticed. They are probably not new to those who already home school their kids, this is from a somewhat forced hand shall we say, but a welcome one.

10 Things I like about Home Schooling

  1.  Straight off the bat, in the first half hour I could see that we would discover first hand the strengths and weaknesses of each child in each subject. An opportunity awaited.
  2. This allows us to customise the learning experience to the individual child ie. breaking up desk maths with laying on the rug and going through flash cards as a game.
  3. We can more easily adopt various learning strategies rather than a generalised learning style. I’m not all that keen on using on-line learning so I try to break up the content to keep it interesting and then for those moments when we need to get other things done, allow for screen time and learning on the tablet. Still under a watchful eye and with assistance. It gives them space.
  4. The learning spills over. We are more mindful of the learning process and I can see how we are slipping in extra teaching throughout the day. The Little Fellas love it. We sat in the dark with a candle and a ping-pong ball and I explained to them about the hemispheres and the seasons and with the addition of a larger ball, how the moon phases change.
  5. The Little Fellas are actually getting into the swing of things early. Despite initial objection to a morning walk down the beach they are continuing their projects when they rise – and wait for their morning walk.
  6. We keep to a rough routine that tracks their school time table, but on the whole we’ve found we start earlier and ‘finish’ earlier. We are all aware that the learning doesn’t stop at 2pm but it simply changes. They help in the garden, help in the kitchen, go for a bike ride or work on art projects.
  7.  Variety is alive. They read us their books. We read them from history books and science books. They want to colour in a kookaburra and so they find the bird book and look at what colours a ‘real’ kookaburra is. They’ve taken a skink from the grips of a magpie and brought the limp, lifeless little thing inside. Within minutes we had it preserved in a jar of methylated spirits for further observation. We’ve grafted a bright, colourful cactus scion onto a graft stock. A seemingly simple project turns into a multidiscipline approach incorporating art, science, writing, maths and also reading.
  8. They drink water. I’ve been telling them I am earnestly going to talk to their teachers if they don’t get to drinking their water at school. More often than not they come home with relatively full bottles. As a result they don’t get breakfast in the morning until they’ve had a glass of water to start the day. That way I know they’ve had some to begin with. At home they now drink regularly because the glass of water is there on the table all the time. Waiting.
  9. When the big emotions show their full strength we can deal with it then and there. The big questions get the time required to answer them properly. We supplement this with the odd YouTube clip or piece of on-line research, if not immediately, then booked in for a later time.
  10. I’m taking the opportunity to speak to them about subjects such as gratitude and consideration – and why they are important. We have to be mindful of Gran and her certain requirements or comforts. We send out text messages, short videos or photos to family members of some of the days little moments. To share a little of the experience.

What we have to look out for:

  1. Sticking to a routine or structure. It’s easy to get distracted at the best of times. As a pre-emptive measure I reduced the furniture and clutter in the living areas so that there was less visual distraction. Toys, phone calls, deliveries all still invade but can be dealt with without to much interruption.
  2. Keeping the break times interesting. The Little Fellas are not getting to play with their usual little mates so we have to vary things so that each break is looked forward to. I enjoy doing what we call Rumble Time with them. We have a mat that gets put out, we have rules which we go over before we start and then we get into some rough and tumble. They love it.
  3. Time outside is important. They get a play at the park, their morning beach walk or a bike ride, some time in the garden. They might get to chat with their friends over the back gate at a distance and this does them good.
  4. Hide the food. They get their breakfast and school snacks. Where possible I hide bowls of fruit or containers of snacks in the fridge. If they see it, they want it. As an aside to this I have sat down to teach number values using match sticks and sultanas. If the mathematical workings are correct they get to eat the sultanas. This somehow also takes the edge of the inevitable – ‘I’m starving’.
  5. We’ve had trouble and concern over computer tablets getting removed the night before or in a dawn raid and accessed. Even viewed at night after bed time under the rugs. They get locked in the office each night. I just need to make sure the office key is available to lock the door with! Sneaky monkeys!
  6. I want to say that we probably move through the work quicker, but in doing so we also add in little extras. Plus if there are other interruptions or diversions this can spread the time out.  As above, if there are tantrums we deal with it – which can take time and some space.
  7. While mentioning space, one of the first flow on things we did after they ‘finished’ school on Friday was to come home and set up their own desk and study area. This happened somewhat by default, but in retrospect I think it was a really worthwhile thing to do on many other levels too. It provided a context for a continuation onto something new and different. There was a novelty to it, a personal learning space and an organisation physically and mentality – readying the mind for what was to come. I think we need to keep this learning space special, unique and workable.
  8. I’ve found there is some nice flexibility to it all. There needs to be if it is to work. We just need to remain mindful that we cover the days items. Both of the Little Fellas are learning a musical instrument so this normally happens before they leave for school. Now, in consideration of the other, one does their music practice and the other will do so later in the day. Having two different instruments being played at a beginner level in close proximity does not work for learning or calm nerves.

You probably haven’t noticed, but I’ve categorised this post under People Care and Produce No Waste. People Care speaks the obvious, but Produce No Waste is a reminder to me that no opportunity is to become a wasted opportunity in our home schooling experience or in our time yet to come. I want to make the most of this opportunity and give our kids a really unique experience that we simply could not have afforded previously. It’s a silky, slippery irony isn’t it? Such a twist.

To be honest, I see Gran’s room as having transpired into a Den of Doom & Despair. Even her demeanor has changed. There are regular news updates on the TV. Statistics. Announcements. News flashes. National addresses. Just the general fall-out of it all in daily life and the consequences to come. Personally, I stay clear of the media reports where at all possible.

I stand committed to the story I tell my boys. That there will be so much more good to come from all of this. It may not come tomorrow, but it will play out in the years to come. And there will be changes that occur that will impact them in their life times. I don’t know how I know this. But that is what I think.

So I will continue to record how these changes impact our own little paradise here in this corner of the world. Refining, organising and capturing my thoughts and concepts digitally.


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Petit Paradis – Soup de jour – Spicy Pumpkin Soup

It’s 4:30 am and I am awake. Rested, but awake.

Gran is mumbling to herself in her darkened room. She watched television until late last night. Why else would you mumble in your sleep? Have you seen what’s on TV these days?

When I get up after my morning mediation and enter into the passage way, the air is scented with the next vegetable soup. In lieu of not having a bread making machine in our home, I really enjoy instead waking up to the wonderful, savoury smell of a fresh batch of broth or soup. It is a thick, comforting smell that fills all of the air in the living room.

These days, approaching the middle of autumn, it is still dark outside a little later.

I had placed into our slow cooker – celery root, carrot, butternut pumpkin, potato, onion, salt & pepper, some paprika, some red capsicum and the last little bit of sweet chilli sauce that we had in a bottle along with some chicken stock.

I gave it a light blend. It was eaten for breakfast with some toasted sourdough bread swamped in butter.

spicy p pp

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Whilst I have been working out in the garden I have had visitors.

Though I have been reminded that we are ‘Social Distancing’, ‘in self-quarantine or self-isolation’ or my pet dislike, ‘Lock-down’ – the visitors still come.

The Wattlebird swoops in close, gleaning from the house gutters a spider or two and taking a drink of water which is clearly still laying in areas after the rains a week or so ago.

I have been making the most of the weather and gradually working on the rock wall, which today I rendered to a more presentable finish. Filling a gloved palm full of render mix and gliding it across the wall in smooth patches that contrasted with the previous layers of concrete.

The sun was hot, but the Grey Fantail was flitting about in cheeky gestures. Moving from tree to tree, shovel handle to trellis. The render was drying nicely.

In the late afternoon the magpies take a visit. As does a turtle dove which are very much less cautious than I ever have experienced these doves being. grey fantail

About this time yesterday as I watered the garden at dusk, I had a nice surprise. The view through to the ocean was now showing the ocean to be a darker colour than its deep blue a half hour earlier. My eye was caught by a blur of bright colour and spots when the male Spotted Pardalote came to the garden. Only feet away from me, it moved about eyeing off the stream of water that sadly just ran across the surface of the sand. Oh, for some decent soil. But the pardalote didn’t appear upset and I soon realised why.

Some silver-eyes also called into the garden to get an easy feed of caterpillars and bugs, and to take some water from the bird bath. As did the pardalote. Then I realised that all through summer as I splashed water in to the bird bath, it wasn’t to no avail. Though each afternoon it was usually bone dry again, when I watered the garden I would splash more water into it. I guess that as I ventured inside to have my meal and attend to house hold duties, outside the birds were paying their visits. Flying in, quickly drinking, and then moving off to their respective roosting places in the long shadows.Red-eared_firetail

In the garden bed, a family of mice scurry about on a sand pile, flicking up sand and chasing each other in what appears to be playful fun. They are looking for the crumbs of the bread buried the other week which despite my reburying, eventually gets dug back up by a hungry bandicoot/quenda, and gets filled in the next day. It tells me that bandicoot is around and has paid his visit.

Much to my delight, the Red-eared Firetails have also been calling in and singing their lovely monotone whistle or high pitched notes. Blue wrens have also been around but have remained a bit more elusive.

I carrying more buckets of sand further up the block to dump them into the makings of a swale. A hard bit of work made easier by the close visits.

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The Wall, The Soil & The Beans

Today, I had the luxury of getting outside early.

Though ten minutes into my day I was already sweating as I carted buckets of sand up the slope to where I am starting the very top swale. It is hard work, but I have a Little Fella with me – more for conversation and entertainment than work however.

Underneath it though, that sweat and ache, the strain on the legs, there was just the hint of a realisation.

This is it.

This is what I have waited so, so long for. So many set backs and time extensions and distractions and deaths and births and renovations and work. So many convoluted things that stood in the way and yet now, when the world is in the grip of fear with the virus pandemic I find myself confronted with the thought that I can enjoy some of this adventure now.

As frustrating as it still is, I can see now the physical forming of garden structures and it gives me renewed hope. A few more joists, another bit of measuring and concreting and it will really start to come alive.

Yesterday, under sheer determination, I managed to get a small part of what is our main garden bed cleared. Once it was nicely flat and I had measured out the wire and stakes I was going to require, I planted my broad beans. Well, the first crop of many.

The bulk of these beans are decendents from a woman who I knew in Perth. Her father had grown them down this way in Denmark, just 50 kms ( about 30 miles ) to the west. I’ve grown other beans from other sources also. The beans I planted yesterday are probably getting a little closer to being our beans. Through all the houses we’ve lived in since those days over 15 years ago, I’ve managed to keep the beans going.

So digging my fingers into that warm soil yesterday, so close to the new earth that I will farm, was a special little moment for me. Like returning home. The beans and the new earth of our new garden, together at last.

wall pp

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