Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Learning about Snails

We don't follow a curriculum or textbook of any kind when it comes to science. This is not because we don't think science is an important subject, it is because we believe that like other subject areas, deep, meaningful learning will occur when it is interest-led. I have previously written about The Nature Curriculum and how my children have learnt a vast amount just by being immersed in nature and having the freedom to explore and develop their interests. Science is one of the most frequently discussed subjects in our home and it develops through my children's interests and their natural curiosity as they engage and interaction with the natural environment. And this is how we came to learn about snails.

At the beginning of this year we moved from northern Australia to the east coast (NSW) of Australia and with this new location came a new variety of animals for us to discover and learn about. In our new front yard, hiding in our mail box, was a large group of snails and these mail-eating molluscs quickly became a daily topic of discussion as an interest and curiosity began to develop

We spent, literally, many hours observing the snails crawling around our garden and eventually brought some inside so we could observe them closely. The first questions to arise was about the appearance of the snails body and how they move along.

We went straight to our growing book collection to see if we could find any information about snails. We had some simple books Creepy Creatures: Snails and Snails: Amazing Pictures and Facts about Snails that were perfect for my girls. For my son, we searched through The Wonderland Of Nature and our DK Animal Encyclopedia, putting in stick notes as we went, to find information we were after. I used this opportunity to reinforce the use of index, references and contents when searching for particular information in a book.

For my daughters who are six and four years old, I purchased a Snail and Nomenclature Cards and Definition Booklet for them to use and learn about parts of a snail. I presented the cards to my girls and we talked about the different body parts while using our vineyard snail figurines to get a closer look. For my son who is a little bit older (10 years old), I purchased this 4D Vision Snail Anatomy Model from Mad About Science (Australia) for him to learn about the different parts of a snail. Here is a link to the same  snail anatomy model available on Amazon. The model came with a booklet so my son was able to independently explore the anatomy of the snail at his own pace and interest. 

After observing the parts of a snail, questions developed about the snails shell. We went hunting around our garden and found lots of shells which no longer had snails living in them. This sparked questions about did the snails die, did they grow out of their shell (like hermit crabs do) and why do they die. My children developed an hypothesis that snails in our garden had died because they were old and maybe there wasn't enough food for them or it might have been too dry for them to survive. All really great questions!

We collected some of the shells and took them inside to observe them further. The shells were of different sizes with different shades of brown. Most of the patterns were the same so my children thought that this might be because they were the same type of snail. 

We took a closer look at these shells under a microscope to see the detail further. Questions continued to develop about how hard the shells were, does the shell get bigger as the snail grows or do they need to find a bigger shell, and what if snails didn't have a shell. This led our conversation towards molluscs and what other creatures were apart of the molluscs family.

After looking at the shells, the interest in snails seemed to slow down for a few weeks until my youngest child found a very tiny snail in our garden. This sparked questions about the life cycle of snails and how they have their babies. We read our books which told us that snails lay their eggs in the dirt so of course, we went exploring further. Unfornately we did not find any snail eggs but we did spent lots of time watching these baby snails.

Most of our questions were answered in the books we had and some of the questions we were able to find and answer for ourselves through observation. One such questions was asked about snails sleeping during the day. We thought maybe they were nocturnal so this took our learning into the late hours of the evening. After a passing rain shower we were able to observe the snails come to life" and it was awesome! My children weren't the only ones who were amazed to see how busy snails are at night time.

Although it is wonderful to read about information in a book, it is even better to actually see these facts and information in full action right in front of our eyes. You can find more resources and information over on my Pinterest and follow along on our adventure over on Facebook and Instagram

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Redefining Physical Education

Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to our approach and involvement in physical education as home learners and as I haven't blogged about it before, it is a topic that I thought I might share. When I think of physical education I think of whole-body movement, where the child is actively moving. If your child is anything like my children, they are constantly moving and on the go so when it comes to registering for home education, here is how I approach it.

In regards to curriculum, the terminology that is use to define physical education uses words such as "fundamental movement skills", "movement sequences", "participation", "following rules" and "cooperation". If you take away the jargon that is used, you can narrow the definition of physical education down further to just play. Yes, simple PLAY! Some may try and argue that physical education is more then just play but to me, play is physical education.  

A combination of unstructured play and the right environment can and does incorporate those "fundamental movement skills" and sequences that a curriculum outlines. Unstructured play also incorporates participation and cooperation as children play together. A sequencing of body movements is required of children as they climb over rocks at a creek, collect sticks for building, dig for rocks and other treasure all the while negotiating with others how their exciting adventure plays out. Lets not forget the other wonderful inspiring learning opportunities The Nature Curriculum can give to children.

The involvement of locomotor and non-locomotor movements such as rolling, balancing, sliding, jogging, running, leaping, hopping, skipping, bouncing, stretching, bending....oh the list goes all done through unstructured play. We enjoy family hikes with friends through the bush most weekends, bike rides, walks on the beach and playing in the park. These activities all promote good health and physical education. And the best part is that for the most part, it's free!

Together with unstructured play, my children also do a range of other, more structured, physical education activities as well. Last year my son joined the Junior Rangers and spent many hours hiking through the bush with other kids and their ranger learning about plants, animals, safety and nature. He has also participated in team sports such as soccer and AFL Auskick as well as tennis and basketball. But before choosing a physical education activity to do, there are two main elements that we take into consideration

The first element is that physical education needs to be fun and enjoyable. In the past, my eldest has had swimming lessons with an instructor but when it got to a point where he just wasn't enjoying what he was doing, we let it go. Did he learn to swim? Yes, eventually he did. How did he learn without lessons? We provided him with opportunities to swim by taking him to the beach and to the pool. Although I am a trained swimming instructor, I provided support rather than rigorous repetitive swimming routines and when my son was ready, he learned how to swim. We have used the same approach with our daughters. All we did was provide the environment to give them opportunities to swim.

The second element is that the physical education activity needs to be something my children are interested in. We are interest led learners so we don't EVER push an activity onto our children that they are simply not interested in. We do make suggestions but ultimately leave the decision up to our children. Sometimes they want to try an activity for a few weeks before moving onto something else and other times, they spend year after year doing the same activity. This year all three of my children wanted to try gymnastics. Our local homeschool group had organised lessons for the term so they got to enjoy this activity with other homeschool kids. 

Another physical education activity that my son has enjoyed is archery. He has had archery lessons and when he couldn't have lessons, he would make his own bows and arrows (who hasn't?!) and continued to enjoy this sport.  

If you look at Physical Education in the Australian Curriculum it goes hand in hand with health. Health can cover topics such as fire safety, street safety, feelings and emotions, communication and listening to others, body development and healthy living. We have learned about health and healthy living through a range of interest-led activities and you can read them on the links below:

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on physical education and some of the activities that your child/students love to do. I hope this post has encouraged you to add free play to your physical education outlook and not to get caught up in many afternoon sport activities when free play can be all a child needs.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Math-U-See Australia

I believe that many children can and do learn about math through meaningful, everyday life experiences as well as through play. I am also a believer in following the child and supporting their individual needs both academic and personal. Each one of my three children learn differently so I could see that my daughter, who will be seven years old later this year, required a more systematic, explicited approach learning math. Even though she has had many meaningful learning experience with math, she has struggled to grasp basic mathematical concepts. Many would say that she just needs time to develop and will "get it when she is ready" but her frustration was telling me she needed further support. So I went looking how I could support her needs yet still provide her with flexibility with making learning math both practical and sequential. And that's when I came across Math-U-See.

I wasn't looking for a math program for my daughter but rather a guide that I could use to support her learning. I knew from my education and experience with supporting my son, who has dyslexia (a language based difficulty), that the best type of instruction would have involve an explicit, systematic, structured, sequential and a multisensory  approach to learning. And this is what I found in the math-u-see program.  

Math-U-See was developed by an American home educating Dad, Steve Den. The passionate educators at Maths Australia have brought this program to Australia and have adapted it to suit Australian math standards. Math-U-See has been in Australia for over twelve years now and has been used in Australian schools, tutoring facilities and in many home education environments.

The Math-U-See program starts with a simple online  Placement Test to identify the students current level of mathematical knowledge. This will give the student a place to start with the Math-U-See program. This placement test is very useful for older students and it is now pressure and done under no time restraint. For my daughter, she has started with the first level, primer.

Within the math-u-see program, each math concept is taught explicitly in clear, step by step instruction with each sequential lesson building on the knowledge taught in the previous lesson. Each lesson consists of lesson review giving students ample opportunity to practise and retain taught concepts. The student is supported  in their learning to progress at their own pace while each concept being taught is related to real life math. 

The math-u-see program uses manipulative that encourages hands-on learning as it allows the learner to touch, feel, see and hear. This multisensory learning reinforces the concepts that are being taught which is essential for all learners, especially those who require more practise and time. For each lesson and concept that is taught, it follows a sequence of build it, write it, say it and this involves the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic-tactile senses for learning. 

The Math-U-See program has seven levels for learning about general math concepts:
  • Premier - Fun introduction to math
  • Alpha - Addition & subtraction of single digits
  • Beta - Addition & Subtraction of multiple digits
  • Gamma - Multiplication of single & multiple digits
  • Delta - Division of single and multiple digits
  • Epsilon - Fractions and other topics
  • Zeta - Decimals, percentages and other topics
There are also six different levels for secondary math too. Each level comes with a teacher manual, student workbook, a test book and a DVD with shows each lesson being presented. You can find more information on the different levels on the Maths Australia website  
We use this program with flexibility in that I follow the child in whatever she wants to do. Some days she may want to use the blocks and watch the next lesson while other days she will choose other math resources such as our Montessori Number Rods and Montessori Short Bead Stair for example. 

You can find out more information about the Math-U-See program here in Australia by visit Maths Australia website at

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Learning about numbers with Montessori Number Rods

My daughter, who is six years old, has been learning about numbers for awhile using both a natural and more structured approach to her learning. She is very curious about numbers and always eager to explore them. So I wanted to introduce her to the Montessori Number Rods. I love that Montessori uses concrete hands-on learning materials that make abstract concepts more clear which supports the learner to make progress, at their own pace, towards understanding these abstract concepts.

I originally looked at purchasing a set of number rods for my daughter to use instead, I came across this Easy DIY Montessori Number Rods and was inspired to make my own. So with the help of my husband, we made our own number rods. We adjusted the measurements (5cm long for each colour) to make our rods slightly shorter to fit our learning environment. I placed our number rods on a long tray and put it on our math shelves.

Montessori Primary Guide have a great step by step lesson plan for introducing number rods to learners if you would like to read about a more structured approach. For us, I waited for my daughter to choose this activity from our shelf before talking with her about the rods and exploring how we could use them together.

We first talked about the lengths of each rod and how some were shorter and others were longer. She wanted to order the rods from smallest to biggest before I encouraged her to count the coloured squares to check her work. This was followed by placing number tiles next to each rod to representing the rod's value. Although I offered a lot of scaffolding the first time she chose this activity, she was able to repeat this activity again by herself independently. 

I wanted to introduce my daughter to addition using the number rods. Again I waited for her to suggest the concept of addition which did not take very long for this to happen. We started by making 10. We laid the 10 rod out and matched two smaller rods (4 and 6) to equal to 10. We repeated this process a number of times adding different number rods together to equal 10. The same activity can be done to make 9's, 8's, 7's, 6's, 5's, 4's 3's and 2's. 

Addition led to exploring subtraction with the number rods. Again we started with the 10 rod and selected a smaller rod to "take-away". My daughter preferred to place the rod on top of the 10 rod so she could count how many we left over as well as being able to see which rod fit. This was a little tricky for her so we stopped it and went back to addition.

You can find more Montessori math ideas and resources on my Montessori Mathematics pinterest board and be sure to follow me on facebook and instagram

This blogpost is linked up with Montessori Monday - Living Montessori Now

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Introducing Montessori Short Bead Stair

We have been exploring early number concepts and I have recently introduced my daughters to the Montessori short bead stair. I fell in love with Montessori a number of years ago when I went search for a hands-on approach to teaching children with special needs and we have slowly incorporated this into our home education. So I want to share with you how we introduced the Montessori Short Bead Stair for learning about early number concepts.

Before I introduced to the Montessori Short Bead Stair to my daughters they both were able to identify numbers to ten. We had worked on this by using our Sandpaper Numbers and salt trays to trace the number and write it in the salt. Miss 6 has had some trouble identifying six and nine as they look alike so she has worked at her own pace on these numbers.

First they would trace over the sandpaper number card using their index finger on their writing hand while saying the number out loud. This was followed by drawing the number in the salt while saying the number. By doing this, the learner is using their senses auditory, visual and kinesthetic to keep the learning as multisensory as possible. 

I've seen a few different tutorials on how to introduce the Montessori Short Bead Stair so I placed the beads and number cards on our shelf and waited for curiosity to take over for more authentic child-led learning. I introduced my daughters to the beads by discussing value, the length of the bead chain and how the different colours represented the different value.

We used our wooden number cards to order the numbers from smallest to largest before matching the beads to their corresponding number. We talked about how the longest bead bar represented the biggest or largest number making a connection between number value.

After the initial introduction, both my daughters independently worked on this activity at different times and only required minimal support. 

It's also important to encourage the learner to randomly identify numbers rather than just ordering numbers from smallest to biggest. When identifying numbers in isolation, you are able to see if the learner is having trouble distinguishing and identifying different numbers. This was something I had overlooked when we first started exploring numbers.   


Learning about numbers with the Montessori Short Bead Stair is the foundation for learning about teen and ten numbers. As we are focusing on numbers zero to nine (sometimes we add the ten bead bar) we were able to use our Short Bead Stair to make simple addition sums. The whole process of laying the beads out and counting them individually gave my daughters a wonderful multisensory learning experience that encouraged independent learning and mastery of early maths concepts.

For those who are interested, I purchased our Short Bead Stair set, our Small Wooden Number Cards and a number of other high quality Montessori resources from I Am Montessori.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Developing Literacy Skills with Educational Bricks

Over the last year or so I've had lots of questions from my readers about where I got our set of alphabet blocks from that I shared here on my blog. As my blocks are no longer available, I've been on a mission to find the best alphabet blocks that are out there to hopefully answer your questions and give you an opportunity to get some for your learner. And here they are! I want to introduced you to Educational Bricks

What are Educational Bricks?
Educational Bricks are a hands-on learning resource that supports learners to build their literacy skills and understanding through a multisensory approach. Each brick has beautifully printed letters on it which uses foundation font. The bricks are recommended for ages 3+ and are easy for little hands and big hands to manipulate. Educational Bricks come in a range of different sets that varying in the number of bricks per set.  

Each set is accompanied with a CD which has a printable word lists and worksheets as well as teaching notes. There are eight different Educational Brick sets that support the development of literacy and these sets include:

How can Educational Bricks be used?
Whether you take a structured approach to your learning or a more natural learning approach, Educational Bricks are a wonderful learning resource that can be added to any curriculum or use in an interest-led learning environment. There is no right or wrong way to use them, just simply follow the learner!

We have been using Educational Bricks to support the development of phonics and decoding skills. Decoding is done when the learner deciphers print into speech by matching letter or graphemes (combination of letters) to their sounds (phonemes) in order to identify the patterns that make syllables and words. 

I present Educational Bricks to my learners by using a systematic, explicit approach. For example, I use the Lower Case Bricks together with Vowel Rhyme Bricks to present one vowel block at a time to build a few different but simple CVC (consonant vowel consonant) words using the lower case bricks. Once this blending of sounds and making of CVC words has been mastered, I introduce another vowel brick until all the bricks have been introduced (at the learners pace) and my learner can construct a range of words using both the vowel rhyme bricks and the lower case bricks.

What can you learn with Educational Bricks?
Not only do Educational Bricks support the development of phonics and decoding skills, they can also help build phonemic awareness.  Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes (sounds) in spoken and written text. Although phonemic awareness is usually developed through auditory activities some learners will require a visual representation (letters) to support their development of phonemic awareness and Educational Bricks can do just that. Educational Bricks also support the development of Blending. Here is a great post about Blending - the what, why and how

Why use these bricks?
There are many reason why Educational Bricks are beneficial to learners. These bricks create a multisensory learning experience where the learner is able to physically manipulate the blocks to rearrange the letters and work on constructing different words. This helps build critical thinking skills along with phonics and decoding skills. By using a hands-on approach where the learner can manipulate the focused concept or in this case, a particular spelling rule, there is greater potential for the learner to retain, and later recall, the concept being taught. Plus, Educational Bricks make learning about words fun! 

Where to purchase them from and how much? 
I have purchased our sets of Educational Bricks from the lovely Kirstie at Starfish Education Center in Kiama, New South Wales. Kirstie runs a tutoring services from her shop and sells great variety of educational resources, products and supplies as well as a wide range of items for special needs. The Starfish Education Center have all their resources available online and this is where you can find the full range of Educational Bricks. You will also find the Maths range of Educational Bricks which include Numbers 1-10, Numbers and Symbols, great for learning addition, subtraction, division and multiply, and the Fraction Families.

Kirstie from Starfish Education Centre gave me a generous discount of 20% on my purchase of the Educational Bricks in exchange for this blog post. All ideas and thoughts expressed here are my own.