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All About Extra Murals

Homeschooling is not necessarily a total DIY educational experience.  It can be.  Most successfully too.  But, it’s seldom the case.  Most homeschoolers rely on help.  Help that can take the form of a formal curriculum, computer based programmes, outside tuition, support groups, and extra-curricular activities.

Which is where we find ourselves.  We homeschool with a little bit of an eclectic approach.  Sonlight, our much loved literature-based curriculum for our base, a little of this and that for our extras* and a whole lot of outside help, also known as extra murals.

Since the June SACHS Carnival is soon upon us, talking up this very subject, I thought it would be fun to consolidate our list of extra murals here too.

We’ve had a little ballet, gym-minis, swimming, horse-riding, cooking, and Jumpstart moms-and-tots type classes come across our schedule since the kids were little, but nothing intense or long-lasting: just whatever happened to come along our way, provided for by the generosity of grannies and grandpa and loved by the kids.  And I’m glad for that.  I know that, had we the money, I would ahve struggled within myself not to provide my kids with every opportunity to learn every available discipline … and burnt the poor kids out.  I would love my kids to learn tennis, hockey, soccer, gymnastics, swimming, horse-riding, drama, art and numerous other languages that I could never teach them.  But, a schedule like that would defeat our vision for our family, run everyone ragged and fragment the family into time-scheduled segments of disconnection.

So, now that we do have some wriggle room in the “schooling” part of our budget, we’ve kept the formal extra murals to a minimum, hoping to maintain our “hang out and just connect” family time.  So far, it’s working.  And as each new year approaches, we will reassess for the coming year: each child’s requirements and desires, and how it impacts on the family as a whole.

The extra murals that we do enjoy all have a specific purpose and all complement our learning experiences, both as a family and as individuals.  A comprehensive list follows…

Lunch Bunch – Our Homeschool Co Op Group

I list this group as an extra mural, simply because it happens outside of our home (mostly) and includes other people teaching my kids.  But, the reality is that Lunch Bunch is the most natural extension of our homeschooling lifestyle.  This group meets weekly, from 12:30-3:30.  We read great stories together over lunch, enjoy art projects, music sessions and even a little bit of Xhosa learning too.  The kids get loads of play time with their buddies and the moms enjoy much-needed support and help from like-minded friends who care about each other deeply.

COST:

Free (occasional materials costs)

REASON:

for extended learning and fun with other families; and consolidation of excellent friendships
CONTACT: N/A – a group like this is easy to start!  Gather a few homeschooling friends, or advertise in homeschooling forums and get started! Smile

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Minichefs

Last year, when we had fewer paid-for extra-murals, Minichefs was a weekly event and we loved it!  This year, we’ve pared things down a bit and Minichefs doesn’t feature the Hayes kids nearly as much.  But we do hope to get more Minichef action in the second semester – we’re all missing each other loads!  Minichefs is simply an extension of the Spatula magazine – the brainchild of Yuppiechef – the best online kitchen store ever!

COST:

Free (occasional materials costs)

REASON:

fun kitchen and cooking learning experiences
CONTACT: N/A – again, whether you’re working in your own kitchen, or colloborating with other families, this is an activity easily reproduced with no formal help Smile

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Gymnastics

The girls have been doing gymnastics for three years now, and thoroughly enjoy it.  Sam joined this year and he looks forward to it every week.  He and Katie have classes on a Thursday afternoon and each Friday Sam starts asking when it’s gymnastics again!  Kiera joined the competition class this year and has really grown so much in her discipline and commitment to hard work.  We head off to Oudtshoorn next week to the Kaaplands Competition where she will compete at Level 1.  (UPDATE: We’re back and I’m very proud of my girl for winning silver in beam and for her excellent comeback after falling off bar in the beginning of her bar routine!  Western Province trials up next!)

COST:

R400 – R600 / term (more for competition classes)

REASON:

exercise, discipline, control, excellent co-ordination and core-strength training.
CONTACT: Brawns Gymnastics, Bergvliet and Wynberg,  Smile

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Violin

For years and years the girls have wanted to learn violin.  Ever since seeing André Rieu perform, they’ve been hooked.  Since they were very little, they’ve had a lot of exposure to classical music and instruments through the fantastic Classical Kids Collection and other great resources (Story of the Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein’s Favourites and more).  Violin was their instrument of choice.  From what I’ve read, learning an instrument is hugely beneficial for the development of the brain, helping kids with conceptualisation, memory and much more.  Plus, it’s one of those skills that translates into relationships – being able to contribute musically to a group is a wonderful skill worth acquiring.

Will they continue?  I don’t know.  At this stage both girls have lost their initial infatuation.  The difficulty and discipline required has caught them by surprise.  I’m still trying to decide whether it’s one of those things that we should push on through with, or whether I should entertain their desire to switch instruments.  Kiera shows great aptitude for enjoying music – she already has taught herself a few piano songs using Piano Wizard, a fantastic piano computer programme that teaches skills within the context of games.  And she’s even figured out how to play a couple of her piano pieces on her violin.  Katie is still very flighty and would probably benefit from a less strenuous requirement.  Or benefit from the steep learning curve in discipline.  I am not sure! What do you think?

COST:

R400 – R800 / term (depending on instrument and hiring needs)

REASON:

brain-development skill that is enormously beneficial to all areas of life; teaches discipline; enjoyment of creating music; joy of sharing in music with others
CONTACT: Beau Soleil Music Centre

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Drama

The girls love drama with a passion second to none.  Honing this craft has been worthwhile as dramatic arts is another wonderful way to impart a message.  These are skills that can be used in later life in all manner of ways.  The friendships developed, the self-assurance, the vocal skills, are all worthy skills.  I also appreciate that Spotlight, their drama group, is run by a fantastic drama teacher who holds moral values quite highly – there is no danger of the children acting out inappropriate scripts or dancing to inappropriate music.  Debbie, their teacher, also enters the children in eisteddfods and the children have opportunities to perform for an audience every year.

COST:

R380 / term

REASON:

enjoyment, speech skills, dramatic expression, exploring themselves within the safety of a character and more, performance opportunities, memory – lines learning
CONTACT: Spotlight Drama: Debbie Gildenhuys

Swimming

Thanks to granny and gaa’s kindness, the girls learned to swim through a professional teacher.  We thought we may be able to teach the boys ourselves, and while that would’ve worked with Micah, it would’ve been a long hard road with Sam.  So we took him off to Swim with Tandy and watched our young guy transform from a terrified quivering mass of water-phobic limbs into a confident little swimmer before long.  Tandy has a very gentle approach with the kids that was exactly what Sam needed.  Micah joined this year and both boys look forward to their lessons.  Tandy works in groups of 3-5 kids per half hour session. I prefer this to the 15 minute private sessions, because the kids get more pool time which builds their confidence and their strength.  While Tandy spends a few moments with another child, the others wait their turn while exploring their own swimming abilities within the safety of her pool.  They do so much of their learning while waiting and then Tandy helps them hone specific skills.  It’s also a lot cheaper this way!

COST:

R40/ 1/2 hour lesson

REASON:

water safety, swimming skills, enjoyment
CONTACT: Swim with Tandy

Horse Riding

The kids do not do horse riding as a regular extra mural, but our eldest loves horse riding and horses in the same way as her maternal granny did.  So, when we do have opportunities and money to match, we try to let them have a chance at riding.  This means that some birthdays have included a few lessons for riding and a few holiday opportunities arise too, especially when Granny Sally is involved!  They have stables nearby where they live and Granny treats the kids from time to time with a lesson or two.

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Outings

We enjoy plenty of outings to places near and far.  With our co-op group, with other homeschooling families, with nature club, and with our own family – all these experiences enrich our homeschooling journey!

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Church activities

As Christians, church life is part of the fabric of our lives.  So much so, that I don’t regard our various church activities as “extra murals” – but, for the purpose of this post, I think it’s worth mentioning.  Holiday bible club, Friday night kids’ club, children’s church on Sundays, church camps, braais, family days and even the occasional Sunday night with us in “big church” are all part and parcel of life for the kids.  Here they meet families from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all ethnic groups and even languages.  Our church is a real melting pot of culture, with one thing that unifies us all: Jesus Christ.  I not only love that everything we teach at home is reinforced at our home church, but I also love that our kids have plenty of opportunities to grow in the knowledge and act out their faith even in the ‘safety’ of a church context.  So, while church life is not strictly an “extra-mural” in the traditional understanding of the word, it is a wonderful extension of our home and teaching that happens outside of our home itself.

That’s us, on an extra-mural front, in a nutshell!

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This post features on the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers (SACH Bloggers) where South African homeschoolers share experiences, ideas, philosophies and much more.  You can join the carnival too by heading to the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers sign up page. We hope you enjoy the carnival as much as we have!  Read more from this June 2012 Carnival here: Extra Curricular Activities

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* A full breakdown of the resources we use in our “homeschool” is as follows:

  1. Language and Literature: Sonlight programmes: Language Arts 1, 2 and D
  2. History and Geography: Sonlight Core D, snippets of Sonlight Prek 3/4 and 4/5
  3. Maths: Math-U-See (recently switched from Singapore Maths)
  4. Afrikaans: Ant Books
  5. Xhosa: Simply Xhosa
  6. Science: Sonlight Science D
  7. Handwriting: HappyHandwriter
  8. Spelling: Sequential Spelling and Spelling Power
  9. Piano: Piano Wizard
  10. Variety of online games to cement basic concepts: Starfall, BBC typing, BBC Bitesize and other games

Geography Songs

Sunday morning was one of those "ah!" moments where joyful noise filled my kitchen, rather than squeals and shoves and "mommy, Micah pinched me!" wails that are far too common in our home.

CH06Sonlight‘s Core C* program includes an awesome package called Geography Songs.  The product description reads:

33 songs teach the names and locations of the continents, oceans, planets, 225 countries, and the states and provinces of Canada and the U.S.

It comes with a workbook and it’s scheduled into the Instructor’s Guide – a new section each week.  As things go in our house, it’s been a bit difficult trying to learn the songs each week.  I eventually gave up and determined to pop the CD into our car for car-schooling time :)  It took a few months, but we got there.  About two weeks ago the CD made its way into our car player and the kids absolutely love it.  They’re begging me to play their favourites over and over.  And when it’s time to choose a CD, "Geography Songs!" is what rings out loudest these days. 

Kiera’s favourite are the countries of Central America.  She loves to sing it in the same Central American accent the artists use.  "Corn-Trees of Cent-trraalll A-Merrry-Ca".  The boys’ favourite is, hands down, The British Isles.  Katie loves a range of songs.  And they all call for the "Countries of the Former USSR."

Which brings me back to Sunday morning.  Sunday mornings can be a little hairy as we try get everything and everyone ready for church in the morning.  Add a late wake-up and the fact that Craig is away – well, the potential for pear-shapedness is pretty huge.  But this Sunday morning was different. While I was getting ready in my bedroom and the kids were busy with dishwasher duty, I heard the delighted chorus of my kids’ sing-yelling from the kitchen:

The Russian Federation,Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Maldova [etc etc, I can’t even remember them!] These are the countries of the former USSR!" 

In retrospect, I’m glad we’ve been learning the songs this way.  At some stage this year, we’ll head back to our map and our workbooks and have fun filling in answers and enjoying the activities associated.  I imagine what could be a laborious task, without a love for the songs, can be a barrel of fun, with a love for the songs. 

Ah! Another Sonlight moment for sure!

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*Core 2 is what it was called, the new labelling system is still far too confusing for me.  I preferred the old system where I could actually count the year difference between Cores when trying to work out which Core the girls will be on once the boys start with Core 1 (now B).  I’m not too good at calculating the difference between letters!

Music @ Lunch Bunch

Kate is our wonderful musical mom at Lunch Bunch.  She has taught our kids so much about music, instruments and musical appreciation.  And the kids LOVE it! 

For the past couple of weeks, the children have been learning a new song.  This week they showed it to us, complete with actions.  We all piled into our playroom.  Moms and Little Lunch Bunchers watched from the couch, while the Big Lunch Bunchers sang a most beautiful song by Stuart Townend: Light of the World.  (click the link to watch and hear the original on YouTube). The Gaelic under (and over!) tones of this song gets right under my skin. 

Some of the audience members:

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Kate, music director extraordinaire!

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I love this photo that Hayley took – great shot!

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Katie was fully into it – her face radiated love as she sang.  Very precious.

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While Hayley kindly took photos, I caught the song on video on my phone.  I love that, despite "seriously" singing the kids can’t help just being kids – evidenced by the not-so-discreet poking and tussling!

Kids Classics and Stormy Weather

Two weeks ago, when the rains were bucketing down, the hot chocolate was being consumed rapidly and we were bemoaning a rather early start to Winter, we had Lunch Bunch at our house.  Every term we take a break from having LB at Caren’s house, giving Caren and Kate a break since they put in the most time and prep for LB, and one of the other moms runs the show.  This term it was my chance.

I guess the stormy weather had much to do with my chosen theme.  That, and rediscovering the Classics for Kids website.  I discovered this website a couple of years ago, and then recently signed up for their rss feed.  Each week, a Cincinnati radio station has a 6 minute "Classics for Kids" slot where Naomi Lewin takes kids through a great education of classical music, composers, orchestras, instruments and more.  Her upbeat explanations flitter in and out of great snippets of excellent classical music.  Recently, we’d listened to one focused on the stormy themes from various composers’ pieces, focusing particularly on the composer Gioachino Rossini.  It was an exhilarating 6 minutes!

So, that piece became the foundation of our afternoon.  What fun that the weather continued to co-operate and while we re-enacted a day of stormy weather, the rains continued to pour outside! 

Storytime

The kids began the day with their lunch and story as per usual.  The older kids are currently listening to Sue read The Railway Children to them.  Kiera and Katie have listened to the radio show version of it a couple of years ago.  Thankfully, they don’t remember too much, so the story isn’t spoiled for them!  When they’re done, we’ll listen again.  It’s beautiful! 

The younger kids listened to me read them "stormy" bible stories, like Noah and building a house on the sandy land from The Rhyme Storybook Bible.  This is really one of our most favourite bibles, aside from The Jesus Storybook Bible.  The entire bible rhymes in couplets, making the reading fun and easy to listen to. 

Music

IMG_7224Then, both groups got together to do the music session.  First we listened to the Classics for Kids Stormy Piece (click to listen).  Then I played them some music from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite that is particularly stormy and loud!  While we listened, the kids drew their own pictures of stormy scenes.  The music inspired their drawing and they came up with some great results! 

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Next up – making music time!  First with our bodies and then with instruments.  We stood in a circle and started our own "storm" – we began with the whistling wind and then slowly added clicking fingers (or ‘clapping’ fingers for those who couldn’t click yet), then louder claps, and thigh slapping, followed by loud stamping on the ground.  Then we eased off slowly by going backwards through the motions.  After that we brought out the instruments and created a storm with cymbals, tambourines, shakers, bells and more. 

Crafts and Bakes

IMG_7223While the little kids rolled out dough and made fun biscuits, the big kids made origami boats.  We were going to do a fun science experiment too, but it didn’t work out too well!  The idea was to create waves by blowing through a straw onto the surface of a tray of water.  Then we were going to measure the height of the waves based on a couple of variables.  But, when I tested it just before, I discovered that it just wouldn’t create waves!  Oh dear!  But the origami boat building was fun, none the less.  (Sadly, no pics.  The only pics on this post ar(e all an afterthought – I only managed to catch the little kids craft in action….)

IMG_7221Then later, while the big kids got tucked into biscuit making, the littlies created these fun weather books, which Jeanine organised.  One page per season: Spring flowers with a squashed down muffin cup, sucker stick and some crepe paper; Winter with; Summer with a big felt sun and drawn in sun rays; Autumn with a leaf rubbing.

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I had hoped to have time to let the kids eat their biscuits next to the fire place and drink some hot choc, but we only had time enough left to throw on coats and head out the door to Xhosa. 

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon and it reboosted my resolve to listen to the WVXU Cincinnati Classics for Kids podcasts on a weekly basis!

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