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Serving One Another

This article first appeared in the Cape Home Educators’ quarterly magazine,
April 2013

Serving One Another

The Organic Community of Homeschooling Families

by Taryn Hayes

One thing that I deeply love about the homeschooling community is that it is a community. Since I embarked on this journey into homeschooling ten years ago, I’ve met people from vastly different walks of life. In any other circumstance, I probably wouldn’t have met them. Yet with our common goal of homeschooling, it seems it is enough to break down cultural barriers, language difficulties and socio-economic differences. Where barriers could have existed, there is, instead, helping hands. Where needs are mentioned, they are, more often than not, met. When struggles are shared, sympathy and help is extended.

I have the privilege of administrating the Homeschool Western Cape group on Facebook. It’s a privilege, because I get to witness the homeschooling community at work, every day, first hand. It makes my heart sing when I open up the Facebook group page and read a request for some curriculum help – and then have to scroll through dozens of helpful answers. When I meet a fellow homeschool mom in the bookstore for the first time (yes, this has happened more than once!) the instant rapport that follows is exhilarating. The intricate workings of the homeschooling community is organic – natural, flowing and inclusive.

Seldom amongst homeschoolers do I hear the word “no”. Yes, there are times when families feel the pressures of life and expectations – then “no” is not only natural, it is necessary. But mostly, those in the homeschooling community are “yes” people. Yes, we can help each other figure out which curriculum would suit a particular child. Yes, we can organise an outing and have everyone join. Yes, we will join you. Yes, let’s have tea and share our woes and wins. A need is identified and, pretty soon, the solution is provided. No coercion. Just community at work.

Since we began homeschooling, community has been an unexpected benefit. In this past year alone, I’ve benefited directly from the natural flow of the Homeschool Western Cape community.  Last year began with taking part in the Cape Home Educators’ arranged Sports Day in Camps Bay. Need identified? Yes, athletics for kids is fun and something the homeschooling community doesn’t naturally have. What can we do? Let’s create it! And what fun the children have had. Last year my daughter did high-jump for the first time, getting coaching on the spot and ending up exceeding her (and our!) expectations.

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One Zimbabwe-born mom, Karen D, recognised the need to become better acquainted with her surrounding country in order to teach her children about the Cape. She chose not only to meet her own need but also to extend an invitation to others by starting an outing club called Cape Explorers. Karen is particularly gifted in leading large groups of children. In this last year we’ve visited about a dozen places, developed some solid friendships and enjoyed Karen’s wealth of gifts – living letters, administration excellence, brilliant ideas – lavished upon us.

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For some years, Wendy Y and other moms ran a wonderful homeschoolers craft market. As seasons pass on, this one came to an end. But a couple of years later, another mom, new to the Cape homeschooling community, started another entrepreneur opportunity for children. Thanks to Yolande T’s initiative, my kids got to enjoy running a Tombola store and selling juices, second hand books and sweets.

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Longstanding traditions in schools mean school-going children often find themselves with wonderful opportunities to participate in Olympiads and Shakespeare festivals. These don’t naturally extend to the homeschooling community. But the homeschooling community naturally comes up with a solution. Last year Wendy M’s innovative children joined up with a bunch of other teens to take part in the Shakespeare festival. Without the benefit of a drama teacher, the teens directed themselves, rehearsed, costumed and presented their drama case for the 30-minute Shakespeare festival – and quite successfully too.

Dozens of times a week I see community at work. Kirsten R offers a mom’s chill out evening every so often – a wonderful time-out for moms to meet and chat. The “Far Southers” (that would be Fishoek and beyond) hold a weekly picnic day on the Noordhoek common. Several young homeschooling families meet up in the Northern Suburbs and the encouraging invitations to newcomers often pop up on the HWC Facebook page. Outings are arranged by various families and, more often than not, the invitation goes out to the HWC group. The more the merrier! It’s not uncommon to find a group of homeschooled families – from all different backgrounds, religions and races – visiting a museum, a farm or a factory together.

When I started homeschooling in the early 2000s, I never expected to experience community at this level. But, now, looking back, I’m not surprised. It makes sense that families who choose to swim against the mainstream schooling system would have the tenacity to make community work. And I’m glad. Because it means that my weaknesses are lifted up by the strength of others, and I can offer my strengths in service of our greater community.

Are you a part of a greater homeschooling community? If not, consider plugging into one of these online groups. Real-life contact naturally extends from these online meeting places, and before you know it, you will be warding off strangers’ “What about socialisation?” questions with “Goodness! That’s the least of our worries!”

Facebook Groups:

· Homeschool Western Cape http://www.facebook.com/groups/homeschoolwesterncape/

· Homeschooling in South Africa http://www.facebook.com/groups/100788473311514/

· Helderberg Homeschool http://www.facebook.com/groups/491935657490037/

· Homeschooling Christians in South Africa (not visible on your non-group friends’ newsfeed) http://www.facebook.com/groups/Christianhomeschoolingza/

· Christian Homeschooling in South Africa (visible on your non-group friends’ newsfeed) http://www.facebook.com/groups/christianhomeschoolingsa/

· Sonlight Curriculum: South Africa http://www.facebook.com/groups/sonlightsouthafrica/

· Footprints Curriculum support group http://www.facebook.com/groups/footprintsonourland/

· Love 2 Learn Curriculum support group http://www.facebook.com/groups/love2learncurriculum/

Yahoo Eloops (email only groups):

OUTING: Cape Explorers at Kirstenbosch

It was the second week of March – just about officially Autumn – but still quite hot.  In fact, the entire week was boiling.  Except Friday.  Outing day.  It rained.  No.  It poured. 

I sent a tentative sms to our Cape Explorers organiser – it’s pouring here, are we still going to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens? 

Well, it turns out that the Cape Explorers are a hardy bunch.  And the Kirstenbosch Gardens Education centre is (wo)manned by some fearless women!  It was on with the show!

The kids got an excellent and informative lesson about our natural flora fynbos which is only found in the Western Cape of South Africa – that’s right – nowhere else in the entire world!  And it makes for some pretty amazing plants.  Restio is used for thatching roofs, while dozens of other fynbos have medicinal and practical uses.

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The kids did a few activities after their chat…

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Lots of busy activity inside, while the rains came thundering down outside…

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Love love LOVE kids’ writing! “yallo wood” Smile

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While the kiddies were busy, I wandered around taking in the various odds and ends, including the wall of posters with interesting tidbits like this Did you know?

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Finally the sky stopped its relentless rain and chose to gently tickle our clothes with spits of water instead.  It was time to explore outside.

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So explore we did!  The rain kept up its gentle mist, gradually soaking us all to the bone.  But there was hardly a complaint from anyone.

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Our guide was full of interesting facts and fun things to do.

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Even taking our water-drenched-rats on a sensory trail of a fragrance garden.

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What fun to watch a bunch of kids walk blindly along a path with only a rope to guide them.

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The sun dial held deep fascination despite there being no sun…

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And so did these statues…

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Most poignant of all was the grave of Mr Pearson who gave his life to the development of the gardens.  He died in his 40s but is remembered to this day for his work…

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Back to the education centre – a little wiser and a lot wetter.  The kids recapped all they learned and enjoyed another activity before home time.

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Turns out that Kirstenbosch on a rainy day is still pretty amazing, as we discovered that day! 

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OUTING: Green Point Park with Cape Explorers

 

Another awesome Cape Explorers outing was enjoyed today.  This time we visited the Green Point Park and its beautiful biodiversity garden.  We’ve visited there plenty of times before and even had another great outing experience there in 2011.  But, we never tire of it and this time was as good, if not better, than the rest.

Karen split us up into three groups.  I got to hang out with the littlies, so their activity pack was easy on the moms too Winking smile  But fun all the same.  Most of my photos are of our sweet little group in action…

Drawing what we see…

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They had to draw a flower, a fish and a bird.  Micah’s attempts were so sweet, especially his box-shaped fish!

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Mommy Julie capturing some memories…

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Karen explaining in the wonderful way she has with children. 

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Finding things along the path…

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Look mom!  I found the ladybug!!

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Karen really does go to all lengths to create a highly professional experience – here a little B family boy enjoys one of their special activities.

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Karen’s hubby Brent tries to make at least part of each outing to capture the kids on camera.  It’s about time someone caught him on camera too!

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Here are two great friends – Ruthie and Savannah-Rose.

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Waiting our turn:

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Cape Town Stadium in the background…

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The history of the Grand Vlei – so fascinating!

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Fellow Mommy Blogger and Homeschooler, Mel, coaching the kids through their next activity…

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One path led us on a delightful discovery of plants, people and their relationship – that being mostly about which plants were the best to eat!

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Two cuties!

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Gathering the troops at the end of the discovery and before the picnic lunch…

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As always, Karen did a sterling job.  The kids reported back beautifully and had a lovely time.  Thanks Karen!

Outing: Butterfly World

Today, the kids and I trekked out to Butterfly World, situated somewhere past Kraaifontein and nearby Stellenbosch.  We’d been invited by friends we’ve not seen in ages and got to meet a bunch of other homeschooling families we’d not met before.  I’d say that’s a win on two fronts. But it turned out to be a win on three fronts because the outing itself ranked up there as one of the best we’ve enjoyed. 

One highlight on the relational side of things is that I got to reconnect with Joann L – the last time I saw Joann was 10 years ago when she led our antenatal classes.  Craig and I have always had enormous respect for Jo, so I was thrilled to catch up with her today.  And, it’s always always good to chat with Karen M.  Karen is my sister’s dearest friend.  They spent many years together in Israel, raising their families and reaching out for the Lord’s work in their community.  Karen and her family are back in South Africa for a season now, which means that I get to see her from time-to-time – Karen is both a wonderful woman and a wonderful link to my sister in Israel. 

And then, the outing itself…  I’d heard about Butterfly World from various sources, but hadn’t made it out there yet.  I couldn’t make the general outing that was arranged via the Homeschool Western Cape Facebook page last year, so, I was thrilled to join this group. 

And it was really great!  I think one of the highlights for me was Tracy.  Tracy did the 45 minute presentation at the beginning of our experience.  So often, these sorts of presentations are deathly boring and have even us moms wiggling our seats, anxious to get out and enjoy the displays on our terms.  But Tracy managed to get kids ranging from 4 – 15 years totally mesmerised by her presentation.  She was funny, intriguing, creative, informative and just a whole lot of fun for the kids to enjoy. 

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Here is the bunch of us in a rather more serious moment  – yet… rapt attention.

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Tracy taught us about insects, spiders and various other creepy crawlies that we’d encounter inside the enclosure.  She managed to persuade one brave soul to be an insect for her.  Katie was game and before she knew it – Katie had morphed into the prettiest cockroach I’ve ever seen!

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Here is Cockroach Katie with her six legs, wings and compound eyes!

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After Tracy’s awesome presentation, we got to enjoy the close up encounters with … Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches! 

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Spotted Leopard Gecko – which is far FAR bigger than any gecko I’ve ever encountered!

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Thousands of butterfly specimens…

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Asher and Tali checking it all out too – to think that this time last month Asher was hanging out in my sister’s kitchen! 

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Tali has grown so much since we saw her last – she’s such a beautiful girl in so many ways.

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This girl (or boy?) is not so beautiful – not by my standards anyway.  Tarantula time!

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Hmm – this display is much better!  It’s amazing how much more colourful the butterflies of the South American jungles are compared to our Southern African butterflies.  The butterflies in this picture are all actual specimens.  Stunning.

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When we walked into the butterfly enclosure, I remembered that we’d been warned that there wouldn’t be too many butterflies due to the season being too warm for their liking.  Well, we got thoroughly accosted by butterflies – I can’t imagine how crazy it would be in a more butterfly-friendly season!

Sam loved it, however – can you see the delight on his face?

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And he got fully into his recording-role…

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The butterflies were really beautiful.  I wish I had managed to capture more on camera, but these guys were more interested in flying than posing for pics!

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We saw quite a few of these guys around – iguana anyone?

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Tropical birds were everywhere…

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Totally delighting the kids…

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And guinea pigs too – apparently the stillborn baby guinea-pigs are fed to the snakes…

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And there were some pretty big snakes there too.  These aren’t them, however … Smile  I did like that these lizards also got special warming lamps like the giant snakes got…

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Oh, look – another Mr Iguana. 

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These Marmoset monkeys were everywhere.  I always marvel at how small their faces are.

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Turtles..

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And an explanation of why we were all dripping sweat by the time we left …

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Stunning!

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All in all, we had a really great outing.  Had we not had to rush home to make it to our Co-Op meeting in time, we’d have hung out with the rest of the families enjoying a leisurely picnic on the lawns.  I’m sure there will be a next time, however, since we so enjoyed the this time.  Smile

Thanks Karen for organising a really fun outing!

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