Hazy Days

the shadow of the life to come

Hazy Days

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Switching Curriculum

This month, Patrizia is hosting the SACHS carnival, focusing on that daunting topic: switching curriculum.

If you’re anything like me, the idea of switching curriculum is both scary and intriguing.  I like to investigate new things, but I’m also super comfortable with what’s working.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, y’know? 

But there does come a time when things may be “broke” and you need to fix it.  Over the past 6 or 7 years of buying and investigating curriculum we’ve had to ditch a few things along the way.  I’ve had to be ruthless and not hang on to sentiment too much.  I’ve had to go out on a limb and try new things.  Other times, I’ve humbly taken the advice of those around me – their experience having paved the way for me.  All in all, I’ve discovered that when certain red flags pop up, it may be time to investigate another approach.

Red Flag #1: your kid/s hate it…

Learning styles differ vastly from child to child.  There is no point pursuing a curriculum if your child dreads waking up to another day of school.  If your child hates it, it’s time to investigate why.  If all the signs suggest that it’s just not a good match for your child, ditch it. 

What we did: we tried various handwriting programmes over the years.  The tedium really got to the kids and they hated handwriting.  We tried easy programmes, colourful programmes, expensive programmes, no programmes at all!  Then I hit on a local programme.  Not only was it less expensive than its overseas counterparts, but it has clicked with my kids.  They love it! www.happyhandwriter.co.za


Red Flag #2: you hate it…

Ideally, it shouldn’t really matter if it’s mom’s favourite curriculum.  Mom should be ever-serving and recognise her child’s learning needs above her own, right?  Well, yes.  But, then again reality dictates that sometimes that just isn’t enough to motivate the family to enjoy the home schooling experience.  After careful consideration, if it’s really not working for you and your child is happy with another approach too, ditch the original.

What we did: we had our first experience of this, this year.  Our Science programme this year was just not working for me.  The kids weren’t too enamoured either.  Eventually, after slowing it down to a crawl, Science came to a complete halt.  It was then that I decided it was time to change.  Thankfully, the kids were super excited with what I found.  Read more about our Apologia Adventure here.


Red Flag #3: it’s no longer challenging / it’s too challenging …

Sometimes a curriculum can be really exciting and fun in the beginning.  Your kids are all interested and excited.  But then, somewhere along the line it’s no longer challenging.  Or perhaps it has jumped way above your child’s comprehension levels.  Now’s a time to decide: do we slow it down? do we pause and recap? do we put it aside for a while and try something else?

What we did: Maths was our quandary.  Kiera was happy with Singapore Maths.  Katie was loathing it.  At their appropriate levels it was: too challenging for Katie; just right for Kiera; too easy for Sam.  So I switched them.  While Kiera still does Singapore from time to time, I’ve switched her too.  Math-U-See is our new maths programme.  Being geared towards multiple learning styles, it really helps get the concepts cemented. ww.mathsusee.com

Red Flag #4: it’s no longer relevant…

This one is more obvious than most.  Your child may have moved on.  You all may have moved somewhere else.  Or there is a need to focus on something else. 

What we did: since we follow Sonlight (and love it!) we don’t get much formal South African history in the year.  We do in a more informal capacity, from living here and visiting museums like the District Six Museum or the Company Gardens. Our outings with Cape Explorers has us digging in our history and regional geography and biology too.  But, I feel that it’s important to do in depth studies on our country’s past and present.  So, every few years, we take a break from our normal fare and spend a year focusing on South African history.  Our 2013 year sees us doing just that through a local literature-based curriculum called Footprints on Our Land.  Because we are moving away from Sonlight for just the year ahead, and I don’t want Kiera’s Language Art programme getting out of sync with the Sonlight Cores we follow, I’ve decided to try out another Language Arts programme: Learning Language Arts Through Literature.


Red Flag #5: it’s taking up most of your day…

Opinions will vary on this one, but one of the reasons I chose to homeschool was to give my kids plenty of time to play.  There is compelling evidence that kids learn best through play.  And, besides, they’re kids and never again will they have long afternoon hours to make believe, dress up, climb trees and just be kids.  If our school work is taking all day every day, then it’s time to assess what needs to go.  Sometimes the problem is that it is too writing-intensive, or mom-intensive, or repetitive.  Solving that problem can be as easy as scaling down what you already have.  Or it could mean going back to the drawing board.

What we did: when things started to look a little like we were trying to stuff  a sausage-load of school into a skinny morning casing, I realised it was time to pare a few things down.  So we do Science 3-4 times a week and not 4-5.  My older kids read aloud to me 1-2 a week, while my younger kids still try read 4-5 times.  I don’t check everything everyday.  And we space out Art and Poetry too.  It works for us, although some days it all goes out the window!


Red Flag #6: you’re all bored…

If feeling bored is part of Red Flags 1 – 5, then by all means, think about changing.  But, if essentially you all quite like the curriculum, but are just feeling a little like you’re in a rut, then perhaps it’s time to take a break for a week or two and do something different.  If you’re normally more hands on, try a week of reading excellent books.  If you’re normally not hands on, set aside time to learn a new skill together. 

What we did: Sometimes we spice things up a bit with hands on activities, like this year when we made Inca medicine bags.  Other times we head out to the garden, or the botanical gardens, for a fresh perspective.  Lots of outings, time with our co-op and friends mean that we seldom get bored.  And if we do?  Then it’s time to spend a little less time on seatwork and more time cuddled on the couch reading the next chapter in our read-aloud.  A firm favourite for sure!

Of course, there may be plenty of other red flags more relevant to your family than ours.  And the green flags are in abundance too.  For us, the biggest green flag for our chosen core curriculum Sonlight is the daily “please read one more chapter!” requests from the kids!  And for that reason, I suspect that we will always have Sonlight books on our shelves.



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 October 2012 Carnival here: (coming soon)

time management tools

In my imaginary and intentional world, I am a super organised mom.  I have schedules for everything and everyone.  I am never distracted; never disorganised; never divergent; never dillydallying.  Our lives putter along to the contented hum of a house well run.  In my imaginary world. 

In my “this is really your life” world, I am forgetful, disorganised, distracted, and oftentimes, just plain lazy.  I don’t manage time so much as it manages me.  As in, “Oh no!  It’s 5 to 4, I forgot I need to get Kiera to gymnastics!  Quick, everyone into the car!  Now now now!  Quickly.  No you can’t take your lego model.  No we don’t have time for a wee.  Now now now!” 

It’s not unusual for a day to go by when I’ve left a trail of half-completed tasks behind me.  It’s ADD of the adult variety, no doubt. 

Somewhere between my imaginary world and my real world, lies a portal that I like to use from time to time, carrying bits from the world of my intentions into the world of my reality.  When things are humming along a little more purposefully, it’s usually because I’m actually utilising the tools of my intentional world.  When things are crazy and I’m feeling a little out of control (or a lot, for that matter) it’s usually because I’m not utilising those very same tools.  Although, truth be told, even if I were as organised and purposeful as I intend to be, life often happens to turn it all upside down anyway.  It’s those times when time management is more time survival than anything else – and irony of irony, it’s often the same tools that help me manage the ordinary times that then help me survive the hard times.

Remembering that they’re tools only and no cure-all for the ever present issue of too-little-time-too-much-to-do, here are some of things that help me manage life here a little better – when I’m borrowing heavily from my intentional world that is!  They’re nothing earth-shattering or even remotely original, but they help things run a bit more smoothly here in the Hayes house.


HelloMorningsI joined the Hello Mornings group last year and have kept going for what is now my third season.  The group simply exists to encourage mothers who want to kick-start their days with quiet time, exercise and planning.  There is no hard and fast rule about when one should be spending time in the Word.  In the morning works for some.  It doesn’t work for everyone.  Time has proven, however, that I’m a much more organised, intentional, happier mom when I wake before my kids; spend time in the Word in the morning; exercise in the morning and am ready to greet my kids before breakfast.  The freedom of home schooling means that I can sleep late if I want to.  It means that we can start our “school” work at 7, 8, or 9 in the mornings or even in the afternoon.  But, I know that I function best, and my kids function best, if we get going at a certain time.  Without a doubt, early, consistent mornings praying, reading the bible, exercising and even planning the day help my days run more smoothly.  Which is why I am grateful for the ladies in my Hello Mornings group who, by checking in each morning, help keep me accountable.  And, the added bonus is that we get to pray for each other in the safety of a likeminded caring context.

In a sentence? 

Regular morning routines of quiet time and exercise set the tone for the day.


I work best at night.  It’s a given fact.  If I could run my sleeping hours 1am-9am, I would be in heaven.  But, the reality is that the rest of the family functions differently and so do our commitments during the day.  I need to be up earlier and that means: going to bed earlier.  It’s amazing how refreshed I feel when I head to bed at 10pm.  Recently I read about studies showing that the less sleep people have on average, the greater their chances of weight gain and health problems.  Ok.  So there is something to be said for beauty sleep is there?  Note to self: get to bed early again tonight!

In a sentence?

Early to bed helps early to rise!


I’m not a foodie.  There.  I said it.  I’m grossly out of fashion, I know.  I can admire foodies from near and far.  I definitely appreciate a great meal.  I love to photograph food.  But hours and hours in the kitchen creating all sorts of culinary delights?  No, not me.  I’d rather write about it than cook it.  But reality is such that I have to cook.  And I prefer to do it as quickly as possible, as healthily as possible.  So, when things are chugging along on my well-oiled meal-planning machine, I a) plan the week ahead and buy in everything I need on the Monday while my daughter is at drama class and b) cook most of the meals for the week on Monday night.  Anything that can be frozen or kept in the fridge usually works.  It takes me 30 minutes to make most casserole type meals anyway, so why not spend an extra 15 minutes and make 3 or 4 meals?  After all, the kitchen is going to be a mess anyway – why not mess it up just one night instead of four?  I have all the stuff out anyway and so many meals have the same base.  For example, lots of meals have fried onions, greenpepper, tomato and mushroom as their base.  I’ve made, using this base, spaghetti bolognaise, bobotie, lamb curry, and chicken casserole at the same time.  Sometimes, I can make more than one meal with different bases, simply because they are easily overlapped and staggered preparation wise.  For example, this week on Monday I made meatballs (and froze half of them for a go-to meal); soup; a stew (in the slow cooker which slowly cooked overnight) and a roast chicken for that night.  The leftover chicken I could turn into soup or pasta and anything that wasn’t eaten could be frozen.  Of course, it doesn’t always work out well and more often than I like, I find myself at 6pm thinking Ah! What can I make for supper! all while staring forlornly at my half-empty fridge.   That’s when I know I’ve been neglecting my time management tools!     

In a sentence?

Planning meals for the week and cooking most on Monday works for me!


I have a sieve-brain.  No, scratch that—the holes of my brain are colander-sized by now.  If I don’t have appointments written on my fridge calendar and on my google calendar which syncs to my phone, I will forget them.  A couple of years ago I created a A2 sized laminated year calendar with South African school holidays and other important info.  I reprint an updated version each year – it costs me about R40, but it’s worth every cent.  It lives on my fridge.  I mark it up with a permanent pen and it really helps keep me sane!


I love the “at a glance” functionality of it. If appointments are not written up on the fridge, they’re in my phone. And together I usually get places on time. But… there are times I forget something or someone and feel hopelessly disorganised!

In a sentence?

Calendars and reminders keep me keeping time.


Time management and me work best if I follow some kind of schedule.  I am so incredibly distractible that, if I don’t have a guide to follow, I’ll be off on some tangent, flitting from thought to thought, room to room, task to task, accomplishing none and whittling away the day.  I have a daughter who is exactly like me.  And a couple of sons who are the masters of distraction.  While spontaneity appeals to me in many spheres, it’s not great for my day-to-day captaining of this schooling ship.  I’m totally sympathetic to the unschooling mindset; ideally it appeals to me, big time – but boy, it would be enormous amounts of hard work for me to effectively facilitate my kids’ learning!  So, a weekly schedule works for me.  Over the years I’ve managed to change it from an admin heavy monster that I first created, to a simple check list that, together with a well-structured, but still flexible curriculum (thank you Sonlight!), takes me about 10 minutes to prep once a week.  Each of my (reading) kids have their own “minimum” check list per week.  As long as they accomplish all the things on the list, they’re free to do it in whatever order they like.  Of course, I do guide and help, but it’s freedom within boundaries.

I keep a master copy like this, with a section for notes for myself for each child.


My 8-year old’s schedule looks something like this.  I don’t expect any of these things to be done every single day.  We work on a 4 day schedule with the 5th day for spill over/crafts/outings/extra work etc.  I fill in the notes section with anything extra that I need her to know or I need to remind myself.  At the moment, I’m mostly making up all her Language Arts stuff – so I do fill in that section quite a bit.


I tell you, since making this version of our weekly schedule, I’ve been freed up on the guilt front!  So, we didn’t get to maths today?  That’s okay – we can start with it tomorrow.  As long as the boxes are ticked by the end of the week, then we’re doing well.  And if they’re not all ticked?  That’s okay too – my notes will tell me what happened when.  Like this past week, half the boxes were unticked and I scrawled a big “SICK KIDS” across the page.  We managed lots of reading, some maths and a little language work. Probably more than they would’ve done at mainstream school since they were actually home sick the whole week.  Looking back on the year, I can see what we did when.  I know it’s totally groan-worthy for the non-box tickers amongst us, but for me, it works and keeps me sane. 

I also like to keep our books, stationery, workbooks etc all on the same shelf.  Trial and error over the years taught me that for my kids to keep track of their own stuff, they need to have it all in one container.  We used cardboard report file boxes last year, but they took a beating.  This year we found these cheapie green and grey plastic boxes at Waltons and they’ve been a winner for keeping things organised, in one place – saving so much time otherwise spent hunting for errant books! (Which does still happen from time to time, but nearly as much as it used to!)


Another win for these boxes is how easy it is to take school to all parts of the house.  This pic I snapped last week when the kids were all sick.  We gathered in the warm lounge for stories and then those who were well enough carried on with written work, while the sickies stayed prone on the couch (or, in Micah’s case, on my bed!)

In a sentence?

Organisers and schedules keep us on track.



Due to the fact that we are blessed with a house-help godsend in the form of Johanna, our daily chores are not nearly as intense as they are for many families.  If they were, I suspect I would be pounding on Fly Lady’s door daily for extra tips!  But, we do have chores and it helps if the kids know what they are.  They each have a couple of jobs to do.  Since they were little, their chores have been consistent, making tidy up time that much easier.  There is nothing worse than fighting with kids to do a task when time is of the essence.  My boys are still learning, so “tidy your room” doesn’t quite translate into a quickly tidied room.  But, the girls are now at the stage when I just have to remind them once to do their chores and they get done.  After dinner clean up goes quickly and smoothly with all hands on deck.  The boys pack away their own plates, the girls clear the rest of the table and clean the dining room.  Kiera sweeps the floor and Katie makes sure that the kids’ bathroom is clean before everyone goes to bed.  Sure, they often don’t clean to my level of expectation, but if I had to do all of those things on my own, it would take an extra 10 minutes.  As with everything, all those extra minutes saved with everyone pitching in means 10 minutes turns into 1/2 hour and 1/2 hour into an hour.  An hour extra for reading stories aloud before bedtime?  Definitely worth it!

My own chores vary from day-to-day and depending on whether Johanna is with us that day or not.  Some days, housework is a little more intense.  It helps to pair school work with chores to take care of two things at the same time.  Folding laundry can happen while supervising schoolwork.  Making lunch and listening to a younger child read aloud works too. 

In a sentence?

Establishing set chores for everyone means more time for fun stuff!

There are probably a million other little timesavers we employ in our home without ever thinking of them. But for now, these are a few of the biggies, that, when properly utilised, I find help me manage each day that much better.  I hope they are helpful for you too.

This post features in the upcoming August 2012 SACHS Blog Carnival about Time Management. To join the carnival or visit past carnivals visit the SACHS Blogs page. We hope you enjoy browsing!

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.


Free (occasional materials costs)


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



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!


Free (occasional materials costs)


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



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!)


R400 – R600 / term (more for competition classes)


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



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?


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


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



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.


R380 / term


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


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!


R40/ 1/2 hour lesson


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.



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!


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!



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


* 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

Alpacas at Helderstroom

This year with Sonlight we are learning all about Ancient and Early America.  We spent the first quarter of the year focusing on South America, particularly the time of the Incas and the Aztecs.  We’ve read the most amazing books detailing the lives of real people, interwoven into the lives of fictional characters.  Walk the World’s Rim brought tears to our eyes, as did The Secret of the Andes.  Living stories, written about true events, through the eyes of real people.  Just beautiful!

As a result of our learning, we all know quite a bit more about the life and times of Ancient America.  And, a thing or two about Llamas.  The Secret of the Andes is a story that focuses on the wealth that was the Llamas for the people of Peru.  It was impossible to finish that book without knowing that Llamas are generally gentle easy creatures that hum when they’re happy.

Shortly after we finished our section on South America and the dear llamas, we had an opportunity to go to an alpaca farm here in the Western Cape.  Not quite the mountains of Peru, but certainly cousins of the Llama and relevant to our studies.  We jumped at the chance and had a ball.

Thanks to the excellent organisation of fellow homeschool mom, Simone, we got to head out to Helderstroom Alpacas – a beautiful farm on the outskirts of Villiersdorp – deep in a beautiful valley.   There we were greeted by about 15 other homeschooling families and our generous hosts, Christopher and Alison Notley.  The Notleys hail from Zimbabwe and have only been farming Alpacas since the mid 2000s.  But, even in that short space of time, they’ve managed to create a thriving business: from farm to final product.  And we were privileged enough to have a guided tour through the entire experience.

Alpaca Outing - Homeschool Western Cape and other groups together enjoying an outing to the Helderstroom Alpaca Farm near Villiersdorp

Things began with Christopher explaining to us all about the history and origins of alpacas, along with quite a few interesting facts.  With the cocker spaniels running about and the brisk weather, Christopher’s beautiful English accent added to that farm-in-England feel.  Christopher, co-owner, explaining some of the history to us... Lovely for my older kids to hear some information that they already knew from our studies of South America

Alison introduced us to Olé, their friendliest little gal.  And she told us a little more about their twins, Salt and Pepper.  Twins are very rare in Alpaca world, and in the wild, the weaker twin does not survive for lack of care from its mother.

Alison, wife and co-owner introduces us to Olé the friendliest little gal ever

After a brief but superbly interesting introduction that was just perfect for a bunch of families ranging in ages from 2 to 72, we all got a chance to touch and cuddle the alpacas.  We were well instructed on the dos and don’ts around alpacas, including stroking them on the head.  That one is a no-no, as they find it very irritating and may just kick or spit in retaliation!

My eldest was the bravest to begin…

time to stroke Olé - some braver than others ...

But soon they all joined and the kids loved feeling the soft hollow fibres of the alpacas. 

IMG_8232but soon everyone wanted a chance

From the fields, we moved into the spinning room and shop.  There we were introduced to Brenda, who won a regional contest for the best skein of spun fibre.  I wish I had taken a picture of it – it was just beautiful!  All three spinners from Helderstroom, including Alison herself, placed first, second and third in the contest!  Quite impressive given that they have only been running for less than 10 years!

inside the shop and spinning room.  Brenda here won first prize in the regional spinning competition, with second and third prize taken by Alison and MaryAnn, the other spinner

Next, Alison explained to us all about the process of fibre to final product.  We learnt about shearing, carding, spinning, and more.  It was interesting listening to her talk about terms that we have just been reading about in our most recent read-aloud, The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  Set in the time of the early Puritans, there is much talk about spinning and carding of wool to make garments by hand.  It was delightful to see how little the modern day process has changed from hundreds of years ago!

Alison explains to the kids about to raw fibre to final product process - we learnt about carding (another familiar term from a recent Living Book we've read), skeins and more...

These handspun balls of fibre are all undyed.  There are 22 shades of natural alpaca and nothing in the Helderstroom Alpacas store is dyed.hand spun yarn

Machine spun yarn is for sale, but the handspun yarn is for Helderstroom’s use only.

machine spun yarn

They use local people to hand knit and weave the most beautiful garments.

some of the beautiful products...some of the most beautiful products - every single item is in its natural colour.  No dyed anything here!  There are 22 unique colours of Alpaca - some of these garments contain mixed colours, but none dyed!

beautiful!  Unfortunately its also VERY expensive due to a number of factors - but as the most superior yarn of them all, any item is to treasure!

But, due to the fact that alpacas only birth one baby (cria) every year, the final product is quite expensive!  It’s considered one of the most superior fibres of all for many reasons.  It’s one of the lightest fibres and is warmer than wool of the same weight as the fibres are hollow.  It doesn’t pill, shrink or stretch.  And it’s soft, non-itchy and simply beautiful.  I had a hard time not wanting every single item in the entire shop!  I did splurge on this pair of wrist warmers. 

wrist warmers was all I could afford!

A guilt-free splurge, as I remembered I hadn’t spent my "pocket money" that Craig and I have budgeted for each other each month.  I spent my entire month’s allowance purchasing a R200 pair of wrist warmers!  But, it was worth it as I’ve already worn them half to death and they still look and feel absolutely wonderful.  It’s perfect for our winter.  I’ve had my eye out for ones like these or fingerless gloves, but just cannot find them anywhere, so this really was a great buy!

they are amazing! :) warm and beautiful

We all had a good look around the store.  The kids bought some momentos too – Kiera a little alpaca knitted bag she plans to use as a small change purse, and Katie and Sam a keyring each.  Kiera signed the visitors’ book on our behalf.

Kids signed the guest book

I loved the natural feeling of the farm.  On the same line as the drying clothes, a few skeins of yarn hung waving in the wind.  By the time I got this shot, the clothing had been removed, but still, the beautiful picture was preserved.

Freshly spun skeins fluttering in the wind

The farm itself is just beautiful.  The Notleys have turned a decrepit old building into a beautiful home, and piece of land into a thriving picturesque farm.

beautifully renovated home - this house was about to be demolished when Christopher and Alison bought the land

Granny Bev joined us on this outing.  Despite the near cancellation due to dubious weather, we still all bundled up and braved the drive to Villliersdorp.  Granny had a lovely time with her grandkids and we thoroughly enjoyed having her too!  She was very tolerant of the Afrikaans’ Vrolike Liedjies album that was on repeat in the car, at the insistence of all four kids.

love these photos!  A granny and her granddaughter having a lovely time!

I love these pics of granny and Katie – such joy and love!  A true reflection of a great relationship!

heading off for our picnic time....

Just before the rains came, it was time to say goodbye to the farm.  What a wonderful experience it was!

bye bye Alpaca Farm!

Simone, our mom-co-ordinator, had arranged for us to picnic on a nearby farm, but with the looming clouds and spits of rain, she wisely relocated us to the church hall across the road from her home. 


About half the families stayed for the picnic.  It was a lovely time to reconnect and meet families too. 


We headed home in the driving rain, over Sir Lowry’s and back to Cape Town.  It wasn’t my most fun drive, by any means!  But we survived and lived to tell the tale.  Or blog it, should I say!

This past week, we spent some time working on a little "lapbook" project related to the alpacas.  The kids were given a snippet of alpaca fibre and yarn to take home, along with a little fact sheet.  This was the spark for my idea to put together a bit of a keepsake project.  That idea evolved into a full blown lapbook.  A first for me!

For the uninitiated – a lapbook is simply a set of exercises around a similar theme that are then compiled together to form a presentation on the topic. The exercises are really a thinly disguised way to relay the information they have learned or discovered. The "book" part is simply that the project can be folded to form a book-like opening. Sometimes they really do resemble books as the project is done on pages and bound together like a book.

To be totally honest, I’ve never really taken to lapbooks.  The idea of a glorified project brings back some unpleasant memories from school.  I never really enjoyed the paste-your-info-on-a-big-piece-of-cardboard-to-show-your-learning thing.  And lapbooks are really just a slight twist on an old theme.  But, since the girls have never done something like that, and since doing a few visual projects like these does teach some important skills in presentation of material, I thought that it wouldn’t be a bad thing to introduce the skills in the friendlier format of a lapbook.

So, last Friday I spent a couple hours putting together exercises for the girls to do around the theme of Alpacas.  In all my enthusiasm, I totally forgot about including their fibre and yarn!  Quite ironic, considering that was the impetus for the entire project!

But, even without the yarn, the projects turned out well.

Kiera worked diligently on hers and completed it yesterday…



The top piece entitled From baby alpaca to baby booties is a flap up showing the process of farm to final product.  The girls had to cut out the individual pictures and paste them in their correct order.


Katie and I collected some paint sample chips from our local hardware store that loosely represented the various colours of alpaca.  This went into a pocket especially allocated for the 22 colours of alpaca.


Kiera was quite proud of her project!


Katie was not nearly as enthusiastic about the whole thing – another reminder to me of how our children’s strengths and preferences are sometimes poles apart.  She balked at the writing required, even though we did each bit day by day.  She was not at all happy with having to do her heading over and over again until mom was happy that she had done it neatly enough.  But she did feel quite proud of herself when she eventually produced something neat and presentable. 


Even after all the moaning and groaning, she managed to complete the tasks and felt very proud of herself.  She couldn’t wait to show it to her dad, just as Kiera had shown him hers the night before. 


What I do like about lapbooks is that we can work on a number of different disciplines under the umbrella of one theme.  This project saw the girls learning more about computer work – learning to search for, find, save and print images.  They also had an opportunity to collate information and write it down in their own words.  Language Arts came into play with a letter they wrote to the owners thanking them for their visit.  Katie’s letter was a bit like pulling teeth – she hates writing so!  But, she did a great job in the end.  I had to laugh at her insistence of writing the first line as "thank you so much for your kind hospitality"!  What 7 year old speaks like that?  I had a quiet chuckle and then let her figure out how to spell such a big word all on her own.  I love how it came out in the end!



Kiera’s letter was also quite sweet, despite not being her neatest presentation.  She usually slips under the neatness radar as she is quite diligent about getting her work done.  Often, her morning’s work is completed before I have finished working with her siblings.  And she has three times the workload that they do!


All in all, our Alpaca experience was fun and informative.  Next time I will have to include some games for Katie who responds best when she is playing or creating learning games! 

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