Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Easter, the Spring Equinox

For many the "Easter" holidays are about chocolate, bunnies, religion and spring. Most have no idea of the origins of the name Easter, the symbols (eggs, bunnies, chicks etc) or the pre-Christianity traditions. For us, researching the origins of holidays has become a bit of a tradition in itself. My son's quest for knowledge has taught us so much. Easter's Pagan origin is recognised by most religions although not widely broadcast. 

For us, we have come to learn of this season as the celebration of the

For anyone wanting to learn more, I found a great site combining all the explanations of many others, and while long, is a great read. Easter History and Traditions is very informative, not judgemental towards any faith and covers more than most sites which tend to be either pro pagan or pro religion (neither of which is helpful as you don't want bias when looking for information). 

One of the things that has been a tradition for me for as long as I can remember, is the cooking of particular foods on these days. Fish and Seafood. Vegetarian dishes. Eggs, real ones not chocolate ones. It was always a highlight for us. So despite my difference in beliefs over this period (Pagan Roots of Easter) from the majority who celebrate the Christian version of the holiday, I wanted to share the foods that even my son now sees as tradition in our house. 

Symbols of Ostara and the Spring Equinox are eggs, rabbits, chicks, flowers and seeds. These symbols became the modern "Easter Bunny" and Easter Eggs (see above link at Easter History and Traditions). Many do not realise that these things symbolising fertility, new life and springtime are of pagan origin. So many don't realise why at Easter time, it was traditional to eat eggs (real ones) in cooking. Eggs were always on the menu for us at this time of year. Boiled eggs with runny, bright yellow/gold yolks, with toast (cut into strips for dipping into the yolk and called Soldiers when we were children) were always a favourite and are still my favourite thing to have Easter morning. Other mornings were scrambled eggs and omelettes. But the tradition of boiled eggs is my childhood memory that I've passed on and we look forward to choosing which cute egg cups to use.

It was also traditional to eat the last of the cured meats that they had stored for use over the winter. This time of year was also seen as a time to cut out some of the heavier foods eaten over winter and was a pre Christian version of the Lenten period. So lighter meals were eaten at this time, with lots of spring vegetables, eggs, lighter meats like chicken and fish, plenty of seeds etc.  

A favourite brunch recipe I have is for : Cheese and Potato Fritters.  I make many variations but the classic basic recipe is my son's favourite. Now I say "Brunch" only because it's a holiday and we like to sleep in on those days. So by the time we are up and about, breakfast has been and gone and it's Brunch.  I also have no set measurements for this recipe as it's something you learn from watching others make it time and time again. Yes I am one of those who cooks with a recipe only as a rough guide and often with no recipe at all, one of those who doesn't measure, gauges things by eye and learnt from an amazing cook who never measured and cooked from the heart not from a book. 

Cheese & Potato Fritters
  1. Peel and then grate 3 large potatoes into a mixing bowl. 
  2. Grate cheese to the same approx quantity and add to the mixing bowl.
  3. Add in some rock salt and grind some black pepper (if you wish). 
  4. Next, add two eggs and a few heaped tablespoons of plain flour to the mix. This is the 'wing it' part.  You may need more egg. You want to bind the mixture but with more of a sloppy consistency.  You don't want it to be dough like. You also don't want too much egg and it be like runny pancake mixture.
  5. You scoop a large tablespoon worth of mixture into a fry pan and have it sizzle when cooking (no sizzle and the pan is not hot enough). Then flip it to cook the other side. They are done when golden on each side (cheese has melted and potato cooked). 
  6. They are basic and easy once you've worked out your consistency. 
  7. Variations: you can add any or all of the following - corn kernels, grated carrot, grated zucchini, diced onion, diced capsicum, diced mushrooms, sliced shallots, etc. However whatever vegetable mix you add, needs an equal amount of grated cheese and more egg & flour.   

*** A cute Easter tip *** If you have some round metal egg rings, and you are fine with them no longer being round, either use a hammer or something with a little force, and you can squish them at one end and turn your round egg rings into 'Egg Shaped' egg rings.

These are PERFECT for cooking the fritters in, for making egg shaped pancakes, egg shaped toast, egg shaped cookies etc. 

The Menu Plan for our 4 day holiday goes something like this: 
  • Cheese & Potato Fritters 
  • Seafood Pasta
  • Fish & Rice dish with cream sauce 
  • Pancakes 
  • Quiche & Salad 
  • Roast Chicken and Vegetables
  • Boiled Eggs and Toast (Soldiers/Strips of toast)
  • Herbed Scrambled Egg
  • Chicken & Sweetcorn Pies
  • Croissants
  • Cooked Ham/bacon/cured meats
  • Hot Cross Buns
  • Spinach, Cheese & Bacon Pies

Celebrating Easter when you are not a Christian means you just don't recognise the aspects relating to Christianity.  However all the fun parts of the season are actually of pagan origin so you still get to take part and recognise all the good things.  Without the non Christians throughout many cultures in history, you wouldn't have Easter eggs, or the Easter Bunny. You wouldn't call it Easter either. 

We love Easter in this house and for us there is another reason that it is special. The day my son was born, was Easter Sunday (in that year). If ever there was a coming together of symbols of the season: fertility, new life, new season of life ... then it was that day for us. I often tell him he was the biggest Easter Egg I ever got and the most painful LOL  All 3.997 kilograms (8 pounds 13 ounces) of him!  He considers Easter his 'second' birthday. The photo below is my boy at 1 year old in his Bunny onesie. 

My son is not a crafty child so we don't do a lot of craft like most people do this time of year. However we decorate the house, have Easter baskets (make new ones or update the old one), have Easter Egg hunts, make our own Easter eggs, watch Easter Bunny type movies and generally enjoy relaxing during this time. 

We always leave out a carrot on a special bunny plate for the Easter Bunny.  The Easter Bunny always leaves a little bit of mess behind too. Usually there is a trail of little eggs through the house with fluff from the Easter Bunny. 

We also like to make Easter treats.  One thing that is a favourite to make are our own chocolates .  We also like to make marshmallows, rice crispy treats and rocky road.

So we are looking forward to the Easter holidays this year. Lots of cooking, lots of fun, lots of family time. Despite being in the Southern Hemisphere where we are embracing Autumn not Spring, it's still a lovely time of year LOL. 

From my family to yours, have a happy Easter and Spring Equinox. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Piano Lessons

Today was Warrior Kid's very first piano lesson. A group of Homeschool kids were starting lessons at one of the families homes, so we decided to give it a go. I honestly did not think my boy would do it, not that I don't have faith in him, it was just something he never showed interest in and he has always struggled in class/group settings especially with something new, but he wanted to try given that the children he liked playing with were giving it a go. 

I had pre warned the lovely teacher, did the ASD mum run down and hoped for the best. I liked her approach and loved that it was not learning sheet music and reading music but was using a right brained learning approach with patterns etc. It gave me the hope that if music was ever going to work for him then this was the way it was going to work.

So today was the first one. 

He had nerves all morning. 


Honestly I was so proud! Yeah you are thinking - that's what all mothers say LOL 

Not only did he last the lesson and do what he was asked (which is a struggle for an ASD child who has learning disabilities and ADHD on top), he coped in a group and when all the mums came into the room to see what they had learnt, he asked to get up and play the part of the song they had learnt so far. No mistakes. Great timing. NO ANXIETY!!!

I had a smile, clapped with all the other mums, looked cool and calm when he looked at me. Inside I was doing a little happy dance and having my own little party. Oh Em Gee!  

He has since come home and gotten out his little 'toy' keyboard and been practising and showed his father.  I am hoping the enthusiasm keeps up and he continues to progress. Even if it doesn't though, getting through today was such a huge deal for us. 

So that was today. A music lesson. Piano Day. NAILED IT! 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Handwriting Helpers!

Many of us have children who struggle with handwriting. While many have tried different methods, fun materials, lots of encouragement etc, often the problem is low muscle tone in the hands and pain when handwriting. 

One thing we have done lots of, is therapy.  We spent years (5+) having Occupational Therapy (OT) and concentrated on fine motor skills, specifically strengthening the hand muscles for handwriting. These days our OT is for both gross motor and fine motor, and helps with my son's Joint Hypermobility Syndrome and his super low tone. Point is, we've done the hard yards, we've done all the recommended exercises and home therapy programs too. We've tried every finger grip and type of pencil we could find and we got to a point where my son could write, and write neatly (when he put his mind to it) but still could not write a lot and not fast. It still hurts him. Given his condition it probably always will. I doubt he will become a Calligraphy artist LOL. 

Now I admit, you get sick of looking for new options and searching online.  So I haven't done it in quite a while.  But I found two things last month that have been working really well for us and I wanted to share.  

First is the RinG-Pen Ultra.  I bought it from My Diffability Australia. This has been my son's preferred option for handwriting. All other pencil grips still required him to put the pressure on the pencil to hold it so no matter how soft the grip was, how bulky it was etc, he still had to hold his fingers there using his muscles and that got painful. The Ring-Pen Ultra is a little different. It holds the pencil or pen and you put it on your finger like a ring and lay the finger in place. The ring grip holds the pencil in place, not the muscles of the finger. My son has said he doesn't have to grip as hard and can rest his fingers more. My son (like me) is ambidextrous and we have been able to use it on both hands with no trouble. Really loving it! 

What's fantastic about this little gadget, is that you can also use it for cutlery and things like paintbrushes. My boy uses the small size (yellow) while I use the medium (white) and large (black) sizes. Yes I bought all three so he has them as he grows.

The other item I bought from My Diffability Australia is the Twist n Write Pencil (you can get a pen as well) and some refill packs (think awesome new version of a Pacer led refill pencil). These are super cute and I think the fun factor is what my son loves.  He uses these when doing Mathematics mainly. I think because he isn't writing as much (as mentioned above he likes the RinG-Pen Ultra for larger amounts of writing) and he said it makes numbers easier to form.  I've seen the improvement in his number writing so I'm converted LOL.

Anyway, both are great, wanted to share in case others are struggling to find something other than the standard versions of pencil grips.

While I am at it, I will also say (and no I am not being paid in anyway for this review) that the company My Diffabilty Australia, were fantastic to deal with. Having a son with Aspergers there are things I need to request for him colour wise. I couldn't have a pink Twist'n'Write Pencil turn up in our pack LOL. So I emailed them and they made sure our multi pack was definitely a 'no pink' pack. They were fast to reply, happy to help and I found their ordering system great and their website easy to navigate. 

If you already use these products, would love to hear in the comments below.  

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Riding for Disabled - Rainy Day Bonus!

Today was our weekly horse riding lesson at Riding for Disabled.  Warrior Kid loves it, it's the highlight of his week.  This is the start of our 3rd year and he has progressed so much. 

My son has Aspergers (plus a stack of co-morbid disorders) and also some physical problems. He does well in the small class of 3 and looks forward to seeing the other kids and the volunteers each week. 

Today - it rained.  A LOT!  It started halfway along our drive so I decided to keep going in case it stopped when we got to riding.  Everyone was in the shed having morning tea and hoping the rain would stop.  It was heavy and the middle of a storm. I was thinking we'd stay 10 minutes and to be honest it did not look like the storm was going to end any time soon and the horses would be wet and not up for a ride anyway. 

But that's when it happened. The child who I have at home all the time, the chatty, bubbly, funny, over excited child appeared.  While he likes the other kids, today there was none (they were clever and avoided the rain LOL) and so he let his guard down. There was no other child to compete with for attention, that he had to put on his 'brave face' or mask for, it was just the volunteers.  While he always talks to them, it's more a case of him answering questions and needing to be prompted to say hello etc. I think they were all in shock today when he talked their legs off!  Luckily for them his topic of choice was his pets as they could follow along in the conversation (if you can call it that as he barely came up for air!). I imagined the looks on their faces had it been Pokemon. Phew.  

He talked, and talked, and talked - for an hour. Then the rain stopped. Just as it was time for us to leave.  As the next session of children had not arrived (because of the weather), Warrior Kid was asked if he wanted a ride. No Saddle, no stirrups, just a soft riding pad (in case the weather turned nasty again).

Well what a difference being the only child in a lesson made! He was relaxed and calm, usually he is quite tense, fairly quiet and a bit standoffish.  He was able to communicate with the volunteers so much better, not getting frustrated.  He was able to control the horse 'with his mind' he said. The volunteers were a little stunned at the difference too. "He is so much more mature this year", "He looked like he was meditating on the horse", "one on one worked so well for him". 

It was such a great feeling to watch these lovely volunteers really SEE the child I get to deal with at home for the first time in 2+ years. I often wonder if people really understand when I explain what he was like when he was at school and the huge change since homeschooling and the great child I get to see at home everyday. I don't think they really GOT IT till today. When I mentioned that today's child is the one I have at home and why I know homeschooling is best for him I got nods of agreement and genuine smiles. When I said that one on one is truly what works best for him, they knew I was right. 

And you know what, I don't really look for validation, or need it, but gee it's nice to get. 

So today's rainy day turned out to be a bonus private lesson.  One that Warrior Kid loved especially since it was different to normal (no saddle or stirrups) and he had no anxiety over the change either. 

Ironically, while the lesson ended and we were all discussing how great he'd done, the sun came out.

Friday, 13 March 2015

This was NOT the plan!

No this was definitely NOT the plan! I have a son. His father and I always agreed that when it came time for the puberty talk especially regarding all the 'boy stuff' that it was going to be his father talking to him, not me. After all, had I had a daughter I would be the one telling her about all the 'girl stuff' as I know my partner would NOT be up for that conversation. However being that he is a man, he's been through it, we agreed he would do the boy talk.

So far we've had the general birds and bees talk, we've discussed where babies come from and been very factual (like you can be anything else when talking with someone with Aspergers). We've read "Where did I come from?", we've watched TV shows like 'My Great Big Adventure' that had an episode on puberty. The topic has been raised and been talked about in general.  But the BOY talk ..... well that was planned for soon, just not today, with me being the only parent at home. 

I bought books that were delivered today. A general stash with some science, history etc but the seller also had books called "What's Happening to Me" and "Sex Ed". I bought them to be ready. I bought them for my son's father to read to him. Soon.

That did NOT go to plan

You see I left the book pack on my desk and went to have a shower.  When I got out of the shower, guess who had gone through the stash.  It's close to his 10th birthday and I think he was snooping for possible presents (can't blame a kid for that when I do it myself LOL) and I've never told him that books were off limits so he isn't in trouble for looking. Kicking myself that I didn't put them up on a high shelf or something though!  

Now I will say this, it was fine reading and talking through these books with my son. I mean if I was a single mother I'd be doing it. I have no problem telling my son what he needs to know, but that wasn't the plan LOL. I am not going to lie, I think we were both a tad embarrassed. 

Despite my generation being told a lot more than generations before us, I personally was never given 'THE TALK', no not ever, by either parent, so I had no personal experience to go off with how to do THE TALK. My parents never told my sister either, I had to. That was just one kid telling another basics that I'd worked out myself. Certainly no experience with a boy talk. But I think having a boy with Aspergers helped as he likes facts and facts kept the embarrassment factor at bay a little. Over all I think it went fine, the odd funny comment here and there from Warrior Kid and the combined look of shock and horror and a little awe (LOL) at the pictures, especially of the naked girls when discussing the girl sections of the books, but we survived, and I can add this milestone to my long list of "Mum duties done well!"

I do feel a little ripped off though. I mean when it comes to everything else regarding my son, I do it. I teach him every day, I do the medical appointments, I do the therapy, I do the night time dramas, I deal with his pain issues, I clean up the nose bleeds, I plan the birthdays, I make the cakes, I do the shopping, I wrap the presents, I notice when he is outgrowing clothes, I do the hair cuts, I cut the finger nails - I do it all. I thought FINALLY there was ONE thing that I didn't have to do. One responsible parent thing that I could dodge. But Damn! 

So I survived, he survived and his father will get home tonight none the wiser and I'd say rather relieved when he hears the news. But he is not getting off that easy. He is going to be sitting down and giving the Dad version of what I covered today. Not because I think my son missed any info from me, but because I need to share this, I'm caring like that *insert sarcasm here!*. No really, he needs to have his turn at the BOY talk. Just so I can watch him squirm LOL. He will be fine, I have books for him. Even one that Warrior Kid didn't find! It's also a 'Whats Happening to Me?' but the boys book by Usborne Press

So have fun Dad, I broke the ice for you ;)  It should be easy for him right?


Adventure: Longreach

In June 2013, Warrior Kid and I took our first "Educational Adventure".  

Destination: Longreach, QLD

We decided to take the "Spirit of the Outback" train out to Longreach and back rather than driving.  Due to the train timetables and the fact they don't run daily, it worked out we'd have 5 days in Longreach.  I started to research what to do in those 5 days and boy oh boy did we fully fill those 5 days! 

My first piece of advice if you are planning this same trip = Book with Kinnon & Co tourism operators. Such a great company, great tours and itinerary planning and the accommodation was great too (and even better now with new themed cabins etc). Even if you are driving out there and staying elsewhere, they are a MUST to contact to book their tours. 

My second piece of advice if you are getting the train = book a sleeper cabin. We had economy seats on the trip up and when travelling with a child, well neither of us got any sleep in the reclining chairs and a bed for the night would have made a world of difference.  Needless to say on our journey home we upgraded to a sleeper cabin ;) 

Now because I have SO many photos and we saw SO much, I am pre warning you that this is a LONG blog post.  I will try and sort it based on our itinerary to give you an idea of what we were able to fit into each day. 

Day 1 - Depart Roma Street Station in Brisbane City approx 6pm (Tuesday)

When we got to Roma Street, we checked in our bags (yes there are a lot, due to ASD needs we had one suitcase just for bedding, one with sensory stuff and foods etc then all the clothes!) and got some dinner from a nearby food court.  The train was slightly delayed and when it arrived it was noisy (so sensory issues kids will need ear muffs). Found out that due to us telling staff at booking that we had an ASD child, we got given our own train car! It was rather eery LOL.  But relaxing for my son. Tip for techy fans, power points for charging devices are found in the centre seats/middle of the carriage. We found seats and put our bags down and went to wave goodbye to Dad who was staying home to work, look after the pets and unfortunately end up stuck in the city with a broken down car that night! 

Once the train left, we went exploring and in the dining car they had snacks for sale and had put a kids movie on the little TV's for the kids. Once it was bed time, we found it hard to sleep in the reclining chairs. Even a child has no leg room and the armrests do not lift up so they can't lay across seats either. It was a difficult night. Photos show the limited space and how dark it will get with all the lights off.

Day 2 - Full day on the "Spirit of the Outback" train, arrival in Longreach 7pm (Wednesday)

In the morning, the dining car is open and serves basics like toasted sandwiches, ham and cheese croissants, tea, coffee, fruit, juice etc.  We were not due to arrive in Longreach till 6pm that night so spent the day looking at scenery, reading, playing on the iPad, watching movies in the dining car.  There is basically no mobile phone reception the entire trip and no wi-fi.  So for kids that rely on idevices, it may be challenging.  For mums who love to upload photos to social media it also provides some withdrawal challenges! Lunches available included toasted sandwiches, chicken caesar salad, wraps etc. Not the cheapest but you get that. 

We stopped for about 20 minutes in Barcaldine, just short of Longreach so that everyone can quickly hop off the train and have a look at the Tree of Knowledge if they wish.  It was nice to get some fresh air and once back on the train we had about half an hour before we'd depart at Longreach so it was a good chance to get packed up and ready.

When we arrived, the Kinnon & Co bus was there to pick us up and take us to our accommodation.  On arrival (which was in the dark) we were escorted to our direct cabin so no stumbling around in the dark. They had lights on ready for us on the porch and inside. They also had signs letting us know that Eagle Boys Pizza delivered straight to your cabin for dinner.  PERFECT for a mum who has travelled 24 hours on a train with no sleep and with a grumpy hungry child in tow. Called for pizza and they deliver right to your cabin, nice and quick, lovely staff :)

Day 3 - Longreach (Thursday)

  1. Kinnon & Co: The Cobb & Co Experience.
    45-minute stagecoach ride (Longreach tour and gallop), Smoko (morning tea which for us was tea and scones), Australian classic movie, Harry Redford Old Time Tent Show.

    This was such a great thing to do with my son. He loved the horses, the copious amount of dust that cover you in the carriage (and getting de-dusted afterwards with the lawn blower LOL), the fact we all got given headphones to hear the commentary on the tour so my son was able to hear it clearly. You are taken out of town, onto 'The Common' and that's where the gallop takes place. Once back at the Station Store area, you go into the old theatre to watch the movie which was great and the Old Time Tent show was very funny.  PS if you want the least amount of dust in the carriage ride, sit with your back towards the front of the carriage ;) 

    It's all located behind their Station Store so you can also get your souvenir shopping done afterwards. My son got his 'outback' hat as he called it, in an adult size, for only $25 and it's fantastic quality. By the time we had done everything (we had the first morning tour booked)
    , it was around 1.30pm.

    We walked around town and had a late lunch and headed to the small grocery store (Foodstore/IGA type).  Got some food for the next few days and then as we had no car, called a cab and headed back to the cabin for a few hours rest before our next tour (see point 2)

    On a side note: the taxi company that we used out at Longreach had a maximum rate for their trips around town and that was $10. So it did NOT cost us much at all to get around. They never took longer than 5-10 minutes to come and pick you up, happily stopped at an ATM for me and then we continued our trip. From Kinnon & Co lodges to the main street (and Kinnon & Co office and Station Store) is only 5 minutes.
  2. Kinnon & Co: Thomson River Cruise. Sunset Cruise experience includes:Sunset Cruise on a historic Paddlewheeler or Riverboat, Traditional Stockman’s dinner & dessert with bush poetry, Starlight’s Spectacular Sound & Light Show as well as transfers to and from accommodation.

    This was by far the best thing we did on the entire trip! The bus picked us up from our accommodation about 4pm that afternoon, we had a very funny commentary to entertain us on the way to the river which started the afternoon off well. The cruise was lovely, my son got to steer the paddlewheeler, one benefit to being the only child on a tour full of over 50's LOL. Watching the sun set over the river was beautiful. We then get off the boat and went up to the seating and camp fire area for dinner.

    The food was top quality and very yummy. Keep in mind (and unless it's changed since we went) this is NOT a sit down at tables with fancy dinner wear type of dinner.  This is a tin plate and tin mug on your lap while sitting around a campfire listening to a fabulous story teller and having a great laugh. Kids might find it a little tricky but we managed and it was all part of the experience. They were also wonderful with the fact my son has ASD and has food issues and gave us one of each (of the two options) so he could pick and choose. Made life that little bit easier!

    After dinner everyone heads to the riverside stage and seating that has been set up and watches an amazing sound and light show. Very well done and professional.  The bus takes you straight back to your accommodation too.

Day 4 - Longreach (Friday)
Another busy day! All planned out though by the lovely staff at the Kinnon & Co booking office. Three places to visit today. Each one is a 'get to the location yourself' thing but that was easy with the help of the taxi and the maximum $10 fare cost. I actually only got charged $5 on two of the trips. 

  1. Longreach School of Distance Education: This may not be on everyone's 'must see' list but because we were doing Distance Education at the time, it was on our list.  It was 'just up the road' so one lady told us.  It just happened to be a LONG road.  For anyone with health problems - get a taxi ;)  It was a long walk for my boy, he has leg problems and this was too much for him and made him tired for the rest of the day. The actual tour was informative and gave my son a great insight into learning when you lived in the outback on remote properties. He loved it.

  2. The Powerhouse Museum: This was also not something that you hear about and think to put it on your list. But when our itinerary was done up by Kinnon & Co, it was on the list so we figured why not.  Again, loved it!  You need to wear a hard hat but other than bad hair that's not an issue.  We were allowed to walk around on our own and explore and there is SO much stuff to see and touch. Huge buildings and grounds. What I thought would be a quick half hour turned into much longer.

    We headed back to our cabin for lunch but you can easily walk back into town from the Powerhouse museum and have lunch there.

  3. The Qantas Founders Museum & Jet Tour: AMAZING. We had a tour through the planes (747 & 707) and my son was allowed to sit in the pilots seat, ask a million questions and we weren't rushed. Unless you book a 'wing walk' you can't go out on the wing but you can see it up close from an open door in the plane. You can even stand in the front of the engines! We learnt a lot and then headed inside to explore.

    In the Museum there was a lot to see and do, unlike some museums that are just pictures on a wall. It was enough to hold an 8 year olds interest, but not as much as outside where it was all hands on.

    We only had a few hours in total that afternoon so were a little rushed, could have easily spent a few more hours I think.

Day 5 - Winton (Saturday)
Today we had booked a full day bus tour out to Winton. Again organised through Kinnon & Co.  We were picked up from our accommodation at 6am (in the dark LOL). The drive to Winton from Longreach is just over 2 hours from memory.  
  1. Age of Dinosaurs: It was worth going on this tour JUST for this. Even if you are not into dinosaurs, the view is worth it ten times over. Stunning. You drive out on flat ground for what feels like ages, then a hill appears and the bus makes it's way up. They call it a 'Jump Up' and when you get to the top can walk over to clearings on the edges, well WOW, just WOW.  You don't see views like that anywhere else. The actual Age of Dinosaurs centre and museum was fascinating to see and my son could have spent all day there.

    First you go into the workshop and have a tour in there. We found this much more interesting than the later museum as work is actually being done while you watch. You can touch the giant plaster wrapped bones, see them arranging bones, cleaning them. Then you go for a bush walk between the workshop and the new museum. It's beautiful scenery and you get to a lookout for more photo ops before getting to the museum building.

    The building is made to blend in with the natural rock surrounding and photos don't do it justice, it's a stunning building. Inside they are displaying the bones and piecing together the dinosaurs. There is a cafe and shop as well.

  2. Waltzing Matilda Museum: A great place to see, and all the adults on our tour raved over it. My son was not as impressed. The Waltzing Matilda Centre wasn't his kind of museum, not as hands on, a lot more reading and paintings. We watched a sound and light show which was very good, but didn't last too long in the rest of the centre. So while everyone else spent hours in there, we went outside and explored the Opal shops. One next door to the museum had a wheelbarrow full of rocks and a bucket of water .... for the kids to wet the rocks and discover the opal in them. THIS is what my son loved and spent an hour doing. We got a lovely bag full of rocks to cart around for the day and fit in our suitcases LOL. Lunch was at the Museum cafe and included in the tour.

    ** Edited 2016 - Sadly The Waltzing Matilda Museum was destroyed by fire in 2015 but hopefully the Town of Winton can rebuild it.
  3. Tour of Winton town: including stopping at the Musical Fence, Arno's Park (a recycled junkyard fence and artworks), The Winton Club and visiting the Pub for a drink. The musical fence is GREAT for kids. Everything there is made of recycled junk and all musical. A good way to get them to let off some pent up energy before the long drive back to Longreach.  The Pub aka The North Gregory Hotel, has been refurbished and when you walk in you realise why it's on the list of places to stop at. We even had to check out the town's rubbish bins which just happen to look like giant dinosaur feet!

Day 6 - Longreach (Sunday) Our last day in Longreach. 

  1. Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame:  The Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame is one of the best museums I have been to. There is so much hands on stuff for the kids to do, Warrior Kid was entertained (and learning!) for hours. We also saw the Outback Stockman's Show which was great. Once the show had finished (and we'd already spent a few hours in the centre) it was time to head to the restaurant for some late lunch. It's located on the grounds but quite a walk from the centre.  If you are staying at the Kinnon & Co Lodges (next door), the restaurant is half way between the Lodges and the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame centre.

  2. The restaurant was our last 'outing' for the trip as it was our last afternoon and we had packing to do. Just as well because the enormous size of the servings meant we wouldn't have been able to walk around sight seeing anyway!  Best steak I have ever eaten. I am not a 'food' photo person but I took photos which of course don't do it justice. But 4 large scoops of ice cream is a children's serve, you need a seperate large dinner plate JUST for your veges because they don't fit on the same large dinner plate with the steak and mash. Insane LOL. The gardens are full of statues and also visiting kangaroos.  Beautiful to sit and eat lunch watching them wandering around. After lunch we walked back to our cabin and along the walk are lots of memorials, plaques and of course a great view of the Qantas Museum and airport across the road.

Day 7 - Depart Longreach 7am (Monday)
Early start as we leave Longreach today. The bus picked us up at 6am to get us to the train station and checked in. The train was due to leave at 7am. We got to watch the sunrise from the station and in the train which just added to the experience. For the return journey we had booked a sleeper cabin. This was the best decision ever LOL.  Not only is there room to stretch out, you get privacy (important to an ASD child) and all meals were included. I was very impressed and the food and service in the dining car was fantastic! Again I am not someone who usually takes food photos but even I had to get in on the fad! Having a bed to sleep on was great too of course!

The trip home was filled with lots of scenery, more reading and iPad time, checking out the 'upper class' areas this time like the lounge car, and chatting to everyone in the dining car at meal times.

Day 8 - Arrive Brisbane 8.30am (Tuesday)
Due to some delays between stations coming home, we were about an hour and a half late.  We had no dramas at Roma Street station and thankfully the car had been fixed while we were away so we have transport home. Our suitcases gathered a LOT of dust on the trip home too! I think we both slept for a full day once home. You don't realise how much you do when away. I'd go again though, it was such a good experience and if it didn't get so hot there in summer I'd move there! 

To summarise - loved it, would go again in a heart beat if we could, highly recommend it and as a bonus, I got some 'family favourite' photos for the lounge room wall so have a daily reminder of this wonderful adventure :)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Right Brain Learning

Have you ever heard the term Right Brain Learning? I first heard about it on a homeschooling group about 2 years ago and reading up on it was one of the best things I could have done. You see it describes my son, and myself. 

The first thing you should do, to understand what Right Brain Learning is, is watch two videos that I have linked to. It's one interview (in two parts) that's about 40 minutes in length. It's one of those videos though that once you start watching, the time flies past and you don't notice the length because it's so informative.

These are the links to RIGHT BRAIN LEARNING PART 1 to watch and this is RIGHT BRAIN LEARNING PART 2 for you.

From the videos, the one thing that I remember the most was that 60% of children in this current generation need to learn using right brain teaching techniques. It's not just for the left handers, it's for anyone with a learning disability or with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

My child LEARNS best using a right brain learning approach. He is diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, has multiple learning disorders and is very ambidextrous - so he definitely benefits from a Right Brained approach!

I will admit, that prior to realising the differences, I would have described my son as being Literal, Scientific, very verbal, very analytical .... I still do. I described the left brain learner. However these traits are something that I have found are present in him AFTER his brain has been effectively 'switched on' using a right brain method. My son is very ambidextrous like me so it doesn't surprise me that he has traits from both sides. However if I approach teaching him, in a purely left brained approach, I am met with glazed over eyes, a brain off in another world, a child not taking in anything. While he might like to give ME lists and steps and plans, reasons and logic, those are a PRODUCT of his learning, the end result - NOT the way he starts off. His brain switches on, with visuals, colour, hands on, being given the big picture and working backwards. Finding the doorway to get the learning happening is the key.  Once you have that, then you can really get somewhere. 

How does it work for us? 

We have charts, posters, placemats, books, DVD's, interactive online programs, iPad apps, coloured workbooks, different coloured whiteboard markers even get more connection than a black one! 

If it's Maths we use a coloured workbook, coloured counters, coloured working paper, physical objects to count with, patterns and 'tricks' (pattern methods or shortcuts) and often completely out of the box ideas that my son comes up with himself. He will often draw (and I use that term loosely!) what he calls 'brain maps' or thinking plans on his little whiteboard, of what he needs to remember or the order to do something in. For anyone else to look at, it's often not clear what you are looking at, but it's his thinking put into visual form. It's often called Mind Mapping or Visual Thinking. Once he explains what you are looking at, it makes perfect sense.

He cannot learn times tables by 'rote learning' like a left brain learner. So it's 'tricks' and patterns and ways to work each one out. Once he has that connection and it's learnt, then he will be analytical and logical about them, but its a product of the process, not the way he learns it. 

For subjects like History and Geography, we take a holistic approach. We use timelines, charts and maps.  He needs to see the big picture first before we tackle each area. He needs to see each part learned come together to form the whole.  We use a subject blocking approach and unit studies are a big success.

Reading, Spelling and English are hard areas for my son. While being overly verbal with a very advanced vocabulary, he struggles to sound out a word.  He will prefer to learn a whole word as a sight word, rather than learn it by sounding it out. He see's the whole picture, not the separate parts. If he learns it in connection with pictures or actions then it's even easier. 

He would struggle to read a book and comprehend what he has read, but give him the chance to be silent and listen to someone else read it, while he closes his eyes and imagines it with pictures in his head and his comprehension testing scores increase and are at 98% and a level far beyond his years. He will remember the intricate details of a story 100 times more than being read to if he can SEE it. So learning via DVD or ipad is even better for him. Our literature units include us reading the book together so he can hear the book and comprehend better, we watch the DVD version if there is one, we do visual work using lapbooking/notebooking, we do activities to give him hands on connection to it. The traditional teaching methods of rote learning the alphabet, teaching spelling and phonics, reading comprehension by reading to themselves, all on paper, in a book, at the desk or sitting on the floor. It was pointless for my child. My son still to this day cannot sing you the alphabet song. He can tell you what a letter is if you show him, but to him, they are letters, not a song, and will often asked who picked them to be in that order for the song in the first place?  That isn't the way he sees them. Give him a visual and he does much better.  The letter 'b' is a bat with a ball when it comes to writing it. A 'd' is a dogs body, up for head, down for tail.  A 'c' is a curl.  That's how he learnt to write his letters, all with pictures to SEE in his head. Just looking at a letter and copying over and over has no connection for him. 

If you have a child who you know is bright, but doesn't seem to connect and struggles to learn, research Right Brain Learning.  It might be the key you need to unlock their potential. There is a LOT of information out there on the subject. The links I put above are a great starting point and told in very entry level language with practical examples and suggestions. 

Just on a side note, I wanted to post a photo as an example of how the same thing/process/photo can be viewed differently by a left and right brain thinker and how a 'wrong' can be so very right for someone of the other thinking style. 

Example: Stacking books from a series into a bookshelf, done by a left brain learner, is stacked from left to right. I've always stacked from right to left (I'm a right brain thinker). My son does it too. My partner (left brain learner) tells us we are doing it wrong. He says books get sorted from left to right, just like you read a page left to right. This is a photo of a shelf in our bookcase: 

As you can see, I stack from right to left. Now before all you left brain learners tell me this is the wrong way to do it. Listen to my reason why.

Look at the writing on the spine of the book.

Have you ever noticed that the writing is always facing the one direction. 

If the writing went in the other direction, then I would stack left to right. 


For me, when I turn my head to read the writing on the spines of books, and especially books in a series, if stacked from right to left, the first book in the series is then at the 'top' of the stack. That makes sense to me, having the first book on top.  Having the first book on the bottom (if stacked left to right) is not the way it should be in my view. I see THAT as backwards and confusing when I am reading the spines as I then don't read them in order.

So here is the SAME photo, turned on it's side, so you view it the way you would if you tilted your head to read the spines: 

For a right brain learner, this looks correct. You have the first book of the series at the TOP of the pile. All the spines can be read in order. 

THIS is correct for us. It has logic, it has reason, it has purpose and it is 'out of the box' thinking.  

A left brain learner doesn't see things the way we do, can call it wrong time and time again, but they don't think like us, and unless a right brain learner pointed this out, they wouldn't see it or contemplate that 'backwards' for them can actually be 'forward thinking' and another version of right. 

I wanted to post that example to show you that a change in view point, a change in the way you teach a concept, a change in the set up of a teaching environment and a change in our attitudes of what we consider the right and wrong ways in regards to work production, presentation and thought process - from left brain teaching to right brain teaching (for the child who is a right brain learner) can not only help the student, but it can help the parents/teachers understand the child, see things they've overlooked in the past and reduce stress significantly. Happy child = Happy mum = Happy Homeschool!  

Do you have a Right Brain Learner? Feel free to comment below and share any tips you have found work well. Thanks for reading! 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Using the Block Work Method - History

Welcome to part 2 of my discussion on subject blocking. In this blog post I wanted to look at the aspect of working in a block with other subjects and themes, as my previous post was more focused on how it works for us with Mathematics.

To fully understand this post, it's best to have read the first post already so click here to have a read if you haven't already.  

Like with any method, you make it work for you and put your own spin on it so anything I post is my way of doing things and by no means is the only way to do it! I just wanted to put it out there as so many people have preconceptions from mainstream schooling and follow that at the start, trying to do it all, all at once. It took us almost a year to get into this and seemed to be the only person I knew who was working this way.  It's worked so well for us, I wanted to spread the word.

So lets get down to part two! 

From my previous post you'd know that I do Math's in blocks (can be a whole day here and there between bigger blocks - or a week block) and I do everything else that way too. Science is usually a week at a time. Topics covered are what is in the workbook we are using but can also be based on documentaries we are watching etc. While we might be covering lots of topics in one science block, another could be all about electricity and rather than covering basics that they forget from one week to the next, we can work on it all week and they can learn much more about each topic.

Then we have Literature Units for English. This subject is a two week block usually. Completely dedicated to the book we are reading. The first one for this year was "Treasure Island". In that two weeks we watched three movies to go with the book, we did notebooking / lapbooking literature unit work to accompany the book, we did pirate based activities, covered some mapping skills, geography, spelling words etc.  So for two weeks conversations were even on Treasure Island and the characters.  My son can really get into the topic and is not distracted or stressed fitting in other subjects or topics (even though we have technically added in art, geography, spelling and cooking to the block). It's all on theme and he not only learns better with it, but remembers what he's learnt. Then after the two weeks, it's done and he is keen for the next theme/block.  In the past, both with a distance education curriculum, and at school, and even my own schooling days, reading books in class and for units of work, took up a whole term.  It was dragged out, became very boring despite how good the book might have been, and other than the actual book, not many children remember any of the work they did with it. I also find that the longer it's dragged out, the more you have to go back and re-read parts of the book to jog their memories. So that adds yet more time. In a block you don't have that issue at all.

Now for the big ones - my favourites!  History and Geography! While I wanted to make sure my son learnt what what covered in the Australian Curriculum (plus a WHOLE lot more!), I didn't like the way it was planned out and spaced out over way too many grade levels when it came to History and Geography. You see in Australia, our History and Geography curriculum is spread out doing a little each year. Themes are split up and fragmented. That doesn't teach a child how things connect together.  If they learn about First Australians one year, then the First Fleet the next year, they really don't connect the two as being consecutive on a timeline. They don't get the flow of how one thing can affect the next.

My son is also a right brain learner and when it comes to history and geography, needs to know the big picture before learning the nitty gritty. He's a timeline kid. Loves to look at a timeline, see the 'plan' and flow of events and when they occur in relation to each other, so that when he learns them fully, he can place them in his memory bank in order and knows how each event relates to each other. He wasn't getting that with the fragmented approach, and because of that, he wasn't interested, and didn't like History or Geography.  Worst of all, he'd get frustrated. He wants to cover it all at once. 

So using our block method we did. For Grade 3, we studied one country per week. 31 countries in total. Everything in that week was themed for that country.  Art, food, books we read, movies we watched, activities we did. It was fantastic. We used Expedition Earth from Confessions of a Homeschooler. We covered world Geography and communities. Something usually done in small amounts over 4 years.

Last year our theme for the entire year, was "Australia". Term 1 we covered Australian Geography including mapping, environments, hemispheres, climate, States & Territories, flags, emblems, Capitol Cities, facts, landmarks etc.  Term 2 was History: First Australians to First Fleet. Term 3 was Colonies and Explorers. Term 4 was Gold Rush and Bushrangers. It was 2.5 years worth of Australian Curriculum history & geography, done in 12 months. We'd do our Math's weeks and our Science weeks, our English etc, but the bulk of the term was these.  It meant my son got how it all connected and flowed. We even base a yearly educational trip around the block theme for History/Geography.  Last year we drove from Brisbane to Ballarat to spend three days at Sovereign Hill covering the Gold Rush, Bushrangers at towns like Glenrowan, Uralla and Tenterfield. Had we done a few days over a few weeks on Bushrangers and not connected it all into the big picture, my son wouldn't recall any of the things we learnt.  

This year we have two themes. History is Australian Federation and Government. We started early to take full advantage of the Queensland State Election to explain how Elections and Governments work! Our plan for our trip this year is to head to Canberra and visit Parliament House amongst many other things in the Nations Capitol!  Our second theme is for Geography and that is focusing on Mapping Skills. We started off with linking into the Treasure Island Literature unit and learning about treasure maps, how to use a compass etc. Even our Maths has been focusing on distance, measurement, degrees, map coordinates, time/distance travelled problem solving. While doing this theme work we will plan the route for our trip to Canberra, map it, navigate along the way at the time, put it into practice. 

At the end of primary school, we will have covered everything that's needed in these areas, but by not spreading them out and doing a little Australian History, Geography, Civics and Communities work each year, which equates to a term each topic each year, (which is still spread out so it's more like 3-4 weeks worth each area each year) we are doing a whole six-12 months for one area, then moving onto the next.  Makes more sense to me and works much better for my son. It's also meant we've been able to cover more, in less time. By the end of this year, we will have completed work that is a year ahead by National Curriculum standards. We have covered Grade 3 to 6 work by the end of Grade 5. So it means we can fit in themes that are not covered usually, but are of interest to us. While we are not American, my son has a fascination with the geography of the USA so we plan on studying American History as well as Geography and using 'Road Trip USA' by Confessions of a Homeschooler as our starting point. 

You can use the block work method for any subject from Art and Music to Health. A theme on organic gardening can be a year long project of building a garden, learning how to plant, look after, harvest, cook etc while studying science, maths, english, health along the way.  

But I guess the point is, you don't have to try to cover lots of subjects in a day or in a week, like is considered 'normal'.  Using this method of blocking out large chunks of time for one subject alone, is very beneficial, time saving, effective for those with learning difficulties, far easier to prepare for from a teaching perspective, and allows for deeper learning. Whether you set aside a whole day, a whole week, a whole fortnight or more is completely up to what works for you and your child. It works for us, and I don't see us straying from that at all. 

I've been asked if it will cause a problem in his older years or adult life as he is so used to working on one area at a time. To be very honest, I've never seen my child as being one who would want to work in a job where he is multitasking and juggling many different things at once, it's not his style. But I do see him working on projects and being able to focus just on that and get great results as he isn't distracted. None of us know what kind of job our children will ultimately end up doing, but no one with a boisterous, fidgety, outdoorsy child sees them as a Librarian, nor does a parent see a shy, quiet, indoor book loving child being a Landscape Gardener. Children's personalities and predispositions to things are not something you can change. You find a learning style that suits them and that in turn leads to what kind of work will suit them. I don't see this method as setting him up to fail, all it does is open another door of opportunity for him that otherwise wouldn't exist. Staying on the old method of everything all at once, wasn't working previously, won't work now, and won't work in his future so why stick with it?    

So from this second post on subject blocking, you can see there are different ways to go about it, and how I use it for different subjects. I would love to hear about your experiences so please leave a comment and feel free to ask any questions. 

If you'd like to know a little more about Right Brain learning, which I mentioned above, have a Google, but I plan to post about Right Brain Learning in an upcoming blog post.