Category Archives for Activities

4 ways to inspire your children about cultural food traditions

Do you want your children to grow more global-mindedness for people from other cultures and races? Cooking a steaming bowl of Pho is a start...

By Mandy dos Santos | Little People Nutrition

Cultural food traditions are unique in that they embody the rich history and heritage of the people who cook the dishes. In my experience, if you love to eat a particular culture's cuisine, you are more likely to extend compassion and understanding towards them as people too. 

In a world fragmented by racism and prejudices, now is the time to harness the opportunity of multiculturalism and internationalism to bring people closer together. We can help our children connect and appreciate cultures abroad and of their own neighbours.

A perfect way to foster cultural appreciation through food. We all know that an easy way to someone’s heart is through their stomach.

There are many ways we can expose children to cultural food traditions, here are a few.  

Cooking traditional dishes

Cooking is a life skill. It is the simplest of tools to arm our children with so they can cook and nourish themselves with fresh whole foods, now, and as they grow.

It is also a perfect gateway to start a conversation with children about why certain cultures eat particular foods and how the dishes came to be.

There are some brilliant cooking resources for children. On Booktopia you can find a book series of Food and Cooking Around the World by Rosemary Hankin. With her books, you can explore China, Mexico, India and Italy, all from your kitchen bench.

There is also a resource I have created for my own Little People Nutrition, a segment called Little People Cooking videos which are perfect for little fingers. From a cultural perspective, you could hop off to Japan and make Sushi Sandwiches or perhaps Vietnam and make some Rice Paper Rolls.

Visiting supermarkets and restaurants

Getting out into your community and connecting with people from various heritages is a beautiful way to be able to understand cultural traditions including food ones.

Visit your neighbours, exchange recipes, discuss what they are eating. And if you do not have neighbours or communities close by, go to the local restaurants and even supermarkets with unique international foods and ingredients.

And if you live remotely and you don’t have the restaurants or supermarkets with international cuisines, you can often buy shelf staple items online through portals such as this Indian online grocer or perhaps like this Brazilian food importer

There are also international food boxes popping up whereby each month they deliver a box full of ingredients to your door based on a rotating list of countries. Meet the World is a recent company doing just this. 

Reading stories together

For younger children, picture books are perfect conversation openers of any topic, especially food and multiculturalism.

There are a few simple rhyming board books for the youngest of children with gorgeous mouth-watering 3D illustrations of food. Amy Wilson Sanger has a range on Amazon which includes, Japan, China, India and Mexican food stories. 

I have also written a book which explores the connection of food, the family table and culture, “At my family table”. It is perfect for pre-schoolers and early primary schoolers.  Understanding that all families just want to eat together, like your own family brings a sense of delight and empathy with children. There are lovely illustrations of the children and their family tables to excite young eyes.

Documentaries and photo journals

Although screen time is often limited in my household,  there are some terrific cooking resources available for free these days.

There is a beautiful and confronting photo essay online which depicts families from around the world and what they eat in a week, all laid out in front of them. This particular article comes from a more extensive book called Hungry Planet, What the World Eats. It's a fantastic resource for upper primary - high school children and one which could provoke a multitude of discussions.

There are some fascinating documentaries for older children as well, in particular, this series on Street Food around the world. The visual delight is incredibly engaging for children and morbidly-captivating as they watch squeamish foods eaten.

Or perhaps you could delve into some traditional videos such as a day in the life of a rice farmer, or how a local island community fish?

Enjoy the adventure of exploring the wonderful world of food through the eyes of people from around this beautiful planet of ours.

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Mandy dos Santos

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Mandy is a mum to three and a nutritionist and food scientist. She simply loves food and if she is not in the kitchen, making a mess, she is with her family at the beach or in the bush. Mandy has recently published her first children's picture book 'At My Family Table'.

How to begin Circle Time with your preschooler

Is your toddler itching to begin ‘real schoolwork’ like their older siblings? Maybe you want to create more daily rhythm? If so, why not try Circle Time?

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By Kirstee Raki | thiswholehome.com

Do you have little ones itching to begin ‘real schoolwork’ like their older brothers and sisters?

Or is your eldest coming to the stage where they need a little more structure to their days?

Maybe it’s you who needs that little something to relieve any feelings of ‘not doing enough’ or not knowing how to ‘fill your day’ with little ones. I know I’ve been there.

There are lots of reasons why you may feel like starting circle time with your preschool age children is just what your home needs. Read on to find out just what circle time involves at this age and how to make it work in your home.

Let’s begin with the basics and answer the question…

What is 'circle time'?

At its simplest, circle time is merely coming together to have fun, usually while we begin laying the foundations for future academic work. It’s a chance for your child to learn a few of the basics, like how to count or sing a children’s song. It provides a touchstone to the day and helps us as mamas to be mindful of including music and movement in our child’s day.

In a group setting, it may look like the mat time you remember from mornings at kindergarten or resemble rhyme time at your local library. At home, unless you're blessed with a tribe of smalls, it will probably look a little different. But it retains those elements of the child following directions from a trusted adult, building their concentration and practicing a variety of skills in a way that is fun and age appropriate.

Now before I go into the 'how' of circle time with preschoolers, let me just say that there is absolutely no reason why you have to do circle time at home. In a home with a strong rhythm you will already have many anchors to your day in place (and if you don’t, take a minute right now to check out this post on how to establish a rhythm in your home. It’s for mamas too, not just for our kids!).

There are plenty of ways to practice all of the skills necessary at this age that don’t involve circle time at all. Cooking together, singing together as you help your child dress, counting out plates as you set the table… there are myriad ways to learn the skills you typically practice in circle time. Only include circle time in your home because you want to, because you and your child both enjoy it.

If you think that you and your little one will enjoy having this special 'Mummy and Me' time, here’s how you go about it.

5 steps to a magical circle time with your toddler

Step 1: Look at your rhythm and find a time suitable for a big, long out breath of activity. Pencil circle time into this space. You want a time when your child isn’t tired or hungry and when you don’t have a million other things to do.

Step 2: Plan out what you are going to do in advance. I like to write it all out on the circle time planning form included in my Mulberry Homeschool Planner. Knowing what you are doing next helps maintain flow. Things fall apart quickly if you have no idea what happens next.

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Step 3: Gather together any materials you need for your planned activities. Perhaps you want to use some musical instruments or dance with play silks (I like these ones, but we also have a collection of fabric offcuts that are wildly popular with my three-year-old!).

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Step 4: Choose a song or rhyme to open your circle, and another to close it. Keeping these the same every time helps your child make the transition in and out of circle time easier. My daughter loves it when we light a candle for our opening verse. Find little ways to bring some magic into your day.

Step 5: Get down on the floor with your child and have some fun!

It's that simple. But if you’re like me, when I’m trying something new I need specifics.

So here they are…

Designing toddler circle time

When I am designing a circle time there are a few important things to keep in mind.

Questions to ask before you begin

Firstly, how old is my child and are my expectations reasonable for her age? 

I want to create a circle that is the right length for her age and development. Anything more will just lead to frustration on my part and hers too. I know as we move into the kindergarten years that I want my circles to tell a story and to help her develop her concentration, but for now, I want to provide 15 minutes of one-on-one time in our day where my daughter is my sole focus.

Secondly, what do I want to achieve with circle time? 

We are Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers and as part of our philosophy, we don’t include structured academics before age 6 or 7. So that isn’t my goal. Instead, at this age I am looking to begin laying the foundations for future literacy and numeracy skills, to give a little direction in developing fine and gross motor skills, but mostly to have fun and provide another touchstone to our day.

Finally, what don’t I want to do? 

I don’t want to make this a chore, for her or for myself. I don’t want to step outside of what is age appropriate, both in regards to content and length, and I don’t want this to feel like busy work. I want us to have fun!

Circle time with my 3-year-old

What elements do I include?

  • I try to have my circle times cover one or two activities each for developing fine motor, gross motor, numeracy and literacy skills. 
  • I choose nursery rhymes, finger plays, songs with actions and sometimes a short story or two.
  • By being mindful of which songs and rhymes I choose, I can get in rhyming practice (one of many literacy skills we cover) and counting practice (numeracy skills) with no effort at all. 
  • If I include one finger play and one song with full body actions I have also managed to add fine and gross motor skill development.

Which stories are best?

You can find plenty to get you started with a quick Google search. Or maybe begin with those you can remember loving as a child. There is something to be said for the classics; Twinkle Twinkle, 5 Little Speckled Frogs, Mary Had a Little Lamb, 5 Little Ducks. I’m sure if you think back to your kindy days you will realise you know heaps of appropriate songs and finger plays!

You can also add in a short story or two. I tend to keep books for quiet time in the evening and instead tell stories during circle time. Often these stories have accompanying hand actions which my daughter will copy, or I tell the story using finger puppets or other small props I have made or found about the house. String plays are another fun way to act out a story (and are great fine motor practice too!). Unless they are particularly breakable props, I like to leave them out later as a play prompt.

When you should stop

Most importantly, we have fun and build a connection. If these two things aren’t happening, STOP!

That’s right. STOP IMMEDIATELY. There is no reason why you have to do circle time at home so if it’s not working don’t torture yourself. Perhaps it was an off day and you can try again tomorrow. Maybe it doesn’t suit either of your personalities, in which case find other ways to build these skills and times of connection into your day. Or maybe your child just isn’t ready to begin circle time, and there is nothing wrong with that! Remember the suggestions up above and try those instead.

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Find a pattern and stick​​​​ to it

One other factor to remember is that children this age thrive on repetition. I know, I know. It can feel tedious for us adults, but there is something to be said for holding the same circle time repeatedly for a period of days or weeks (depending on the child). At this age, you may even like to repeat the same song or rhyme a couple of times in each circle, particularly when you are introducing a new one. When it does come time to change up your circle, don’t forget to keep the opening and closing the same to help with the transition.

But what about if you have older children as well?

Circle time for junior grades

While all of this is happening, my older child is busy with his solo table work. Working alone while his sister is occupied with me helps him get a little peace to concentrate and helps him develop independence and self-direction with his school work. He has enjoyed many years of circle time at home but is moving past it now. Independent work is an excellent substitute for him so long as I remember to build moments of movement and connection into his day elsewhere. If you have a child in the lower grades (usually up to about third or perhaps fourth grade) I recommend reading this post for hints on how to make circle time work for older children.

Another option is to employ your older child as a helper in holding circle time for a younger sibling. Many children feel significant when called on to help in this manner and it also helps to foster sibling relationships.

Above all else, look to your children for what they need in this moment and forget about what everyone else is doing. This is your home, do what works for you!

This article originally appeared on This Whole Home and has been republished with permission.

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Kirstee Raki

Kirstee Raki

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Kirstee is mum to two from QLD, collector of chickens, a terrible housekeeper, a no-nonsense country-style cook, lover of mason jars, passable vegetable gardener, holistic homeschool educator, to-do list fanatic and bush wanderer. She blogs at thiswholehome.com and shares advice and encouragement on implementing a holistic model of education in your home, as well as practical tips to stay sane as a homeschool mama. Instagram - @this.whole.home

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10 tips to make reading books aloud more enjoyable

If reading aloud isn’t something that comes naturally in your family, these 10 tips will show you how read-aloud family time can be fun AND painless!

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By Kirstee Raki | This Whole Home

Reading aloud. It’s one of those things we know as homeschool mums we are supposed to do. Not only that, but homeschool bloggers everywhere would have us believe that we are also supposed to enjoy it. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially if reading aloud isn’t something that comes naturally. 

I'm a huge fan of the read-aloud, and even I confess to not always finding it easy or *gasp* enjoyable to read to my children. But I do have a few tricks that help make it more fun and a lot easier to accomplish on a daily basis. 

Tip 1: Choose a book you actually want to read

It's hard to make yourself read aloud if you just can't stand the book. I flat out refuse to read twaddle to my kids. I don't mind so much if they choose to read it on their own time. Although I encourage them to read widely, I'm not going to torture myself with insipid characters and weak storylines when there are so many amazing books out there! 

I once heard someone say that the mark of a true classic children's book is one that you will love reading well into your adult years. 

Try choosing a book you loved as a child or one that comes highly recommended by another mama and go from there. If you start a book and you find yourself dreading read-aloud time, ditch the book and choose another one. There are too many wonderful books out there to waste your time on the so-so ones. Your kids can always read it to themselves if they love it.

Tip 2: Choose a book your kids want to hear

It is so frustrating to sit down to read to your children and they just don't want to listen to the story. It can feel like a rejection of you as the parent when they complain or misbehave during what is supposed to be a special time as homeschoolers. Listen up, mama. You're kids aren't rejecting you, they are rejecting the book.

 Get smart about your book choices. Books that are too young won't hold their interest, and books that are too far above their comprehension level go in one ear and out the other, leaving the child feeling bored and frustrated at best, stupid at worst. 

Choose books just above your child's reading level with subject matter s/he is interested in. You can move towards more difficult books later but before anything else, you want read-aloud time to become a loved activity.

Tip 3: Schedule read-aloud time for the start of the day

There are a hundred and one tasks to do every day, and that's before you've even started lessons. It can be tempting to dismiss reading aloud as something fun but non-essential and then bump it from your to-do list. 

Worse still, if you haven't come to enjoy reading aloud yet, you might be deliberately running out of time. Caught you! But seriously, please don't leave this one off the list. 

Reading aloud is a fantastic bonding experience, helps to develop a child's love of literature, increases their vocabulary and exposes them to a wider variety of books than they might otherwise choose on their own. 

Try making read aloud time first up each day so that it doesn't get missed in the busy-ness of the school day. And if you don't really enjoy it (yet!) well at least you've got it over and done with and can move on to things you like better 😉

Tip 4: Keep your book with you at all times

Just like reading first thing makes sure you get this done, keeping your books handy is a big help too. Leave your current book on the table, in a basket beside the couch, carry it in your handbag. If you see it, you will remember it, and it's more likely to get read. There is something a little magical about being able to whip out your book and read it at the beach or by a waterfall. And who doesn't want a little more magic in their lives?

Tip 5: Have realistic expectations

I have hinted at this one already. Choosing a heavy tome and expecting to sit down and read it for an hour is not going to end well. You need to be realistic about what you can get done and what you want to achieve from it. 

If you are expecting a stellar narration every time you read a novel together, your kids aren't going to want to do this. If you are reading a book just because you think you should, this isn't going to happen.

If your schedule is jam-packed and you are trying to add in an hour of reading aloud every day, you're going to fall off the bandwagon pretty soon. Be honest about what you can do, and don't expect too much from yourself and your kids. At least not in the beginning.

Tip 6: Start slow and build up

This one follows on from the last. If you have never read aloud before, or at least nothing longer than a 'That's not my...' book with your toddler, you probably aren't going to manage an entire chapter of the Hobbit in one sitting. And neither are your kids! 

Start with just ten minutes, or perhaps even just a page or two, and slowly build up the time you sit together to read. Reading aloud is a skill that needs to be learnt, so let yourself learn at your own pace.

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Tip 7: Let little bodies wriggle around

Remember how I said you need to keep your expectations realistic? Well, let me make it clear that it is not realistic to expect your kids to keep perfectly still and perfectly quiet while you read. There is definitely going to be a certain amount of fidgeting going on. Or perhaps even hanging upside down on the couch. So long as they are paying attention, don't sweat it. 

As adults, we tend to assume that a child moving around is a child who isn't listening, but children often manage to process more when they aren't concentrating on sitting still. Set some parameters that you are comfortable with and let them be. Lots of children like to keep their hands busy while they listen so laying out paper and crayons is often a good way to go.

Tip 8: Get chatty

Reading books together isn't just an academic activity, it's a bonding experience. Chat about the books together. Ask them what their favourite part was, or which character they didn't like. What would they do in the hero’s place? If your inner school mum voice is asking you what the value of this is, you can reassure her that this is a great way to gauge and develop comprehension skills 😉

Tip 9: Make it lively

Reading in monotone is boring. It's boring to do and it's boring to listen to. Have fun, get silly, launch yourself into character. Try out a few voices, read with emphasis, take dramatic pauses. It may feel forced at first, but you will soon get used to it. You don't need to go overboard, but you do want to make your reading enjoyable to listen to. If you need a little guidance, try listening to an audio book and mimicking the way the voice actor reads.

Tip 10: But most important of all…

Everything else aside, the most important part of reading aloud is to enjoy the time with your little ones. Some of my fondest memories of reading with my children are when they have climbed into bed with me and handed me a novel to read, or snuggled in beside me on the couch. Enjoy the time together, and the rest will eventually sort itself out.

But what if you still aren’t enjoying reading aloud?

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Just head over to This Whole Home to find my tips on what to do when you don’t like reading aloud.

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Kirstee Raki

Kirstee Raki

Contributor

Kirstee is mum to two from QLD, collector of chickens, a terrible housekeeper, a no-nonsense country-style cook, lover of mason jars, passable vegetable gardener, holistic homeschool educator, to-do list fanatic and bush wanderer. She blogs at thiswholehome.com and shares advice and encouragement on implementing a holistic model of education in your home, as well as practical tips to stay sane as a homeschool mama. Instagram - @this.whole.home

How I use lists in my homeschool (and why I love it!)

Kelly George has been homeschooling for over a decade and swears by list-keeping as the ultimate way to keep organised, stay sane, and plan and record her whole family's learning.

Image by Leah Kua

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By Kelly George | Fearless Homeschool

Lists are the only way I keep track of anything.

To-do lists, meal lists, to buy lists, wishlists – if it’s not on the list it really doesn’t get done. 

So it makes sense that lists are invaluable in our homeschool, too. We use lists to keep track of what we’ve done, to remember what we’d like to do and to make sure everyone’s doing as much as they planned.

Personally, I’ve found paper lists are my best friend. 

I’ve tried digital, but it’s just not concrete enough for me, and seeing as I usually don’t know where my phone is it didn’t make sense to keep important information on it. 

I was very happy to see the new Mulberry Planner has LOTS of list templates, and I’ve been busy filling them out and feeling virtuous about my gorgeous new lists (as opposed to the creased and crumpled bits of repurposed paper I usually use). I’ve also discovered an unexpected bonus of having a beautiful planner - I’ve been more intentional about looking after it, which means I can feel justified when preaching to my children about presenting their work well.

Homeschooling lists are also a great form of record keeping, saving hours of work when re-registration time comes around. You can quickly glance at the books you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, and the curriculum you’ve completed, and expand on it to make a pretty good report.

Here are the indispensable homeschooling lists we keep.

Book lists

Books are our thing. We borrow 60 books at a time from the library, think books make the best presents, and book sales and well-stocked op-shops are our favourite places to shop.

We all keep a yearly list of the books we read – each child, myself, and my husband. They help us keep track of interests, remember which authors or series we wanted to read more from when it’s library ordering time, and remember what that book was called when we’re chatting about them.

Plus, it’s a subtle competition. Gabrielle always makes sure she’s ahead in numbers. She’s up to 139 books read as of November 20th, so it’s not likely she’ll be overtaken this year.

I also keep a read-aloud list, which I’ll adapt one of these for.

I keep a book journal for myself, but I’m using the Mama’s Book List to keep track of the homeschooling-specific books I’d like to read or re-read. 

Finally, I’ll also be using the Kids Book List for a to-read list for each child. I usually make sure I order or buy quality books regularly, so there’s always some available to choose from, but they don’t always get chosen.

I’d like to make sure they each read at least ten classic or high-quality books each year – dragons and battles are all very exciting, but should be balanced out by books that get the brain cells working, in my opinion.

If I give them each a list in January they can zoom through their requirements, and then return to reading Percy Jackson for the umpteenth time. And I can then give them another list in June – surprise!

Curriculum lists

There’s SO MUCH to keep track of! I used to save samples in a folder on my computer, assuming I’d remember what was in there.

I didn’t.

Most of the time I would forget there was even a folder, so when we wanted something new in a certain area I’d start researching again from scratch.

Having a curriculum list means I can keep track of what we’d like to try, what’s good now, what may be good in the future, and what’s not good for us at all. I’ll download and use each sample as we need it, and then either cross it off the list or purchase it.

If I get very organised, I’ll use another to keep track of the curriculum each child finishes.

Quotes

I’m a word lover, and I love quotes. Anyone who has visited my website or taken one of my courses may have noticed that. Homeschooling means I get to expose my children to what I think is important, and subjecting them to quotes is something I do enthusiastically. 

Right now, I put a new quote up on our whiteboard each week, and we chat about what it means. I choose quotes that make us think, that help us define our ideas or values, or show an everyday issue from a new angle.

This quotes list is replacing my Pinterest board (again, I fail at digital – I don’t even have the Pinterest app on my phone because I couldn’t turn off the notifications), and it’s so much easier to pull out the quotes list and choose the new quote. 

As a bonus, I don’t get stuck looking at quirky designs for vintage dresses, so the process is much quicker!

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Podcast list

I started listening to podcasts this year, and really like them (again, late adopter of digital). They’re a great way to get through cooking and cleaning without noticing what I’m doing. 

Unfortunately, the children aren’t as fond of podcasts about entrepreneurship as I am. I’ve found a couple of ‘educational but entertaining’ podcasts we all enjoy, like The Ancient World and TED Talks Daily, but I’d like to find more.

This is my list of podcasts to trial before adding to our regular listening list. We’ve already trialled Douchy’s Biology, and it’s a hit – Gabrielle has been geeking out to hominid evolution while cutting out sewing projects.

Film list

We fail at films. We haven’t had a TV in over a decade, and that pretty much sums it up. We find we have so many other things to do that we never get around to watching movies. 

But there are some things I’d really like to watch with the children. Generally, they’re adaptations of books, and our chief delight is shouting criticism at how much it deviates from the book (you really don’t want to watch Eragon with us, how did they get it so wrong?)

I’ve decided documentaries count as films, because we love nature, farming, and science documentaries. And because the sheet would probably compost before we got through that many movies.

I hope that gives you some insight and inspiration into how lists can be useful in your homeschool. The lists included in the Mulberry Planner are a great place to start if you’re new to list making – they’re extremely relevant to the core needs of homeschoolers. As well as the lists I’ve detailed, there are also lists for music, YouTube, and children’s lists for their achievements and things they’re proud of, plus templates for you to DIY. If you don’t use anything else except the lists, you can still have a well-organised homeschool.

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Kelly George

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Kelly George is a married mum to five adventurous children who have never been been to school. She runs Fearless Homeschool, which is full of articles, resources, and courses aimed at helping parents break away from the school model to craft their ultimate homeschool, and also organised the first Australian Homeschooling Summit. In her spare time she's a nursing student who enjoys juggling dozens of hobbies.

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A Disney animator’s advice for young artists on mistakes, learning and mastery

Chad walked away from an animation career at Disney because the pressure to perform had slowly robbed him of the joy he felt when animating and drawing. He shares his tips for budding artists and animators on embracing imperfection and looking for learning opportunities.

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By Chad Stewart | Founder of The Animation Course

One of the most heartbreaking things I see as a teacher, parent, or animator is a young person putting so much pressure on themselves that they lose the joy that attracted them to an art form (or activity) in the first place.

As a young animation student I was drawn into a sequence of excitement, opportunity, achievement, and comparison (to those more advanced than myself), and then to insecurity and frustration. Each time I saw someone’s animation I had to know if I could do better. If I could be more valuable. As if becoming more adept at a certain skill had any bearing on who I was or my value as a person. But I continued to put pressure on myself to understand complicated concepts instantly and execute them effortlessly. Little by little that pressure robbed me of the joy I felt when animating. And it continued not just through school, but well into my career. Until finally I couldn’t keep up with it.

Why I said goodbye to Disney

After four years working for Walt Disney Feature Animation in the late ‘90’s, I found myself cleaning out my desk and saying goodbye to the job that had been my dream since 6th grade. While I had talent, I couldn’t draw or animate as well as the other artists there, some who were my age, but many who had been animating for decades. And instead of approaching my position with a humble curiosity, I had instead withdrawn into myself hoping that I could somehow pull some animation off on my own that would ‘Wow!’ those around me, which of course I couldn’t.  

As a result, I found myself without a position on the newest film, without the opportunity to learn from those who had so much more skill than myself, and without a desire to continue animating, a process that had always fascinated me and something I truly loved to do.  

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What had I done wrong?

I had expected to learn too much too quickly. I had attached my character and self-worth to a skill that took thousands of hours to master. I had abandoned the joy of learning.

I finally gave up putting that unachievable pressure on myself and I have enjoyed animating in the world of film over the last 26 years, although I still feel it sneak up on me every once in a while. Now I see the pressure in new places, the eyes of my children and my students.  

I think with the technological advancements today it makes it even harder for this next generation. A world of information and opportunity is at their fingertips.  Almost everything is effortless… and yet there are still things in life that are truly hard to master. Growing up and maturing. Learning to interact with people. Knowing thyself. And, in the case of my students, animation.  

When the moviegoer watches an animated movie, they ingest years of work from hundreds of people in a couple of hours. Unfortunately, sometimes a student will expect the same level of skill and expertise from themselves that they see on the screen.  

I make it a point to always take the pressure off an assignment. Each of them is at a different point in their journey. Each is valuable. And it’s getting them excited about the journey that is the real key.  

If they're passionate, then doing something wrong becomes a fantastic opportunity to learn. 

And not a discouragement, but rather a moment to build momentum. If we embrace failure and mistakes as the catalyst for understanding and disconnect it from our value as people then we have a learning model that is powerful, and enjoyable!  At least it was that way for me.

Tips for budding animators and artists

1. Find a mentor on YouTube or Instagram, someone you can follow and be inspired by, who encourages artists to create.

2. Take the pressure off assignments or the marks you'll get. Focus on animating and drawing for the love of the art.

3. If you mess up or need to start an artwork again, see it as an opportunity to learn.

4. Know that it takes years of work by hundreds of creatives to make an animated movie that you watch in a few hours. Do not expect the same level of skill for yourself as what you've seen onscreen. That's a combined effort.

5. Watch animation or Disney Pixar behind the scenes for particular movies that show the process.

Chad had some great advice. What's your favourite tip? Tell us in the comments below.

The Animation Course

  • Chad runs a 5-level animation course and a 2-level drawing class for 11 to 18-year-olds. You can opt for live or pre-recorded classes, with or without grading.
  • Live classes include weekly meet-ups via Adobe connect, live chat and full access to tech support.
  • The introductory courses offer the underpinning principles of animation, while the later courses dig into storyboarding and learning about the software that produces animated film.
  • Courses fill up, so you can reserve your spot here.

You may also like:

Chad Stewart
Contributor

Chad is an artist and animator who has over 27 years of experience in the feature animation world in 2D (hand drawn) and 3D (computer). He has worked with Disney Pixar on projects well-loved movies like Polar Express, Emperor’s New Groove, Tarzan, and the Smurfs movies. He has been a traditional animator, a 3D animator, and has supervised other animators on multiple films. Chad founded an online course for children called The Animation Course.

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8 ways to invite nature into your homeschool

Helping our children delight in the discovery of nature is one of our most important responsibilities as parents. Homeschooling offers the perfect opportunity to take learning into nature far more often. Here are eight ideas to inspire you...

Children playing in water happily

Image by Annie Spratt

By Grace Koelma | Founder of The Mulberry Journal

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children's memories, the adventures we've had together in nature will always exist.”

I often contemplate the words of Richard Louv, author of Last Child Left in the Woods and coiner of the term 'nature-deficit'. There is no denial that our children face an uphill battle when it comes to spending time unplugged and unfettered by the alluring and incessant technology of our modern world. And yet, once we discover the rejuvenating and necessary power of nature for the soul, mind and body, we can't help but share our love of the earth with our children.

While it's unrealistic and ultimately unhelpful to completely cut our children off from all technology (and what does that even mean? Isn't an oven or a microwave technology too? What about the car you drive? But I digress!) many parents are resisting the pull towards swipe-able screens and glowing devices in favour of a pared-back, 'old-school' focus on spending time in nature. Nature in all its forms...

Homeschooling parents are among those leading the charge, with terms like nature play and earthschooling popping up more and more frequently. So, if you're feeling a pull towards nature here are a few ideas on how to incorporate more nature study and focus into your homeschool.

8 ways to invite nature into your homeschool

1. Join a nature co-op or homeschooling group in your local area.

Most often, these groups meet outdoors and often visit national parks or reserves. You can find out about local groups by searching for location-specific Facebook pages, or check out our (by no means comprehensive) Australian co-op directory here. 

2. ​Download and print some nature guides 

Nature Guides are a handy resource when venturing out into nature. Giving your kids a sense of purpose and sense of adventure in the form of a 'nature spotting checklist' can help keep them involved and motivated.

You can purchase fantastic nature guides from Brave Grown Home and print them off at home, like this gorgeously illustrated backyard birds set. Each Guide includes beautiful watercolour illustrations on easy-to-print posters, information cards full of fascinating facts, and smaller three-part cards for the littlest learners. The cards also tie in with the Charlotte Mason philosophy of nature journalling. 

Tip: Laminate the identification cards so they withstand dirt and water while you're out in nature, and last longer.​

Ashley from Brave Grown Home is giving Mulberry readers an exclusive 20% discount off all classic bundles in her shop. Just enter the code MULBERRY20.

*Code expires 30th November 2017.

3. Practice mindfulness in nature

The peace and quiet of nature provides the perfect setting for practicing mindfulness and meditation with your children. Mindfulness is something that can be modelled to kids at a surprisingly young age, and even very small children can learn to sit still and just 'be'.

Our favourite mindfulness resources for children are Leah McKnoulty's gorgeously illustrated picture book Making Mindful Magic, and Teepee Learning's Mindful ABCs Alphabet Book.

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4. Take art supplies with you and paint what you find in nature

Pack your paints and paper before you head out so you're ready to capture the beauty of nature in paintings, sketches or mixed media. If your kids lack artistic confidence or haven't yet found a passion, we can highly recommend Artventure's online lessons as a great resource to start with.

Issue 3 of Mulberry Magazine also features a wonderful step-by-step nature journalling tutorial to get you started.

5. Start building a Cabinet of Curiosities

Starting a Cabinet of Curiosities or Wunderkammer is a great way to motivate your kids to head out into nature and observe, delight and forage (where appropriate) curiosities to take home and display. For more inspiration, check out our article where three homeschooling mums share how they started their Cabinets of Curiosity in Mulberry Magazine Issue 7. 

Tip: Remember to check the rules in the area first (national parks often have limits on what you can remove).

Image by Robyn Oakenfeld

6. Go outside even when it's cold or raining

When the weather turns cold or icy, it can be tempting to put off outdoor adventuring until the warmer season begin again. But exploring nature with your children in the wet, mud and snow is vital. Many studies show that the winter months spent indoors can impact mood negatively, and getting outside in the fresh air is a mood-booster and improves the body's energy, vitality and immune system. It also 'toughens kids up', so they are not afraid of a little bit of rain or cold.

Observing the cycle of nature through different seasons, especially how many of the plants and animals hibernate or adapt to survive harsh conditions is a fascinating aspect of nature study that shouldn't be missed!

Remember, there's no such thing as inappropriate weather, only inappropriate clothing!

7. Don't forget about private gardens, greenhouses and estates

While nature reserves and national parks are wonderful wildernesses to explore, they can often be a considerable drive or hike away. For quicker nature trips, don't forget about botanical gardens, private estates and greenhouses in your area. Observing finely cultivated plants and topiary is a wonderful aspect of nature study, too.

Tip: When visiting a private estate or botanic garden ask at the information desk whether they have a nature or botanical guide you can use that is specific to that garden.

8. Use films and digital resources as a launch-pad to explore nature​

A subscription to National Geographic’s Little Kids magazine is an affordable starting point for the 3-5-year-old set and audiences of all ages will be mesmerised by film series like Planet Earth with its stunning visuals and insightful commentary.

Global Guardian Project’s Learning Capsules are perfect for older children needing a mix of hands-on activities and informative content.

Tip: YouTube is a great resource for nature documentaries. Check out these fantastic tips on curating a YouTube playlist for your children here.​

What are your strategies for getting your kids outside and enjoying nature? Tell us in the comments below.

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Grace Koelma

Editor

Grace is the Editor of The Mulberry Journal and when she's not reading submissions, divides her time between hanging out with her simultaneously delightful and headstrong 2-year-old, running multiple ventures, writing and travelling full time with her little family. You can follow her travels at @darelist.family.

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How to use audio stories in your homeschool

When kids hear the words “Once upon a time...” something magical happens. Find out how spoken storytelling remains one of the best ways to share knowledge and impart wisdom, not just in homeschool but in all of life.

Sparkle stories audio books for kids

By David Sewell McCann 

Stories are the most effective teaching tool there is — and audio stories make that tool as easy as pushing a button or opening a book.

That is a bold statement in this age of free downloads, interactive curriculum, and subscription teaching services — but it is undeniable when we acknowledge that storytelling is the language of children. How many times has a lecture or explanation been politely ignored? How often does attention drift in the middle of a set of instructions? How regularly do we need to say “just five more minutes” when explaining something to our kids?

Now ask yourself — what happens EVERY time you open a storybook or utter the words “Once upon a time…?” Eyes relax into soft focus, the jaw slackens, and your child becomes a willing audience to whatever comes next.

Children love stories. We all do.

We’ve all suddenly become alert during a boring presentation when the speaker says, “This reminds me of a story…” The speaker now has our attention because she has indicated she is about to speak in the way in which we are compelled to listen.

We are wired to pay attention to stories because it has been the medium for distributing valuable information since we developed speech. Stories were how our ancestors taught their children how to find food and water, how to be safe, how to manage the changing weather, how to live rightly.

Stories were how our brains adapted and evolved into incredibly capable processors of the unprecedented information overload that is standard in contemporary society.

Boy looking at iPad screen

These days storytelling comes in many forms: books, movies, video games, graphic novels, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Wading through the content can be a full-time occupation — but once we find “storytellers” we like, we tend to commit to them. We follow them.

We subscribe to their service. We even binge on their content because it feels uniquely reflective of who we are or who we want to be.

This is natural. This is how storytelling works.

So keeping that in mind, it only makes sense to bring storytelling into our homeschooling. Whether your child is struggling with math, history, grammar, self-esteem, conflict resolution, social inclusion, competition, and any other parts of life, storytelling is ready and available to help.

Here are a few ways you can use storytelling in your homeschooling:

1. Podcasts

The world of podcasting — or audio blogging — has blown up to the point where there is a podcast for every interest, subject, hobby, and perspective you can imagine. There are so many, however, that finding the most appropriate producers can be a massive undertaking. To make things a little easier, we have compiled a list of our recommendations of the best podcasts for kids.

Little girl listening to music on headphones

2. Audio stories

I can’t go much further without recommending Sparkle Stories, the audio story subscription service my wife and I started six years ago. We offer content for academic subjects such as history, as well as social/emotional pedagogy, learning differences, and developing empathy. Kids can listen while they're doing virtually anything: curled up on the couch, in the car, doing chores or colouring in. Our stories are created to be simple, delightful and to inspire children to marvel and wonder.

If you’re looking for places to start exploring, here are a couple of favourites:

“Martin and Sylvia” is a series of over 300 stories that follow the lessons and adventures of a homeschooled brother and sister who do their learning in the playhouse, the creek, the neighbor’s farm, and the downtown library.

“FIFTY” is a new series offering 50 fictional stories that focus on historic events from each of the 50 United States.

"How to Be Super" is a series for older kids that incorporates classic stories and Greek mythology.

Many Sparkle Stories include accompanying recipes, nature studies, crafts and tutorials. Sparkle are giving Mulberry readers an exclusive offer to extend the regular 10 day trial to 15 days. Just enter the code MULBERRY15.

*Code expires 1 March 2018.

3. Tell your children stories

When you tell stories yourself, you have command of the content, can adapt it to fit your unique listener, and can have a lot of fun at the same time.

The most difficult part of telling your own stories is overcoming self-criticism and fear of failing. We all tend to take storytelling far too seriously. 

Girl huddled with mother on beach

Yes, it is incredibly effective, but no, it does not need to be done beautifully. Well-intentioned and honest but poorly-told stories can be just as impacting — if not more so — than professionally told stories.

Before I became a professional storyteller, I was an elementary school teacher for many years. I learned through trial and error that stories could bring transformation to the most difficult situations: rowdy post-Halloween classrooms, dyslexic learners who did not want to be singled out, children with attention challenges whose behavior was disruptive, national disasters, and frightening world events.

We all tend to take our storytelling far too seriously... Well-intentioned and honest but poorly-told stories can be just as impacting — if not more so — than professionally told stories.

Before you employ the latest interactive app or youtube video or online game, consider pressing play on a podcast or streaming story — or open your mouth and say, “Once upon a time...”

How do you use storytelling in your homeschool? Tell us in the comments below.

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How to use audio stories in your homeschool
Jenny Diaz

David Sewell McCann

Chief Storyteller

Sparkle Stories is an audio story treasure chest designed to educate and entertain the whole family. Over 1,000 original stories can be accessed via the Sparkle app or website, and related crafts, recipes, and homeschool study pages help families make the stories come alive.

*Sponsored post.

Young Inventors: Want to see your idea come to life?

To support meaningful engagement in STEM subjects for students, Samsung is giving kids the unique chance to submit their invention and see it created by a team of experts. More on the competition below.

Children playing in water happily

By Grace Koelma | Founder of The Mulberry Journal

Australia’s STEM skill gap has been a national priority for some time now. While there are a number of elements at play, more often than not, we get so caught up in the politics of STEM, that we forget those that at the centre of the issue - the students.

The reality is maths and science can be boring, difficult, and for many students, there is no clear connection between these subjects and their dream jobs. As a result, only 16 per cent of students are entering higher education in STEM fields. To support the pursuit of STEM subjects among young people, Samsung is hosting a pretty fantastic competition this November.

Make My Idea Competition

Samsung Australia has launched Make My Idea - a national competition which calls for students across Australia (12 years and older) to submit their innovative invention ideas to go into the chance to win a number of exciting prizes, including having their idea developed into a prototype model.

Competition Details

Prizes up for grabs include

  • A Samsung Ideas Lab - including a Galaxy S8 phone, Galaxy book, Virtual Reality headset, 360 camera and a Dex Station;
  • A prototype model, or 3D or 2D design of their idea;
  • The fame, respect and pats on the back that come with having their idea shown live on YouTube.

Deadline for entries: Wednesday 22nd November 2017. Entrants must be aged 12 or older.

The winner will be announced LIVE on the 29th November via the Samsung YouTube channel at 4:30pm AEST. ​

Do you know a young inventor who should enter this competition? Share it with them.

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Grace Koelma

Editor

Grace is the Editor of The Mulberry Journal and when she's not reading submissions, divides her time between hanging out with her simultaneously delightful and headstrong 2-year-old, running multiple ventures, writing and travelling full time with her little family. You can follow her travels at @darelist.family.

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FREE Day Notes Printable

Our latest freebie is a Day Notes printable. It includes a blank date section, Mon-Fri days of the week with Morning, Afternoon and Evening.

It's perfect for you to plan out your week and stick to a schedule (if you're into that) or use it at the end of the week to record everything you've done! You'll be amazed how much you get up to when you document it all out.

We've also included a bonus notes page with a floral background. Available in US letter and A4 size.

This is a sample from our recently released Mulberry Planners.

Over 150 pages of beautifully designed planning, recording and reflection tools to help you organise your homeschool and family life. Northern Hemisphere (2017-18) and the Southern Hemisphere (2018) versions available.

The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal

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The Ultimate Guide to Gameschooling

So you know about homeschooling, worldschooling and unschooling. Maybe you've heard of hackschooling or gamification... So what on earth is gameschooling? Cat Timms has the ultimate (and we mean MEGA!) guide for you AND a bonus download!

Children playing in water happily

Words and images by Cat Timms | LightHeart Photography

Gameschooling is a term whose origin cannot be traced, but it has been around for a while. It has been more recently popularised into homeschool culture by absolute legend and lovely lady, Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, educational psychologist and homeschooling mama of gifted kiddos, of My Little Poppies fame, who also created the international Facebook group Gameschool Community. Her blog is a literal treasure trove and is referred to several times.

In the homeschool community, gameschooling means to use tabletop gaming (board games and card games) in an intentional way, as part of your personal homeschool culture and educational philosophy. Rather than playing games occasionally just for fun, gameschooling families see them as essential to their homeschool daily or weekly for a variety of reasons (including fun!).

Let’s talk about the why, how, what and troubleshoot some issues.

Why gameschool?

  • Games are fun. I have a few overarching personal philosophies for my life, and one of them is “If it’s not fun, why bother?”. I can see the strict homeschool mamas rolling their eyes, “But life isn’t all fun!”. No, it isn’t. But we’re adults now; we can let them be little. We can make almost anything fun, or at least add an element of fun. We make chores into games; a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as it were. Your kid doesn’t find games fun? Read on, I have a section for you coming up.
  • Games create positive family culture. One of my main motivations for game playing now is to create a thing we all do together, that will carry through the teen years (which my husband and I both had terrible times with our parents and it scares us, lol) and into adulthood. I like to imagine 20-somethings coming home for dinner with a partner and sticking around for a game afterwards. I’ll let you know in 20 years how it worked out Read this by One Board Family too.
  • Good games exercise your brain. Puzzling over strategies, watching your opponents or team members to figure out what to do next to get to a desired goal, problem solving, logical thought processes and more.
  • Games build interpersonal skills. Graciously winning and losing, discussing ideas, contributing as or to a group, taking turns, waiting etc. are all parts of playing tabletop games which are valuable lifeskills.
  • Games will teach actual things if you so desire. I’m not that into games always being super educational, though we certainly have our fair share. There are lots of well-designed tabletop games, also called hobby games, that happen to be educational as an excellent game (and I will discuss those later) and games you can get that are designed to be educational. So, if formal learning is your thing, games have you covered.
  • Things learnt joyfully are best remembered. Not much explanation required here. It just is.

How do you gameschool?

This is asked ALL THE TIME in the gameschool groups and there isn’t a simple answer to that question, because everyone homeschools differently. If you believe in teaching and curriculums, then games will supplement that and add some fun. If you unschool, then you might research games you think your kids might like, then show them the ones that fit your budget etc and see if they’re interested, and games would be the most formal thing you do, probably.

We personally are secular and eclectic here. We do very little formal work, only in English and Maths, and we do a lot of excursions (field trips), workshops, classes and play dates. I encourage my kids to be open and interested in everything. We try a lot, and what doesn’t work for us we leave but we try not to say no to things for no reason, particularly if they’re new.

This adventurous spirit carries into gaming. We’ll try any game! We play 2-4 games a day. I usually choose one for an educational purpose and the rest are child-led. They often suggest we play a game, then choose one themselves. They’re at very different gaming levels currently which is challenging, and I have a whole section for you toddler mamas coming up, don’t worry!

The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal

Haven't got time to read it all now? No worries.

Cat Timms has kindly offered a free eBook download for Mulberry readers. Pop in your email below and we'll send it over to you!

Choose the time you play games carefully, particularly when learning new games.

While “Family Game Night” is great in theory, maybe it needs to be at breakfast because tired children do not the best gamers make. We do play games after dinner, but only ones the kids know really well, plus they’re experienced gamers now. We often play games around mealtimes.

Because we don’t have a schedule, I’m not super helpful here. I know that homeschool mamas who do have a school schedule do things like:

  • Have one game be a focus for the week and play it each day
  • Use a game to start or conclude a lesson, to introduce or reinforce an idea or concept
  • Use games as quizzes
  • Use games as part of a unit study
  • Use games to teach one subject (maths is exceptionally popular)
  • Play games at the start or end of their school day
  • Ask teens to teach/play kindergartners games while they work with their in-between-age kids
  • Do game afternoons particularly with other homeschool friends

In essence, do what works for you and your family situation. There’s no right or wrong way.

What games do you play?

Oh, brother. The dreaded question. This gets posted multiple times a day in the gameschool group. The answer is “infinity times infinity, pass the coffee/wine/chocolate.” Seriously. It’s not a bad question; it’s a great question! It’s just that there are a million answers. We could be here all day. Let’s start the beginning:

  1. How old are your kids and what stages are they at? Games can be great for various types of neurodivergent kids to learn or practice things, particularly for gifted kids to flex their muscles. There is a game for EVERYTHING. Also important is their reading level as some games require independent reading.
  2. What are their interests? I would always start with games you are confident your kids will be interested in, before introducing games you want them to play.
  3. How much time, energy and money will you spend on gaming? Obviously, you may not know this until you start, so I’d start slow with some simple, basic games to see how it goes, before investing. The other side to that argument is that there are some really great games out there that the whole family will love, and if you don’t try them you may be missing out thinking you don’t like games. Ideally, you’d borrow before some you buy as these bigger games can be very expensive. I’ve set up a group for Australian homeschoolers to discuss, borrow, buy, and sell games called Gameschooling Australia.
  4. Will you and your partner/friends play? There is a high replayability on those bigger well-designed tabletop/hobby games (that are usually not overtly educational) and they’re generally more fun for the adults. You can justify buying these for more than just homeschool purposes if that is the case. We have a lot of these and the adults around here play.
  5. Are there groups for selling locally? I’m always more willing to fork out some dollars if I know I can get some back if the game really isn’t for us. I have successfully sold all the games I’ve wanted to sell so far for 25-90% of what I paid in Facebook groups.

So, I've thought about all that, now what?

I suggest joining the groups and following pages on Facebook to learn and get ideas. I’ll also link to the blogs for those not on Facebook (Don't have Facebook? HOW DO YOU LIVE?! Kidding, it is useful for groups though!).

In addition to those homeschool blogs and pages, US families are going to find Amazon VERY useful! For the rest of us, it can be expensive and they don’t always ship to us. I do buy from there occasionally though. Board Game Geek is a great website for researching on, and serious gamers keep lists there. I’m yet to venture into it but I often check there for reviews and information.

Do we just grab Monopoly and get playing?

There are so many games to choose from. I know, it’s overwhelming. I would probably just head to Target or a good games shop and pick one. I haven’t yet mentioned the dreaded M word because that is what people think of when we talk about games. We do have a copy of *whispers* Monopoly somewhere I think, but we don’t play it. Because it’s not well designed and very boring; there are no interesting choices or strategies, and its very luck based. Outraged? Sorry. Check out this YouTube to understand more.

If you love Monopoly then your mind will be blown when you play a well-designed tabletop game! Gamers often talk about “gateway games”. These are the simpler but still well-designed tabletop that use game mechanisms that the bigger games do, have a high replayability factor, and are a great way to start games culture in your family if you are looking beyond the purely educational.

Here are some of my favourite gateway games:

  • Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where each person has a role and you work together (for 5yo+).
  • Carcassonne is tile building game (for 6yo+).
  • Sushi Go is a great gateway game for card drafting (for 5yo+) and includes addition.
  • Skip-bo is a surprisingly good card game and a great intro to strategy games (for 6yo+).
  • Dragonwood is a dice and card game which includes addition (for 6yo+).

All of those games are ones that the adults here really enjoy, so won’t bore you quickly. I could list 10 more, but I’m going to leave that list there. There are a million games lists you can Google. If you’re only looking for educational games that you can slot into subject areas for your kids then check out this ultimate games list. It’s comprehensive and well laid out, and we own many of the games on it.

A list of recommended games

Games we love to play
  • Alien HotShots
  • Alphabet Bingo
  • Alphabet Go Fish
  • Busytown
  • Carcassonne Big Box
  • Chess
  • Chomp
  • Colourama
  • Connect 4
  • Dinosaur Snap
  • Dr Eureka
  • Dragonwood
  • Forbidden Island
  • Go Nuts
  • Learning Can Be Fun games x 5
  • Legendary Inventors
  • Loonacy
  • Machi Koro with expansions
  • Math Bingo
  • Math Dice
  • Mousetrap Maths
  • Oceanos
  • Orchard Toys games x 3
  • Pandemic with expansions
  • Pass the bomb Jnr
  • Rat a tat cat
  • Scrabble Jnr
  • Skip-Bo
  • Sumoku
  • Sushi Go
  • Storycubes x 5
  • Takenoko
  • Uno
  • Upwords
  • Yam Slam
  • At least 30 homemade games from various places and my own inventions
Adult games we own but don't play with kids yet
  • Cosmic Encounter
  • Innovation
  • Sentinels of the multiverse
Games we've put away and don't play with yet
  • 7 Wonders Duel
  • Apples to Apples
  • Brave Rats
  • Ion
  • Link It
  • Ringz
  • Sequence
  • Ticket to Ride Europe
  • Wildcraft
Great games we've borrowed from friends
  • Catan
  • Seasons
  • Sum Swamp
  • Zeus on the loose
  • Coup
  • Love Letter
Games on my wish list
  • Alhambra
  • Castle Panic
  • Dixit
  • Hit the Habitat Trail
  • Hive Pocket
  • MMRY
  • Pandemic Legacy
  • Prime Climb
  • Splendor
  • Xtronaut

Phew, that’ll do?! That’s not an exhaustive list, either. This article explains the different types of games in a succinct way and might be useful too.

A word on age recommendations

Most games include age recommendations which is a rough guide. Game makers need to be careful; if they put the starting age too young, then they won’t be bought for older children, and if the age is too high, people will think it’s too hard. Most gameschoolers take age recommendations with A CUP of salt. My 7-year-old can play games that say 13-years-old + but he is a weak reader. If there was a big reading component he wouldn’t be able to play. He also enjoys plenty of games that I’d put in the “Early Childhood” category.

If your 8-year-old child is new to games then they will find Dragonwood challenging at first, as it’s not a luck game; it’s a strategy game with interesting choices. But my 4-year-old can play with assistance because she’s been playing games since she was a toddler.

For Australian families!

A little section just for us Aussies. G’day, mates! (sorry, that’s for the rest of the world who think we talk like that, lol).

1. I have yet to find an Australian gameschooler who blogs about gameschooling so that’s why there isn’t one listed here. If you are one, then yay! Let us know. People keep saying I should start one but I have two part time jobs already so I just can’t. You can always find me on IG at @ahumanattempt and in Gameschooling Australia.

2. It’s really difficult to find games about Australia that aren’t caricatures of Australia, and sometimes a bit racist in my opinion. They seem designed for the tourist rather than Australians. If you know of one, PLEASE let us know! There are a few printables floating about, none of which are great, so making my own game about the Australian states is on my to do list. It’s listed right after “Learn about the Australian states.”

3. There are some great Aussie sites to know about, and support if you can! If you have more to add to this list, let us know!

What's the difference between gamification and game-based learning?

This one's for the nerds like me! Well, in a nutshell, gamification means applying game principles to something (for example, turning a maths sheet into a game) and game-based learning, means using a game that already exists to learn something (like the game Sushi Go to practice addition). Both ideas are useful in homeschooling, but that’s an article on its own! For further reading I suggest:

Many of these articles refer to online or digital gaming which has evolved from tabletop gaming. All of these, and the ‘why’ list, should be great fodder for anyone who wants to argue against game playing, or allocating funds to buy games

Common questions

“I’ve checked out the lists and blogs and now there are 3 games that I want. How do you narrow it down?”

Particularly when you’re on a budget, this can be important. What I do is search the game title and read what I find in the following places:

  1. the My Little Poppies blog
  2. the Gameschool Community Facebook group, and if I don’t find a post, I post on the wall. (This is why it’s really important to put your game titles in your posts in groups!)
  3. other Facebook games groups.
  4. Board Game Geek.
  5. Geek Dad.
  6. YouTube and watch reviews and play throughs.
  7. Read reviews on Amazon. I put this last because in Australia it’s often not cost effective to buy from there.

After all that, I will have an idea whether I think we’ll like it or not. Yeah, it takes some time, but all research does! I’m looking for interesting choices and replayability here, but if you’re looking for something purely educational then it should be simpler to figure out whether it will help with the thing you need. I only buy those types of games if I really need them, and think I can resell them; I am far more likely to find a free printable or make up my own.

“My partner doesn’t want me to spend money on games.”

Send them this article; there is a TONNE of good info linked here. This is a commonly asked problem by mamas in homeschool groups. In my house, if one partner doesn’t want to do the reading and learn about the issue to then have an informed discussion, then the other gets to go ahead using their best judgement. Teamwork makes the dream work, and that means trusting each other too. I am not going to learn about looking after the cars, so hubs just does what he thinks is best there. He is not going to get highly educated about homeschooling, so I’m boss of that. I make a lot of games, and only buy ones I think we’ll really love. I also sell games as I need too, to fund new ones.

“Seriously though, we are on a tight budget.”

Honestly, most homeschoolers are. Everyone’s version of tight is different, and everyone’s priorities are different. We too are on a tight-ish budget. We don’t spend any money at all on curriculums (ever) so I spend on books, games, workshops, classes instead. Tabletop games are not just a homeschool thing; they contribute to family culture too. So if you occasionally have a family day or meal out or trip to the movies, you can consider a good tabletop game in the same category but it’s reusable, and you should be able to sell it for around half what you paid when the time comes. Here are some other ideas:

  • Buy secondhand. I buy most of our games secondhand and I get good deals this way.
    • Facebook groups. I buy mostly in Facebook groups, occasionally from other local secondhand sites. You just need to keep your eye out, and also put up “want to buy” posts as sometimes people are thinking about selling a game but can’t be bothered, but if they can quickly PM you and get it done hassle-free, it’s a win-win.
    • Op shop/thrift stores/goodwill. You rarely find the better tabletop games at these places here in Australia (though the US mamas seem too all the time!) but you will find lots of staple games like Scrabble, and card games. I will buy very cheap games with some good pieces for reusing.
  • Buy when you see it. If you see a game you want on sale or secondhand, buy it if it’s good price, even if it’s a stretch. I put them away so then I’m not looking at paying full price come Christmas and birthdays or when I want a game to teach something in particular. I currently have 15 games in the cupboard for the future, lol.
  • Give them as gifts. Each birthday each one of us gets a game, preferably one we’ll enjoy (so I can justify that expense) and then at Christmas we get a couple. That means we’re getting 6-8 games through the year because we all love games in addition to ones I make.
  • Get some gameschool friends. I’ve introduced several local friends to gameschooling, mainly by lending them games, and they’ve soon bought their own, and so we’ve been able to swap games with them. I won’t buy games they have unless we can’t live without it (hasn’t happened yet!).
  • Buy copies. On Ebay there are many stores that sell copies of popular games. They’re not the legit version, and so the original gamemakers aren’t getting their dues (which is one of the reasons I don’t buy them) but you can buy copies of games very cheap and they tend to be OK quality and complete sets etc, most of the time, but not always, bear in mind.
  • Make your own! Homeschoolers tend to be crafty and resourceful. Read on.

“I want to make my own games. Help.”

You can make your own games very cheaply, and indeed I make TONNES of them. You can buy books that have things to photocopy and make, or get free printables from all over the internet. You can attempt to replicate popular games, particularly using game pieces and boards from games you’ve bought cheaply secondhand (this is where op shops/goodwill are handy). Remember that challenging your kids to make their own game is a great activity too.

There are links all over the place here – this is an ULTIMATE guide after all – so read back but here is yet another collection of links to get you started:

“My kid doesn’t find games fun. We have meltdowns over rules/winning/losing. It just won’t work for us.”

Ah, yes. I understand. I know a few kids including my nephew and son who have worked through game rage. I’d argue that these children may need to play games more than anyone else! Games are a great way to learn to handle and reframe ‘failure’, practice gracious winning and losing, handling disappointment, trying again etc. Not all things will work for all families, and you may want to use a few of these ideas in concert, but here are some things to consider:

  • Play cooperatively. This is my number one tip. Play cooperative games where you all work as a team. Forbidden Island, Pandemic and Wildcraft are all popular here, and Caitlin has this post with a huge list to help you. They’ll still be disappointed, but it’s a lot less than if they weren’t on a team.
  • Change the rules. Linked to playing cooperatively is: change the rules to suit. Games aren’t games if there aren’t some rules, but you can make them suit your family situation. Make it cooperative, quicker, lighter, less disappointing, whatever. You can build back up to regular rules later.
  • Choose quicker, lighter games. The less time your child has been sitting, the smaller the outburst is likely to be (just based on contained energy). The less energy they have put into trying to win, the less upset they’ll feel, hopefully. Think Uno, Bingo games, Go Fish.
  • Try strategy games. Maybe your child needs to feel more control so rather than luck based games, where you solely rely on the cards you pick up or dice you rolled, try games where they can work towards something. What you choose will depend on your child’s age. Think Connect 4, Carcassonne for older kids, and many others.
  • Play 2 player games. Try 2 player games where just a safe adult and your child play. Losing to just a trusted adult (maybe Grandma?) rather than siblings as well may help too.
  • Let them win sometimes! This is a bone of contention in the gameschool community; to win or not to win?! But as an adult who loves playing games, when my husband or friends constantly smash me at a game, it makes me want to play it a lot less. It’s boring and not fun. Let them win sometimes.
  • Model gracious winning, losing and game play. This should go without saying, but I have seen posts in groups about playing games with adults who have had tantrums in front of children. Oh my. Do not play with any adults that can’t be adult, lol! By all means express yourself, but only in a way you’d be happy for your children to do also. Monkey see, monkey do.
  • Discuss unpleasantness later. Game didn’t go well? Let them express themselves, empathise, and let it go. Lecturing or saying “It’s just a game!” won’t actually help when they’re feeling upset and disappointed, in fact they won’t feel heard. Later on, when they’re calm and have experienced success at something else they like, you can come back to what happened at the game and discuss it as appropriate to your family. Punishing game behaviour will only lead to not wanting to play at all so avoid that at all costs.
  • Try single player games. There are tonnes of single player games. Maybe your child would benefit from working through some things by themselves? Try ThinkFun Maze games, Perplex us, Caboodle, or Chicken Shuffle.
  • Let them create their own game. If they design a game, even just using some cards, counters, dice etc and teach it to you, and have to uphold the rules and game play themselves because they’re in charge, perhaps this will give them the control they need to handle the ups and downs of gaming.
  • Make them Game Master. In a similar vein, try giving them the responsibility for the setup, pack up and running the game. Not that they do it all themselves, but they’re in charge of everyone. Your children may need to take turns at this if it causes friction.
  • Play open. When we learn a game for the first time, we always play open. That means that rather than keeping our cards or whatever to ourselves, we play so everyone can see what everyone has, is doing, and why. Knowing how to play a game better may help with those big feelings.
  • Choose your time carefully. Maybe family game night needs to be family game morning? Tiredness is not going to help games go well. We do the majority of our family game playing before bedtime because we have a fairly traditional work schedule here, but if you can play when everyone is fresh, that may help.
  • Don’t finish. I can hear the gasps, but it’s ok to not finish! Try playing games but without completing them. Start a game when you don’t have time to finish. Enjoy playing, then pack it up and put it away. The fun and learning has happened, without the trauma of the ending. You can of course build up to finishing later.
  • Work on self-regulation. Emotional regulation is not something you can teach necessarily, but it is something you can practice. Of course, you need to model it, and don’t worry, we all lose it sometimes, but the more you model it, the better they will do at it. Also try some of these ideas from PBS, or these ideas from The Inspired Tree House.
  • Growth mindset. Remove the focus from winning and losing all the time. This may not work for competitive kids who are just naturally that way, but focus on the fact that life is a journey, and failure is a construct that really means nothing other than “This one time it didn’t work so we need to try again.”. We are Big Life Journal fans here, and have one of the posters on the fridge.
  • Leave it. And of course, games aren’t for everyone all the time. If you’ve tried on and off for a few weeks, and worked on all these things and it still isn’t going well, then leave it for a while (a season, a year) and try again. Maybe your kid just isn’t going to be a game person? I’ll be honest and say I’m really sceptical about this – I feel like anyone who says they don’t like games just haven’t played the right ones - but anything is possible, of course.

“My kids fight. We can’t play games together.”

Yeah this is a hard one! Caitlin has written a brilliant article at My Little Poppies that I cannot improve upon. She has a list of great ideas, and one I will emphasize is snacks. Lol! Seriously though. Eating a clean food (like plain popcorn, because you don’t want to get your game pieces super dirty) while playing is a great way to keep a game moving along and everyone calm. Read her entire article here. I’ll also add that we regularly play games 1:1 here. Like at least once a week with each child.

“I have a toddler who can’t play but wants to, and ends up wrecking the game in their earnest efforts.”

Mmm, also tricky! I have a few suggestions for this one that have worked here. Firstly, it’s always a good idea to play at nap time, but that isn’t always possible, particularly if mama is pinned under said toddler!

  • Snacks. Seriously, just snacks.
  • Play in teams. Toddler can sit on your lap and hold your cards/roll your dice and be on your team.
  • Give Toddler their own game pieces to play with alongside, or even on the board if they can be careful with the pieces that are part of the game.
  • Let them “play along” even if they’re not playing properly. Let them go through the motions. This requires some patience from your older kid/s and a relatively calm toddler.
  • Play two games at once. I have sat playing a big kids game on one side, and a little kids game on the other, lol. Have your coffee/wine handy.
  • Set up Toddler up with their own activity next to you. Chloe is often happy to draw or paint or play right next to us as long as she feels included.
  • Make them Game Master. Sit them up on top the table (yep!) and let them hand out the cards or roll the dice. This was our main strategy for months and worked well. Obviously, it won’t work for all kids!
  • Screen time. I know this will go against some belief systems, but setting Toddler up with a screen to get some 1:1 time with another kid might be your answer for a while. It’s only a season.
  • Game night. Play when Toddler is in bed for the evening. Less than ideal as we’ve already talked about how this won’t work for some kids if they’re too tired.
  • Play when someone else is around. Get together with a friend, and one of you play a game with the older kids, while one plays with the younger kids. Or wait until Grandma comes for a visit or your partner is available obviously.
  • Take turns to play. Older toddlers might be able to understand waiting their turn for their own game. There are heaps of actually good toddler games to consider. Colourama and Busytown are two that come to mind.
  • Snacks. Did I mention snacks?

Honestly, game playing with small kids around, particularly if you have a couple of them is not going to be easy, so only attempt when you have some patience available. You may decide to wait until everyone is older, and that’s ok, too. Chloe used to grab and throw all the pieces and think she was hilarious, *all the eyerolls*. We just waited her out and now it’s great. It’s a short season, mama, hang in there.

The last word

I trust you’re thoroughly overwhelmed and now have hours of reading ahead to check out all those links. If there is something I haven’t covered here, then please let us know. Have any other suggestion, comment, game recommendation, get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

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The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal

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The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal
Cat Timms

Cat Timms

Contributor

Cat is an Australian homeschool mama to 2, Early Childhood Teacher, photographer, and game lover. Cat is passionate about play and uncomplicating home education. She's on Instagram @ahumanattempt and @lightheartphotog.

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