Toadstools and Nature Journals

We found toadstools in our autumn garden yesterday. Just as Gerry ( dh) was going to toss these into the garden rubbish, I remembered a tip from Karen Andreola, in one of the old Parent Review magazines.

Mushroom spores!

My mind went back to Gnowangerup, a little country town. Our oldest was 17 and youngest 2. We had many toadstools in our damp garden and when the Parents Review magazine popped in our mail box, with its articles on mushrooms and toadstools, I knew that nature study was set for the week.

Mushroom spores!

So, as history does repeat, again and again in homeschooling a large family, yesterday, Saturday, we re-visited toadstools and mushrooms.

I gingerly removed the stalks from the toadstools and lay them, underside down, on white computer paper. The toadstools were damp with dew.

By the close of the day, we saw patterns and swirls – artwork left by the damp toadstools and their spores.

This is one sample above. I have put our scanner to good use – imagine how these look now they are in our nature journals!

We cut and pasted our paper into our nature books – a treasure trove of family memories, not just nature journals. More discovery journals, to quote Karen Rackliffe from the book :”Wild Days.”

“To notice the painting on a flower, the shape of a cloud, the song of a thrush and the cool smoothness of the bark on a birch tree, these are the memories captured in a nature journal. Nature studies are an integral part of the living atmosphere of a classroom. Without them, trees become merely pictures, flowers lose their fragrance, birds are without song and movement, and life exists only outside the window. To know nature is a source of refreshment and pleasure for every person–teachers and students alike.

Within my own classroom, nature studies have been a biweekly habit of picking up our notebooks and colored pencils and heading outside to be still, quiet and thoughtful. Afterwards, we use a field guide to identify our new discoveries. Oftentimes, these moments are the most productive of the entire day, and they serve to provide the much needed mind-food for other academic disciplines.”


Teaching the Fun of Science.

This is the title of a book by Janice VanCleave. It is a great book and one a few of us are enjoying right now.

The book is described as being for grades 4-8, but I think the activities are fun for younger children and can also be extended into research for older ones.

To my shame, I purchased the book four ( yes, four) years ago – from Border’s in Adelaide – but only picked it up this month for our Science foucs. I should have picked it up sooner!

I need to use more of the resources we own – you know, the ones that sit on the shelf, pining to be used but that are often ignored.

Teaching the Fun of Science has dozens of activity pages, with ready-to-use reproducible activities and projects. None of these require elaborate pre-preparation or purchasing of many materials.

There are teaching tips, vocabulary, standards for different grades, extension activities for each mini topic.

The mini topics are grouped in sections – PHYSICAL SCIENCE, LIFE SCIENCE, EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCES.

A few of us are picking and choosing our way through the Life Science section.

Last week, we designed our own classification system. This week, we made models of cells, using zip lock bags ( cell membranes), lemon jelly ( Jello – cytoplasm) and peanut M and Ms (for the nuclei).

Yummy and fun – oh and learning too! Two of the kids wrote definitons and drew diagrams in their notebooks.



Thomas and Anthony, the two youngest in our family, love to cook.

Last year, Wednesday evenings were a highlight in their week – they watched the TV cooking show Beat The Chef on the ABC.

And what is more – their older brothers are friends with the son of one of the chefs!

Thomas tried a couple of the recipes from the sbow and also regularly visited the website for new cooking tips.

This year, both Thomas and Anthony are cooking all or part of our dinners, two nights per week.

Anthony made a Garden Lasagne for his older brothers during Holy Week, and Thomas served us all a delicious Chilli Con Carne.

On the 4 real message boards, there has been a discussion on bread baking. Apart from helping to knead bread, these two sons have not yet experimented with the other processes involved in bread baking.

I thought they might like to become bread bakers!

And a good place to start might be Damper – I baked two round loaves of damper to eat hot with our Easter Sunday barbeque lunch.

Aussie Damper

Use 1/2 cup self raising flour per person. I tend to use half wholemeal flour and half white flour.

Add milk to mix into a soft dough.

Knead gently on a floured board.

Place on a floured baking tray. Mould dough into a round cobb shape – one or two loaves, depending on your preference. Score the tops of the loaves with a knife, typically into six or eight sections.

Brush with beaten egg or milk.

Cook in a hot oven until dough is cooked, not soft in centre and nicely browned.

Traditionally, this was cooked in the coals of a camp fire and can still be done so today – I tend to cover it wth alfoil first!

You can make a simpler loaf with just flour and water or you can provide a richer loaf by adding –

1-2 tablespoons butter per person, rubbed into the flour.

grated cheese, herbs, chopped bacon, diced onion, sultanas or other dried fruit to the dry mixture.

Some damper links –


Holy Week

Holy Week is here already.

It appears that I have blinked and moved straight from Christmas to Holy Week and Easter.

Where did the period of Lent and of Ordinary Time go? They went in what seems a blink of an eye.

This week, tomorrow and Wednesday, our older sons arrive from Adelaide. This adds an extra dimension to our Holy week and Easter.

What have you been reading for Lent?

I am reading “First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and in the Trinity” by Scott Hahn. Only a few days left in which to both finish and savour this book, to meet my self imposed deadline of Easter Saturday. Hahn builds on the words of Pope John Paul II. : “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love.”

Gerry is reading The Times Book of Saints and finding many personal inspiring examples.

Jonathon is reading a chapter from the Bible – the Book of the Apocolypse or Revelations each night.

Alexander read a concise volume titled ‘The Catholic Faith.” It is one of the first books on the Faith that I read after and during my conversions.

Thomas read a biography of Blessed Miguel Pro,a priest from Mexico in the early 1900s.

Anthony devoured a book on the priest Charles Garnier, a preacher to the Indians in the early days of the colonization of America. Preaching while retaining many parts of their culture.

And the older three boys? Luke, Greg, Nick. What have they read? I’ll ask and let you know….


What we are up to.

Two sons have been to a painting workshop for painting Warhammer figures – they get to go on a school day so are the only kids there – and they love it!

We have been watching all the Star Wars movies in succession at night, over this week – still have some more to go. Having lots of discussion on the development of special fx and of the characters.

We are listening to the CD of Book 4 of A Series of Unfortunate Events while driving in the car – having great talks on vocabulary, stylish consistency and the humour in the book. I got this set of CDs from the younger four boys for my birthday this week. 🙂

Still reading aloud Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin ( almost finished – we are reading the Young Reader’s version of the autobiography).

I just began reading, for myself ;-), Book 4 in Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series. Quite interesting. I was thinking we might save up and get these on CD, to listen to in the car.

We are going to hire the new Harry Potter DVD tonight.

And we are looking at Science activities this month of April – Alexander wants to build a motor and make a battery and I suggested he type up the info and physics principles for the portfolio. Anthony and Thomas and I found a kit at K Mart yesterday – Build Your Own Model of a Space Station – so we thought that would be good for this Science focus – and with the addition of the favourite Magic Schoolbus series.