Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Great Reskilling

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Something which keeps popping up for me in conversations and community work lately is the term 'reskilling'. And I see it's now part of our new header banner here at the Co-Op blog!

Reskilling is "re-learning the skills that our grandparents took for granted, such as how to use hand tools, how to build our own structures, how to mend and make clothing, how to make our own medicine, how to forage, grow, preserve and store our food."
Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement

The Great Reskilling refers to how society-at-large will be affected by Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Crisis in the coming decase or so.

When considering topics for our local Simply Living Workshops, we first identified the people within our community who have these 'old skills'. We then went about planning our workshop series, which includes:

growing food, including climate-specific workshops
food forests
storing and preserving food, including lacto-fermentation
sourdough bread baking
home medicinals
first aid
weaving and fibre crafts
alternative building and energy
crisis comprehension
keeping poultry
home dairying
fermented dairy products
animal husbandry - general
raising and using livestock - from hoof to horn
horse care - basic

Which skills have you learned since reading this blog, or otherwise researching simple living? Which skills do you think we need to add to our list above?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Building a personal library

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

This week I finally got around to buying and putting up the shelving that I have needed for far too long. The books that have been stacked in various corners of my house collecting dust are now lined up neatly on accessible shelves. The prolonged lack of suitable book housing has done me some favors. In a burst of enthusiasm for minimalist living this year, I got rid of a lot of my books. I was forced to think long and hard about whether the books I owned represented who I now was - did they provide me with the information I needed now and for the future I was planning for? Most of my old geology textbooks didn't make the mark, whilst most of my DIY and craft books are ready to take their place on the new shelves.

I grew up in a house where to discard a book was sacrilege - they were the most valuable possessions you could own - an attitude which led to indiscriminate book collecting. When I walk into rooms full of books, I often wonder if they are there to genuinely educate and refer to, or to give the impression of scholarliness, or a message about who the owner is.  If most of those books were not read, or read more than once, its a terrible waste of a resources. This is not to say that having a range of books on a breadth of topics not of immediate relevance to you is a bad thing - indeed, if you have children, you will do them a great service by letting them read widely and explore the world through books. Reading books is still a great pleasure, but I feel now that there is a limit  to the amount of chaff I am willing to store in my own home.

The internet has revolutionized the way we access and disseminate information in my lifetime. It is a mine of useful information - but it is just that, a mine. You have to put a lot of time, energy and discrimination into finding good resources. Because of the sheer quantity of free information it is possible to accrue with a few mouse clicks, storing and using that information can be a further challenge. I use a blog reader to read blog feeds and bookmarks in my browser for other web pages. I then go through and purge the bookmarks on a regular basis, or print/write out the gems that I genuinely need to remember.

And then of course there is personal experience. We live in a culture that is far too dismissive of personal experimentation in favor of deference to paid experts. I think personal journals, blogs and scrapbooks are important resources - whether you keep a general one about your life, or topic relevant ones. Every author, even when trying to provide a generalist overview, ultimately colours their writing with their own experience - not a bad thing itself, unless as is all to often the case, the work is held up as a benchmark, a gold standard that everyone else should be following. Keeping a record of your own experience - including, most importantly, all of your failures - is one of the best references you can have.

I am now working towards something more personal. I have a few generalist books - basic gardening techniques, a basic sewing book, a crochet stitch dictionary, a few very different but well thumbed cookbooks. But I no longer collect reference works indiscriminately - I don't need four books that repeat most of the same basic information but might contain the odd gem of wisdom that may or may not be useful to me. Instead I am building up scrapbooks of information directly relevant to me - tips pulled from library books, newspaper clippings, internet searches and personal scribbles of our experiences. I have reacquainted myself with our local library, instead of heading straight to Amazon - the three week loan period is just the period of time needed to work out whether a book is a keeper or not.

So far, my own folders and notebooks include -
  • A notebook of recipes we use on a daily basis.
  • A gardening journal of successes, failures, notable weather events, planting dates and yields.
  • Brewing and wine making records and recipes.
  • A file of craft patterns, doodles and stitch techniques, inspiration and DIY instructions.
I feel I will have achieved something when all of this information is truly mine - when my own observations and reflections, ideas and projects outnumber the printouts and  clippings from experts - when I have applied the knowledge, evaluated it and learnt from it. I also look forward to having something to pass on to our kids, something they can build on in their own lives if they see fit.

Do you have a library? What are your priorities when it comes to collecting information - and how do you organise it?

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Jack of all trades, master of (at least) one?

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We had a good collection of very elderly non-fiction books in our home library when I was growing up, mostly gleaned for pennies from charity shops and library sales. Some were encyclopedias, some were old school text books, some were beautifully bound introductions aimed at the 'working man'. My favourite was a learning library comprising of five leather bound books dating from the 1940s. If you worked through all six books, you would have acquired a good working knowledge of six different languages, maths, chemistry, physics, biology, political theory, world history, geography, economics, literature, drama, art and several branches of engineering. Each section had a fairly distinguished bibliography in the event you needed to learn more. There is no modern equivalent of this work and I doubt that there ever will be again.

Our choices are often presented as either/or when it comes to learning. You can be a good all rounder but excel at nothing, or you can be  a world expert with no interests or real knowledge outside of your chosen field. Some people are written off at school age alltogether, as if they are inherently incapable of learning. Polymaths are a rare thing these days and in popular culture anyone who uses their spare time to study a subject in depth or even passionately pursue a hobby is regarded as something of an eccentric. Since I embarked on a more frugal sustainable lifestyle, I have had to learn many new skills. I can now do more for myself than perhaps even I realise; and I have had great fun experimenting. But I have no real indepth expertise in anything; and I am beginning to feel dissatisfied.

Expertise is useful. I have no interest in becoming a master baker, but it is handy to have an expert to consult when my amateur efforts go awry - someone who knows where I went wrong and how to solve it. I would like to return the service in some small way. As I have simplified my life, I have uncovered a need to discover an underlying passion that I can devote myself to fully, as a hobby or as a career. My partner's is his job - he is training as a mental health nurse and he is passionate about all things related to it. At the same time he is obsessed with cars and is also developing his beer making and bread baking skills with gusto. I am quite frankly envious of his passion.

This year I hope to uncover at least one thing that captures my attention to the point of obsession. The only way to do that of course it to continue to read and experiment widely, perhaps more widely than I have in even in recent years. If there is something that captivates you - whether that be composting, fruit growing, car mechanics, astronomy, languages or music, then find the time to devote to it and share it with others. The internet has opened up the opportunities for self study in most fields - though it pays to be discerning - and there are online communities devoted to every subject you could wish to immerse yourself in. There is distinct pleasure to be had in being an amateur, there is yet another pleasure to be found in knowing a subject inside out and becoming masterful - and (at least I hope that) there is no reason that you can't experience both in a lifetime.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Teaching What Matters Most

By Bel

from Spiral Garden

One of my passions is helping other families connect with nature. I love writing about getting kids into the garden, and walking the talk by enjoying our garden, nature walks, photography, camping and other nature-inspired activities, with my children.

There are some very good resources for children which cover topics such as permaculture, organic gardening, peak oil, solar energy, etc.

Here’s some of the info I found:

The ABC Book of Gardening for Kids is a good one. About $16 or in most library systems.

You must read The Lorax by Dr Seuss!!

Backyard Science (books and TV - again ABC) is great too.

Depends on their age, but Jackie French is good - her Chook Book and self-sufficiency books are pretty easy reads. My 10 year old likes ‘my’ Jackie French books.

The Department of Environment and Heritage have free resources about environmental issues.

Living Earth Games, which include permaculture principles and are heaps of co-operative fun. We own and enjoy both Gaia’s Garden board game and the Living Landscapes cards.

There are environmental and social justice topics in mainstream school resources like those available from RIC where you can browse every page of every book. Also, find ideas here.

My kids love those permie DVDs like ‘Eat your Garden’ and the ‘Gardening Australia - Permaculture‘ DVD with Josh building his backyard permaculture setup from scratch. They’re not aimed at kids, but they’re very simple and entertaining.

For solar energy and peak oil, you may look for educational material from CSIRO, petroleum companies, the ‘green’ department of your local energy companies (gas and electricity).
Docos and TV shows like Catalyst aren’t aimed at kids but aren’t too difficult for them to understand either. I prefer not to dumb-down the facts and science behind this issue. It is amazing to hear their positive solutions and alternatives and their ideas about what would be more difficult in a time where oil is very expensive and how we would cope etc. They really are positive about relocalisation and alternative energy sources, permaculture, community gardens and co-opping and all sorts of other things which come up from Peak Oil discussions.

Carbon calculators are fun and informative. Try this site for links to a few different ones (some are inaccurate for rural folk etc due to penalties for not using public transport for example).

We watched The Power of Cummunity- How Cuba Survived Peak Oil DVD 2006, then a friend came back from Cuba with amazing photos and stories to tell of their thriving communities… We talked about similarities and differences, and how such a crisis would affect our community, our nation.

We took time to read about The Great Depression in Australia, for if there is an oil crisis (or other event) we could experience such a time again. It’s so far removed from our very wealthy, urban and ‘instant’ society that we enjoyed studying what occurred during this period and why.

Where are you? Maybe there are farms nearby you can visit to learn about food production. Community gardens are great too. Some larger Permaculture farms have open days.

More Links:

Solar Energy Projects
Sustainability Education
Permaculture Stories for Children

… and so it goes. An alternative curriculum, just a click away! Enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Pass It On

I have been thinking a lot here lately about education and passing on knowledge. I submitted the forms necessary for our area to be "official" homeschoolers this year, as my daughter is of the mandatory reporting age. Our reasons for keeping our children home are numerous and varied. From personal experience, there is so much learning that should happen at home, anyway, that it made a lot of sense for us. Much of that knowledge is of the homemaking variety. My daughter and son can be whatever they choose when they are older, but I expect them to be able to make dinner for themselves, sew clothes if needed, plant a garden and various other homesteading tasks that get easily left behind in modern schooling.

Recently I was given the opportunity to teach some classes at a local farm/store, and I have loved it. I love that the classes exist, period, really, though, as the fact that people will pay to learn something like making jams, making soaps, sewing aprons and cooking from scratch, tells us that priorities are changing, and for the better. There are so many crafts and skills that are getting lost-lost in a fast paced society and also due to changes in priorities. There was a time when schools (and grandmothers) taught girls how to do simple homemaking tasks-basics at the very least-so they could maintain a home when they were older. It didn't matter what path they were going to take-working full-time, having children or not-they needed basic skills. Young men were required to learn how to change the oil in a car and simple woodworking. Currently many of these programs are being cut from schools due to lack of funding and families no longer pass that sort of knowledge on, if they even possess it. I think the priorities of our society have shifted. What is even more troubling is that the older generations have even been removed from these skills in many cases. I know many families where the matriarchs or patriarchs are just as clueless about how to perform tasks many of us in the simple/frugal/green movement do everyday as their younger counterparts are.

Luckily, those of us who have learned, either from the internet, friends, grandparents who have been there, books or other classes are seeing the need to pass on that knowledge. I love showing others how to do things-whether it is mending a garment, recycling a sheet into something new and fun, baking bread or canning the season's bounty. I love to do it whether I am getting paid (which is just a nice bonus for a one income household) or not. I think education is vital for the survival of communities. Many people hear me talk about something and their response is "I didn't know you could do that!". It is important to keep up with our public display of the things we do to open up opportunities to teach others. It isn't that there isn't something for us to learn from folks who live faster, more modern "normal" lives, but much of what we do is getting lost and the only way to preserve these skills, which may be necessary someday-we cannot know-is to teach them, both to the next generation and to current ones.

I end in saying how very tickled I was about the attendance of the sewing class I co-taught over the weekend. A very close friend and I taught an intro to sewing class, and helped the ladies there to sew simple aprons. They were giddy that there was an easily accessible outlet to learn something of the sort, and we were happy to pass the knowledge on. The thing that got me was the ages of the people there; from a teenager (who turned red every time we mentioned tagging her in a picture of her in her apron on facebook for all her friends to see-which we had no intention of doing, but she was so darn cute) to ladies in their thirties and forties. The bread baking class last month had ladies in their fifties. It is awesome to see people willing to learn, no matter their age, and being able to make that happen. If those who have the knowledge do not pass it on, whether to their children or others, it will be lost. Knowledge is one of our most valuable resources, and one that is both easily wasted and easily given. I hope more people take opportunities to give it. It is so terribly fulfilling to see someone use their new skills, and in knowing that they now have the chance to pass it along.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Frugal Homeschool

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Home educating on a budget may seem like a challenge at first, especially if you are attempting to gather as many resources as your average classroom. There is no need to rush out and buy a lot of equipment that you may not need. First, sit down and write a “wish list”, then highlight the items you feel are most necessary to begin.

There are many alternatives to expensive educational resources. Below are some ideas to help you save money in setting up your home learning space.

- Buy furniture which has multiple uses. Consider a large, second-hand dining table over individual desks, for example. Use open shelving rather than cupboards for storing supplies and books. This allows the children to see what is available for their use and is less expensive. I have used two bolt-together galvanised steel five-shelf units to hold the many games, puzzles, construction kits and so on that I have gathered over the years. The children can see everything on the shelves and they remain tidy and uncluttered compared to a cupboard. They cost $15 each from the hardware store. I also have a 2.5m high, 1.2m wide shelving unit in white melamine, that’s tougher than your average chipboard one as it was once display shelving in a shop. This one holds many files, folders, books and boxes and cost me $30 from a second-hand furniture store.

- Consider a $2 inflatable globe from a discount store before investing in an expensive atlas or globe. My children have learned more world geography from their “beach ball globe” than from any other maps or books we own. Atlases often come on sale at the start of the school year or in book club catalogues. Hold out until you get a quality, inexpensive one. Or suggest one as a gift idea from a grandparent or other family member.

- Look at alternatives before investing in sets of encyclopedias. In today’s technological age there is up-to-date information on many topics available on the Internet, which many families have access to at home or at their local library. Sites like wikipedia and those designs specifically for educators like askjeeves will most likely provide answers to most questions that young ones come up with. Encyclopedias on CD rom are also a cheaper version that the book sets. Libraries usually have at least one set of quality encyclopedias. Second-hand sets are readily available and even a ten-year old set won’t be too out of date if you can buy it at a reasonable price. Childcraft sets rarely date in their content and we have found many versions of these second-hand – at garage sales, library sales and op. shops.

- Art and craft supplies are especially important for littlies. I buy a lot of mine from an educational supplier in bulk. I buy 2 litre bottles of poster paint cheaper than I can buy 500ml at the local discount store. I also buy glue in bulk and refill glue applicators and pots with brushes or glue spatulas. I use powder paint and powder glue for big art projects as it works out to be much cheaper. We use recycled paper and quality pencils and crayons for day-to-day art play. I have found that it is more worthwhile buying one set of Stockmar crayons or Lyra pencils every few years (or more) than buying the cheaper pencils on sale at the supermarket. I buy coloured paper and other mediums for them to use for special projects and gifts. Our clay comes in 10kg packages from art suppliers or “recycled” clay from the local potters club, and we make our own playdough with simple kitchen ingredients. I’ve also bought playdough in bulk because it is only slightly more expensive than making it myself, and has a longer shelf life in our hot summers.

- Buy exercise books, writing pencils, computer paper, folders and more at the back-to-school sales and keep a supply handy for when the children need these. Cover books yourself rather than buying those with covers depicting favourite characters, they are too expensive.

- Buy the minimum number of books you can for your child’s learning. Wait until they have used the curriculum for awhile before deciding to invest in a whole series. Borrow reading books from the library rather than buying them all new. And take literature lists to second-hand book stores as often these titles are readily available in used condition having been prescribed school readers. While you are at the second hand book stores, check out the reference section and for any quality books that are not too out-dated.

- Make your own games. Learning games are fun and they work! There are many websites to get you started with making games. Learning games can be in the form of board games, card games or physical games. They can include music, sports equipment, flash cards or dice. You are limited only by your imagination. And the kids have plenty of that, so get them involved!

- Plan some low-cost excursions or consider annual passes to local museums or wildlife parks if you think you will get value for your dollar. Often you need only go twice to recoup your membership costs, and there are a lot of extra benefits. These annual tickets are a great gift idea for someone wanting to give to your whole family.

The golden rule in the beginning is WAIT. As time progresses you will know what your family’s needs are and you may hear from other homeschoolers where the bargains are. You don’t need to build a school in your home to start on your home based learning journey. If you are feeling inadequate, write a list of all the resources available in your community - include the library, council, tourist centre, parks, galleries, museums, natural resources (beach, forest, river etc), people, schools and so on. You will be surprised at the range of activities just waiting to be enjoyed as part of your home education journey.

Here are some online resources which might save you some money…

School Express US site - lots of free printables and more

Classics for Kids Free lesson plans for four classical composers, timelines, biographies and more - get your music from the local library or $2 shop CDs and enjoy!

SparkleBox - 1000s of printables!

Donna Young Want to be organised? Like free printables? You’ll love Donna Young.

An Old Fashioned Education
Christian and Classical Education Resources - so many subjects and all free resources!

Skwirk Free, interactive and Australian! Three points!

The Learning Page This has been around for years, and we’ve used the free printables many times. Lovely stuff!

The Magic of a Million Activity Book Download for free!

Worksheet Factory These are fantastic for creating your own worksheets to concentrate on a specific area of maths which may need revision, without having to handwrite the problems for your child! There are several programs available for free trial.

Pocket Basics The Pocket Basics books have been highly recommended. This page offers a variety of valuable downloads for…. Free!

Puzzlemaker Great fun for those who enjoy word puzzles. Create an activity book which suits their skill level perfectly.

Educational Press This is fantastic - so many options and levels and you can create your own board games etc. at home.

Enchanted Learning Over 20000 pages of printables.

The Well-Bred Sentence Studying grammar? Everything you need to know about sentence construction and punctuation.

Craft Creations Free Projects for card making enthusiasts.

International Children’s Digital Library Children’s literature to encourage a global community.

Please leave a comment with some of your frugal education ideas and links!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Green Life With A Reading Addiction

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

When I first became more environmentally conscious and decided to make major changes in my spending, both by spending less and by committing to spending on quality local, fairtrade etc, it occurred to me the one worry I had was my addiction to books - the last time I looked there were no fairtrade books available yet! For a few weeks I worried and fretted and then little by little I began to see there were many ways my new commitments could be adhered to, even with a pretty significant reading addiction.

The first thing I did was stop purchasing my daily papers. To ease into the transition, I allowed myself to purchase a weekend paper but the rest of the week I read the papers online! I have to say, the transition was incredibly easy - I so enjoyed my weekend treat and found incredible resources online through blogs, websites and forums that in many ways opened up my world all the more!

Next I dusted off the old library card, which was used about once a month previously and I committed to going to the library each week to look for new books I'd like to read. My local library, sadly, doesn't have a very large selection however I have found some gems there, read some books I would not normally have read and learned to wait patiently for others :)

I then did an inventory of all the books I had, and shame on me found quiet a few I'd never read. I kept the books that were favourites, those which would be needed for smallholding and donated the rest to charities. Boy did that feel good :)

Finally, I found out about local book resources, like a free book cycle program in my city, book swaps online, second hand book sellers and charity shops.

Now, if I come across a book I'd really like to read instead of jumping to buy it I

  • really examine if this is the right time to read the book - a bit of a need vs want check, although yes ultimately reading is a want (only just!)
  • check my local library
  • have a look at local charity shops
  • ask friends and people in my reading groups
  • check online groups or stores for second hand sales that are within my reading budget
  • put the books on my "wish list" for Birthdays and Christmas
  • accept it may take a month or even a year to find a book, but accept it and enjoy the wait :)

And what am I currently reading? Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and I'm re-reading Fall On Your Knees by Anne Marie McDonald.

How do you cope with the desire to learn and read with the frugal, simple and green life? What are you currently reading?

Friday, 29 January 2010

Classics on my Bookshelf

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I think I'm older than most of my fellow writers here. I lack the fervor of the newly reformed too. I've always pretty much lived this lifestyle. I missed most of the greed and acquisitiveness of the 80's because I spent that decade living in a rather remote mountain town. Back when I was wanting to learn more about a self-sufficient lifestyle, there was no Internet and mentors were hard to find. So I turned to books.

And even now, with information so easily available, just a few keyboard clicks away, I'm still apt to look to my self-built reference library for answers. I'll check out new information, but some of my old books have served me well for decades. I've noticed that many of them, unavailable for many years, are now back in print. Others you may be able to find cheap, second-hand, as some old folks start looking to downsize their living space and clean out old clutter. Here are a few of my favorite titles; ones I think are worth snapping up if you happen to come across one, and perhaps even searching out.

Hands-down, the stuck-on-a-desert-island, one-book-only, choice I'd pick would be the Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery. That book covers everything, in an easy to read, amusing style. She's written how-to's about raising animals, gardens and orchards, recipes, preserving food - everything from midwifery to burying your dead are covered in this one amazing book.

For those looking to build up an emergency store of food, I have an old book, finally now available as a reprint. The new Passport to Survival, by Rita Bingham and Esther Dickey, is a step-by-step plan for first figuring out how much of what you'd need for a year (as members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, they are writing from experience), tips on how to acquire and store it, and then recipes for using what you've stored. Parts of the book I read with a critical eye, as they can get a bit preachy about some "miracle-food" items, but overall I consider it a valuable resource.

I just recently wrote about my sourdough starter over on my own blog. My copy of Adventures in Sourdough Cooking & Baking, by Charles Wilford, is so well-used I might have to start looking for another copy. It's a great reference for a beginner, with instructions about the care and feeding of your starter. There are a multitude of various bread and breakfast recipes, but also things like noodles, cookies, and pot pie dough.

I grow my fruits and vegetables in a rather harsh, high-desert, climate. I absolutely love anything written by Eliot Coleman. His Four-Season Harvest has helped me stretch our fresh-eating season to practically year-round. I'm still playing with various season-extender covers, but his writing is helping us to redefine normal in terms of a seasonal diet.

We do have a root cellar for storing winter produce (and the fig trees - a whole 'nother story) - dug and built by hand. Root Cellaring, by Mike & Nancy Bubel, helped with figuring out the design, how to use it, and the best storage varieties of fruits and vegetables. I know this one will appeal to fewer readers out there, but I can't tell you how much I love "shopping" in my cellar during these cold, snowy, winter days.

In finding the links to the above books, I've noticed the covers of most of them don't look like my copies anymore, but I'm sure most of the information hasn't changed. I have lots of cookbooks too, that could be considered "classics," such as the Small Planet, The Farm, or the Moosewood ones. But the recipes they contain, though revolutionary at the time, are now pretty much standard fare. Other books on my kitchen bookshelf, such as the Make Your Own Groceries ones, are no longer in print. I also figure I might have left out your personal favorites, so please, any more suggestions are welcome in the comments.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Meat Safety

I'd love to say that I only eat free range, organic, antibiotic free, small farm etc etc meat but the reality is that we usually buy our meat at the grocery store. I realize I'm effectively supporting practices that I don't believe in but my current alternatives are limited. I tried to convince my husband to become a vegetarian and he told me in no uncertain terms that wasn't going to happen. So our compromise is to buy less meat and the meat we do eat is organic and antibiotic free but it's "big box" organic so I wonder how good is it really?

What I never thought about was the safety of meat in schools, perhaps because we don't have kids? But when reading the paper a couple weeks ago I learned that in the United States many schools receive meat that doesn't meet fast food standards! Seriously, they serve our kids chicken that not even Hardees will sell for a $1. Fast food chains (while not the vanguards of healthy eating) are far more rigorous in testing for bacteria and pathogens then the national standards. They, in fact, test ground beef 5-10 times more often then the US Department of Agriculture tests beef produced for the nation's school system. If you think that's scary then consider the fact that fast food chains set limits for bacteria in burgers that are ten times more stringent then the national standard for schools. Compound this with the fact that school children are more susceptible to food borne illness and the fact that the meat may not be cooked long enough to kill the pathogens before it is served.

And the silver lining is that as low as these standards are they are stricter then the standards for meat sold in the grocery store. Perhaps it is to time to reevaluate my options...

What about you? Do you eat meat? Where do you get it from? Are you concerned about meat safety?

Monday, 17 August 2009

Making Time To Do Nothing

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I planned this post before I read the wonderful post yesterday by Bel about Burnout. It is a post I could really relate to. When I left the corporate world I had so many ideas, so many plans and oh so many lists. I wanted to learn to knit, sew, crochet, grow my own fruits & veggies, have flowers perfect for giving away, learn how to make jam & preserves, and bread too. I could just see myself being an amazing cake maker, flower arranger and seamstress. I look back now and see just how much expectation I was putting on myself and what a recipe for disaster it was going to be, of course at the time I couldn't see it. None of the veggies I tried to grow this year worked, neither did the strawberries. My knitting is moving along at a snail's pace, we won't discuss my sewing abilities or crochet skills.

The truth was, I was transferring the busyness of a corporate career into busyness at home. I was measuring success by how many new skills I learned and how bountiful my growing abilities were. Hardly simple and hardly joyous. It took one failed crop to make me realize that I was supposed to be learning to live a new, simpler, quieter more joyous life, not a life measured by the number of skills I had. I knew there had to be a better way, a more balanced way, a more wholesome way.

So I stopped, instead of daily and weekly lists of achievements I must accomplish, I created a vision of experiences I'd like to have and either realistic time frames or no time frames at all. I'd like to crochet a blanket for someone who is homeless or a child in an orphanage, not become an expert in crochet. I'd like to grow some fruit and make a fruit salad with fruit from my garden, not be inundated with more apples that I know what to do with in year one of my new journey - although I hold out hope for year 5 or 10 ;0). Simple changes & less pressure have made all the difference, I've gone back to seeing a simple life as a joyous one, not something I'm failing miserably at.

Over the past two weeks on my personal blog I've been blogging about reclaiming simple Sundays. There are no rules, just an acknowledgement that for most of us each day is filled with tasks we "need" to accomplish and lists of things to do. The point of reclaiming one day each week to do simple activities is to find joy, to make time for nothing in particular, to step away from errands, away from shops, away from stress and just be alone or together, making time for the joy found in nothing.

I've already found with just two days dedicated to nothing more than long walks, or a spot or knitting, perhaps some prayer or quiet reflection that there is a great deal to be said for nothing, and that nothing is perhaps filled with the most important somethings.

Do you practice setting time aside each week for quiet reflection, peaceful activities and rest?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Story of Stuff

By Julie
Towards Sustainability

I guess you could call this an "oldie but a goldie". The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard has been available on the 'net for quite some time now, but I still get regular emails from people who have followed the link from my website and have been blown away by the 20 minute video, so I think it's worth promoting it again for new readers to the Co-Op.

I love The Story of Stuff video because it gives a quick but concise description of both the environmental and social impacts of over consumption and exactly why all those imported goods can be produced so cheaply: I think it should be compulsory viewing in all schools.

In these tough financial times it can sometimes be difficult to justify the extra expense of buying local goods, but if you haven't already, watch the video and then consider
a) if you really need that item, and
b) if you can stretch your dollars a little more to support your local suppliers to keep your money (and jobs) in your local area.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Getting crafty, out and about!

Posted by Compostwoman, The Compostbin

Here are just a few ideas I use when working with children, or just playing in the woods with Compostgirl. Some are ideal for doing on a walk, some are an activity to do in your garden, all of them are fun. Some can be done without adult help.

Nature provides us with so many things. Some of these can be used to decorate our homes, or provide homes for creatures that help to pollinate plants and prey on garden pests. After you have made some natural craft item, using what nature provides to decorate your home, why not give something back, in the form of a bird feeder or minibeast home?

A few safety tips
Before you start, always get permission from the landowner if in any doubt!
Make sure children are well supervised and don’t collect anything poisonous.
Only collect loose, dead or fallen material from the ground.
Don’t pull bits from living plants or trees.
Only take items if there are plenty, and always leave some for the habitat or food source that they may provide.
Don’t touch bracken between July and September – the spores are hazardous.
Supervise children using sharp tools such as scissors, knives,needles, skewers etc.

Make a Mobile
Collect cones, leaves, seeds, nuts, feathers, sticks etc.
Find a stick you like.
Tie or thread the collected treasures on to long pieces of string (if you want to thread them get an adult to help make the holes).
Tie the top end of the string to the stick.
Continue making more strings of treasures (using different length strings can look good), and tie them along the stick until you are happy with the effect.
Then make a loop from string and tie this at the centre of the stick to hang it up with and you have made a natural mobile!

Make a Wild Crown or Bracelet
Take a piece of thinnish card (cereal box card is good) and cut it into strips about 5cm wide by 50cm long (for a crown) or shorter for a bracelet. You can adjust the size to fit and then fix the ends of the card together with glue or tape.
Put a long strip of double-sided sticky tape all the way around the outside of the card strip. Make sure it’s completely covered so that your treasures will stick well.
Now, go for a walk, gathering any nice natural materials that you find and sticking them on the tape as you go. Remember to press them firmly onto the sticky tape on the bracelet or crown so that they don’t fall off easily.
If you prefer, you can go collecting first and then this activity can be done back at home later with all the treasures you have gathered.

Colours from the Wild

Cut some stiff cardboard into squares or rectangles (approx. 10x10cm or 8x10cm) and cover one surface with double-sided sticky tape. Collect small pieces of natural materials to make a textured mosaic on the surface each one. The finished effect can look really beautiful, so why not make them into a collage, or frame them? Or use them to make birthday cards?

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Dollies
Gather a bunch of grass, corn or lavender with good long stalks.
Tie the stems firmly together just under the heads and trim the bottom ends of the stalks with scissors so that they are all level.
About mid way down from the heads tie the bundle again. This is to make the body. Then below this divide the bundle in two – these will be the legs of the dolly. Secure them just a little back from the very ends with string, leaving a short piece that you can bend up for the feet. Now take a smaller bundle of stems and cut off any flower heads and fasten each end. This will be for the dolly’s arms. Using a pencil or a small stick, carefully ease the stalks apart just underneath the ‘head’ of the dolly so that you can push the arms through (you might want to get an adult to help you). Now tie across and around the body and arms of the dolly, to secure them. Your dolly is now finished! Decorate with flowers, leaves or whatever else you fancy. Similar dollies can also be made using thick string or raffia.

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Plaits
Tie 3 stems of corn (or grass or lavender) just below the heads. Plait the stems until you are happy with the length of your plait. Tie the ends of the stems with string or ribbon and trim.
To make a hoop, bend the head end of the plait round so it is overlapping the stems and the top of the head is just below the ends of the stems. Then tie them together with string or ribbon and make a loop for hanging.

Bark Rubbing
Place a sheet of paper on an interesting tree and rub over the paper with a wax crayon. Find as many different textures as you can and use lots of different colours. Use them to make a picture or collage, then stand back and admire the result!

Feeding the Birds
Collect large open pine cones and/or washed and dried yoghurt cartons.
Tie a length of string around the cone so that you can hang it from a branch or bird table. Smear bird food mixture (see the ‘recipe’ below) into the cracks in the cones (warning – this gets messy!).
Make a hole in the bottom of the yoghurt carton. Tie a knot in a length of string and thread it through the hole with the knot inside, so the pot hangs upside down. Make sure the knot won’t pull through. Now fill up the yoghurt pot with the bird food mixture and leave to set (right way up) in a cool place.

Hang your feeders out in the garden and watch the birds enjoy their treat!

Bird Food Recipe Mix
Check no one is allergic to any ingredient before you start! Make sure you have put plenty of old
newspapers down, and wear old clothes or an apron (and don’t forget to roll up your sleeves!).
For your special birdseed recipe mix you will need:
Birdseed, raisins, grated cheese, and a selection of other suitable seeds if you like, such as pumpkin or sunflower which are both good.
Take 100g of softened vegetable fat or lard (put it somewhere warm for about an hour) and cut it into small pieces.
Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and squash together with your hands (messy!).
You can now shape it into balls around twigs, squish it into pine cones, or fill up yoghurt pots with it.
Leave everything in the fridge to set, and when they’re firm hang them outside for the birds to enjoy.
Don’t forget to wash your hands when you’ve finished!

Making Homes for Minibeasts
Help minibeasts survive in your garden by making them houses!

Ladybirds, beetles and minibeasts of all sorts: These little creatures like small places to roost. Tie bundles of twigs (hollow ones are even better!) tightly together with string. Wedge the bundle in a place on the ground, in the fork of a tree, beneath a hedge or anywhere out of the way in your garden where it won’t be disturbed. Minibeasts will hopefully find it an ideal home over the winter. Red mason bees will particularly like bamboo bundles done like this.

Bumblebees: Take a medium-sized plant pot with just one hole in the bottom and loosely pack it with dry shredded paper, straw or grass. Dig a hole big enough to bury it completely in the ground, ideally in a sunny place in some undisturbed corner with long grass. Bury the plant pot upside down in the earth so that the hole in the bottom is level with the surface of the ground. Carefully fill in around the edges with soil. You can re-cover the top with turf, just as long as the hole is still clear of dirt so that the bees can find it.

Slugs, snails and woodlice: Make a big pile of leaves in a shady and quiet corner of your garden, and watch all the little wigglers move in!

Beetles, centipedes and millipedes: Make a nice mixed pile of logs and twigs in a shady corner (you might want to ask an adult for help with carrying and positioning bigger pieces). You could put your pile of leaves next to it!

I hope this post has given you some ideas for things to do outside!

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Teaching my children about money

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I have written before about children and consumerism. Consumerism is alive and well in my children's playground. Children seem to be so much aware of products, brand names, and the power of money.

Readers of my personal blog would know that I have recently started giving my daughter pocket money. I have decided to use pocket money as a means to teach them how to manage money and how to delay gratification for greater gain. I hope by teaching them about money, they are more able to cope with our consumerist culture.

Some background first...

I had decided some time ago that my children won't get pocket money until they are able to recognise notes and coins and and understand basic addition and subtraction (in 1s, 5s and 10s). For my daughter this meant that she has not had pocket money until now - at the age of (in her words) "6 years and 3 quarters" she is finally able to show me that she knows her notes and coins and can add and subtract fairly well.

I had also decided not to tie pocket money to chores. Simple reason is that I just don't see the two of them as related. She (and her brother) have always done chores fact, it was only recently that my daughter realised that what they do are called "chores"!! Both of my children have been doing age-appropriate chores since they were about 3 years old. Its a normal and almost unconscious part of our lives (and I quite like it that way). It also helps me because I can teach her about money without having to think about chores either.

(Note the rest is xposted from my personal blog)

For me, my daughter has "earned" her pocket money by becoming proficient at the very basics of it - the adding and subtracting by 1s, 5s and 10s. Next step for us is for her to now learn how to managing that money. For me, that means learning about financial goal setting, saving and using alternatives.

Financial Goal-Setting

So as a first step, I asked her: "If you had money, what would you buy?" She told me she would buy a stick insect. So I wrote on a piece of paper stick insect, small aquarium and rocks = $65.

Then I asked her "If you had money to buy something little once a week, what would you buy?" And she told me that she would buy food from the canteen once a week (she's currently not allowed to do this). So I got the food list from the canteen and wrote all the foods she would buy and it all added up to $5.

Talking about Saving

I then told her that I will give her $6 a week for pocket money. This meant that she has $5 for the foods she would buy AND have $1 saved over which she can use to save for her stick insect - which would cost $65 after she's bought the aquarium, the rocks etc. This meant she would get her stick insect next year!

Looking at alternatives

As you can imagine, my daughter didn't like the idea of waiting that long for her stick insect. So the clever girl then said "I can look on Freecycle for the aquarium and the rocks....that's free."

She also said that she can get rocks from the garden and wash them, if she can't get those on freecycle.

And even more alternatives

After all this, I told her this brings the cost of her stick insect to $20. Which meant that she can have her stick insect by Christmas instead of next year. She still felt this was too long to wait, so I then sat down with her and said you can save for your stick insect by looking at what foods you can do without in the canteen. I told her she can save money if she brought her lunch from school instead.

She still didn't like this and said she wanted to buy something at the canteen with her friends. I told her that now its a matter of priority and that whatever she decides, that's okay. I told her that she can either wait till Christmas or have fun with her school friends.

After much thinking my clever girl came back and said, "I can still buy from the canteen and be with my friends but just not buy as much so I still can save money."

So I sat back down with her and went through the food list and in the end, she decided that she will just buy the chicken nuggets and not everything else. Instead, she will bring food from home to go with her chicken nuggets.

This meant that she now will only spend $3 a week of her $6 pocket money. Which meant she will get her stick insect in 7 weeks instead of Christmas. This is still a "long time" for her but we've agreed that there may be times when she will decide that she can bring all her lunch one week and so all her pocket money for that one week will go towards her stick insect.

Let's hope she can stick to what is effectively her first budget!! I know that there may be times when she'll slip up but I think saving up to get to $20 is a small enough amount as a first goal.

For now she's just so proud to be a "grown up" about money and I have to admit I've also very proud of her thought processes so far with it.

(Update: on the day of her pocket money, my daughter decided that instead of buying chicken nuggets ($3), she can buy chips ($1) instead. So she has now saved $5 instead of $3 - if she keeps it up, then she'll have her stick insect next month!)

If you have any stories about pocket money, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Greening the next generation - running an Eco Club.

Posted by Compostwoman, a revised and updated version of a post from a few months back in The Compostbin

Several of you have asked me about the environmental education activities (Forest School, Eco Club, Gardening Club, Master Composting) I get up to, so this is the first in a series of posts about them. This post is about the Eco Club I run after school at Compostgirl's Primary school. I hope, as always, that you find it interesting :-)

Eco Club aims to:- foster an understanding and appreciation of the natural world; let the children gain a hands on appreciation of what is around them in real life rather than just watching it on a TV screen; discuss a more simple, reduced consumption, reused and recycled way of living; and shows the children how to use natural and recycled materials to make new things so challenging the concept that "things" can only be made by "other" people and purchased from a shop.

Eco Club also teaches practical skills such as plant and animal identification, tracking, gardening and various crafts, and it gets the children out in the fresh air taking "free range" exercise. All these things help to promote positive self esteem in the children, caters to their various different multiple intelligences and encompasses children with different learning styles.

Oh, and did I mention it is FUN? :- ))

So, what is a "typical" Eco Club session like? Our sessions at Eco Club run after school from 3 15 to 5 pm. Membership is voluntary and we charge a small termly fee to cover the cost of various memberships. We have so many children wanting to be in Eco Club (which is nice!) that we have had to hold two duplicate sessions each month. We usually have around 10- 15 children in each session, Sue (Yr 2 teacher) and I lead them with a couple of parent helpers, usually Compostman is one of them, bless him. Sue and I are both qualified First Aiders, any non teaching staff have CRBs and we take a register at the start and end of the club to ensure the safety of the children.

We have found mixing children aged from 5 to 11 in a meeting is a really good thing as the older ones help the younger ones. We duplicate sessions each month so each group (Ants or Bees) does roughly the same thing as the other group. We get lots of external support as an RSPB Wildlife Explorers Club, a Woodland Trust Nature Detectives Club and we have been a Wildlife Trust Watch group. Each child is an individual member of the RSPB and gets a magazine every two months as well as various goodies from the Woodland Trust or RSPB on occasion.

We start with the children getting changed into old clothes in the classroom (we want everybody to be able to have fun without worrying about getting cold, hot, wet or mucky so old clothes, warm coats and wellies/sun hats and sun cream are essential wear. We than have a drink, a snack and a general chat about what we plan to do in the session; this is also the time for the children to share any exciting news with the rest of the club, or show a book or magazine they have found. Sometimes we look at a web site or a DVD which relates to what is planned for the session. We also talk about what we would like to do in future sessions and ask the children what they would like to do.

Unless the weather is really vile, we tend to be outside, starting with a few environmentally based games (more on those in another post) or just a general "free run around" time. This is a very important part of the session! Children who have been in a classroom all afternoon NEED to run around and let off steam! Then it is on with the activities planned for that session. Eco Club activities cover a wider range of “green” interests. For example; we talk about recycling and make recycled paper (more on that in a later post),

We have planted native hedgerow trees, have made and put up bird feeders all over the school grounds, have instigated a paper recycling bank at school, have made bat and bird boxes and erected them around the school,

We have made a hedgehog hibernaculum, we take part in various RSPB and Woodland Trust events and we make insect shelters in the Autumn. Eco Club has several raised beds in the school grounds where we grow herbs and insect attracting plants. We go on regular rambles to see the changing seasons unfurl around us.

We make a lot of compost as well, bug hunts in the compost heap whilst “turning” it is always a VERY popular activity! We have held HUGELY successful fund raising events, for the RSPB Albatross appeal alone we raised over £300.

We do a variety of recycled-based crafts.

and a LOT of bird and plant identifying throughout the year and above all we have FUN.

What we are doing is part of a bigger message, that of living in a more sustainable way. This encourages the children (and hopefully their families) to compost, grow veg, recycle etc at home as well as at school. It has benefited the children in oh so many ways, they all seem to love what we all do and come up to me in town to tell me so :-)

The school has also benefited in many ways and is now working for the highest level an Eco School can achieve, the Green Flag award. We have also won recently won a prestigious Woodland Trust award at Gold Level.

All this is a lot of work! The planning and organising the sessions and memberships, having meetings and exchanging emails and phone conversations with Sue to arrange it all, all takes time. I do it as a volunteer so I don't get paid BUT I enjoy doing it and I love helping the children to see the wonders of our natural world, as does Compostman. We both feel very privileged to be able to share our knowledge of the environment with the next generation and that is worth a lot! I am also lucky enough to have converted my interest and passion for educating about sustainability/the environment into a whole new career as a Forest School Leader/Environmental Educator, all springing from becoming a volunteer Master Composter and volunteering to garden at school.

So, if you have similar skills, why not think about helping at YOUR local school or other youth group? It is really worth it :-)