What I Think Unschooling Is All About

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How Children Learn

Kids and Computers

Posted on Thursday, 25 June 2015 with No comments



Each member of our family has a computer of her own which she is allowed to use without any restrictions. This doesn't mean we spend all our time looking at screens. No, we like to do other things too like run and bushwalk, cook and read, sew and play music, talk to each other!

But we do value our computers. We regard them as a very useful tool. They open up the world to us and allow us to get involved with many valuable learning experiences.

In this week's podcast, my daughter Imogen joins me to talk about children and computers. Some of the questions we discuss include:

  • Should children be allowed to use a computer?
  • What kind of opportunities for learning do computers offer?
  • Can Facebook be valuable?
  • Should children’s time on the computer be restricted?
  • How do we encourage a child to balance their computer time with other activities?
  • Should we respect a child’s creative space?
  • Can playing computer games be a worthwhile thing to do?
  • Can people make a living out of playing computer games?
  • And is there another way to influence children other than rules and regulations?

This topic can be a contentious one. Your opinions might differ from ours. We respect that. These thoughts are the result of our experience with our own family. Your children might be very different to ours. If you do disagree, that's quite okay. We can still have an interesting and friendly discussion, can't we?




Program Notes

Gamestar Mechanic
Learn to design video games

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Blog posts about children and computers

Watching TV, Playing on the Computer, Doing Nothing Much at All
We might be able to accept the computer is a valid tool for learning. We might even be happy to let our children play computer games. Maybe the problem isn’t actually the computer (or the TV). It could just be the amount of time a child spends using them. We might worry when we see a child sitting in front of a screen hour after hour. We might feel like saying, “Go and do something else! Go outside and get some fresh air!” How do we get our kids to balance their screen time with other activities? Can we?

But do we consider animating and game playing and game design as worthwhile activities for children to be involved with? Are we willing to let them work for as long as they want? Work? Or a waste of time? I guess that's the big question. 

Lots of Interesting Stuff for Children to Do on the Computer
The girls are sitting in front of their computers. You know how it is.... they're probably playing computer games, 'wasting time'… or are they?

Music: 60's Quiz Show by Podington Bear, (CC BY-NC 3.0)






If you listen to our podcast... Thank you!


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Regaining Her Enthusiasm for Learning

Posted on Monday, 22 June 2015 with 6 comments



My daughter Sophie felt like she was just drifting along. She’d lost her enthusiasm for learning. Do you remember how I wrote about this not so long ago? Well, I’m happy to report she’s back on track!

On Saturday morning, Sophie and I went to town together for some mother-daughter time. After we’d done a little shopping, I said, “Would you like to have morning tea in a café? Shall we go somewhere where they serve tea in teapots?”

A waitress delivered our order to our table: two white teapots of English Breakfast tea, two white and lemon china cups resting on matching saucers, and a plate piled high with apple crumble and a mountain of cream. We smiled.

As Sophie tipped a steaming stream of tea into her cup, words burst from her: “I love my life!”

"Because we're having morning tea together?"

"It's not just that. It's everything. Life is full of interesting things to do!"

“You’re not drifting along anymore?” I asked.

"Oh no!"

"So what have you been enjoying doing?"

“I’ve been redesigning my blogs and doing those HTML coding lessons. I’ve been cooking and sewing. I reorganised my bedroom so I can find all my writing and craft things. I’ve written some notes for a new novel. I can’t wait until next month when Camp NaNoWriMo starts! Then there’s drawing. I’ve been learning how to draw realistic people. I enjoyed those history videos. And I’ve been exercising.”

“So you’re back on track?”

Sophie’s whole face was aglow. “Oh yes!”

“So how did you get your enthusiasm back?” I asked.

“Well, I got fed up of feeling bored and decided to do something about it.”

“You didn’t need me to push you along?”

Sophie sipped her tea and then said, “No when I was ready, I found all sorts of new things to do.”

Yes, I didn't need to get anxious. All I had to do was be patient and give Sophie enough time to rediscover her enthusiasm by herself. Of course, that doesn’t mean I did nothing to help her. Oh no! While I was waiting, I did some strewing. I kept my eyes open for things that might tempt her. I shared my own interests and activities. But I didn’t apply any pressure.

After I’d written my post, Preparing our Kids for an Unknown Future: Can We Do It?  I said, "Hey Sophie, I found lots of Jane Fonda exercise workouts on Youtube. I wonder what other exercise videos are available.”

When she was ready, Sophie searched Youtube and found the Fitness Blender channel. On the days we haven't gone running, she’s been star jumping and stretching and using hand weights. She's been exercising even on days when the rest of us have decided to rest.

After I’d bought a new template for this blog, I said, "Hey Sophie, what do you think of this design?" Then I added, "There are loads of other blog templates available.”

When she was ready, Sophie googled free Blogger templates. Soon she was knee deep in HTML codes as she redesigned her own blog.

“Hey Sophie,” I said, “do you remember those Codecademy HTML coding lessons we were doing a while ago?”

When she was ready, Sophie signed into her account and once more began learning about HTML. “I'd love to write the code for a blog template of my own, wouldn't you?” she asked me. I would!

I hunted out a few books with patterns for attractive sewing projects. “If you’d like to set up my sewing machine on your desk in your room…” 

I bought a few extra ingredients and placed them in the pantry. “I’ve put some new recipes in the Evernote planning notebook…” 

"I've also put some history and science links in the notebook."

“If you’d like me to drive you to town so you can buy some new notebooks…”

“I found some interesting drawing videos on Youtube…”

I'd like to tell you Sophie followed my good example after I said, "Hey Sophie, come and look at my reorganised room. I've sorted out all my writing and art stuff. Now I can find everything easily."  But that wouldn't be true. My room is a mess. That idea was entirely her own!

Have you shared anything interesting with your children recently? And is your room organised like Sophie's? Or is it a mess like mine?!


PS: The photo of my sewing machine was taken by Sophie. She's also been busy with her camera!


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A Guided Tour of My New-Look Blog!

Posted on Thursday, 18 June 2015 with 12 comments



Are you a regular reader of my blog? If so, you might have landed here recently and thought, “Oh my! Am I on the right blog? Everything looks very different.”

Yes, you are in the right place! I’ve just been doing some reorganising. I know my blog looks a bit more complicated than before, but I hope, once you become familiar with the layout, you’ll like what I’ve done.

Perhaps a new blog design needs a guide. Come, I’ll show you around!

At the top of the page, just under my blog title, is the menu bar. This is a clever feature. Of course, it's a horizontal list of links which can be used in the usual way.



If you click on a label, you will arrive at a page which lists all the posts of that topic.



But this is the clever bit: If you hover over a label, a drop-down menu will appear. Hover on each item in turn, and you'll see the four latest posts associated with that item.





Below the menu bar, to the left of the page, is the featured posts slider. Five posts are highlighted here. I’ll be changing these posts regularly, digging into my archive, hoping to find something that might catch your attention.


The main body of the blog is divided into 3 columns.

You can find my latest posts in column 1.



Column 2 is divided into a number of categories such as ‘High School’, “Chores’ and ‘Starting Unschooling’. The latest posts in each category are listed. Again, I’ll be changing the categories on a regular basis, showcasing different labels, at different times.




Column 3 will be familiar: my profile, ‘Connect with Me’ links, the Popular Posts gadgets, and a list of labels.

The ‘Connect with Me’ gadget will take you to my Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Youtube pages, as well as Amazon where you can find my children’s novel!

Finally, at the foot of the page, I have links to 'My Other Blogs’, a more comprehensive list of labels, as well as my blog archive.



So that’s it! I hope you’ll do some exploring.

And next time you visit, please have another look around. All the featured posts may have changed!

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From Unschooling to University

Posted on Monday, 8 June 2015 with 12 comments

Charlotte


My 17-year-old daughter, Charlotte, is now a university student. It’s hard to believe. When did she grow up?

Charlotte is studying her first unit through Open Universities. It’s part of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Digital Design. She may go on to complete the whole degree. Or she may not. She’ll see. There’s no hurry. One unit at a time.

“So how was your first week as a uni student?” I asked her last Friday.

“Okay,” she replied. “I had a lot to learn. But I think I did alright.”

“Was it a satisfying week?”

“Oh, yes!”

At the moment, I have three university students. Duncan has almost finished his Masters of Teaching (Primary). Imogen will finish her Bachelor of Arts degree in Professional Writing and Publishing in November. And Charlotte is just setting out. (I also have two other children who have studied at tertiary level.)

So as you can see, it’s quite possible for unschooling children to go on to university.
In this week’s podcast, I share some of what I’ve learnt over the years, as my children have transitioned from unschooling to university. In particular, I discuss the following questions:

  • Can homeschooling children earn a 'score' or qualification, equivalent to the HSC, the school leavers' certificate?
  • How can unschooling children get into university? 
  • Are unschoolers at a disadvantage when they attend on-campus universities? 
  • Are unschoolers prepared for university learning? 
  • What about essay writing skills? 
  • What are the advantages of studying for a degree online? 

I also talk about other things I've been doing recently: 
  • Making unschooling videos 
  • Creating a new blog 
  • Facebook pages 
  • And Imogen's and my podcast plans

Podcast Notes:

Three years ago Callum applied to go to university. He didn’t have an HSC. Instead he’d spent his last homeschooling year studying three university units at home, through Open Universities. He used the results of these units to compete with school leavers (who had an HSC) to get into the degree course of his choice. And he was successful.

Now Imogen is all set to continue university work. She wants to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Professional Writing and Publishing. But she doesn't want to give up her music. So in her spare time, she’ll also continue her piano and singing lessons and exams. Writing and music… Imogen’s two big passions. What could be better than studying what you enjoy most? It looks like being a very good year.

Does unschooling prepare a child for university learning? It sure does.


Last year, at the beginning of her final year of homeschooling, Imogen thought carefully about what she wanted to do in the future. Having so many passions, it was a tough decision choosing one area she really wanted to focus on. But eventually, Imogen said, "I think I'd like to write," and I replied, "Words can change the world." She agreed. "I'd like to go to university and complete a writing degree."

So Imogen began talking. She spoke about unschooling, what she enjoyed about it, the benefits of unschooling, family life, her passions including writing and music, how she got into university, how unschooling prepared her for tertiary study, and finally what she'd like to do in the future.

Do you think unschooling prepared you for life as an adult?
What skills did it give you?
Tell me about your university experience.
Did you have any trouble getting onto the course of your choice?
How did your interests and passions help you with your application?
How did you cope with uni work?...

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Real Life Maths Resources: Some Thoughts and Links

Posted on Tuesday, 2 June 2015 with 9 comments




I often go looking for real life maths resources to strew under the noses of my girls. Yes, I like to tempt them with different maths experiences, hoping they’ll think, “Wow! Maths is so interesting, and useful as well!”

So when I have a few free minutes I can often be found at my computer, googling the words ‘real life maths’ or even ‘real world maths’. And as soon as I hit ‘search’, pages of resources appear on my screen. This might sound absolutely wonderful to anyone who is interested in unschool maths. But could there be a problem with real life maths resources? 

Real life maths resources… I have nothing against the ‘real life’ bit. No, I’m sure children learn maths from their own real life experiences all the time. If they have a need for maths, they will soon learn how to manipulate those numbers and come up with the necessary answer. The maths is relevant. It has a use. There’s a reason for working out what maths is all about.

It’s the ‘resources’ bit I have trouble with. Real life resources are different from personal real life experiences.

Some time ago, after googling ‘real life maths', I ended up on the Yummy Math website:
We provide teachers and students with mathematics relevant to the world.
Doesn’t that sound good? If the maths is relevant to the world, it’s useful, and therefore it’s worth learning. I got excited: This is the perfect way for my children to learn maths. At least that’s what I thought at first. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder whose world the maths is relevant to. And the answer came back: not my child’s. It’s relevant to someone else’s.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like the Yummy Maths site and other similar resources. I do think they are interesting, and so do my girls. We’ve enjoyed discovering how other people use maths in the world.

Someone has to calculate how much waste is produced by a cruise ship of tourists.

Someone else has to keep an eye on the profits produced by the various movies. Which studio is more successful and why?

Then there’s the people who are tracking the ebola virus. They need to look at the mathematical figures to become informed about the risks, the likely causes, and the possible solutions to this medical emergency.

And what about Mardi Gras beads? How many beads are distributed each year? How many are recycled? Someone works out these problems.

Yes, real life maths is fascinating. We’ve really enjoyed discovering what other people are using maths for. The Yummy Math site sometimes has videos and other links which we can use if we want to find out more. And so maths leads us on other adventures.

We found out that the environment might or might not be at risk from cruise ship waste, depending on whether you consult an environmentalist or a cruise ship owner.

We looked at the Rotten Tomato ratings and discovered a few movies which might be worth watching, and a lot that are probably not worth bothering with.

We decided we are safe from the ebola virus, but learnt a lot about how it’s transmitted.

And we agreed we’d like to see a Mardi Gras parade one day, (not the one associated with Sydney), and wear strings of beads.

The bit I don’t like about Yummy Math is the worksheets, the mathematical exercises which accompany the interesting stuff. They are really no different from traditional worksheets. They are just based on real life situations.

Now it might be interesting working out how someone determined the volume of waste on a cruise ship. But when I see a whole page of similar problems, my heart sinks. This isn’t real work. We’re just working out something that someone else has already done, to see if we can get the same answers. I’m guessing if my heart sinks at the thought of doing this, so will my child’s.

So do I think real life maths resources aren’t useful? Not at all. We dip into these resources all the time. We use what we like, and ignore what we don’t. 

Of course, if your children are learning maths in a more structured way, you might find Yummy Math, and similar sites, a wonderful alternative to traditional textbooks and workbooks. Relevant real life problems are always more interesting than made up ones.

And there is no doubt some children enjoy the challenge of working out maths problems. Even Sophie sometimes feels like doing this. But not all the time. And not if it is ‘required’. 

Here's some of the maths resources we dip into now and then:



I'm sure there are many other resources. If you have any favourites I haven't mentioned, please stop by and share!


Image: beads by Helen Cook(CC BY-SA 2.0)

You can also find me on...

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Preparing Our Kids for an Unknown Future: Can We Do It?

Posted on Friday, 29 May 2015 with 13 comments




The other day I bumped into Jane Fonda after not having seen her for many years. There she was in my Facebook feed, 70-something-years old and still looking rather good.


Jane and I are old friends though, of course, she’s not aware of this. She doesn’t know she spent many a sweaty hour with me, years ago, as I worked my leotard-clad body hard. I'd stretch and bounce and breathe fast, as I listened carefully to her aerobic instructions.

“Make it burn!” Jane would yell at me, at regular intervals. And I made sure I did. Afterwards, I’d press the ‘stop’ button on my cassette player before collapsing on the floor in an exhausted untidy burning heap.

I threw out my Jane Fonda aerobic workout cassettes a very long time ago. There seemed no point keeping them as I didn't have anything to play them on. Technology had moved on and I'd replaced my cassette player with a CD player.

Jane Fonda also moved with the times. Her cassette workouts were replaced with video workouts. Sound and pictures! Oh my! It was no longer necessary to listen quite so carefully to her instructions. We could see what we were supposed to be doing. We could also see what we’d look like if we ‘made it burn'. At least, I assume women hoped they’d look like Jane. I never actually bought a Jane Fonda video. I’d discovered the gym by that time.

If I ever have the urge to revisit the past, I could buy a Jane Fonda workout, not on video, but on DVD because, of course, videos have gone the way of cassettes. And if I want to do a workout RIGHT NOW without buying a DVD, I could go to Youtube and follow along with a direct streaming video. (There's loads of choice.) Yes, that’s another thing we didn’t have in the 'old days': the Internet.

Life has changed a lot since I was in my twenties. All this new technology. As an adult, I've had to learn a lot.

I’ve learnt how to use a mobile phone, a TV that has a remote control, a T-box, and DVD and CD players. I’ve learnt how to use a computer, send emails, navigate Google, sign up for accounts and make up passwords. I’ve become familiar with downloading software programs and working out how to use them: how to make and edit videos, record and edit soundtracks and make podcasts, edit photos. That reminds me: I’ve learnt to use a digital camera, even a DSLR one on manual mode. I've even learnt how to self-publish a book. I am sure these are only a few of the things I’ve learnt.

cassette-sketch-01 by Jeff Jacobson-Swartfager(CC BY-SA 2.0)


School didn’t prepare me at all for life as a 21st century woman. How could it have? No one knew what the future was going to be like. This makes me wonder what life will be like in another 5, 10, 20, 30 years’ time. What will it be like when Sophie and Gemma-Rose leave home? And what kind of work will they be doing? I'm sure, with the advances in technology, there will be many job opportunities we can't, at this present time, imagine. 

The big question is: How will I ensure my daughters know all they need to know for their independent adult lives? Maybe I can’t because I don't know what their future needs will be. But that's okay. I think sharing a love of learning with our children is far more important than making sure they know particular things.

As John Holt said:
 Since we can't know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.

I guess my girls will continue learning what they need to know when they need to know it. They'll keep up with the changing world, I'm sure.

Has anyone else ever done a Jane Fonda workout? And do you remember cassette tapes and how frustrating they were when they got all tangled up?  



cassette-sketch by Jeff Jacobson-Swartfager
 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Elevator Pitches: Unschooling and Faith

Posted on Monday, 25 May 2015 with 4 comments



I did a lot of the household chores this morning, but before you feel sorry for me, I’ll confess I hardly noticed what my hands were doing because my mind was busy.  I was listening to The Catholics Next Door podcast as I vacuumed floors, sorted washing, dried dishes... I am weeks behind with the episodes, not that it matters. I quite liked finding myself back at Easter Sunday, instead of in ordinary time.

Anyway, this morning Greg and Jennifer were talking about why we are Catholic. What would we say if we only had a very short period of time to tell someone what draws us to the Catholic faith? What would our 'elevator pitch' be?

I’ve been thinking about this. What would I say if the person next to me in the elevator suddenly said, "You're wearing a crucifix... Why on earth would you want to be a Catholic?" Now hopefully we are at the ground floor of a very tall building when he asks me this question. I hope we are both travelling to the very top because it's going to be hard to explain in a few words...

I never meant to become a Catholic. In fact when my Catholic fiance proposed to me, I immediately said, “Andy, I’ll marry you, but I will never be a Catholic.” But despite those words, after the birth of our first child, I began thinking about faith matters. Should we get our daughter baptised, and if so, baptised into which faith? I’m not the sort of person who does something just because it's expected. I don't like being told what to do. I need to go looking for information and then make up my own mind about things. By the time I’d done all that, I was hooked. God gave me such a longing to belong to the very Church I hadn't wanted to consider. Two baptisms (we had two children by this time), one wedding renewal, one First Holy Communion and confirmation later, we were a Catholic family.

What keeps me here? I know I couldn’t get through life’s difficult times without God. I did try to be self-sufficient even though I was a Christian, right up to the point of our son Thomas' death. Then for the very first time ever, I realised I couldn't help myself. I was stuck at the bottom of a pit of grief unable to get out, but God reached out and saved me. I gave in. He is now in charge of my life. So that explains the God bit. But why Catholic? There are lots of reasons but here's a big one: Where else can I receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord? That's an act of love I cannot get my mind around. (Of course there are other churches such as the Orthodox Churches which also have the Real Presence but that would take far too long to discuss!)

I wonder if I'm standing in the elevator talking to myself by now. Even two paragraphs contain quite a few words. (Years ago I would never have imagined I’d become the kind of person who could write such words.) But faith wasn’t what I intended to talk about. It was the chore part of my morning, I wanted to share.

Chores have been on my mind because I spent most of yesterday playing around with a video clip in which Sophie talks about doing chores. (I stole it from my video: An Interview with an Unschooling Teenager.) I have this idea for making a video series about unschooling. I could call it Unschooling Bites. Small snippets of information about unschooling presented in very short videos. Unschooling elevator pitches, perhaps! 





I started my experiments at Powtoon where I made a slideshow presentation which I liked. But then I discovered I couldn’t convert my slideshow into a video. (Do you think videos are better than slideshows?)




Next, I used PowerPoint to make a similar slideshow presentation, and then I exported it as a Youtube video. 





And this morning I tried a third way of sharing the clip. I published some Powtoon slides as videos and then added them to my chore video, using the Corel video software program on my computer. 

I’m not sure which method I like best, but I do know I need to do more experimenting with design and perhaps re-record segments of video to get better sound quality. Podcasting has tuned my ear into every unwanted hesitation and um!

Now all I need are some simple unschooling ideas to make videos about. If you were standing next to someone in an elevator, and had only a short time to say something about unschooling, what would it be? (Or what would you like to hear?)

PS: In Australia we usually use the word 'lift' instead of elevator, at least we do where we live!



Photos: They haven't got much to do with my story. I just needed something to make my post look pretty! 

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When Excitement for Learning Appears to Disappear

Posted on Saturday, 23 May 2015 with 11 comments

It's very exciting watching a child who is gripped by a passion. But what about those times when interest in learning seems to disappear?



I like to get up early. I leave my bed while everyone else is sleeping, feel my way out of our darkened bedroom, fall over the three hungry cats gathered hopefully at my door, and head to the kitchen to fill the kettle. Animals fed, a mug of tea in my hand, I settle on the family room sofa to read or pray or just check the mail.

That's what I did this morning. Half an hour into my quiet time, my daughter Sophie appeared. We sat side-by-side, rubbing cats’ chins, as we chatted.

“You seemed a bit out of sorts this week,” I observed. “Not your usual cheery self.”

“I feel like I’m drifting.”

I know how Sophie feels. I’ve been feeling the same way. I move from one unsatisfying thing to the other. I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. Where’s all my excitement gone?

I could worry about being stuck in this stagnant state, but I've come to the conclusion that quiet times are a normal part of life. It's probably unrealistic to expect to fly through every day in a constant state of excitement. Think how tiring that would be. And maybe important work is going on during these seemingly unproductive times, subconsciously, of course. Who knows what is brewing deep within us while all seems quiet on the surface?

I have noticed that quiet times never last forever. One day I wake up and instantly know things have changed. A wonderful new idea will be floating through my mind. I feel full of energy. Before I know it, I’ll be chasing knowledge, working on a new project, feeling excited about life once more.

“What do you feel like doing?” I asked Sophie.

“I can't think of anything I really want to do.”

I could have said, “There’s plenty of interesting things you could be doing. Choose something! Don’t waste your time.” But is that necessary? I think Sophie will find her own way to her next interesting thing without me pressuring her. She probably needs space to rest and read and do nothing in particular. Of course, I could still make a suggestion or two, do some strewing, offer her some new ideas to think about. Something might spark her imagination, set her flying off again on new adventures.




“Now the weather is cool we could go for some more bush walks,” I said.  “I’ve been meaning to get the wildflower identification book out. I’d like to know the names of a few more flowers. What do you think?”

We agreed that an outing would be very enjoyable. Get outside and enjoy nature, take our cameras and capture some photos, have a picnic. It sounds just what we need.

Perhaps children, like mothers, need quiet times. Life doesn't always have to be full on. School schedules might suggest learning happens at a constant rate, but I bet it doesn't. I’m talking about the visible kind of learning because, of course, we never quite know what’s going on inside a person. We can never measure all that is being processed unobserved.

Do you know what I’m going to do now? I’m off to find that wildflower book. And perhaps I'll take a game or two down from the shelf. We have some CDs we haven't played for a while. And maybe I could strew a painting on the wall...




PS: I've just remembered it wasn't so long ago that my 17-year-old daughter Charlotte was drifting through her days, feeling uninspired. I spoke about that in my podcast, Exciting Times, Slow Times and Unschool Holidays. But today Charlotte's eyes are alight with excitement as she thinks about starting her first university unit. She has found a Bachelor of Arts degree she wants to do. I might write or speak about that in another post!


Photos: The red flower above is definitely a honey flower, also known as a mountain devil, but I'm not sure about the flower to the left. It could be an old man Banksia (Banksia serrata) When I've done some research, using our identification book, I'll know for sure!

You can also find me on...

my Facebook page, 
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