Patch Pick: The Tree of Life lab

The Pukeko Patch kids recently caught up with one of our favourite YouTube channels, Minute Earth.
The video they watched included a promotion of Minute Earth’s website where you are able to interactively explore the Tree of Life. The video was about clades and is called You Are A Fish

The website – – includes a section called the Tree of Life Explorer.

It makes a good first entry to our Patch Pick series, where I post about interesting websites, apps or other resources we come across in our internet wanderings.

Does your kid loves science? Are you learning about how all life on Earth is connected?  This is a tool for you.
It is graphical and has links to websites like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. That will launch a whole new world of exploration and information gathering. 


The Dangers of the Library

This week is our first week back “at school”.

We took the first week of term off as a holiday because the kids just managed to complete enough of the unfinished core curricula from last year shortly before that. Considering they spent most of their summer break doing the catch up, it seemed to be fair and sensible not to start back at it so quickly.

It’s gone really well for the first couple of days. We decided to try a randomised method of deciding on the daily work. This way there are, hopefully, going to be fewer arguments over what joint subjects to do and when.

The kids have figured out how many sessions of each subject area they need to do each week. They reduced it down to a four day week because we think our Wednesdays are going to be full with other activities.
Miss Oh Waily made tiny little notes of each of the subject areas. She folded them up and put in to her winter wooly hat. They both take turns to pick a paper note out of the hat and do whatever lesson it says.

And then came the spanner in the works.

The only problem that has arisen was when I went to find which branch of the library one of the core science books was held at. I couldn’t find it in the catalogue.

I did a double take. Then I checked for the authors in case I was making an error in the title, but nothing. Now I began to wonder if I was imagining things.
Did I see it in the catalogue just before Christmas or was I dreaming?

So to keep a long story short, it was culled over the New Year season and someone snapped it up on the 50c table!

This is our first year of partially relying on the library to have the books we want to use. Every other year we have bought them all. That was partially because our local library is a little less *worldly* than our libraries in Wellington were, and partially because if you’ve bought it you’ve got it when you need it and you don’t have to rearrange your life around a 3 to 4 week waiting list.

Lesson learned. Buy most of the key books.

So one of the science curricula is off to a shaky start. We are now at the whims and mercy of the Book Depository gods! Let’s hope they smile on us and it’s only a couple of weeks till it arrives.

A successful and stress-ish free start to the year.
Most of the work is completed before or just after lunch (if we mess around a bit too long in the morning) which means there’s plenty of time to extend the summer holiday feeling by playing in the pool in the afternoon.

Long may this continue!

2019’s Books and More

I posted earlier this month about what our homeschool core curricula were going to be for 2019.
Today I will share the full list of different books we will be using in our two core language based curricula – Build Your Library and Bravewriter. To make it helpful for you I’ve split them in to their different learning areas, and provided a key for the tags at the end of each title.

BYL GRADE 4 – The Modern World

Build Your Library Website

A – Audible
K – Kindle
L – Library


  • The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 4: The Modern Age
  • Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun (K)
  • Fields of Fury: The American Civil War
  • Where Poppies Grow: A World War I Companion
  • Gandhi
  • Escape from Saigon: How a Vietnam War Orphan Became an American Boy (K)


These are books that I will be reading aloud to the kids.

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Twenty-One Balloons
  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (A)
  • Nory Ryan’s Song
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • The Singing Tree
  • Angel on the Square
  • When My Name Was Keoko
  • Redwall  (A)
  • Because of Winn-Dixie (L)
  • Shooting Kabul


These are the books that the kids will be reading.  Master Oh may skip some of these, we will see how his year progresses.

  • The Capture (Guardians of Ga’hoole, Book 1) (L)
  • James and the Giant Peach (L)
  • Bull Run
  • Rodzina
  • Stuart Little (L)
  • The Toothpaste Millionaire
  • Maggie’s Door
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The Water Horse (L)
  • Number the Stars (L)
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes 
  • The Borrowers (L)
  • Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
  • The School Story
  • Journey to Jo’burg: A South African Story


  • Knock at a Star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry


  • The New Way Things Work (L)
  • 10 Inventors Who Changed the World (L)
  • The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Encyclopedia


  • Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters
  • The Usborne Introduction to Art


Bravewriter Website

As you can see there is A LOT of crossover between the books studied here and those we will be or have just read as part of our BYL curriculum.  We will marry up the Arrow to the time of year when we are reading the book as part of BYL.   I can’t tell you how happy I am that they are this well aligned.  The amount of reading it saves!

  • Aug: Penderwicks at Last
  • Sep: Redwall
  • Oct: Mary Poppins
  • Nov: Journey to Jo’burg
  • Dec: Because of Winn Dixie
  • Jan: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
  • Feb: Freedom Train
  • Mar: Harriet the Spy
  • Apr: By the Great Horn Spoon
  • May: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Money

For the full range of curricula, for two kids we are looking at ~NZ$500.

This splits down into:

Book Depository:  $296 – $15 affiliate rebate = $281
Kindle: $29
Pandia Press: ~$60 for Earth and Space; $23 for The Stargazer’s Notebook.
My Pals Are Here! Maths – 3A & B: $54
My Pals Are Here! Maths – 5A & B: $48

This could have been reduced if I had spent the time to hunt for secondhand books, but frankly my time trying to find them would probably outweigh the savings.

I hope you found that interesting.

2019 Homeschool Curricula

What does 2019 hold in store for us here at the Patch?

As we have done over the past two years, we will be having a mix and match of curricula so that we touch on all of the core basic learning areas with the kids and that’s what I’ll detail for you today.  We may add in extras throughout the year, depending on how we’re doing with the workload of this central core.  As most of the work can be accomplished during the morning, that leaves the afternoons for the kids’ own interests or general play / downtime.

Note: rather than do one level of learning for each child we go for the middle ground, with the exception of maths, and we adjust expectations for each child based on their skill set.

The Curricula

Build Your Library (BYL) : Grade 4 – The Modern World
It covers history, literature, poetry, science and art.

Bravewriter: Arrow
We are currently mid-stream with this.  It’s an annual subscription that runs with the US school year.  It covers the mechanics of writing as studied from good works of children’s literature.  There’s A LOT of crossover between the books used in the 2019 Bravewriter Arrow and those recommended in BYL.

Your Pals Are Here! Maths
This is a Singaporean maths series.  It is supposedly used in many of their schools and I’ve found it to be pretty solid and not excessive in the amount of work required of the kids.  This year they will be doing 3A & B, and 5A & B.

RSO Earth & Space – Level 1
This is a secular* science curriculum out of the US.  It covers the earth sciences and astronomy.  We may add in “The Stargazers Notebook”, which is a year long study of the sky.  It depends on how our time and energy goes.


We may also look at doing “Bravewriter Jot It Down” for creative writing since  I’d really like to encourage Master Oh’s creativity to come out in some form of writing and this may be the best way to get him moving on it.

There will also be the ongoing tutoring to assist with Master Oh’s probable dyslexia.  Perhaps some use of Nessy and other apps that can reinforce the learning we will be working through.
And for variety we will probably dip in and out of Khan Academy as we need a break from our regular programme.
There may be extracurricular items as well, but they will probably come later in the year and I’ll post about any changes as we go.

As always, we try to be flexible and adapt to changing needs.  What seems like a good idea today may turn out to be a horrible idea in a month or two.  Watch this space for any updates.

I will be writing another post with a full listing of the books we will be using this year, along with an approximate cost for all of the year’s core curricula and resources.

Here’s to a fantastic range of learning happening in 2019 !

* I note this as secular as it’s a bit of an issue when you use curricula out of the USA.

As I’ve learned from their online secular community, a lot of the curricula available are considered “neutral” so they can be sold to people whose faith does not agree with the concept of evolution. So they skirt the subject, ignore the subject or explain it as “one theory” while giving a faith based “theory” the same platform.  That, obviously, wouldn’t suit us.

Charlotte joins the Patch

When I went to hang out our laundry early last week I was greeted by a large spider’s web.  This isn’t particularly unusual, with the exception of the size of the web and the fact that the spider was currently hanging around in the centre of it.  The other shocking fact about the new web was the size of the spider who made it.  I had a small heart attack moment when I spotted her.  She is about 3+ cm from back toe-tip to front toe-tip, with a body roughly 1.5 cm long.  That makes her the biggest spider we have come across since our move.  We won’t count all the large Daddy-Longlegs spiders, who may be large and gangly but cut a considerably less imposing figure.

Here she is on that first day, caught in the middle of web-making, I suspect.

We left her alone, as I had no idea of what sort of spider she was.  I took a photograph and went online to try to identify her.  My usual Landcare site and Te Papa both let me down, as I couldn’t make a fair match to any of their photographs.  I then asked my home educating colleagues for suggestions on alternative places to get an identification and was directed to a wonderful Facebook group called NZ Bug identification – Spiders, Insects etc where I posted this photograph.  In a twinkling of an eye, I was informed that it is a garden orb web, and we’ve been watching ‘Charlotte’ ever since.

On the first day we were cruel and heartless homeowners and knocked down her web. I really wanted to be able to hang out my laundry without finding her in my undies!  But just as swiftly as we knocked it down, she had built it back up.  After trying one more time, I decided it was rather like Cnut trying to hold back the waves, and that for now my undies would be drying indoors on racks!  Instead we would turn in to nature observers and watch our new lodger.

We have learned a few interesting things about Charlotte – the first is that according to the MPI’s website,

The garden orbweb spider will construct or repair its snare by night, then sit in the centre.

Charlotte most certainly constructs, repairs and does her housework overnight.   Not only did she rebuild her web after our destruction, she also cleaned off a vast array of plant bits that the kids had flung on to the web in an attempt to pretend to be her dinner.  The trickery failed miserably, but the next morning we awoke to a beautifully clean and restored web.  She’s a pretty house-proud member of her species.

We have also noticed that this observation on the MPI site is also very true, even though Charlotte’s choice of hiding place may be slightly unorthodox.

During the day, garden orbweb spiders usually hides outside the web, but will rest a leg on a thread that runs to the centre.

Here is Charlotte tucked up in the peg basket, which is her home-away-from-home, with her back leg hanging on to her web.  I’ve enhanced the white in the photo in the hope that you can make out the single strand of web that she’s hanging on to. (Click on the photograph to see a larger version.)

She’s also pretty tidy at wrapping up her dinner, when it is foolish enough to become home delivery. Here’s a shot of her handiwork which, by the way, was gone the next morning.  Midnight snack anyone?

The newest development in the past couple of days has been the arrival of what look like two or three baby spiders on the actual web.  They started out with large silvery half-shell-like things (presumably they were shells) on their back ends and are now graduating to small, unshelled spiders.  Unfortunately they are too tiny for my camera to focus on without something held behind the web.  Between the gentle breeze blowing the web back and forth and my kids being slightly worried that they’ll be webbed or spidered if they get too close, it’s been impossible for me to get them to help me take a photograph.
With the imminent arrival home of Mr Oh Waily, from his gallivanting overseas, I may only have to combat the camera’s ability to focus on insects so small.  I will update the post if I manage to get a clear image of her children.

Here are a couple of final photographs for you.  She ventured out on to the web a couple of days ago and we were able to see her speedy retreat from mid-web back to the peg basket.  She paused briefly, still attached to the web that enters the basket and I was able to move around behind her and get a shot of her undercarriage.  Most indelicate of me, I know, but totally fascinating nonetheless.

The final image is of me looking straight down at her, which is something of a change, as I’m usually forced to look at her side or her backside.

An interesting development has occurred at the Patch since we’ve begun watching Charlotte — the Oh Waily kids have been noticing far more insects.  They’ve been coming to me and saying, ‘You’ve got to come see this Mum’, and ‘You’ve got to take a photo of this’, and ‘Can I borrow your phone to take a photograph of…, please.’   As this has been the case, I have more interesting insect images to share with you.  Fleeting glimpses in to a smaller world, with lots of learning potential.

Oh, and more Charlotte updates as they come to hand.

Real life physics

Today the Oh Waily kids had a real life physics lesson courtesy of one of the local play parks.
It’s hard work balancing the scales when you don’t weigh the same amount.
And it’s great work for them trying to figure out how to keep the momentum going… mostly, in the end, they chose to utilise “Mummy-Power”.   This made it a phys ed class for ALL of us.

It's hard work balancing the scales when you don't weigh the same amount. #homeschool #physicslesson #reallife #thepukekopatch
Posted by Instagrate to WordPress

What do we do all day?

knowledge aheadThat was the topic of a recent update over at the NCHENZ website.  It seems that even if you are currently home educating, your curiosity about how other people do things is still alive and well.
The short answer is – there are as many ‘typical’ days as there are families following this educational path.

In our family we identify as eclectic home educators.  What that means around here is that we do what works for the kids and try to marry up our own slightly opposing views that kids learn best when engaged in the things they love and our desire to cover all the basics in a logical way.  In practice that means we do a small amount of formal work, a lot of trips, the odd class or two, watch a whole bunch of interesting documentaries and allow for a whole heap of play time.

We do try to follow a similar routine each day.  We start slowly and gently in the morning as we’re not in a rush unless we’re going out somewhere.  The start of the day centres around a bunch of regular everyday life skills like making their breakfasts, tidying their rooms, getting dressed and doing whatever household task they have for the week.  We’re no different from most households in that I still have to chivvy them to move along, but the general routine is understood and they know that their free time is delayed by as long as it takes them to get it all done.

Once the ‘life skills’ and PE* is done for the day we move on to the more formal learning section of our day.  At the moment this takes in history, science and maths.  Instead of re-inventing the wheel, we are giving Pandia Press a run in the History section at the moment.  It’s not intensive stuff.  A bit of reading, a bit of writing, some art and crafts thrown in, and when I find appropriate short videos – they get to see them too.  But just you ask what the Sumerians invented and you may just regret asking.  Or laugh, depending on your level of sensitivity to toilet humour.
The mathematics I’ve spoken about before.  Miss Oh is working through the My Pals Are Here series from Singapore and is blasting her way along.  It seems to pretty much be at a level that is just challenging enough but not off-putting, which is exactly what we aim for.  Currently we’re working through fractions, learning to compare them and beginning to add them.  This is fairly new – the adding bit anyway – and we’ll probably hang around here for a while until I’m comfortable that she’s got an understanding of the basic ideas.
Master Oh is showing interest in numbers at the moment, so we’re doing a lot of the basic stuff I did with the Miss previously.  The 100s Board on the iPad, skip counting on the iPad and a lot of real life number identification and use.
Finally we ‘do’ some science.  At the moment the choice that they want is to catch really old episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy on Netflix.  So that’s what they get to do.  Sometimes it’s only an episode, sometimes they gorge and watch multiple ones.  I have a couple of Pandia Press science curricula waiting for me to get organised, but as they can cover 3 grade levels I’m not in a rush to introduce them all at once.

If everyone stays vaguely focused this is all done and dusted well before lunchtime.

Life skills time kicks in at snack time and lunchtime with the kids organising their own food, and occasionally doing it for each other too.  After lunch, depending on the day, it’s free time and they can do as they please or we have outings or regular classes to attend.  This is the variable in our days… what we do with our afternoons.

And of course, this ‘typical’ day isn’t taking into account the myriad random conversations that pop up during the day or all the learning that happens in the extra-curricular activities.   But you get the general idea.

As they get older and their capabilities grow, then this routine will alter and grow with them.  I think the main thing for us is finding a gentle routine to follow and then keeping to it.  Rhythm is a great thing, but the flexibility we have to alter this when needed, cannot be underestimated.  When everyone is sick, or tired, or run down for any reason… we rest. We don’t force ourselves to get through it.  We don’t have to.  We have plenty of time to catch up on anything we might have done.

But please don’t get the impression that life goes smoothly and easily all of the time.
We have hard days.  Days when everyone decides to go on strike.  Thankfully they are not as frequent as they once were and I put that down to the Teacher relaxing in to her job and not being inclined to get quite as tense about cramming in screeds of work well beyond the interest and/or capability of the children.  When you start seeing the knowledge settling in and being used by your kids, that tense ‘need to teach everything known to man’ sensation starts to wear off.  You realise that force-feeding makes for misery – yours and theirs – and that there are plenty of other ways to skin a cat.

So there you have it… a rough sketch of ‘What we do all day.’

I hope that satisfies any curiosity you might have on what home education ‘can’ look like.
If not, feel free to leave a question in the comments, and I’ll be glad to answer you.

Happy learning!

  • this is our walks around the block, or in their case scootering, and is currently weather dependent.


The Oh Waily kids and I made the trip up to see the Oh Waily grandparents yesterday.  This involves us driving the Desert Road and due to the colder weather we played “guess the temperature”.  After managing to drive through last year and the car’s external temperature gauge registering a -1ºC, this has become something of a regular game.  Not to mention the fact that Miss Oh Waily was desperate to play in snow.

Well, we didn’t get to play in snow but there was plenty of leftover crunchy ice on the roadside.  Could I drive by it?  Could I heck.  I was regaled with, “Mum, can you pull over?  Pleeeaassee ?!?!”, not once but multiple times.  Apparently me trying to find a safe space to do the actual pulling over was just too much waiting time.

Eventually I found a good spot and out we got.  It gave me a nice view of Mount Ngauruhoe looking anything but the unfriendly Mount Doom.


Then Miss Oh fossicked around on the ice/snow patches and found really interesting icicles that she picked up.  If you know how these are formed, I’d love to hear about it.  They seem to be full of bubbles when I look close up at the original photograph and also seem to form in straight lines.  Quite interesting really.


For the record, the lowest external temperature that the car registered was 2ºC.  And the most fun thing we saw, but couldn’t photograph, were large icicles dropping from the roadside overhangs on the really windy bits.  They looked like a frozen waterfall dropping over the side of the road.  Quite spectacular on a small scale.

Meet “Leafy”

When in foreign places expect to meet interesting ‘locals’. Here is “Leafy” who provided much interest and amusement one day. He stayed with us until night fell and then wandered off at his own leisure. We have no idea what he actually is, other than pretty darn big – probably a good 10cm long or more – no one was game to measure.

If you know what Leafy is, feel free to leave a comment below so the Oh Waily kids can look up his relatives from the comfort of their computer.



Mount Kaukau walk

Today, on the invitation of a friend, my two small people and I took a long uphill walk to the top of Mount Kaukau.
And what a walk it was.  It’s roughly 2-3 kilometres in length but will take you to 445m above sea level in an hour or so.  I have no idea how long it took to get to the summit, I just know that I am:
a) unfit;
b) unfit;
c) very unfit.

I also note that I will be unable to get out of bed tomorrow or walk more than a few paces.  The amount of steps and steep inclines will guarantee that sitting will be uncomfortable for days to come, and my thighs will be protesting their misuse on the downhill slopes.  I was tail-end Charlie for the entire walk uphill… even after the small children in our group.  Frankly, I was stuffed.

In a first, however, Master Oh Waily led the way.  So keen was he, apparently, that he regularly disappeared out of view of his lagging and feeble mother.  I suspect he was out of view of most of us for quite a bit of the time it took to get to the top.  This is the same boy that would complain bitterly about walking around our neighbourhood (on the flat) and any attempt by me to get him to go for bush walks nearly always ended with me carrying him at some point.  In light of other developmental changes (which I will probably blog about soonish) in him, perhaps this is another small milestone ticking over.  He also led the way downhill, not quite so far ahead this time and often with me.  At least on the downhill I was able to keep up with everyone.

The walk, leg- and bum-killing as it was for the unfit, has a brilliant payoff at the end.  Stunning views of the city, harbour, north and across to the South Island too.  Very well worth all of the discomfort (for those of us who were discomforted).

Here are a couple of snaps taken with my phone at the top.

At the top

Master Oh with central Wellington in the background


At the top too

Miss Oh with central Wellington in the background

They did a fantastic job of the whole walk. I’m very proud of them, despite Miss Oh’s merciless teasing at being the slowest of the slowpokes.

In the process of the walk we saw lots of neat locals – tuis by the dozen, some wood pigeons and on one of my many rest-stops I was joined by a small bird that may have been a wax-eye or perhaps it was a bellbird – hard to tell as it was doing it’s best to stay hidden behind some large leaves in the nearby tree.  And the piece de resistance, on the way back down the hill, we came across a kaka ripping away at the bark of a tree.  According to what I’ve read since coming home, it’s possible he was using that very pointy beak to get at the tree’s sap.  See what you think.
Thanks to Mel for sending through the video. 🙂