Barbara Arrowsmith Young

laminex table

It is a winter’s night, but not cold.

Barbara Arrowsmith Young tells us of her usual winter’s night in Canada where temperatures hover around minus forty. I wonder if she is speaking Fahrenheit or celsius. Either way it is nothing I can imagine.

But Perth people don’t really do winter or the rain.

The audience is mainly women between 40 and 50 in slacks. Like me. A queue has formed for a snappy white wine before the lecture begins. Not a skirt in sight. Trouser wearing women – practical types. Women who think they can change things – including their own and others’ brains. That’s the business they’re in. Mostly educators, psychologists. Probably mothers too.

My friend works in Mindfulness. She is well in-touch with her mind and its capabilities. She knows she needs a lot of sleep. She tells me how working with people to develop mindfulness “deepens their keel in the water.” What a steadying, comforting image. Indeed for most minds it is a rough sea out there, but what a difference a solid keel makes.

Barbara tells us her own story first. As a child she had such severe learning disabilities that she was a danger to herself. Despite so many issues she managed to learn through sheer determination and persistence. It helped that her mother was an educator and her father a creative inventor. But it was not till adulthood when she discovered the work of a physician, who had studied a patient who had had a bullet lodged in his brain, that she uncovered the source of her problems. Seeing the similarities between her own cognitive fog and that of the damaged man, she was able to locate her disability and pin-point it to the angular gyrus in the cerebral cortex. She then devised exercises to teach herself the things she could not do. She worked at the exercises, which were always slightly above her level of skill, till she mastered them and then she made them harder. She changed her brain, at a time when medicine really didn’t believe it was possible to do so.

It is accepted today that the brain is changeable. Neuroplasticity is studied and yet in schools we don’t give children the cognitive exercises that would help them to change their brains. Instead if a child is poor at hand writing we give them permission to type. She didn’t really go in-depth as to the specific exercises she has developed to help the various disorders of learning, but gave examples of how countless people have changed their brain’s functioning through the use of exercises in the areas that they have trouble with. She said people needed to lose the supports they had developed to cope with the learning disorder and approach it head on.

Again I thought of dogs.

Dogs too can change their brains. And we can be their teachers. I have a sense that changing a dog’s brain may be simpler than changing your child’s, especially since asking your child to join you in some cognitive exercises might be harder than you think. At least with a dog there is always food rewards. Just like people, dogs have the ability to learn new things. Everybody needs the right environment to learn. Dogs and children need not to be anxious, not ill, not in pain, not sleep deprived and not chronically stressed. The old adage “you can’t teach a dog new tricks” may not be true after all.

Think of the dog-reactive dog that flies into a rage every time it sees another dog. To improve behaviour it must practice being calm in front of other dogs. It is best to work just below threshold with dogs like this. We don’t want it to tip over into non-thinking dog. Brain-switched-off dog. One that is just shouting – go away, go away. But it must see other dogs to learn the new way. Neurons need to make new connections, instead of flying down the well-worn path of reactivity. I think of the laminex table and its marbled pattern – why now it resembles dendrites. A filigree of filamentous nerve endings reaching out for connections. A finger can trace the path to get from one point to the other, but the route can change. So too the destination. Left isolated, apart from other dogs, our Cujo will never improve its dog reactivity. Leaving maths alone won’t make your arithmetic better. Buying a piano and leaving it idle will not turn you into a pianist.

She described the feeling of living with a learning disorder as walking through life with a heavy pack of rocks on your back. But when people changed their brains they were released of their heavy loads. Previously difficult tasks became easy and free of stress. A stressed brain cannot relearn. At any age change was possible. For all species.

Like a dance. The neurons that fire together, wire together, and the more they fire together the stronger the connections between those neurons become. I guess this is the basis of learning. We can all do it. Change our brains to become peaceful, calm and plastic.

Dealing with Disappointment


I decide to ring the Department of Education because it is mid way through August and we are supposed to hear about Jasper’s application in August. I don’t really expect to be given a result on the phone, and so when the person says, “I can check, what’s his name?” I am unprepared. I feel my heart wobble. It comes free from its attachments inside my chest. Name given – a pause – “It appears he won’t be being offered a place in the first round,” comes the reply.

I close my eyes. My head screams, NO. My heart slides downwards towards my stomach. The disappointment is visceral really. I have my own disappointment, but more than that, I have a son to tell. He has already become very attached to the idea of studying visual arts at the school. He will take it hard.

Graham is away, and so it falls to me to deliver the news. I could wait till Graham got home, in a week, but that seems deceitful – to know for all that time and not let on.

I wait till we are home, after school, in our kitchen. He has a very crunchy ANZAC biscuit in his hand and his back to me when I begin. “I rang the department today to ask about the visual arts and I am sorry to say they said you didn’t get in.” When I start the sentence he turns to look at me, a slight smile, and I can see from his expression he thinks the sentence is a good news one, but as I get through to its second half, it dawns on him that this is not a good news sentence at all and his face changes. It crumples into tears. I go to comfort him. To hug. He pulls away and rushes from the room.

I don’t follow him immediately. I wait in the lounge, by myself, wondering how long do I wait for. What words of comfort can I offer? I know you’re disappointed, I rehearse in my head.  He is not in his room. He is not in the study. He is not in my room – that I can see. He is in my wardrobe – behind the clothes – crouched in a huddle – beneath dresses and jackets and the confetti of shoes. I can see his sneakers and in his hand the ANZAC, untouched. It is a safe hiding place. Go away.

I close the wardrobe door and leave him in the dark. I’m so sorry…

I leave him.

To myself – Maybe don’t eat the ANZAC in there..

I leave him some more.

Still hiding.

He comes out.

He is outside in the courtyard, bouncing a ball, and I am in the kitchen making a cup of tea. I view him through the window, across the sink. Skinny, lanky, always moving. I see a big tear fall from his face without hitting his cheek, like a rain drop falling to the ground. I am crying too and he sees me. He comes inside. Let’s take the dog out. We walk the dog. My solution to all woes. The road by the port is closed and we must walk by the railway. Broken glass. The slap of skateboards. Still beautiful. It is a day like any other to the dog. There is winter grass to pee on. There are urine soaked telegraph poles to sniff at. There are homeless begging in the mall. Jasper asks what has happened to his career? He is eleven. “We’ll just have to show them what a great artist they missed out on teaching,” I say. We eat churros dipped in melted chocolate.



Good Bug Bad Bug


In the SAKGP today at East Fremantle Primary school I spend time in the garden.

Things happen at a slower pace in the garden. After all things don’t grow in front of your eyes. It takes patience to grow stuff. Soil needs to be nurtured and enriched. Weeds need to be pulled. Time needs to pass. Nor do they die and disappear in a puff. Although that’s what it seems like for the beetroots that have struggled against the onslaught of the bad bugs – snails and caterpillars and slugs. Their leaves have been stripped bare. Now just stalks remain.

Today war has been waged against the pests. The army of blue uniforms are out searching the leaves and the hidy holes of the grubs and collecting them in the bucket. Garden Specialist, Katy, has the disposal job, since the kids are not keen on destroying the molluscs. They come over all Buddhist when talk turns to the final elimination. Especially after naming them Curly and Whirly, Creepy and Sebastian.

Still. It’s kinda nice to see kids that don’t take pleasure from stomping on a snail. Doesn’t it say something?

Too much personification – the adults warn. Then comes discussion of whether snails go to heaven. How philosophical a morning in the garden has become. But it is too late. They have been slimed by them and had them wriggling across their palms. The snail trail zig zags its way across a blue wind cheater. The kids are really inspecting the snails – the way they move like mini tractors across the dirt. It makes me recall the book about the movement and munching of a snail written by a bed ridden Elizabeth Tova Bailey over a year where she lay listening to the sound of one eating. In her close observation of the creature she grew attached and, through her attachment, came meaning and solace and understanding. Some are mere babies, the children say, and I imagine a snail secreted home in a pocket, named and stroked, to a bedside table, to become a new pet.

But gardening requires the tendering of the plants and that means the beasts must be got rid of, so collect them, they diligently do. On the way to the bucket of death the kids marvel at the way the molluscs have eyes on stalks that swivel about. How cool would that be? Seeing round corners, under desks. The kids have their empathy and imaginations dialled up high today, suddenly brothers to the creepy crawlies. Many kids may never have taken the time to get so close to a snail. What kid these days spends time in dirt and poking about the garden? Some may not have had the courage before to feel the suck of a snail to the back of your hand. But when everyone else is doing it, it becomes okay, to feel, to prod, to explore. And besides, this is school work – we are supposed to be getting our hands dirty.

There are not enough good bugs in our garden. The lady bird is revered. She is carefully pointed out and then left alone, despite the desire to pick her up and feel her little bug legs march across your skin.

The worm castings are diluted in watering cans and each plant gets its three-second drink of the extra good stuff. The time in the garden has gone quickly, despite the relaxed pace. Less frenetic than the kitchen, its results are slower and take more time to notice. Snail pace. But we have hunted and gathered today from our very own garden and delivered up the reddening capsicum and now it joins the salad of spinach leaves and very soon will be belly-side. Before any pesky snails get to it.




Pollan in the kitchen…


Michael Pollan knows a thing or two about food. He has been writing about eating and the dilemmas of making food choices for some years. He has thought about the moral choices, the health choices and the political choices. But strangely, until recently, because he didn’t really cook that much, he forgot about the soul. Since reconnecting with the basics in his kitchen he has come full circle and discovered there is power and real creativity in cooking. Getting ingredients and making a meal from scratch anchored him to the planet and what the planet needs from its guardians. It gave him connection. We cannot simply keep taking.

In his latest book “Cooked” he writes, the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being – was to cook. Something as simple as cooking for your family might also end up making the western world’s food system healthier and more sustainable too.

Wouldn’t Michael Pollan be impressed with the SAKGP. It would be right down his alley. In the kitchen today a child knew instantly that the white bulb with the fuzzy green top was fennel. And how come it smells like licorice? All senses alive. Unlike the six-year-old American children who, when asked by Jamie Oliver, what were the names of various common vegetables, stared blankly back at him, unable even to recognise a tomato from a potato. Their food comes packaged or frozen or wrapped in paper and delivered out through a hole in the wall and then wolfed down in the car.

The wonderful thing about the kitchen is the noise. Engaged and cooperative. Happy noise. It has been six weeks since this class cooked so there is a buzz in the air. The routines are a little rusty. Are you a Melting Moment or an Afghan? What group are you in? If you are in the garden this week we need to tend the worms. Children are busy. Some prefer the garden. Others want to cook. Some (believe it or not) are actually good at cleaning up. Some one grazes a knuckle with the grater. Yes, cooking is sharp. Stoves are hot. Onions sting your eyes. Swimmers goggles hang beside the bench for those who can’t take it.

A salad of winter vegetables is made from finely sliced cabbage, both green and purple, and apple and carrot. Then fennel too. The dressing is honey and mustard. But let’s not stop there. Let’s collect fresh herbs from our garden and pluck the leaves from the stems and add them too. Then we pound some pepitas in the stone mortar to add a crunch to the salad. Lets sprinkle it with poppy seeds.

For afters are oatmeal biscuits with cinnamon and brown sugar. Cleaning up is to be done before a biscuit is taken and whisked away into the playground. The kitchen aid does the creaming of the butter and sugar. One boy thinks that because his home doesn’t have this machine he will be unable to replicate them. Just use your hands, assures Lee. Squish it. Let the butter come to room temperature. Then, just as if the butter and sugar were play dough – it will come out just the same. The mother agrees. She could never lift down the machine from a high cupboard when she was little and did the creaming with a wooden spoon. It can be done. And less washing up. Lick your fingers.

Back by the worm farm the boys are sifting through with gloved hands and extracting the garden rubbish that has been incorrectly placed there. It means getting close to bugs. Telling the less brave that the bugs can’t hurt you. Despite their mutated look. Cockroaches and slaters have taken up residence and are stealing the worms’ food. Girls are skittish about getting close to the insects but after some encouragement they too have their hands in the dark rich organic matter. Everyone is learning to try stuff they would not normally do.

The mother on oatmeal cookies is using a spatula to scoop every last skerrick of mixture to form the biscuits. Witness the children hoping mind control will make her stop short. The hyenas stand by, pining for a spoon to lick or a dirty bowl to run a finger round. There will be barely a morsel. They watch as the temperamental oven manages to bake the clumps of muddy mixture, turning them darker and crisp, and emerging almost as tasty as the uncooked dough. Yes they would try this at home – with or without the help of a mixer.

And as Pollan says, what he learnt about cooking is this; “that cooking gives us the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to work directly in our own support, and in the support of the people we feed. If this is not “making a living,” I don’t know what is. In the calculus of economics, doing so may not always be the most efficient use of an amateur cook’s time, but in the calculus of human emotion, it is beautiful even so. For is there any practice less selfish, any labour less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people your love?”


To Test or Not to Test



Who likes doing tests?

To see how much you know. To see how much you don’t know. To stare down a bit of white paper and be confused and angered by a question that, to your eleven year old self, makes no sense and is boring. Boring equals hard.

Is confidence built by doing well in a test?

Is confidence lost by doing poorly? Where does confidence go when it is diminished and trod on? What can we do to enliven it again?

What are we testing when we test boys? Their ability to sit still, like girls. Girls are good at tests. They are good at writing neatly and making borders around their work. But some boys like to move to think. Some boys like to throw a ball while they talk. Some boys like to skate. Some boys are messy.

Failure is supposed to help us succeed later. But in the moment failure is just that. It is flattening. It deadens us to that feeling that is success. Success seems slippery. Others have it. Not us. Skipping ahead, around the corner, the girl in the colourful skirt with the pretty curls. The boy child – his body sags and his shoulders push earthward. Shoes laces dragging undone, since doing them up just wastes time that could be spent running. They will come undone once more. The nature of shoe laces. Ugh another test.

And to have to miss Hockey because of a test. No reward seems good enough. He harps on It’s so unfair. My bargaining begins – Star Trek movie and a mint choc bomb perhaps.

And what is gifted anyway? Gifted – handed to you. Unearnt. Something someone else gave you that you played no part in? Gifted through good genes. Gifted and Talented exam. GATE to the parents who, like me, might have signed their child up, hoping for a spot in an elusive school. Saying GATE somehow seems less irksome than gifted and talented. And so if you don’t get in, then you are Not gifted and Not talented. Just a regular eleven year old kid with no interest in a test on quantitative reasoning and abstract thinking. Just an ordinary kid who must go to an ordinary school with ordinary teachers. Only 2.5% of kids can be labelled Gifted and Talented, so it’s a stretch to get in.

The acronym GATE is apt. Maybe WALL would be even better. For most students the GATE is locked and high and barbed. The GATE is not open wide or welcoming. It is latched and chained and bolted. Combinations and passwords and special handshakes required. It is the beginning of difference. Is eleven too young to begin to know? Maybe this is the first real gate they have come across. You have always held the door wide for them. Perhaps you are discriminated, as I am, by steps and stairs and steep driveways. Or maybe it’s the colour of your skin and the curl of your hair that prevents your inclusion. Maybe you can’t relate to people or you relate too much. Maybe English is not your first language. You live in the wrong part of town. Maybe you are a woman.

This afternoon, after school, I must ask him to sit and look at the sample questions so the exam paper does not come as a shock tomorrow. I need to tell him to not rush the paper, in the hope he can leave the room early. Only guess if you really don’t know and have no time to try to work it out. I already know it will be a battle to get him to look at the samples. When the sun is shining and friends are meeting at the park it is less than alluring to ponder a puzzle your mother looks pained to make you do.



Mad Mother

brain drawing

In my attempt to not embarrass him, I keep my cool.


There are stairs at the entrance to the sign-in area for the GATE visual arts testing all-day workshop. Deliver me from evil. This is not supposed to be a test of a parent’s resolve, or a parent’s coolness under pressure. We have already waited as a herd of uninformed, uninstructed parents with our stressed and unenthusiastic eleven-year olds – asked to do a whole day of testing during the holidays to get into an arts program at the public school of their choosing. Everyone would rather be somewhere else (like still in bed) as opposed to at this seventies High school that resembles more a detention centre than a place of learning.


They have an arts program here too, but amongst the grey shoddy brick and the moth-eaten grass, I feel distinctly unartistic.


We follow the mistaken directions of a janitor in a fluoro vest. By luck we find a ramp that allows us access to the sign-in area where the two women are perplexed we had issues. A pin-striped suited man says he wasn’t informed someone would be attending in a wheelchair. I am a parent, I say. I need to drop my child off and pick him up. I presumed the school would be accessible. It is a government school, is it not? In the year 2013. As a community we are interested in equal opportunity and access, aren’t we? Isn’t it your job to check things are equal for all? I am speaking to people who have never encountered a problem with stairs. It never crossed their minds. Legs like racehorses. And when I suggest maybe some better signage for the other souls who stood about with us wondering where to go, she says, yes we had the same issue last year. I feel Jasper at my side willing me to shut up.


I don’t want to shut up. I want to tell pin-stripes how it is. Blonde bob too. I have the urge to push my point. To be understood. Be in my seat for a moment, looking up at you from the height of a ten-year old, and feel my rage, my frustration, my sadness, my awkwardness. Jealousy. In the end my voice a quiver. Just to get my son to the test.


He is there now. Breathe. And I am in the State Library that I still call the Alexander library – where around tables bunches of students work in groups of four or five. Through thinking doors. Entering a vacuum. Ahh books. Students are plugged into music, others have their phones by them to keep an eye on their social networks. During their short interludes of study they are silent, but mostly time is spent idly chatting, files open, pens down. Denim-clad legs all a jiggle. From the mezzanine level there is the shrill cry of toddlers and babies. Libraries are not silent spaces anymore and it seems nobody expects them to be. A dirty homeless man makes use of the nice surrounds and finds himself a comfy chair to settle down in. He carries on a conversation to himself.


I am in the medical section – pouring over neurology texts trying to make sense of the limbic system and the brain. I draw it, as best I can. I wish for coloured pencils like the ones Jasper might be using. I remember anatomy and the feared neuroanatomy lectures. How is it that something as squidgey as jelly, as unctuous as mucous, be so complex? I read about the primitive brain. The one we share with other mammals. A rat in a cage. A red light flashes and then the rat receives a shock through the floor. Next time the red light  flashes the rat  anticipates the shock and so now simply the appearance of the flash results in fear from the rat. You know how when you smell the antiseptic in a doctor’s surgery? This is how I feel about the sight of stairs when my child needs to be at the top of them and we are at the bottom. It is primitive. It is amygdala-based. It sets physiological events rolling and I have to rein them in with the cognitive powers from my higher brain. In the end we are all just brain chemistry.


I head out on the street to find lunch. I am not hungry, just conditioned to seek food at this time. If I were Graham I might wait till I had an appetite and it was the inconvenient time of three o’clock. The bain-maries would be empty or else diseased. I eat half the sandwich and leave the rest beneath the paper napkin. I should have asked them to remove the cheese. I’m not really fond of seeded mustard. I go back to the library past some book shops. I am drawn inside to their smell. I pick them up, finger the covers, read their opening lines, think about purchasing because I love the way that word follows that one, the perfect sentence, but think of my house and the way it risks being subsumed by tomes.


On the incline heading back to the library a woman wants to push me. She offers help. I decline it. She says, “it looks hard – the pushing.” It is. Shrug. But. I can do it. We hang on, at least I do, to the things we can do. Having her push me would be worse than she realizes. A stranger on the handles of my chair, her breath behind me. Like looking at a flight of steps. Only Jasper, and Graham, take the handles of the chair and push on an ascent. They sense the need. There is no call for them to ask, for me to accept. To some a marathon is the street. The pole vault a six inch kerb. A steep driveway is my Alpe d’Huez. I shuffle to the front of the chair to get an inch taller to reach a neurology text from the top shelf. I could ask some one. Instead I stretch. How long my arms have become.


Two girls sit opposite each other – grilling the other on the epidermis. Do you know what a mast cell does? She takes her red plastic sandals off – they are jellybeans like the ones we wanted in the seventies. Her feet could be sweaty. She folds her legs beneath her on the chair. Her heels in her buttocks. Her brain makes them do it. Her spinal cord too. Effortless beauty. I watch them. Leg envy. Maybe we don’t need to know all the fancy stuff, she says. Who cares that mast cells release histamine? Somehow I think she will need to know. Next question. Name the two stages of wound healing? To think there are only two.

Jasper's art teachers


Stephanie and The Purple Garlic

purple garlic

When Stephanie joins the kids (from East Fremantle Primary and Singleton Primary schools) in front of the gathered audience at Garden Week, everyone is a little nervous. After all, she is a legend. Her program is responsible for teaching some 35 000 Australian primary school kids how to grow food and cook it. She has earned her reputation through hard work.

She is more silver than silver. She has her large beads. Her expressive eyebrows.

She talks to the audience while the kids around her cook. She knows she can leave them to it. She hovers behind, but not obtrusively. She says she tries not to be bossy. As mothers, we all know how hard that can be. She compliments a child on his knife skills. She shows some others how to cut the rib out of the silver beet, but also has suggestions on how to use it. She crisps up the sage in the butter because it can’t be merely wilted, it needs to crack like dry leaf. I am pleased to think that kids are learning this.

The Singleton Primary students must be as nervous as the East Freo kids are – they wash their silver beet twice. No one would want Stephanie to taste sand or grit in their dish. It’s hard to get the temperature just right on the fancy outdoor kitchen. She says you could call her primitive, but she prefers to see the flame over which she is cooking.

While the zucchini colours she expounds the virtues of local extra virgin olive oil and one of our students tells her of how we made it ourselves last year. We know, first-hand, from our own experience of pressing the fruit, that there is nothing added to the final product. It doesn’t require chemistry or a factory. No emulsifiers. No animal has suffered in the process. Stephanie describes it as as simple as fruit juice.

While the kids rub the toasted bread with the raw garlic, Stephanie tells us how we must avoid the bleached and imported kind. Buy locally grown Australian garlic – purple – not bleached or sprayed to stop it sprouting. Its papery mauve skin like tissue paper – veined like spider webs through ageing skin. Each clove so moist that when it is crushed beneath the blade of a knife, garlic juice wets your palm. Try growing it your school gardens, she says, as borders to the other plants.

Our students pick some edible flowers to decorate the plate and Stephanie says how important it is to serve the food at the table. Zucchini Bruschetta with preserved lemon, goats cheese, garlic and sage. Have a bit of time to admire it for yourself in the kitchen and then take it to the table for everyone else to feast their eyes on. Don’t dish it out in the kitchen. Let it be seen, complimented on and finally enjoyed. She opens her arms out wide to the audience. See what these kids can do…




Pomegranate Jewels in The Kitchen Garden


The glistening beads pop in your mouth. Melded with tomato and herbs they add sweetness and a firm texture. Little bursts. No one can quite believe the little red gems are as delicious as they are. They are an ancient fruit. They seem the kind of thing you might search for in the desert. The saviour that you stumble upon when, blistered and thirsty, you finally make it to the oasis. They come from a hard-shelled case. Of course it is fiction that each and every pomegranate holds the exact same number of seeds. But still, imagine. Its brittle matte surface defies the beauty underneath. It is a fruit I remember from my childhood garden too. Sometimes we cracked one on the red cement path, or used a tool from the many hanging on the wall in the garage – when Mum wouldn’t let us inside because she was vacuuming, or mopping or just because. And so we were outside and we were hungry. We could eat Gooseberries too – cocooned in their lacy lantern. The kind of fruit you don’t buy. Like lemons and figs and passionfruit – every good garden needs to supply its own.

In the Kitchen Garden it is time to cook. Long crusty baguettes are sliced on an angle and toasted in a frying pan. Then they are rubbed with a crushed garlic clove. Five times is the agreed number of rubs for each slice. The zucchini is sliced and cooked in a little extra virgin olive oil till it takes on some colour. Each crispy piece of bread is spread with the mixture of cream cheese and sheep feta cheese (our budget version of goat’s cheese). The zucchini slices are laid on, like fish scales, and topped with a sprinkle of diced preserved lemon rind and a crumbling of crisp sage leaves cooked in butter.


Our tasty main is Risotto with leek and yellow capsicum. A fearless mother takes on the task – despite it being the Death Dish on Masterchef. She’s unfazed. She gets her students in a preparatory huddle – they will make the best Risotto ever! It is a winner. A truck load of parmesan. Very cheesy. When not enough jobs remain the students find ways to garnish the dish with slices of radish.

At the communal table a child seeks my permission to lay his healing hands on my broken spine. He has the class reputation for healing headaches. Why not? Give it a whirl, I say.

When all the dishes and washing up is done – there are biscuits with raisins squirrelled back to the playground – turning to blur and dust in a pocket when a game of soccer rounders seems more pressing.

These days the year 6/7 group move around the kitchen with precision and speed. They know their work space. They have yet to work out the ovens, but either have I. Mostly they know where stuff is, although there is always a contingent of boys who need to ask for the item right before their eyes. Today I am about the clumsiest in our group as I nearly lose my grip on a slippery bottle of olive oil and send it to the floor. I save it in the nick of time. Kids are beginning to be confident around sharp knives and have mastered the skills meal-making requires. They no longer avoid the messy or tedious jobs. Well mostly. They work as a team to get the food on the table. Then they enjoy it mixed with conversation and pride. They know there is cleaning up to be done. They know the scraps need to be recycled and sent to the compost. If only we had some chooks. There are girls so keen on tomatoes that they scoop up the leftovers. The kitchen is ready for the next group. There might even be time for a cup of tea between classes. Funny how they think the tea towels might dry in a wet pile…


Are Montessori kids weird?

When you write a blog and you check your statistics you can see how people ended up on your site. You can see a list of search engine terms readers put into Google to end up pecking thechookhouse floor.

Like when they have searched for Guns. Imagine their dismay when they end up reading of small boys collecting branches and bits of old wood. Of a balcony full of adults while below on the dunes children run amok searching out wood for pistols and rifles freshly washed up from the sea and dropped from the Pines. This is because I wrote a piece about small boys marauding with stick guns on our holiday isle, Rottnest Island, and called it Young Guns. No doubt people searching for guns were not meaning this innocent, old fashioned play with driftwood.

Also having written about my son leaving his Montessori school I have found people searching for; Are Montesorri children weird? My short answer is No.  And perhaps a little affronted – how dare they? They are ordinary kids given a chance to learn in a non-competitive environment. They are self-determined, love to learn for learning’s sake and think tests and bells and a scheduled morning tea are a little strange. Because Montessori schooling is not the norm in Australia it has been mystified by those who don’t know it and people get an impression it is a flaky, hippy kind of education where children simply do as they please. This is the view of people outside of Montessori.

Jasper sees the difference in his new school. He sees that kids are less attentive to learning, need to be reigned in constantly by teachers and show little self direction. Strangely, even acknowledging these inadequacies, he is happy at his new government school. He likes the bigger social engagement. He likes the soft ball at lunch time and the kicking around the playground waiting for the bell to signal the start of the day. He tells me he is one of the four in the class to get all his spelling correct, something he would have had no notion of previously.

Montessori has given him resilience to work independently, something that is well ingrained in him now and hopefully cannot be eroded.

But if there are people searching this query perhaps there is some truth in the belief. Perhaps it is weird to not be motivated by tests and gold stars. Perhaps we are so used to pushing children to strive and do better and beat their peers we don’t know how good they are at pushing themselves. My conclusion is that parents are weird. Being a parent is weird. Being weird is weird. I am weird.

So now if someone is again searching whether or not Montessori kids are weird, the first place they might end up is here. Not weird, just given a different way of looking at what it is to learn.


Old fashioned Ruler and Wafer Biscuit


Because I don’t know what else to do….

Seeing the teacher this afternoon. Guts in a knot. Ate one biscuit. Wanted another. Stopped myself.

Took a photo of it instead.

Yesterday Jasper left his hat in his bag in the corridor at lunch time so could not go out in the sun. He sat undercover and watched the others running amok. No Hat No Play. The classroom is locked at lunch time. A no go zone. Perhaps this is because children might graffiti or vandalise. Perhaps someone might turn the word on the black board from lock to fuck. Even a girl.