Archives for category: learning

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Netflix, mainly due to their view-on-demand format, their collection of programming I’ve never seen before and the award-winning drama from their own productions – I really liked House of Cards.

I tried another Netflix series called Lilyhammer – not very good. I liked the Swedish setting, but the Italian mafia clichés were a bit too much. Then a friend recommended another Netflix production – Orange is the New Black. I read the blurb and wasn’t that interested. I thought it sounded like the aftermath an older programme called Weeds, which I enjoyed it, but never got past series two.

However, one sleepless night I decided to give ‘Orange…’ a try. I was in bed and could watch it on my smart phone – comparable to other local television station apps, this was easy. The dialogue between the characters is great. I decided to get out of bed and watched a few more on the tv. Brilliant scripts – funny, political, emotional characters. There are flashbacks to the characters previous life, giving the viewer a better understanding of the key players in the series. I couldn’t stop watching.

So, in order to feed my new ‘addiction’, I had to create a distraction for the kids when I wanted to escape to watch another episode. Thankfully, our Netflix subscription allows me to watch ‘Orange…’ and the kids can still access their favourite Netflix programmes as well. I watch on a mobile device in the kitchen (while tidying up after dinner & washing the dishes) and they get to watch cartoons on the television. Their favourite programmes at the moment are Word Girl, The Magic Roundabout, Wild Kratts, Pokemon, and Total Drama. Education and entertainment for all of us!

Before anyone thinks we are constantly watching tv, let me share that we also spend a lot of time outdoors. This summer has brought plenty of sunshine so we had many days on the beach, meeting friends in parks and playgrounds – we even sheltered from the sun in shaded forests because the sun was so warm. We went camping in the back garden, joined a group of friends in a new outdoor ecological space outside the city and explored west Cork. Then our family holiday was up the west coast to Galway and Mayo.

Driving from Cork, the trip can be a few hours so road trip entertainment for the kids is essential. We have a few games we play on these trips, but we also listen and sing along to music. My wife is great for making up compilations that entertain the kids, which, admittedly, I struggle through some of the time. The latest cd (remember them?!) in the car involves a lot of pop music – Katie Perry, 1 Direction, Beyoncé, and thankfully Rodrigo y Gabriela (this is not pop music!).

The Katie Perry stuff is a bit more manageable to listen to, because I heard she is very involved in the song and music writing – saw this on her documentary [available on Netflix]. Whereas, the 1 Direction stuff is annoying when an intro to one of their songs is very similar to a song by The Who – definitely a bit of ‘creativity’ by the 1D manufacturing team, rather than the band!! However, my daughter loves the 1D music and it’s great to see her sing and dance to it all. She even sang a song at a recent event – in front of approximately 100 people; so that’s impressive. Netflix have a few musical movies and programmes at the moment, so I think we have a few resources to watch over the coming months. And it will help distract me while I wait for the next season of ‘Orange is the New Black’! 🙂


When I was growing up I was amazed at the interest my cousin had in animals. He spent most of his spare time reading about them, and he’s still the same. I didn’t have much of an interest. We didn’t have pets growing up – with the exception of a pup for three weeks! (He nipped a neighbour and was sent to a great big park somewhere!?) So, animals and pets are a new concept to me.

Now I see my children showing an interest in animals that helps me learn more about them as well. We have hens, a goldfish and a cat. Their numbers fluctuate over the years – the hens are fairly constant, the goldfish started with one, then two, then back to one. The cat likes travelling so he is like a teenager in the family – you see him when you see him. Oh, and we used to have a hamster or some small furry animal thing. It was more of a nocturnal creature so we rarely saw it during the day. I suppose it was also like a teenager.

Anyway, thankfully the interest we have in animals is easily fed when you look online. We have a few animal books in the house, but everyone has to agree the attraction of moving pictures is often more appealing to children (and some adults). Our main source of tv programming is through Netflix, so over the years my daughter has moved through the various age appropriate animated shows. There is a wide collection of shows that use animals or anthropomorphic characters telling a tale or sharing information. It’s a great source of learning.

Television shows are very informative nowadays, and many do a great job in making it entertaining and appealing to children and adults. While growing up, I learnt a lot from watching tv, and complimented this with reading; so I’m not the kind of parent that thinks tv is bad. Therefore, watching a selection of shows is a tool for learning used in this house.

I’m not a fan of Peppa Pig (earlier shows are very sexist), but the kids love it. However, the selection of other shows on Netflix is a great distraction. I’ve enjoyed, and continue to watch with my youngest, the talented works of Maurice Sendak’s Little Bear, Clifford the Dog, and more recently Wild Kratts. The latter is great and the information on animals is fascinating. Other shows that are watched here are Bubble Guppies (which has a great ‘rap’ for going outside) Animal Mechanicals (pre-engineering course), Busytown Mysteries (problem solving), and then for entertainment (very important part of all ages of growing up) we have watched Babar, Snow Dogs, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and Open Season.

It’s great to have days outdoors, with (possible) sunshine, nature and fresh air. But if you happen to have a day indoors, I’d definitely recommend watching some of these shows with your child. You can switch off from adulthood and learn or be entertained with your child. Enjoy!


Note: this post is part of the Netflix Stream Team promotion. As usual, all words and thoughts are my own.

Thankfully, the warmer weather and brighter evenings have given us the opportunity to be outside more. After the winter storms, I have a bit of cleaning up to do in the garden, but I’m not naive enough to think the kids will want to help me with that.

So, I had to think of something that will encourage them outdoors. We have the trampoline, and they were excited about being able to use it again (after they remembered we had one!). But that wasn’t enough. I’m a fan of Pinterest, so I collected (pinned) a few ideas of ‘gardens for children’ over the winter months. This is the time to put some of them into practice. You can see below what we’ve done, and in an effort to prevent you from staying indoors reading this, I’m keeping this post short, and hope you enjoy the possibilities of good weather.


The picture above shows our tic-tac-toe game. I gathered a few stones from a local beach and painted them to look like bumble bees and ladybirds. I also painted a pallet table we have in the garden to create the board, and now we have a outdoor board game.


For less than €30 I got some concrete flag stones to put across our gravel path. Then with the magic of chalk, we also have a hopscotch game. The added advantage of these stepping stones is that the kids can cross the gravel towards the grass in their bare feet – resolving one of their issues from last summer. 🙂

So, that’s just two simple changes to the garden this spring that brought the kids outdoors. We’ve also planted some seeds, so check back with us in a few months to see the results. Bye!

The last few weeks I’ve been ill. So ill, that I had to relinquish my need to do everything for myself. You see, I’m not great at asking for help and regularly get bothered when others try to help me ‘without my permission’! However, when I found the simplest of human tasks a major difficulty (ie, breathing), it’s a bit easier to accept the goodwill of others. It happens almost every year now, but this year dragged on a bit too long for my comfort. And this resulted in me being a grumpy man!

The best thing for me to do during all this was to relax and let my body rest and recover. But that was a contradiction in my mind – how can I relax when my retired parents are having to travel down to my home to look after my kids while my wife was working?!? Huh? How? But, I had no choice. I could barely walk to the car to get to a doctor. I felt like sleeping half way through the ten minute journey to his surgery. I certainly slept when I got home after a ‘gruelling’ one hour trip outdoors.

I found my reliance on others to do my job very hard, and still feel weak at the thought of what had to happen. When I regained some strength and could participate in family life a bit more I was still angry at my body’s weakness to do basic things I need it to do. I was uncomfortable that this meant I needed the help of others. I got grumpy with my wife and kids over simple things and tasks. The kids were great through it all. My wife was great. Our parents were brilliant help at a moments notice. The only person that struggled through it all was me! I hated needing the help of others. I still hate it, and I don’t know why?

It brought back a memory of my life several years ago, when I was a student. I shared a house with the girl who is now my wife. I was studying for one last exam while she was finished all of hers. After several hours of cramming information into my exhausted brain I needed to take a break, and came down to the kitchen to have lunch. When I entered the room I was presented with a toasted sandwich from my caring and loving housemate. Instead of saying thank you, I got grumpy with her. She looked at me with a puzzled grin while I clarified that I could have made it myself, that I didn’t need her to do it. I was coming down to do it anyway. She’s a redhead, so she quickly told me what to do with the sandwich! 🙂 Thankfully, she got over it easier than I did, because years later I’m still acting like that fool.

Why do I generally struggle to ask for help? Why do I struggle to ask for help even when I’m too ill to do it myself? Why do I have to emphasise my ability to do it myself, when others take the initiative and do it for me? I don’t know. I had several weeks lying in bed where I could have analysed it more. Unfortunately, all I could do was try to keep breathing. Thankfully, my family helped me to achieve that. Obviously, their willingness to care for me is stronger than my ability to ask for that care. They hopefully see more in me than a grumpy man. I hope my kids will learn this trait, rather than pick up my one. And now that I can breathe easily again, I’m asking myself the questions to help me understand why I avoid and resist the support of others. Have you any input?

Before I move forward, just let me say “Thank you” to my family.


My last post mentioned a beautiful picture I discovered a while ago, but I couldn’t share with you who was the great artist that created it. Well, thankfully to a great friend of mine [Patrick] I received a link to Maria Zaikina and her ‘Landshaft mit Haus’ series.

Her other work is as beautiful as the picture I found, and I was delighted to see how apt the timing of my post on this picture. If you look at the ‘With Casa‘ magazine cover from last year, you should notice the picture is titled ‘Sommerende’. Perfect.


When I started this blog earlier this year I had a goal of posting something every two weeks. That gave me plenty of time to come up with a topic, write about it and then post it – and still allow time for work, family and everything else on the sidelines.

However, if you read my previous post, you will understand that sometimes plans don’t go according to plan! So, in an effort to be more organised and focused on writing for this blog, I thought I’d start something new to keep up the momentum each week.

You see, I’m currently reading Scott Belsky’s book ‘Making Ideas Happen‘, which is, so far, a very enjoyable and productive read. The title provides the brief description of what the book is about, and I’ll elaborate with a sentence from the cover page:

“This bestselling book reveals the three steps vital to making any idea happen: getting organized, collaborating and leading effectively.”

It suggests some steps on how to prioritise all your ideas, and then how to make (some of) them a reality. I included ‘some of’ in the previous sentence, as Belsky (thankfully) acknowledges that we often have too many ideas to carry through to completion. So, is it not better to work on some projects to the end, rather than constantly talk about ALL the ideas you would like to complete – if you had the time? He also reminds the reader that developing ideas involves a lot of work, quoting Edison’s mantra of “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”.

After several months of writing here I agree with this concept. I’m enjoying the act of blogging, and I want to at least complete my initial commitment of a blog post every fortnight. However, with family being a huge part of my life at the moment, more so than design; I have a tendency to consider writing about family days rather than design!

So, the new concept for my blog, each Wednesday, is to simply present an inspirational design I like, and hope it will please some readers too. I might even get a design / picture of my own into this slot some day soon! 😉 Anyway, here’s the first of many:

I saw this picture online many years ago and thought it was beautiful. I still love it! However, I can’t remember who did it, or where I found the picture. It is made up of all the dots and full stops the artist found in print media, and she then stuck them onto a large sheet to admire them. Isn’t it amazingly simple, yet beautiful? Do you know the artist?

You can download a free PDF copy of the Scott Belsky book here. Not sure how this site can offer it for free, but it’s there.


A few weeks ago I met a long time friend for dinner, to celebrate the recent passing of my birthday and the eve of hers. It was a simple pizza and wine chat on what’s been happening since we last met. Inevitably, we discussed how we have changed from our interaction with family, friends, colleagues and society in general.

My friend is teaching and loving her job. She is aware that my wife and I home educate our children and she asked what ‘schooling’ my children were getting. I explained we were unschooling and this kept the conversation going for a while. We discussed the merits and worries of schools versus home educating, but I felt a bit lost for words in trying to explain the education style we use. In bed that night I decided not to go into the topic until I could explain unschooling better. Until now, that is. 🙂

I’m writing this to try figure out my understanding of my decision. Each day I see my children learn something new. They interact with people of all ages quite well. My daughter asked to do some number games recently, after we finished baking cookies. My son is learning words and tries each day to say a few new words. ‘Ham’ is very clearly understood, but not so much the word ‘grandad’ at the moment! It’s a joy for me to learn with them each day, even when my learning involves me apologising to the kids for getting so easily annoyed about their behaviour at times.

In trying to establish an understanding of what I do in educating my children I’m always drawn back to comparing it to a school based education. However, that is one of the main reasons I want to home educate – to avoid the structures and categories of learning that schools implement. I liked the flexibility of my daughter baking with me, then sitting down to do numbers and tables. She called it her homework. Then she played a word game on the computer so that she could challenge herself to the next level of the ‘game’. She led all of this learning. I helped her follow the ideas she had to learn more. She wanted to learn and by doing stuff, and by doing this with her I learnt how much she loves moving from one task to another throughout the day.

I’m still not sure how to describe what I do to ‘educate’ my children, other than to say that I help them learn and then watch what happens. Just like many other parents. Around the world, every day, parents help educate their children whether the child is in preschool, primary school, secondary, university and the home. My children probably learn things in a different format to many other children their age; and they will probably prefer to learn some tasks more regularly than others – just like their friends. And this is another key concern for all parents – helping our children to interact with others and create friendships. This might be a bit of a shock to some people (based on the No.1 question I’m usually asked by adults) – Yes, my children have friends! Home educated children are not kept in boxes away from the community they live in. They interact with people every day and learn something from it.

I have learnt many things through school, work, university, travelling and simply by interacting with people and my surroundings. I continue to learn something new each day. I like to share with others some of what I’ve learnt. In my work outside of the family and home, I have many people who are grateful for me sharing what I know. I am often challenged to research something so that I learn something new. Thankfully, learning can be a reciprocal arrangement, if we allow it to happen.

Cartoon taken from the brilliant imagination of Bill Watterson in his ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ books

In less than two weeks I’ll be heading to Dublin for Offset 2013. It’s an annual designers conference that I discovered last year – a couple of weeks after the event! So this year I was one of the early bird ticket holders, and I’m getting really excited about it now.

As mentioned before, I’m a wannabe designer of sorts. I’m fascinated by the work of the creative industry, the variation in the work, and the joy someone can bring to us through their skill. For the last twelve months I’ve spent time researching and following designers and started to recognise names and their work.

One designer I discovered is Sarah Illenberger, who created an amazing infographic from food (see below). I’ve always used food to express my creativity, but only in the guise of cooking a nice meal. Illenberger uses the raw material as props for her designs. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to see her added to the Offset 2013 line up. It’s a three day event so there are plenty more designers who have work I admire and others I’m eager to see to learn more about.

Others designers talking over the weekend are Oliviero Toscani who did the infamous Benetton ad campaigns I remember from my days in Dublin. Niamh Sharkey, the author and illustrator of one of my daughter’s favourite books – The Ravenous Beast – will also be there. Street artists, photographers, digital creatives, and more illustrators (Oliver Jeffers has just confirmed his attendance) will take to the stage so I’m hoping to learn a lot. I’ll share more when I get back, or follow me here for updates.



I’ve always liked flexibility. When I had children I realised flexibility is very important. A recent Saturday plan of mine was to head into the city to see a photographic exhibition. I had made a few unsuccessful attempts previously but today was the last day of this showcase, so I really wanted it all to work.

I did the considerate parenting approach: let the kids know the night before that I wanted to go out the following morning. I mentioned it again over breakfast. Encouraged their participation with a promise of a playground session while we were in the city…the suggestions of one theory of parenting! However, today was a stay at home and play day in the kids minds. How do I know this? Because they dawdled at everything they did. They played together in amazing synchronicity – the age gap between them (6+2) rarely let’s this happen, but it happened this morning. Distraction after distraction was all that happened this morning.

So I made the choice to create the chaos that ensues the compulsory extraction of kids from a playtime and got us into the car and headed into the city. Three grumpy heads took the (necessary!?) journey. As we approached the city I noticed a navy / naval / marine boat docked on the quay wall and slowed down. A small group of people were standing alongside waiting to board, and I quickly considered us joining them. Without hesitation I pulled onto the quay and stopped to ask the kids would they like to go on board? They jumped at the chance after the six year old clarified that this spontaneous event was not replacing the pre-planned playground visit.

So, the next hour was spent as a family exploring the engines, bridge, decks and weaponry of a naval vessel. The highlight for the kids was the captain’s chair, the downside for us all was the cold wind on the upper decks. But we were all enjoying the opportunity to see something that isn’t available every day.

Back on land, we got an ice cream (thankfully, our kids believe ice cream is not just for summer!); we still made the photographic exhibition (which the kids enjoyed as well) and great day was had by all. Thanks to flexibility.


I attended a La Leche League conference last weekend; an inspirational event for us in determining our actions and beliefs in parenting. The main task of fathers attending the conference is to do their parenting role in the lobby or hotel corridors. Each year I think I will get to listen to some interesting facts from one of the conference speakers, but it hasn’t happened yet. My wife is usually the one who attends the sessions (she is obviously more interested and appreciative of the discussion on breastfeeding than I ever will) so I’m happy enough with the way things are right now. This year’s conference was less demanding of my parenting skills as our children loved the play and crafting rooms.

Anyway, the reason I wanted to write about this event is because the mothers who take on the mammoth task of feeding their child through their breasts get a lot of stick for this choice. Society, health professionals, partners, family, employers, etc can often be the critical nay-sayers of this very important role. I can appreciate the complex situations that sometimes prevent a mother taking on the breastfeeding role, but there are instances of people strongly criticising or preventing the mother from making, or continuing with, the choice to do it.

So today, on this day celebrating motherhood, a big Thank You goes out to mums who do or support breastfeeding! For those who might be struggling through it, here’s some information that might be encouraging and of interest.

2012 ESRI Figures on Average breastfeeding rates:

Ireland: 5 out of 10, UK: 8 out of 10, EU: 9 out of 10, Scandinavia: almost 10 out of 10

A study in Brazil found that infants who were not breastfed at all had a 14 times greater risk of death than those who were exclusively breastfed.

830,000 deaths could be avoided if every baby was breastfed within the first hour of birth.

Spending on formula feed is worth $25 Billion, whereas breastfeeding costs us nothing!

Ref: Superfood for Babies, Safe the Children, 2013
The, 2012, National Breastfeeding Week

I also include the data because, if the stats are correct (and I’ve no reason to dispute them), there are more children celebrating mothers today because of her choice to not go with the new fad of bottle feeding!

Thanks mam. x