I am not writing this to justify our decision to home school, nor to convince anyone else to home school or to take up our ideals. Home schooling is not for everyone … but it is for us. I wrote this to provide information for those who are interested in knowing more about how and why we are following this path.
My experience with schools is that they cater for logistics more than students. Timetabling, segmented subject disciplines, start and finish times, behaviour management systems (rewards, punishment, threats and bribes), and attempts to make learning happen when it suits the timetable and the teacher all work well for teachers and administrators, but not necessarily for children. That is not to say that teachers and schools don’t care. In fact, it’s the opposite. Generally, teachers are overworked, over-committed and passionate about kids and learning.
I should know; I am a teacher. I have worked at many levels – classroom teacher, specialist teacher, regional advisor, bureaucratic project officer and manager, and university lecturer and tutor supporting pre-service educators. As a liaison between university and schools hosting prac/intern students, I have visited countless classrooms over the years, as well as teaching in my own classroom. Unfortunately, in over 17 years as a registered teacher, I am more frustrated than ever that despite everything we know about learning, neuroscience and child development, schools and curriculum are becoming more standardised and point-in-time test performance is held up as the most valuable and celebrated evidence of learning. Play has gone out the window in many mainstream schools and a quiet classroom with children working individually on a worksheet at their own desk is highly regarded.
As parents, my husband and I want our children to:
- Be independent and capable thinkers, tinkerers and risk-takers.
- Be autonomous learners capable of authentic inquiry and discernment.
- Not be afraid or ashamed of failing, but to recognise failure as a necessary step in moving forward.
- Be filled with wonder and to know the joy of curiosity fulfilled.
- Be confident with people of all ages, to learn with and from those who are older and younger and to participate and contribute to social situations with a huge diversity of people.
- Experience and understand the potential an individual can have to activate change.
- Be meaningful contributors to community who respect people and all living things.
- Be skilled communicators, able to articulate their point of view with eloquence.
- Embrace differences in others.
- Speak and write because they have something to say, not because they are being graded on it.
- Progress at their own rate, to not be left lagging behind or waiting in front.
- Ask new questions and solve new problems where solutions are not yet known and where there is no one correct answer.
- Have opportunities to explore, express and develop their creativity.
We believe that a home schooling environment with the world as our classroom is how and where our children will best develop these attributes. Our plan for home schooling is to foster our children’s natural interests and personal learning styles, incorporating core subjects into real life contexts as appropriate. Some people call this natural learning, as it does not involve following a prescribed curriculum. As parents, we are also co-learners and learning facilitators, modelling how we investigate our own curiosities to develop meaningful understanding.
We live and learn much of the time at our home and 13-acre organic farm. We have a large inside children’s play area and office set up, where the children have free access to a huge range of toys, blocks, puzzles, games, stationery and craft supplies which are used daily. We are a family who loves reading; our children have been surrounded by books and multi-modal texts since before they were born, which likely contributed to Boy Wonder being an early and confident reader. We have a range of Internet-enabled devices which are used for learning ‘just in time’ – when we want to know something, we choose an appropriate way to find out, be that a book, reference magazine, YouTube, search engine or a phone call or email to someone who does know.
Both our children have a great interest in the natural world and we have always encouraged and embraced that. Our farm provides limitless opportunities to learn about and explore rocks, plants, animals, weather patterns, soil, and natural cycles (water, food, life). We are beekeepers and our children enjoy observing bees, helping extract honey and weighing and bottling it after harvesting. Growing much of our own food affords an avenue for our children to understand and appreciate the relationship between inputs and outputs, and to respect natural phenomena such as rain, the moon and the sun. Caring for pets and animals is all part of life on our farm, and provides an opportunity to understand more about the living world. We adopt permaculture principles in our practices, which enables us to have a deepening understanding of the relationship between people and the earth and the impact our every day actions can have at a local and global level.
We are grateful to have the luxury of home schooling as an option, although it does not come without sacrifice. In fact, we see this as the greatest privilege of our lives. We don’t see ourselves as commencing home schooling at the beginning of 2016, when our first-born becomes ‘school age’, as we have been home schooling since the day he was born. We were our children’s first teachers and we continue to love, inspire, guide, support, encourage and challenge our children as they explore, learn and discover themselves and the world around them. As mentioned earlier, the world is our classroom and we are learners every minute of every day. We have opted out of a system in favour of an alternative that is viable and that fits with our ideals and lifestyle.
Although well-meaning, there are things that you don’t need to worry about on our behalf: socialisation, university entrance, socialisation, university entrance, socialisation. A special request to please not trust or continue to circulate outdated and false mythical norms about these matters. I don’t believe that socialisation is thirty children of the same age working through the same material at the same time, raising their hand when they wish to speak and all simultaneously being required to be hungry and need the toilet when a bell rings. Our children are highly social and our lifestyle affords them opportunities to regularly be with other children and adults in a range of contexts. Also, there are multiple entry pathways to tertiary education and scores of home schooled children choose to take these, in many cases much earlier than those who attend school.
As passionate life-long learners ourselves, my husband and I believe that the opportunities and experiences we provide our children are respectful of them as people and learners, honouring their individual needs, interests and personalities while reflecting our own values and ethics. These opportunities mean that their daily lives are purposeful, interesting and fun.
For anyone interested in knowing more about home schooling, some of the following thought-leaders have ideas which resonate strongly with us – Sugata Mitra, John Holt, Alfie Kohn, John Taylor Gatto and Sir Ken Robinson.