This is a post that is very important to me, because it goes right to the heart of why our children do not go to school. Contrary to mainstream opinion, a supportive, nurturing environment at home encourages resilience, strength and mastery, whereas it is my experience (and the experience of millions of other families who choose to educate outside of schools) that the school environment does not.
School may force children to learn social survival. But survival in crisis, under constant stress, is not the same as building resilience, or encouraging mastery of skills, in an environment that allows you to fail, then try again - as many times as it takes.
In a school environment, it is my experience that children in school are put in to a certain category and that is where they stay for most of their lives.
The academic kid
The cool kid
The basketball kid
The genius kid
The sporty kid
The shy kid
Room for growth and mastering of things outside of that, are grossly limited by the oppressive, time-poor and resource-poor environment of school.
Even if you have spectacular teachers, there are hundreds of kids to put you in your place. Remember the overweight kid who was really bad at high jump but tried anyway - and was ripped apart for failing, the first (or second, or third) time?
Or the sporty kid that wasn't great at reading, and got laughed at, so he didn't put his hand up to read again?
I saw that time and time again when I was in school - and I bet you did too. And I saw it with my three children who started their education at school (and the one who finished in year 12). I saw my children try new things and get teased, judged or labelled. I went to countless meetings where principals (yes we changed schools multiple times), suggested that maybe if our children dressed differently, did their hair differently (one daughter had short hair and that was the cause of a lot of bullying, apparently), were quieter (our eldest was outspoken), pushed back more when bullied (our middle child cried a lot when people yelled at her...), or otherwise changed, then their lives would be easier.
Year by year I saw their individuality reeled in, and their passion to try new things slowly snuffed out. The change with 5 - 6 years of homeschooling is still shocking to me.
For our daughter who vowed never to sing again after a bout of bullying, we have seen her get up on stage, busk, make YouTube videos, join choirs, write her own music, try new styles and thrive in singing.
For our son who called himself 'stupid', 'pathetic', 'moron' and 'idiotic' (his private school teacher taught him those words) I see him trying new things, over and over again. Failing. Failing. Picking himself up, and then mastering. I can't quite believe it, even now.
if you got to the end of this novel and you are thinking homeschooling will be better for your child DO IT. If you have doubts, let this be your green light. If you know that your child is capable of more, or deserves more, then try it. And if you would like to hear from other parents that are doing just that, come along to the Australian homeschool summit tomorrow! it just might change your life!
Something that I have heard more than a few times in our homeschooling/ unschooling journey is that as parents we need to prepare our children for the REAL WORLD.
That somehow taking children out of the school system will disadvantage them in hardening them up to the realities of life, and that once they are out in the REAL WORLD they will not know how to cope with people
with hard situations
with abusive bosses or bullies
That life will be difficult and perilous for them, once they become adults, so it is important to keep them in school
so that they learn to deal with difficult people
and learn that life is not all happiness and sunshine
I am not sure quite how to react to this mindset, that life is difficult and the world is difficult, and that real life is all about suffering and hardship, and hardening up!
Where do these ideas come from?
Maybe that is what happens to us when we grow up from a very young age in institutions? from spending most of our waking day in places where you are not loved by the people around you, and where you are actively prevented from acting lovingly in your daily life? (just look up all the news articles about children not being allowed to hold hands, or kiss or hug at school - and policies that enforce a rule that children need to be 20cm away from each other!).
Maybe this is what happens when we grow up with many of our primary care-givers (the teachers, or before and after school supervisors who are with you for 6- 12 hours out of your waking day) being the dictators of our every thought, word and action.
When you cannot think and act joyfully when you are joyful
When you are not free to move around when you feel like moving
Or eat when you are hungry
Talk when you are bursting with ideas and words! (yes, this would be me!!!)
Draw or paint when you are feeling wonderfully creative
or tend to your own personal needs whenever they arise...
Or maybe it is what has happened to most of us, moving straight from the oppressive environment of school, to the oppressive environment (in many cases) of being a young (and older) employee in a workplace, where your time is not your own, and your thoughts and actions and life belongs to somebody else. As an adult, we are still chained by the requirement to be in a certain place, at a certain time. To act a certain way and perform certain duties, and have fun, or be free, at set, pre-determined times throughout the year.
And maybe this is not everybody's experience - but do you think that this is where these ideas come from?
that life is hard
...living is a hardship
...we need to harden up
It is hard to think original thoughts when you are supposed to be, and act and think like everyone else. And it is hard to be your unique, shining, wonderful self when you are constantly assessed by your peers , your teachers, your parents and bosses against the standards of others. It is hard to feel ok with being you and being happy as YOU when you have been scrutinised for a lifetime, both for your external appearance, your capabilities to achieve the exact things that people your age are supposed to be achieving, and your willingness to do as you are told, when you are told to do it.
No wonder so many of us feel that life is hard, and that children need to be prepared for this life of hardship.
But life does not have to be like that.
YES, life can be hard. But what if we lived with purpose, and parented with purpose - the purpose to make life less hard for our children?! (now take a deep breath - this can be confronting). I know that sometimes we can give in to those little voices (the ones that have been trained by those around us for a very long time) that your children should experience the same things that you experienced. That life should not be a free ride. That you learnt discipline, and you learnt how to cope in stressful circumstances, and that your children should too. And maybe you don't consciously think like this - but sometimes, I think that most of us do.
What if our main purpose as parents was to facilitate our children in living joyfully? not just on the weekends, not just on our 5 weeks of annual family holidays, not just after 3pm, or 6pm when they are picked up from school or after school care, but all of the time. Every day?
For some of us, this is exactly how unschooling becomes. Because when you start to back slowly away from the school system - a system that you have always been taught is necessary and essential part of life, and you discover than miraculously -you can thrive without it then you may begin to question other things. If children do not have to go to school 6 hours a day to prepare for an adulthood that is pre-determined (school until 17, university until 22, job, children, mortgage, death) then maybe we do not have to take on work for 8 hours a day that we dread going to! If children are free to live joyfully, then maybe we are free to live joyfully! Maybe there is an alternative to the 9-5, or maybe we can be free to pursue things that we truly love? And if we are free to pursue things that we truly love, then perhaps others around us are worthy of that too.
And suddenly homeschooling or unschooling doesn't only raise the questions of whether our children need to harden up for the real world, but questions about what the 'real world' is and how much we really are able to control in our lives and the way that we feel inside ourselves.
If you are already homeschooling or unschooling I would really love to hear what unexpected things have happened in your life since starting this journey. Do you feel more free to pursue your own passions or have your experiences been different? x
TRIGGER WARNING - this article contains triggers around school bullying, suicides and violent pornography accessed at school.
1) Painting homeschoolers as 'the other'
Discrimination, division and classification have been used at every point in history to divide cultures and communities, and to justify acts that would never otherwise be tolerated in a cohesive society. Discrimination allows us to justify providing less resources to those that are undeserving, to hand out punishments or 'disciplinary actions' to those that do not fit in, and to reach a consensus that those people, whoever they may be, do not need the same things that others need. Simply because they are the other.
In recent months the voices of dissatisfaction with the current schooling model, have reached epic heights worldwide. It is being reported with increasing frequency that schools are not the best places for our children. And yet families looking to remove their children from a failing system, and to take control of their children's education are most often classified as 'the other'. People who are rebellious or anarchists. People who do not want to do their 'duty' as citizens, and have their children educated in the mainstream like 'normal' people. Media reporting of homeschooling most often includes snippets of the lives of the most radical unschoolers, who are presented as being unacceptably alternative in some way or other, and homeschoolers are painted to be unreasonable, unsocial, anti-community misfits living on the edge of reason and thus undeserving of the benefits afforded to the 'normal' members of society. This classification of the 'other' is the beginning of the justification of discrimination at every other level.
2) Providing no funding to homeschoolers
Think about this for a minute. The Prime Minister is running for leadership and announces to the country 'this year and for all years to come, we have decided that we will provide absolutely no funding for education. The lap-top scheme for high school students will be discontinued. There will be no funding for books, or computer programs, classes or anything.' Zero funding. Imagine the backlash. A first-world country that provides no funding for education. To put this into perspective, a recent news story detailed the losses that children would suffer with annual cuts to school funding of $100 per year. $100 out of over $11,000 that is provided to schools per year, per student. $11,000 that is presumably important in helping teachers to provide students with their education. Home educators who are not schooling, are still paying taxes that fund their children to access the right to this funding. Home educators are not using the funds in the schools, and yet home educators have no way to access this funding, if they choose to school at home. By classifying homeschoolers as 'the other' - the people who choose not to engage in the schooling system, this lack of funding is normalised through the justification that homeschoolers are choosing not to educate in schools, and are therefore different, and not deserving of the same resources as other children.
3)Not ensuring safety at school
As a society, at present we absolutely cannot guarantee the safety of our children at school. Therefore we have the obligation and duty to support parents and families as they ensure the safety of their children, through home educating. For many children, school is not a safe place, and at this point the government and the education system are struggling to provide safe alternatives to mainstream schooling. Children with disabilities do not have access to funding to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing at school, other children can not be guaranteed protection from bullying to the point of mental health issues or suicide, sexual harassment and assault at school, or exposure to violent pornography accessed on mobile phones at school.
Safety, defined as 'the condition of being protected from harm or other non-desirable outcomes..or the control of recognised hazards in order to achieve an acceptable level of risk' cannot be guaranteed at present, at school. In just looking at one of the multiple issues that lead to physical and mental health problems for children who in the school system, it has recently been established that violent pornography is one of the main issues damaging the health and wellbeing of Australian children, with children accessing violent pornography from the age of 11, at school. It has been established that schools do not have the resources to prevent this access at school, which is leading to epic levels of physical and mental health problems which start in childhood through to adulthood.
Dr Joe Tucci, head of the Australian Childhood Foundation, recently stated that a public health crisis was emerging, with online pornography, and that it was "impossible for children to not see it". Dr Tucci states that "I think the community would be shocked at the kinds of consequences we are seeing in a small group of children being exposed to this type of pornography", stating that health authorities were seeing increases in the number of children engaging in 'problem sexual behaviour' with other children. Anti-pornography activist, Gail Dines states that pornography is now more violent than it has ever been, and that the average age that children are first accessing pornography is 11 years old "We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn...this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behaviour and attitudes towards women".
Educator Maree Crabbe, when interviewed by the Herald Sun in an article published on the 23rd of July 2016, on children's exposure to violent online pornography at schools, stated that "young people find ways to get around school filters, and they don't need school Wi-Fi in order to access things, they might have access through 3G or 4G on their devices". In addition, a submission from hundreds of parents and teachers to the senate states that there was a "dramatic increase" in opportunities for children to watch porn at school. In addition, The Herald Sun stated that 75% of schools surveyed by the Association of Heads of Independent Schools Australia had intervened in cases of sexting among students in the last 3 years. The Herald Sun also stated that 'female students were under immense pressure to do more sexually because of boy's access to pornography".
In addition, it has also been estimated that up to 85% of divorces can be in some part attributed to complications arising from online pornography usage. Therefore, the failure of the school system to be able to deal with the rapidly changing environment of the internet and children's exposure to these materials has long-reaching repercussions for our children now, the safety of girls as they reach puberty, the mental health of boys as they are exposed to graphic and violent imagery, and the future relationships of our children.
In addition, looking at bullying at schools, Kids Helpline states that "a survey of schools in approximately 40 countries found that Australian primary schools were amongst those with the highest reported incidence of bullying in the world". Kids Helpline states that bullying is the sixth most common reason why children and young people seek help from children's health services, and Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, speaking at the National Centre Against Bulling conference stated that "we are finding that a lot of schools are really struggling to get this bullying thing right".
In a case where we are seeing epic, life-threatening incidences of physical and mental health problems with children in the school system, and inadequate resources to address the issues in the immediate future, it is our duty as a society to support families who are doing their best to keep their children safe.
If you spend any time at all on homeschool and unschool internet forums, one of the number one concerns with bringing your children home to educate them is money. Or rather the lack of money that comes from living on one income while the other parent (in two-parent families) spends time at home with the children. In one-parent families this issue comes even further to the forefront, with single parents unsure about their capabilities of bringing in income while home educating. In the next few posts we will be talking about the very real option of earning money from home, different ways that this can be done, and examining the pros and cons, challenges and rewards of living life with your family at home full time.
This first post will be looking at home educating while earning an income (or having two incomes) through working in a business at home. Penelope Trunk, a leading spokeswoman for being successful in business while unschooling, blogs more extensively on this topic on her site, and Leonie Dawson also provides incredible materials on starting a business at home based on your passions, over here.
If you are considering educating from home (or already educate from home) and love the idea of working in your home environment, where you can choose your own working hours, and work on something while being with your children, there are a few questions that may help with putting a plan in place to make that happen:
1) What are YOU passionate about?
Personally, I have worked multiple start-ups for the last 15 years or so, and have heard and read so much business advice that is absolutely non-applicable and irrelevant to me now as a home educating mother and as a woman in business. As a mother at home with your children, you may not have a lot of time, however you do have a certain degree of flexibility and you also cannot make your business your top priority (your children are already in that spot!). Therefore, it is important to consider what it is that you are passionate about. If your business will be taking time away from your time with your children, and you will be working on it in every waking moment of your ‘spare time’ then you need to love it. Don’t worry about filling the gap in the market, or trying to find something that people want to buy. Think about what you love, and what you would love to do and start there. THIS will keep you motivated. THIS will ensure that you can keep going with it, even after a long day, and this will drive you to work on your business project in the long term. Passion will drive you long after motivation is gone.
2. What do you have to offer the world?
And by this I mean - what are you really good at? What are you gifted in? does anyone ever say how great you are at doing something? If you could give one gift to the world (that you could personally provide, with little effort, using your natural talents) what would that be? Timothy Ferris talks about the concept of being brilliant at one thing, vs average at a lot of things, in his best-selling self-help book 'The 4 hour work week'. Although it is possible to succeed at things that you aren't the best at, it is much easier to pursue things that you have a natural talent in. And if what you have to offer, is also what you are passionate about - then combining those two factors is a big step toward thinking of your business idea! If you are someone that has a hard time identifying your talents, perhaps enlist your partner, children, family or friends to give you some insight into what they think you are good at! Although children may initially say things like 'cooking'! or 'giving great cuddles', with a little probing of people that know you well, they may come up with something that you had never previously thought of!
3. Do your research and add expenses
In the first years of business exploration for myself, I always gravitated towards women-centred businesses such as jewellery-making, tie-dying clothing, babysitting and other similar areas. I didn't start with a business plan and also didn't think about how much time and effort it would take to make jewellery, and the expenses of the material and advertising vs how much income they would bring in. WIth the business model that I was using (i.e. no business plan!) I ended up working 60 hours a week with massive overheads, in work that I didn't enjoy, to make much less money than what I needed to survive on! A good business plan, and research into how much time and effort, and materials, will be needed, can be the difference between being able to follow your instincts and achieve your goals, and not being anywhere near close to them! If you are making jewellery and can make $5 a necklace at the markets but need $700 a week to pay your mortgage, then chances are that you will not be able to make and sell that many necklaces and you may need a new plan!
4. Find your people
Forget about trying to sell to people. Forget about sales techniques and methods of trying to push your products on to others. You are a unique individual, and somewhere in the world there is a whole tribe of people just like you. People who you do not have to push things on to. People who are looking for that magical thing that you have to offer. For example, one business that we did really well in was lawn mowing. It wasn't something that we were passionate about, but after years at stressful desk jobs, our family wanted to try a lifestyle of working together, with the more athletic members of our family working outdoors, meeting new people and doing relatively low-stress work. We had a good business plan and found that there were people that wanted just what we had to offer; people with busy jobs, lovely houses with the dream of lovely manicured gardens, and that had little time to take care of their gardens. Our people, at the time, were family people who appreciated honest service, who wanted to find someone that could be trusted to keep their beloved pets in their yard after a service, who could also be trusted to work in their garden when their children were home after school, and who would have respect for their house, sprinklers, and their property in general! You see - lawn mowing is really not all about the lawns at all. It is also about connecting people with other people. Person 1 linking with person 2. You are person 1, and if you know what you have to offer to people, you first need to find who those people are – who is your community? Where are they? what do you have to offer them, that you can follow through with and offer them consistently, while being true to your own goals and values?
5. Link in with your people
Once you identify your people, find them where they are at. Who loves the art that you make? Who is looking for a birth photographer that is considerate, kind and compassionate (a birth photographer just like you?). If you are an incredibly loving mother and care-giver and have time to help with another Mama’s children – where would you find that Mother who is looking for time and help with her children? Where would she spend time looking for someone like you? Find the places where people are looking for someone just like you!
6. How much money does your family need to cover the expenses that you have?
There are two mistakes that women make in business, more than men. And you will not hear me say that very often! Women make incredible business people, and even the most respected and iconic business-people, such as Robert Kiyosaki, rave about the benefits of women as business partners!.
Women are typically incredibly giving, and statistically women are the biggest givers of time, energy and money on the planet. There are whole studies and research projects based on the role of women giving in the world, and the inability of our planet to survive in the way that human beings do, without the billions of hours of unpaid labour that women offer within our world. Following on from that, the first mistake that women make in business is - wanting to GIVE too much. And therefore not charging enough.
But it is my business, and I can charge whatever I like - and if I want to give away my services then I will!
Yes - you can give away your services. You can do things for free. And as a social worker, and a mother, I engage in regular service for free with our homeschool/ unschooling community. I have skills that I know will benefit our community, and our children, and I feel that offering those services is something that is invaluable to our children - and something that they would otherwise not be able to afford. But I am very clear with myself and I know that I am giving those services away.
In your business, if you know that you are a giver, then by all means, implement some planned giving. Designate one day a week or a month, or whatever you are comfortable with, and be of service to others in the way that calls you. However in your business, it is vital to consider how much income you need to survive (or thrive!), what your services are worth, and how to implement a pay system that is both fair for you and your customer. If you under-charge then two people suffer - you AND your customer.
Because imagine that person 2 (the person looking everywhere for someone EXACTLY. LIKE. YOU) has been looking for someone like you for a very long time. You meet her needs exactly. She is blessed and ecstatic to have found you – someone who will help her with her children, designs incredible clothes for her, can offer her fair and equitable legal assistance, help her to get great marks at university…the list is endless. However you do not charge your perfect customer enough. You have established that you love your work. You are happy to do it for less than it is worth, you are even happy to give it away.
However as a mother, you and your children may not be able to survive on the income of free or under-cost work.
It starts to take a toll on your life. You become less happy to do the work as your family’s needs may not be met, and you eventually start winding down (or stop) doing that work, in favour of 1) sending your children back to school and going back to work, or 2) going to other employment where the money is enough to support your family’s needs.
In the long run this disadvantages you.
And it also disadvantages your customer, who (if you are doing your job properly) LOVES you and your work, and wants to keep utilising your services. Your customers wants you in their life, and chances are, that they do not want to look for someone else (and possibly pay a lot more, for something that is not exactly what they are looking for). And ultimately, that customer may have been happy to have paid that little bit more to keep you in business, and benefitting their life. So figuring out how much you need to be able to work and continue working, doing what you love, and giving your gifts to the world, is a vitally important step in starting a business.
In part 2 of this series we will talk about practical ways to run your business at home while educating your children in the same house. If you are looking for more information on women-centred business in the meantime, check out LD's resources (many are free) online.
#1 Getting into university is not what it used to be!
Remember the days when we all crammed in exams to get the one coveted mark that would guarantee you a spot in a certain degree, and then you would study that one subject, become qualified in that area and stay in one job for 50 years? Me neither! I left school at barely 17 and without completing year 12. I went on to study at Open Universities, one subject at a time, until I had enough credit points to apply for a degree, and (who knew?!) a few High Distinctions were enough to grant me access to any study area of my choice! Eleven years (and three children) later I went on to graduate top of my degree, with no year 12, no HSC score, no university entry tests and not much more than sheer will power and determination to make it happen! And talking to a group of unschoolers at a recent conference, I learned that this is not an uncommon story. You no longer need a high school certificate or marks from high school exams for university entry. You can get into university in a variety of different ways, ranging from studying single university subjects and using the credits from those subjects, to studying at Tafe and using the credits from a Tafe course, to gathering a good research portfolio, sitting a competency test or completing a university entry pre-qualifying course!
#2 The Home Education Association of Australia is practically the fairy Godmother of all things homeschooling and unschooling
Hearing representatives from the HEA talk, you could almost hear the collective sigh of budding homeschoolers and unschoolers Australia-wide. The HEA is basically a collection of volunteer fairy-Godmothers, who work to help you prepare reports, dodge complications if you have forgotten or misplaced a report, and can help to provide teenagers with insurance when they start work experience! $60 well-spent (on the yearly membership) was what I took away from my time listening to the HEA!
#3 Community Connections are everything
Gone are the days of home educating out in the bush on your own! Every seasoned home educator that I spoke to, or who spoke on stage, reflected back on the importance and significance of finding yourself a homeschool community that you can feel that you belong to, and integrating yourself into that community. Doing something that the majority of people are not doing, can be very isolating, however adults who were home educated spoke of the feeling of belonging to their friendship groups that their parents created for them, and the strength that this gave them as they transitioned out of home education life, into adult life, with their life-long friends by their sides. Homeschool and unschool communities can pool resources and create opportunities for themselves and each other that the government just has not been able to (and currently refuses to) provide for home educated families. The ability of one or two skilled people to share their talent or skill with a group of children, enables the widening of the children's horizon's and the pooling of costs to significantly lower the financial expenses of individual families.
As a social worker, I have researched a huge amount on community capacity building, and the importance of social capital. This, in the simplest and most valuable of terms, means the idea that people supporting each other (social capital) adds value to the lives of the community (and often a value that even their combined financial resources wouldn't bring) and therefore builds the capacity of the community to reach their collective goals. An example of this would be a guitarist teaching a community of children how to play instruments, for very low cost. Or parents coming together to create a community garden where families could volunteer time and reap the benefits of free food. Or mothers in home businesses share and promote each other's businesses for free, in order to increase the profitability of each business, and the capacity to provide for their families (and continue home educating), without the expenses of marketing or advertising. In reflection of this concept - how are you working to build the capacity of your community? do you need to find (or create) a community? can you start in your suburb or online?
#4 Home educated children become amazing adults!
Most parents tend to think that their own children are the most brilliant beings on the planet, and can attribute their children's successes to our exceptional parenting skills or the way that we have given our children space to be themselves and run free, read all the books that they are passionate about, travel the roads that they have naturally been drawn to... and they would be right. I am beyond proud of the wonderful things that our teens manifest and create in their lives. How they fall in love with one subject or path and study it, live in it and lose themselves in it, until they find something else that they love more - and then they pursue that as well! But hearing conversations between other home educated teens and young adults definitely brought about the realisation that it is this life that is creating these opportunities for home educated children. The opportunity to be around people who love you unconditionally, and to have your learning facilitated by these same people! The opportunity to be encouraged so much in your ideas, that you grow up without fear, or the ingrained expectation of failure at some point. I saw so many young adults and older teens out pursuing their dreams with the same passion and dedication that you sometimes see in 40 or 50-somethings who have just found themselves - except they are doing it 30 years earlier! If there is one idea I took from this, it was that we don't need to worry so much. Our children will be just fine!
#5 Home education travel stays with our children forever
In our first year of home educating, our daughter had the incredible opportunity to travel Italy with her Nonna and her Uncle. The flights were cheaper at that time of year and it was an experience she could never have had if she was at school at that time. Walking out of the conference, our daughter said "this kind of reminds me of that place with all of the gold... where the pope lives?" - "the Vatican?" "yes!" .This was when I realised that every single experience that we give our children right now, and in the future, however significant or insignificant it seemed at the time, will form part of the building blocks on which they base not only their memories, but their perceptions of life, their values, their goals and their perceptions of what they are capable of, who they are in the world, and in what capacity they can give back to it.
Having recently moved to a much bigger city than our home town, we have heard many stories of people home educating as a results-driven endeavour. To give their children a better education. A better chance at a good job. A better chance at an academic qualification and a better chance at life. As a university tutor I completely endorse the potential for home education to provide all of that for young people, however from my experience, my students often learn the most when they are offered the seed of an idea and left to their own devices to run with it! Sometimes the deadlines, pressure to perform or reach a certain level, or to over-achieve completely gets in the way of learning what you were hoping to learn in the first place!
Allowing children space to be themselves will give them the greatest chance at success
One reason for this is that giving children space, gives them the opportunity to make mistakes, take a road (within a safe environment) that is completely opposite to where they want to go, and then to discover which road it is that they want to go on - and head there, full speed, inspired by their own motivations to achieve something that is important to them! And when anybody, whether it be a child, young person or adult, heads in a direction that they have chosen on their own, they are much more likely to get where they are aiming to go!
For example, if you have been forced into law school when you really wanted to be a chef, chances are that you may do the bare minimum to pass, then become qualified, maybe practice law for a little while, and then run away to join the circus! Whereas by comparison, if you are really motivated to be a chef, you are more likely to work day and night to be the best chef you can be, perhaps opening your own chain of restaurants, or moving to the Whitsunday's and serving gourmet food on a cruise boat, travel around writing a food blog or starting a food tour business ( I know people who have done all of these things - after years in academia, studying things they didn't want to study in the first place!). Or alternatively, in my case, being given the space to leave school early, and taking up a very short career in delivering newspapers for 5 cents an hour (or $2.50 on a good day!) gave me the time to contemplate a life of living on $50 a week, and to pursue a career in academia and higher education, as I was driven by my own goals and motivations.
Giving space means ticking off all of the 'no's'
Sometimes as a parent of young children, it is hard to see how giving your toddler space to (safely) explore the world, climb things, get stuck halfway up a tree (with you spotting them) or make a massive mess in the kitchen is going to lead them anywhere good - but let me assure you that it will.
Every time that you allow your child or young person to explore something new and exciting, to study midwifery for a year at a time (when the math textbook is there gathering dust - perhaps never to be used again), or start a permaculture garden, or get lost in documentaries about WW2, or download 500 karaoke backing tracks onto the ipod and spend weeks singing and singing, you are enabling them to tick or cross of an internal checklist about who they think they are or aren't in the world. And this is a vitally important step to becoming a happy and healthy adult! (and they will be an adult far longer than they will be a child!).
Giving them space and time to explore different areas and interests without imposing a deadline on their learning, or expecting a set result from them, gives them that time to decide if they really love something and want to go further with it, or if they have had enough of Wildlife documentaries and would like to go fishing (i.e. fire-gazing and processing all of the information they have just learned) for a week. And you do not have to be an unschooler or a radical natural learner to allow learning like this. If the state's requirement is to learn critical analysis in a science topic, the whole world is full of science! Your child is free to choose from possibly half a billion different research or interest areas, from skin grafting to environmental damage, global warming to the periodic table, psychosomatic illnesses to animal reproductive systems - and if they have a high level of literacy, they will be able to do this mostly by themselves, with you there for guidance and help with gaining access to resources.
Giving space means having the midlife crisis early
It could be argued that the need for constant deadlines, and to 'produce' certain work from set study in school, is something that leads to so many 20-somethings (or 30 or 40-somethings) having identity crisis' - because they might never have had the opportunity to really spend time on anything without the expectation of a pre-determined outcome, or the pressure of having to study something to meet an 'end' of starting a career, or supporting a family with it. I have spoken to dozens of home educating parents who have talked about the 'year of...' when their child was absolutely obsessed with something, and then came to the end of their fascination and started on something new. This freedom allows that child at 20-something or 40-something to perhaps understand themselves more fully. What makes them tick. What kind of person they are. What things they have loved or left behind in the past, and what they are really good at and could take up again.
Allowing space also allows time for the development of life-long passions!
Recently, my daughter and I had the privilege of sitting in on a conversation (in front of a couple of hundred people!) about home education, the pros and cons of home educating, and the 'final outcome' for young adults who had been home educated and come out on the other side, as fully functioning, inspired and inspirational young people, passionate about their endeavours and excited by life. What was remarkable about the stories of these young people, much like the stories of our own teenagers, was not their exceptional academic achievements (although there were many) or their incredible career undertakings (although there were also many fascinating aspects to these as well!), but rather the vigour with which they embraced life and their passions
. Many of the young people talked about falling in love with something in particular, as early as 13 or 14, and being able to follow that through, to a point where at 18 or 19, many of them were running businesses in their chosen area, and pursuing studies that supported this. Imminent and persistent deadlines can take away or severely limit this opportunity for personal growth and to commence an idea and fully see it through.
We witnessed this first-hand with our daughter who was given the freedom to work without deadlines for a few months, and learned how to play the piano, first through an ipad application, then youtube video's and a keyboard, and progressing to a point where she found a job, saved for many months and bought herself a piano, which she can now play effortlessly, despite not having lessons (yet!). We had watched with increasing interest as her 1 hour practice per day became 8 hour piano marathons, crammed into every free hour of her time - until suddenly she could play complex songs with both hands, with a complexity that left us completely awe-struck!
What are your experiences of your children or young people learning in the periods of space and less deadlines? We would love to hear them!
* Trigger warning - this article addresses issues such as domestic and sexual violence and may be distressing for some readers.
If you are new to homeschooling or unschooling, chances are that when you start to speak to families who have been educating at home for a long period of time, you will find that a lot of them will talk about times when their children have had to go back into school (or go into school for the first time) and have come back out again later. And if you are a more experienced family, chances are that you will recall the times when you take a break from homeschool group for a little while, and come back to a few children 'missing' , lost in the abyss of 'did they go back to school? I don't remember them talking about going to school!', met with the shaking of heads and knowing looks between parents. We have all been there. When you take on the responsibility of educating and having your child at home, all day, every day, for their entire childhood, it is kind of like making a commitment to a university degree - you know it is going to be long, and challenging, but sometimes you forget just how long 4 years (or 18 years) really is! and a lot of things can happen in that time. Life changes, relationships break up, family members are born or die, parents lose and gain employment, small children grow into young adults, you might move cities, or move out of the cities (and away from your homeschool support networks). But what can you do when you start to feel that there is just no way that you can homeschool anymore?
Realistically assess your family situation - is it temporary?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. When you are starting to consider sending your child or children back to school, it is really important to analyse the reasons why you feel that way. Are you experiencing a significant life event that is temporary and will pass? I have found that the times that I have heard my friends and other members of the homeschooling and unschooling community express feelings of being overwhelmed, are at times where a new baby has been welcomed into the house, Mum is not sleeping, the kids are playing a little on the Playstation and watching television too many hours in the day, and it all seems just a bit too much! If it is something that will pass, then what can you put into place to help you to be healthy, and physically (and mentally!) healthy while you breathe through a birth, or death, or divorce in the family? Do you have friends and family that can come and help you to get some time out? or supervise activities with your children in the morning? or can you afford a cleaner to come in and tidy everything up while you get other things done? (or have a really good friend who will do it for a cup of tea and a biscuit?!). If it is temporary and it will pass, it is well worth considering how you can access support for yourself and your family until everyone adjusts!
Is it damaging?
There is a significant difference between temporary life and family stresses, such as a baby, a bereavement, a big move or a temporary loss of your 'I love homeschooling' mojo, and big problems that need more careful consideration. There are inevitable times when the 18 year, 24 hour a day job of parenting can get a little too much for everybody. Ask any mother who has had a week of sick children and broken sleep, followed by 18 hour waking days filled with children that are confined to the house, enhanced by a little back-chat and tantrum throwing (not necessarily by the children!) and see if she feels that a 6 hour break wouldn't be nice right about now. We all have days like that. We have all been there. But sometimes it can be more than that.
Homeschooling and unschooling involves responsibility that is rivalled by little else. Not only are you parenting and educating (or facilitating education) but you are also the person (or people) that your children will see most in their day. Your home environment is their life environment. It is the backing-track for everything that they do and see, and feel. And for many families that is mostly positive. Your children are surrounded by love and support and encouragement that can never be found anywhere else. However family life is not always amazing, and homeschooling families are not immune to bigger social issues that affect everyone else.
In Australia at present, statistics indicate that at least 23% of women who have ever been married or in a de facto relationship, experienced violence by a partner at some stage. 42% of women have experienced domestic violence in previous relationships, and less than 20% of women contacted domestic violence services while in an abusive relationship. The statistics are equally depressing for sexual violence and sexual abuse, indicating that one in three girls, and one in three boys, will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and that most of this abuse is by a close family member or friend. With dv and sexual abuse this prominent, it is inevitable that these issues will affect homeschooling and unschooling families. In addition, less talked-about issues such as depression, mental illness and addictions are just as prevalent, and would have an even more significant affect on children who are at home more often to witness and be a part of bigger family issues. If you feel that your family is affected by an issue that is damaging to their physical or mental health, then that issue absolutely takes precent over homeschooling or unschooling. It is important to get as much help as possible to ensure everyone in your house is safe and healthy, and in these circumstances, combined with appropriate assistance (numbers and contacts at the end of this article) and support, school can be a welcome change of scenery for children who may not have current stability at home. This doesn't mean that you can never home educate again - very rarely is anything in life permanent! - but in times when life at home is damaging, school can be a fantastic resource to assist in gaining much-needed respite in the interim. And make sure that you look after yourself! If the plane is going down - you need to put your oxygen mask on, so that you can look after your family too. Your physical and mental health is just as important.
Comparison is the thief of joy - are you comparing yourself?
When you are comparing your high school homeschool experience (especially if you have just started home educating in high school!) with the social media highlights of other people's home education experiences, it can be difficult to discern what is normal and what is not. And when you first start, it is so easy to get stuck into the trap of comparing what you are doing (and just starting to get a grasp on) with other family's 5-year-rhythm that has been established after many stops and starts, stumbles and failings! Nobody's homeschooling or unschooling journey is perfect. Nobody's life is perfect! If you feel that you are falling into the comparison trap, try posting in some online groups for support, and asking how other people felt at the beginning of their home education journey. Or consider joining in with some local groups, and talking to other parents about what they were worried about in the very beginning. Just like any new job, taking on the responsibility of educating (or facilitating the education of) your family, can be overwhelming, especially without a good support system. Make it a priority to get out (or online) and meet people in the same boat. And get off Instagram! if social media is overwhelming you, take a break and come back when you are feeling better about your journey!
You need a break
When I first started homeschooling I was not used to spending so much time with my children! and they were in the de-schooling process for a really long time. So I had 4 hyperactive, over-extended children at home, while I was running a business and my husband was working full time, and I had no idea what I was doing. A few hours into the day I wanted to run to my nearest coffee shop, call a friend to come and listen to me whinge for 5 hours, and hide behind a big piece of cake lest anyone want to find me. And I often did. Really often. Like about twice a week. And then I tried to organise 'homeschool Mum's cafe days' - and realised that none of the homeschool Mum's seemed to need or want a break.
At that time I didn't realise that children who are fresh out of school and de-schooling (and a Mum that was very fresh out of school and de-schooling) paints a very different family picture to families with calm and happy children who had never set foot in a school, and Mum's who could relax in the knowledge that their children were being properly socialised, and well educated and wouldn't grow up alone and illiterate, and blaming them for their lack of social skills!
New unschooling and homeschooling can be hard. And scary. And overwhelming. A lot of it comes from your own fears and the misguided information that if you don't go to school, you will fail in life. And a lot more of it comes from family and friends, and society in general who have grown up with the very same misconceptions - and have no trouble vocalising them to you (that generally stops after a few years). Not to mention that children can be hard. Sick children in particular. But count in hormonal children, breastfeeding children, older children who have just started driving or dating, and sometimes you need that coffee shop and 5 minutes of silence. And you don't need school for that - just babysitters (or a babysitter. One will do), or a really good friend who doesn't mind visiting you when the house is a mess and you have no bra on. Or a Grandma. Or an adopted Grandma. Or the television. I swore off television for several years, but on the brink of a that's-it-you're-going-back-to-school crisis, my husband came up with the brilliant idea of plugging in the television, and putting on Netflix. They watched documentaries for 4 hours straight, and all was good with the world...
I read an off-the-cuff remark about the strangeness of homeschooled and unschooled children this week on social media and wanted to wholeheartedly and publicly respond to the lovely random person who labelled all of our children as 'strange'. I actually completely agree with you. In my internet searching of creative definitions of strange, I came across 'atypical, unexpected, remarkable, curious and incongruous' - in my experience of children (and I have had quite a lot) that explains just about every child that I have ever come across. Not just homeschooled children - ALL children!
As more experienced homeschoolers/ unschoolers moving in to our fourth year of educating at home, many times I hear the same rhetoric about homeschooling and sheltering. The basic premise is that teaching your child at home is something that we undertake because it shelters children from the real world - and that this is a bad thing. That withholding very young and impressionable children from the institutionalised school environment is unnatural, and will disadvantage them in that they will not experience the harsh realities of life, and therefore will not be able to cope with a harsh adult life once confronted with it.