#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.