#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!