At the start of our journey, I always wanted to know what happened to the older teens at the end of their homeschooling. Now we are there, and I am waving back at myself from the finishing line, because, as it happens, we are one of those strange families who have had our eldest children 'graduate' homeschooling just as our newest baby has been born - and so we have a chance to start again.
Looking at our eldest children, and dreaming up the future for our youngest children, I have had some time to reflect. This year we had our 2nd eldest finish her homeschooling journey, and our 3rd child go in to try school for year 11. And we have gone from a busy homeschooling/ unschooling house with 5 children, to more of a slow, quiet house with only one little person homeschooling.
But now the pressure is off. Because I have seen the end, and I can breathe a sigh of relief.
And that is all that I am here to tell you.
I am not worried anymore because what we did worked.
Our kids are happy, healthy, well educated, well-rounded, kind individuals and human beings. The kind of people that I love to be around. The kind of people who know themselves and know each other. Who fit in anywhere because they are genuinely interested in other people. The kind of people who will make a positive contribution to the world. And that is all that a parent can ask for.
The de-schooling. The unschooling. The full-time homeschooling. And the big holidays in between. The structured periods. Unstructured periods. All of the messy parts and experimental parts.
It all worked.
And the take-home from this is that spending time at home, with people that loved them, was ultimately the most important thing. Not what we did with them. Not the programs that we bought or didn't buy. But being there and present for them. Seeing their needs and making sure that they were met. Encouraging and supporting them every step of the way to be the people that they wanted to be. That was what we did right. And everything else was background noise.
The nuts and bolts - what did we do?
Everything. Depending on our needs at the time. We were flexible and did what worked for the season that we were in.
There were years where we did purely interest-led study, and watched a million documentaries (and did very little else). We climbed trees, took photographs of birds and wildlife. Studied skating, and surfing. Lived in libraries and became friends with librarians! We had long days at the beach with friends. Sometimes from 5am until 5pm. Long glorious days of swimming, and running along sand-dunes, talking in the park, going for coffee and hot chips. Meeting new friends. The years where our teenage son made friends with a 40 year old surf instructor, random primary school teachers that surfed with him at 5am before their school day, and a 50-something year old body-boarding single Mum, who I happened to meet when she performed a surf rescue of a man having a heart attack on the beach...
Learning from other people:
There were years where so much of our learning was through other people. First our family and our friends, and then expanding outwards in to anyone interesting who crossed our path. We moved town and encouraged our children to talk to anyone and everyone that they found interesting. A friend who worked in an airplane hangar and showed our children behind-the-scenes of rare airplanes and helicopters, another friend who ran a multi-million dollar business and explained how everything ran, and how they could do the same. Friends who had returned from service overseas, or had been travelling the world. Others who were protesting refugees on Manus Island, and a wonderful group of people who were starting an eco-community nearby. We hosted many international students and got cultural experience that transcended language, and extended in to a true and deep appreciation for other human beings, regardless of their gender, religion or culture. And that itself has been absolutely priceless.
The breadth of experiences that our kids had over 6 - 7 years of homeschooling could never have been anticipated or planned for. And could never be replicated in a classroom. The world is such a big place, and homeschooling allowed us the time and space to really learn about it through people who had lived and travelled in all parts of it.
Volunteering and working:
We encouraged our children to volunteer and help out whenever they could. Indiscriminately. Which means, that if someone was in need, and they could reasonably help, we almost always said yes.
This led to a qualification in lifesaving, with our son taking all of the extra lifesaving shifts (and having some of his most memorable experiences, on the beach at 4am on New Year's Day, or mid-afternoon, swimming out in the ocean with hump-back whales). Our daughters joining choirs and singing groups, busking and volunteering everywhere from an elderly Italian women's choir, to performing with a mormon singing group in palliative care at Christmas time. They busked in shopping centres, in the middle of the Gold Coast, at festivals and on stage at rallies. We said YES a lot. We said yes when reasonable. We said yes as much as we possibly could.
Our kids got all kinds of work experience in all different fields. By helping us to run homeschool youth groups. Babysitting, cleaning up the beach, going to church groups and events with people of different faiths. Helping their Uncle to build furniture and fences. Helping their grandmother to design, sew and sell clothes. Helping their mother to build websites. Coming along to where I was playing guitar and singing at festivals, and letting them get up onstage to have a go. Going lawn mowing with their Dad, with our mowing business. Coming along to university when I had a university student, and listening in on our conversations... They had the opportunity to work 12 hour days with their uncle, in the hot sun, erecting fences, which taught them that they never wanted to have to work 12 hour days in the hot sun, erecting fences! and then to do office work, sitting in one chair all day - which taught them that they never wanted to sit in an office all day, every day!
We let them live life alongside us, and answered any questions that they had. We let them taste and sample so many new things, that when they were ready to dive in to something new for themselves, they never had self-doubt, and felt free to pursue anything that they wanted to.
Our eldest fearlessly pursues job positions, our second eldest has played music with people who have ten times her formal training, and our son mixes with people of all ages and cultures, with ease.
Classes, groups and more classes and groups
There were years where we were run off our feet with classes and homeschool groups, unschool camp and sports groups, youth groups and socialising. It often felt like we did 'nothing' because the things we did were always interest-led, but looking back, when we were in our seasons of high-productivity and high-energy, we took so many classes and went to so many groups! We did: italian choir, karate, singing lessons, a children's choir, football, basketball, board games, art classes, drama classes, circus classes, ballet, gymnastics, shakespeare classes... We went to Seaworld and listened to talks on fish, mantaray's and penguins. We visited goat and chicken farms. Science labs at universities, museums and art galleries and war memorials.
There were seasons where we needed to rest. Seasons where we had family problems, marital problems, teenage problems, newborn babies, bereavements, health problems...
Life doesn't stop and wait for you just because you are homeschooling.
We had months where I had postpartum depression and our kids were documentary-schooling and you-tube schooling while I pulled myself out of it. The warm summer months where we spent all of our time at the beach, swimming, and hanging out with friends, taking surfing lessons, and lifesaving. The too-hot months in Far North QLD where we were bunkered down inside, in air conditioning, doing endless research projects, and waiting for better weather, to be able to get outside. The months where we did nothing but go out, and see things, look at new places, visit new museums and art galleries and never touched a book. Times when we unplugged the tv and did little else but read books.
And yet it worked.
Our children learned through all of the seasons. Surrounded by people that they loved. Just like we anticipated. They learned out of books. And they learned more just from life. They learned that you go through things, and you come out of things. That people are good and helpful, and that you can learn so much from relationships with others. They learned that they were capable and useful, and that they have a place in the world.
So for all of the families just starting your homeschooling journey. Bookmark this if it helps. Read it on days when you feel like you are not enough or not doing good enough.
You are enough.
It is working.
Your children will one day thank you for the childhood that you are giving them right now .
Nothing is better for a child than the love and dedication of their family.
And one day you will look back on this, give yourself a pat on the back, and wish that you could go back and do it all over again.
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Sitting here well in to my 9th month of pregnancy with our 5th child, I can honestly say that home educating while pregnant is not something that I anticipated when I first started on this journey, and for a large part, my endless google searching for ideas on how to get through this last month, sanity intact, with a house full of children, has helped very little.
At this point, the most attractive prospects for how to spend my day include; sleeping on the couch, getting foot massages, watching movies while eating vegan chocolate nutella slices, or sleeping in a hammock on the beach while being fed grapes and fanned by whoever (I am not fussy...).
With a large family of little (and big) people who still depend on me, despite my advanced stage of pregnancy, the chances of any of these scenario's happening regularly are pretty slim. Read more
There are seemingly infinite articles on parenting and self-care with very young children, with the consensus being that 1) when we become parents, we put our needs second, and 2) that it is important to keep time for yourself (and your marriage) when your children are very young, to keep from losing your sense of self. I think that this is triple-fold when you are home educating.
Most people send their children to school. Therefore, self-care advice is often aimed at parents with very young children, who are at home with them full time. And the assumption is that eventually, around 4 or 5 if you are a 'stay at home parent' until school age, or even earlier, at 4 months - 2 years old if you go back to work straight after having children, you will go back to some semblance of a 'normal adult life' at the point that children go in to daycare or school. I have had many years of this 'normal, adult life' when our children went to school, and I went to full time university and then to work, and it is a very different life to living full time at home with your children.
Life as a parent with children in school held several big differences to life with all of our children studying at home.
It included time for a coffee run, and uninterrupted conversation with my husband, on the commute to university or work.
Regular visits to the gym, before or after work, or during lunch break.
Lunch breaks with friends or work colleagues - often a whole hour of adult conversation! Where I could think about myself and talk about adult things!
Regular uninterrupted time in my work or study day to think about myself and cater to my own needs (going to the bathroom without little people knocking on the door, taking snack breaks or working on my own projects, with enough quiet to think clearly and miss being at home!)
A quick 30 minute shopping trip for groceries on the way home from work, where no little hands (or teenage hands) were grabbing loads of things and throwing them in to the cart. No debates about what I would buy and why I didn't think that was a good idea for dinner...
Weekend trips to the movies or out to listen to music with my husband or friends
There was a lot more time and space to just be me
Looking back, I am not sure if the extra space and time for self-care came from physical distance from the demands of family life, for up to 8 hours a day. Or the emotional distance that comes from being separated from your family for most of the week, and not feeling joined to them at every moment (which was always something that I had been uncomfortable about - and a big reason why I started thinking seriously about home education).
In reality, most of us could go to the gym every day for an hour and have our children/ teenagers stay at home, or enrol them in the gym creche. But most of us don't.
Most of us could go out on the weekend, or slip away at lunch to meet partners or friends, for child-free time, but we don't. My theory is that living each day alongside our children takes away much of the 'us and them' thinking that can develop when you spend most of your time away from your children. I don't have 'my life' and 'their life' anymore. We have our life together. And that can mean that when I go out to do something that is fun for me, I like to have them with me!
If I am going to exercise, chances are that I will find something child-friendly so that we can all go together.
If we are going to the movies, most often, it will be all of us.
And I know that I am not alone.
When we first started homeschooling, I had one friend who had just started home educating too, and we tried with little success to organise Mum's 'coffee dates' which were an opportunity to get away from our kids, and have some adult time.
We were still in a mindset that our veteran home educating families had long surpassed.
We wanted some time apart from our children, but they seemed to have little need for it!
What did they know that we didn't know? What did they do to keep their sense of self while being with their children 24/7?
Australian Homeschool Summit final talk - how to motivate yourself and your teenagers (without going crazy!)
Today marked the end of the incredible first Australian Homeschool Summit, online, and despite being 8 months pregnant, with fluid retention, and chubby little feet jammed up in my ribs, we had a really fun day with Kelly from Fearless Homeschool, talking about Motivating yourself and your teenager (without going crazy!). This summit was the second that I have ever been to (I wrote about my first over here) and the very first online homeschooling summit. I really loved watching all of the other presenters from my bedroom laptop, in my pyjama's, with the kids asleep! and everyone knows how much homeschoolers love doing things in their pj's!
Today we talked from the perspective of maintaining good mental health while homeschooling or unschooling your teenager, so that you are better able to weather the changes of hormones, increased physical and psychological demands on your teens, and the sometimes uncomfortable process that can be growing up! We looked at Mazlow's Hierarchy of Needs, and how to do a needs assessment of yourself, as well as your teens, to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as it can through this period of intense growth.
We also touched on the often heated unschooling topic of internet restrictions (do you restrict your teen's internet access? and do you have their internet passwords?) and being brave enough to admit that you don't advocate unlimited internet, if you are in radical unschooling circles!
I also spoke about why it is important to let your child be bored! to encourage minimalism and self-sufficiency, and to practice loving deprivation. Which gave me an excuse to showcase my (very rare) art project (above) - a restored chest, with chalkboard paint and chic chalkboard-label pasta sauce bottles (reduce, reuse and recycle).
You can read more about our chic chalkboard restoration project over here, and take a small tour through our creative tv-free spaces in our new home, over here.
I will also write a separate blog on the highlights of the first Australian Homeschool Summit over here, for anyone that missed it! And if you would like to watch all of the highlights, and keep the re-runs of the entire summit, you can purchase a membership here. This includes hours and hours of talks from homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning families, and professionals, bonus downloads, discounts and extra talks on everything from unschooling children 0-5 years old, to gaining university entry for homeschooling teenagers. I loved being a part of this summit and look forward to next year!
Oh no! I forgot to socialise the kids! That's right - I remembered. All good.
But seriously, how do you properly socialise someone? Do you know the difference between socialising and socialisation? Do we really get that in school?
Just some thoughts for today. Do you ever worry about socialising your kids?
Come join the conversation on our most popular blog post on socialisation vs socialising!
Huge discounts on homeschool summit tickets this week only!
When big kids are happy teaching little kids all on their own *gives self big pats on the back*
When we first started considering home education, our story was very similar to one you will hear from most people - a lot of discouragement and 'why would you want to do that?' "how will you cope?" "all day every day with your kids? that is CRAZY!". So I took my time making a decision. I spoke to my husband in a million theoretical conversations that never seemed to go anywhere. We had no reference point for what I was dreaming of doing. Nobody else that homeschooled had anything good to say about it (I have since learned that they were schooling at home through distance education - not my favourite kind of home education... and not theirs either). But I knew in my heart that there was something there that we weren't seeing yet.
So I took a lone trip to a local homeschool group and almost fell over with shock and excitement to see one very tall 15 year old boy running around with children of all different ages. Could this be something that happened in the 21st century? weren't all teenagers too cool nowadays to play with little children?
No. No they are not!
My mind was set from that day, and that one beautiful experience of smashing down pre-conceptions that teenagers are some kind of alien species who have no interest in younger children. From that day I learned that older children intrinsically want to teach younger children. They might not have the patience of parents yet (some parents - sometimes!) but when I snapped this photo of our 14 year old with his 16 year old unschooled friend, teaching our 4 year old daughter, I had one of those yes homeschooling is absolutely the right thing for us feelings, and gave myself a little pat on the back for taking this road.
When I had my very first homeschool/ unschool website a long time ago, a very experienced professional web designer created this brilliant web design for me.
It featured a mother, father, and 2 children, all in a school-like environment reading books. I couldn't go with it. I tried to explain to him that well-dressed (ironed clothes, Dad in a suit and Mum in a lovely pressed blouse) didn't speak to me, or our blog readers at the time (over 3000 most weeks, back then)... Yes there are books, and documentaries, and some days I have enough energy to get up and do my morning beach walk, brush my hair and put on a nice top (ok, so maybe not all of those things on the same day, but some days I get self-care in and look half presentable). But our children don't sit around in uniform-like clothing, at desks, reading and writing with a straight back and feet firmly on the floor (most days, unless they want to...). Home educating is so much more than that!
He said "but if you put pictures of beaches and things, nobody will know what that is about! That doesn't look like homeschool to me!".
Ah my friend, but it does...