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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