Homeschool graduate: Sophie Cottrell
Perth-based travel expert, Sophie, chats to us about her experience being homeschooled from Year 3 onwards. She explains how she transitioned from Cert IV qualifications to founding a print travel magazine and intrepidly travelling the world.
Hi Sophie. Lovely to chat to you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sophie Cottrell and I was born and raised in Perth, WA. I currently work full-time for myself and own a travel magazine named Sceen’ry Travel Journal. We create print city guides for around the world that also second as pretty coffee table books. I travel the world shooting for this, but when I am not travelling, I am lucky enough to live in the prettiest place in the world.
How long were you homeschooled for?
My parents started homeschooling me when I was in grade three, and my brother was in grade five. My other two siblings went to school for pre-primary before they both started homeschooling. We all homeschooled the whole way through our schooling years before we went on to further education. Ironically, two of my siblings are now school teachers.
What did learning from home during primary and high school look like for you? Was it curriculum based or more unstructured learning?
We definitely had a structure to our learning in some capacity, otherwise, I think we would have gone a little crazy. I remember on our first day of homeschooling, because I was so used to school, I set the time for recess, lunch and afternoon recess and went around ringing a tiny bell when it was time!
We hit all the main subjects and did some of them all together and then mostly had a structure that my Mum set up for each of us which was tailored to the way we learned. I honestly couldn’t have imagined learning in a better environment as I felt heard and she had the time to really work through the harder subjects with each of us. She also was an incredibly creative teacher, and we learnt some very regular, boring things in such a fun way that I have never forgotten those lessons.
What freedoms did homeschooling give you regarding your choice in what you wanted to study and focus on?
So. Much. Freedom. This is what I reiterate to anyone when they ask me the benefits of homeschooling. We had the world handed to us in a way because we weren’t told that there was a specific way to achieve. We were given tools, and we had the opportunity to put them into action. We spent as much time was needed on harder subjects for us, and we knew the faster we had them done, the faster we could do the things we loved. It was very different for all of us, so it was amazing that we got to focus on our favourite subjects individually.
Many people see ‘socialisation’ in high school as crucial and believe that ‘isolated’ homeschooled children are hugely disadvantaged. What kind of social support system and friendships did you have?
I laugh when people say this to me. If you ever met my family or my friends that were also homeschooled, you will find that we are some of the most social people. We can totally handle doing things on our own but we definitely know how to socialise, and I think in a way, we had more social opportunities than my friends in school.
Tell us about completing year 12. Did you do the leaving certificate or an equivalent? Did you go to university or TAFE? If so, what did you study?
So, I finished my year 12 equivalent studies by the time I was 15 ½ and then went on to further education. I had a Certificate IV in Creative Arts and Certificate IV in International Retail Travel Sales by the time my friends finished high school and then went into full-time work in the corporate world at 18.
TEE was the equivalent exams at the end of year 12, but I didn’t do those. Because I was doing further education already, that was complete enough for me to get into university. A minimum requirement for entry into a lot of degrees is a Certificate IV. There are so many other ways to get into university without doing those exams and so I knew if that was the path I wanted to take I could get in.
What do you do for work now?
As I said, I work for myself and have two other girls working for me. I launched Sceen'ry Travel Journal almost two years ago now.
Looking back on your experience being homeschooled, how would you say that being home educated has impacted you and your choices in life?
I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without having been home educated. This directly impacted my choices and gave me so much experience to be able to run my own business. Self-motivation gets ingrained in you as you have to be the one that makes sure you are on top of all your study, especially in high-school. I am so grateful to have had all the life experience that I have at such a young age.
What advice would you give to parents who are considering whether to homeschool their child?
It is such a massive sacrifice making this decision. It requires giving so much of yourself. Don’t ever pressure yourself into either putting your child in school or homeschooling, only you know what is right for them. I don’t think being home-educated is 100% the right decision for every child, I think there are some that thrive more than others.
You know your child, and the advantage of homeschooling is you get the opportunity to see them thrive and get to know them on a level that so many others miss out on. As hard as it is, it is also an honour and privilege to get to do it. And being on the receiving end, I am forever grateful for my parents doing it. Sign up for loads of activities with other kids and make sure you surround yourself with a like-minded community, so you don’t feel alone.
What advice would you give to homeschooled teenagers about considering their future careers and exploring their interests in a real-world context?
Don’t feel like you have to fit in a box. The decision you make now doesn’t have to be the career choice for the rest of your life. What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Do something that makes you come alive, and I bet it is a pathway to something that you will find along the way. I never set out to start a print magazine, but being in the travel industry was what set me up to do what I am doing today.
Take all the pressure off and enjoy what you are doing.