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The Ultimate Guide to Gameschooling

So you know about homeschooling, worldschooling and unschooling. Maybe you've heard of hackschooling or gamification... So what on earth is gameschooling? Cat Timms has the ultimate (and we mean MEGA!) guide for you AND a bonus download!

Children playing in water happily

Words and images by Cat Timms | LightHeart Photography

Gameschooling is a term whose origin cannot be traced, but it has been around for a while. It has been more recently popularised into homeschool culture by absolute legend and lovely lady, Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley, educational psychologist and homeschooling mama of gifted kiddos, of My Little Poppies fame, who also created the international Facebook group Gameschool Community. Her blog is a literal treasure trove and is referred to several times.

In the homeschool community, gameschooling means to use tabletop gaming (board games and card games) in an intentional way, as part of your personal homeschool culture and educational philosophy. Rather than playing games occasionally just for fun, gameschooling families see them as essential to their homeschool daily or weekly for a variety of reasons (including fun!).

Let’s talk about the why, how, what and troubleshoot some issues.

Why gameschool?

  • Games are fun. I have a few overarching personal philosophies for my life, and one of them is “If it’s not fun, why bother?”. I can see the strict homeschool mamas rolling their eyes, “But life isn’t all fun!”. No, it isn’t. But we’re adults now; we can let them be little. We can make almost anything fun, or at least add an element of fun. We make chores into games; a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as it were. Your kid doesn’t find games fun? Read on, I have a section for you coming up.
  • Games create positive family culture. One of my main motivations for game playing now is to create a thing we all do together, that will carry through the teen years (which my husband and I both had terrible times with our parents and it scares us, lol) and into adulthood. I like to imagine 20-somethings coming home for dinner with a partner and sticking around for a game afterwards. I’ll let you know in 20 years how it worked out Read this by One Board Family too.
  • Good games exercise your brain. Puzzling over strategies, watching your opponents or team members to figure out what to do next to get to a desired goal, problem solving, logical thought processes and more.
  • Games build interpersonal skills. Graciously winning and losing, discussing ideas, contributing as or to a group, taking turns, waiting etc. are all parts of playing tabletop games which are valuable lifeskills.
  • Games will teach actual things if you so desire. I’m not that into games always being super educational, though we certainly have our fair share. There are lots of well-designed tabletop games, also called hobby games, that happen to be educational as an excellent game (and I will discuss those later) and games you can get that are designed to be educational. So, if formal learning is your thing, games have you covered.
  • Things learnt joyfully are best remembered. Not much explanation required here. It just is.

Further reading on the why of gameschooling:

How do you gameschool?

This is asked ALL THE TIME in the gameschool groups and there isn’t a simple answer to that question, because everyone homeschools differently. If you believe in teaching and curriculums, then games will supplement that and add some fun. If you unschool, then you might research games you think your kids might like, then show them the ones that fit your budget etc and see if they’re interested, and games would be the most formal thing you do, probably.

We personally are secular and eclectic here. We do very little formal work, only in English and Maths, and we do a lot of excursions (field trips), workshops, classes and play dates. I encourage my kids to be open and interested in everything. We try a lot, and what doesn’t work for us we leave but we try not to say no to things for no reason, particularly if they’re new.

This adventurous spirit carries into gaming. We’ll try any game! We play 2-4 games a day. I usually choose one for an educational purpose and the rest are child-led. They often suggest we play a game, then choose one themselves. They’re at very different gaming levels currently which is challenging, and I have a whole section for you toddler mamas coming up, don’t worry!

The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal

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Choose the time you play games carefully, particularly when learning new games.

While “Family Game Night” is great in theory, maybe it needs to be at breakfast because tired children do not the best gamers make. We do play games after dinner, but only ones the kids know really well, plus they’re experienced gamers now. We often play games around mealtimes.

Because we don’t have a schedule, I’m not super helpful here. I know that homeschool mamas who do have a school schedule do things like:

  • Have one game be a focus for the week and play it each day
  • Use a game to start or conclude a lesson, to introduce or reinforce an idea or concept
  • Use games as quizzes
  • Use games as part of a unit study
  • Use games to teach one subject (maths is exceptionally popular)
  • Play games at the start or end of their school day
  • Ask teens to teach/play kindergartners games while they work with their in-between-age kids
  • Do game afternoons particularly with other homeschool friends

In essence, do what works for you and your family situation. There’s no right or wrong way.

What games do you play?

Oh, brother. The dreaded question. This gets posted multiple times a day in the gameschool group. The answer is “infinity times infinity, pass the coffee/wine/chocolate.” Seriously. It’s not a bad question; it’s a great question! It’s just that there are a million answers. We could be here all day. Let’s start the beginning:

  1. How old are your kids and what stages are they at? Games can be great for various types of neurodivergent kids to learn or practice things, particularly for gifted kids to flex their muscles. There is a game for EVERYTHING. Also important is their reading level as some games require independent reading.
  2. What are their interests? I would always start with games you are confident your kids will be interested in, before introducing games you want them to play.
  3. How much time, energy and money will you spend on gaming? Obviously, you may not know this until you start, so I’d start slow with some simple, basic games to see how it goes, before investing. The other side to that argument is that there are some really great games out there that the whole family will love, and if you don’t try them you may be missing out thinking you don’t like games. Ideally, you’d borrow before some you buy as these bigger games can be very expensive. I’ve set up a group for Australian homeschoolers to discuss, borrow, buy, and sell games called Gameschooling Australia.
  4. Will you and your partner/friends play? There is a high replayability on those bigger well-designed tabletop/hobby games (that are usually not overtly educational) and they’re generally more fun for the adults. You can justify buying these for more than just homeschool purposes if that is the case. We have a lot of these and the adults around here play.
  5. Are there groups for selling locally? I’m always more willing to fork out some dollars if I know I can get some back if the game really isn’t for us. I have successfully sold all the games I’ve wanted to sell so far for 25-90% of what I paid in Facebook groups.

So, I've thought about all that, now what?

I suggest joining the groups and following pages on Facebook to learn and get ideas. I’ll also link to the blogs for those not on Facebook (Don't have Facebook? HOW DO YOU LIVE?! Kidding, it is useful for groups though!).

In addition to those homeschool blogs and pages, US families are going to find Amazon VERY useful! For the rest of us, it can be expensive and they don’t always ship to us. I do buy from there occasionally though. Board Game Geek is a great website for researching on, and serious gamers keep lists there. I’m yet to venture into it but I often check there for reviews and information.

Do we just grab Monopoly and get playing?

There are so many games to choose from. I know, it’s overwhelming. I would probably just head to Target or a good games shop and pick one. I haven’t yet mentioned the dreaded M word because that is what people think of when we talk about games. We do have a copy of *whispers* Monopoly somewhere I think, but we don’t play it. Because it’s not well designed and very boring; there are no interesting choices or strategies, and its very luck based. Outraged? Sorry. Check out this YouTube to understand more.

If you love Monopoly then your mind will be blown when you play a well-designed tabletop game! Gamers often talk about “gateway games”. These are the simpler but still well-designed tabletop that use game mechanisms that the bigger games do, have a high replayability factor, and are a great way to start games culture in your family if you are looking beyond the purely educational.

Here are some of my favourite gateway games:

  • Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where each person has a role and you work together (for 5yo+).
  • Carcassonne is tile building game (for 6yo+).
  • Sushi Go is a great gateway game for card drafting (for 5yo+) and includes addition.
  • Skip-bo is a surprisingly good card game and a great intro to strategy games (for 6yo+).
  • Dragonwood is a dice and card game which includes addition (for 6yo+).

All of those games are ones that the adults here really enjoy, so won’t bore you quickly. I could list 10 more, but I’m going to leave that list there. There are a million games lists you can Google. If you’re only looking for educational games that you can slot into subject areas for your kids then check out this ultimate games list. It’s comprehensive and well laid out, and we own many of the games on it.

A list of recommended games

Games we love to play
  • Alien HotShots
  • Alphabet Bingo
  • Alphabet Go Fish
  • Busytown
  • Carcassonne Big Box
  • Chess
  • Chomp
  • Colourama
  • Connect 4
  • Dinosaur Snap
  • Dr Eureka
  • Dragonwood
  • Forbidden Island
  • Go Nuts
  • Learning Can Be Fun games x 5
  • Legendary Inventors
  • Loonacy
  • Machi Koro with expansions
  • Math Bingo
  • Math Dice
  • Mousetrap Maths
  • Oceanos
  • Orchard Toys games x 3
  • Pandemic with expansions
  • Pass the bomb Jnr
  • Rat a tat cat
  • Scrabble Jnr
  • Skip-Bo
  • Sumoku
  • Sushi Go
  • Storycubes x 5
  • Takenoko
  • Uno
  • Upwords
  • Yam Slam
  • At least 30 homemade games from various places and my own inventions
Adult games we own but don't play with kids yet
  • Cosmic Encounter
  • Innovation
  • Sentinels of the multiverse
Games we've put away and don't play with yet
  • 7 Wonders Duel
  • Apples to Apples
  • Brave Rats
  • Ion
  • Link It
  • Ringz
  • Sequence
  • Ticket to Ride Europe
  • Wildcraft
Great games we've borrowed from friends
  • Catan
  • Seasons
  • Sum Swamp
  • Zeus on the loose
  • Coup
  • Love Letter
Games on my wish list
  • Alhambra
  • Castle Panic
  • Dixit
  • Hit the Habitat Trail
  • Hive Pocket
  • MMRY
  • Pandemic Legacy
  • Prime Climb
  • Splendor
  • Xtronaut

Phew, that’ll do?! That’s not an exhaustive list, either. This article explains the different types of games in a succinct way and might be useful too.

A word on age recommendations

Most games include age recommendations which is a rough guide. Game makers need to be careful; if they put the starting age too young, then they won’t be bought for older children, and if the age is too high, people will think it’s too hard. Most gameschoolers take age recommendations with A CUP of salt. My 7-year-old can play games that say 13-years-old + but he is a weak reader. If there was a big reading component he wouldn’t be able to play. He also enjoys plenty of games that I’d put in the “Early Childhood” category.

If your 8-year-old child is new to games then they will find Dragonwood challenging at first, as it’s not a luck game; it’s a strategy game with interesting choices. But my 4-year-old can play with assistance because she’s been playing games since she was a toddler.

For Australian families!

A little section just for us Aussies. G’day, mates! (sorry, that’s for the rest of the world who think we talk like that, lol).

1. I have yet to find an Australian gameschooler who blogs about gameschooling so that’s why there isn’t one listed here. If you are one, then yay! Let us know. People keep saying I should start one but I have two part time jobs already so I just can’t. You can always find me on IG at @ahumanattempt and in Gameschooling Australia.

2. It’s really difficult to find games about Australia that aren’t caricatures of Australia, and sometimes a bit racist in my opinion. They seem designed for the tourist rather than Australians. If you know of one, PLEASE let us know! There are a few printables floating about, none of which are great, so making my own game about the Australian states is on my to do list. It’s listed right after “Learn about the Australian states.”

3. There are some great Aussie sites to know about, and support if you can! If you have more to add to this list, let us know!

What's the difference between gamification and game-based learning?

This one's for the nerds like me! Well, in a nutshell, gamification means applying game principles to something (for example, turning a maths sheet into a game) and game-based learning, means using a game that already exists to learn something (like the game Sushi Go to practice addition). Both ideas are useful in homeschooling, but that’s an article on its own! For further reading I suggest:

Many of these articles refer to online or digital gaming which has evolved from tabletop gaming. All of these, and the ‘why’ list, should be great fodder for anyone who wants to argue against game playing, or allocating funds to buy games

Common questions

“I’ve checked out the lists and blogs and now there are 3 games that I want. How do you narrow it down?”

Particularly when you’re on a budget, this can be important. What I do is search the game title and read what I find in the following places:

  1. the My Little Poppies blog
  2. the Gameschool Community Facebook group, and if I don’t find a post, I post on the wall. (This is why it’s really important to put your game titles in your posts in groups!)
  3. other Facebook games groups.
  4. Board Game Geek.
  5. Geek Dad.
  6. YouTube and watch reviews and play throughs.
  7. Read reviews on Amazon. I put this last because in Australia it’s often not cost effective to buy from there.

After all that, I will have an idea whether I think we’ll like it or not. Yeah, it takes some time, but all research does! I’m looking for interesting choices and replayability here, but if you’re looking for something purely educational then it should be simpler to figure out whether it will help with the thing you need. I only buy those types of games if I really need them, and think I can resell them; I am far more likely to find a free printable or make up my own.

“My partner doesn’t want me to spend money on games.”

Send them this article; there is a TONNE of good info linked here. This is a commonly asked problem by mamas in homeschool groups. In my house, if one partner doesn’t want to do the reading and learn about the issue to then have an informed discussion, then the other gets to go ahead using their best judgement. Teamwork makes the dream work, and that means trusting each other too. I am not going to learn about looking after the cars, so hubs just does what he thinks is best there. He is not going to get highly educated about homeschooling, so I’m boss of that. I make a lot of games, and only buy ones I think we’ll really love. I also sell games as I need too, to fund new ones.

“Seriously though, we are on a tight budget.”

Honestly, most homeschoolers are. Everyone’s version of tight is different, and everyone’s priorities are different. We too are on a tight-ish budget. We don’t spend any money at all on curriculums (ever) so I spend on books, games, workshops, classes instead. Tabletop games are not just a homeschool thing; they contribute to family culture too. So if you occasionally have a family day or meal out or trip to the movies, you can consider a good tabletop game in the same category but it’s reusable, and you should be able to sell it for around half what you paid when the time comes. Here are some other ideas:

  • Buy secondhand. I buy most of our games secondhand and I get good deals this way.
    • Facebook groups. I buy mostly in Facebook groups, occasionally from other local secondhand sites. You just need to keep your eye out, and also put up “want to buy” posts as sometimes people are thinking about selling a game but can’t be bothered, but if they can quickly PM you and get it done hassle-free, it’s a win-win.
    • Op shop/thrift stores/goodwill. You rarely find the better tabletop games at these places here in Australia (though the US mamas seem too all the time!) but you will find lots of staple games like Scrabble, and card games. I will buy very cheap games with some good pieces for reusing.
  • Buy when you see it. If you see a game you want on sale or secondhand, buy it if it’s good price, even if it’s a stretch. I put them away so then I’m not looking at paying full price come Christmas and birthdays or when I want a game to teach something in particular. I currently have 15 games in the cupboard for the future, lol.
  • Give them as gifts. Each birthday each one of us gets a game, preferably one we’ll enjoy (so I can justify that expense) and then at Christmas we get a couple. That means we’re getting 6-8 games through the year because we all love games in addition to ones I make.
  • Get some gameschool friends. I’ve introduced several local friends to gameschooling, mainly by lending them games, and they’ve soon bought their own, and so we’ve been able to swap games with them. I won’t buy games they have unless we can’t live without it (hasn’t happened yet!).
  • Buy copies. On Ebay there are many stores that sell copies of popular games. They’re not the legit version, and so the original gamemakers aren’t getting their dues (which is one of the reasons I don’t buy them) but you can buy copies of games very cheap and they tend to be OK quality and complete sets etc, most of the time, but not always, bear in mind.
  • Make your own! Homeschoolers tend to be crafty and resourceful. Read on.

“I want to make my own games. Help.”

You can make your own games very cheaply, and indeed I make TONNES of them. You can buy books that have things to photocopy and make, or get free printables from all over the internet. You can attempt to replicate popular games, particularly using game pieces and boards from games you’ve bought cheaply secondhand (this is where op shops/goodwill are handy). Remember that challenging your kids to make their own game is a great activity too.

There are links all over the place here – this is an ULTIMATE guide after all – so read back but here is yet another collection of links to get you started:

“My kid doesn’t find games fun. We have meltdowns over rules/winning/losing. It just won’t work for us.”

Ah, yes. I understand. I know a few kids including my nephew and son who have worked through game rage. I’d argue that these children may need to play games more than anyone else! Games are a great way to learn to handle and reframe ‘failure’, practice gracious winning and losing, handling disappointment, trying again etc. Not all things will work for all families, and you may want to use a few of these ideas in concert, but here are some things to consider:

  • Play cooperatively. This is my number one tip. Play cooperative games where you all work as a team. Forbidden Island, Pandemic and Wildcraft are all popular here, and Caitlin has this post with a huge list to help you. They’ll still be disappointed, but it’s a lot less than if they weren’t on a team.
  • Change the rules. Linked to playing cooperatively is: change the rules to suit. Games aren’t games if there aren’t some rules, but you can make them suit your family situation. Make it cooperative, quicker, lighter, less disappointing, whatever. You can build back up to regular rules later.
  • Choose quicker, lighter games. The less time your child has been sitting, the smaller the outburst is likely to be (just based on contained energy). The less energy they have put into trying to win, the less upset they’ll feel, hopefully. Think Uno, Bingo games, Go Fish.
  • Try strategy games. Maybe your child needs to feel more control so rather than luck based games, where you solely rely on the cards you pick up or dice you rolled, try games where they can work towards something. What you choose will depend on your child’s age. Think Connect 4, Carcassonne for older kids, and many others.
  • Play 2 player games. Try 2 player games where just a safe adult and your child play. Losing to just a trusted adult (maybe Grandma?) rather than siblings as well may help too.
  • Let them win sometimes! This is a bone of contention in the gameschool community; to win or not to win?! But as an adult who loves playing games, when my husband or friends constantly smash me at a game, it makes me want to play it a lot less. It’s boring and not fun. Let them win sometimes.
  • Model gracious winning, losing and game play. This should go without saying, but I have seen posts in groups about playing games with adults who have had tantrums in front of children. Oh my. Do not play with any adults that can’t be adult, lol! By all means express yourself, but only in a way you’d be happy for your children to do also. Monkey see, monkey do.
  • Discuss unpleasantness later. Game didn’t go well? Let them express themselves, empathise, and let it go. Lecturing or saying “It’s just a game!” won’t actually help when they’re feeling upset and disappointed, in fact they won’t feel heard. Later on, when they’re calm and have experienced success at something else they like, you can come back to what happened at the game and discuss it as appropriate to your family. Punishing game behaviour will only lead to not wanting to play at all so avoid that at all costs.
  • Try single player games. There are tonnes of single player games. Maybe your child would benefit from working through some things by themselves? Try ThinkFun Maze games, Perplex us, Caboodle, or Chicken Shuffle.
  • Let them create their own game. If they design a game, even just using some cards, counters, dice etc and teach it to you, and have to uphold the rules and game play themselves because they’re in charge, perhaps this will give them the control they need to handle the ups and downs of gaming.
  • Make them Game Master. In a similar vein, try giving them the responsibility for the setup, pack up and running the game. Not that they do it all themselves, but they’re in charge of everyone. Your children may need to take turns at this if it causes friction.
  • Play open. When we learn a game for the first time, we always play open. That means that rather than keeping our cards or whatever to ourselves, we play so everyone can see what everyone has, is doing, and why. Knowing how to play a game better may help with those big feelings.
  • Choose your time carefully. Maybe family game night needs to be family game morning? Tiredness is not going to help games go well. We do the majority of our family game playing before bedtime because we have a fairly traditional work schedule here, but if you can play when everyone is fresh, that may help.
  • Don’t finish. I can hear the gasps, but it’s ok to not finish! Try playing games but without completing them. Start a game when you don’t have time to finish. Enjoy playing, then pack it up and put it away. The fun and learning has happened, without the trauma of the ending. You can of course build up to finishing later.
  • Work on self-regulation. Emotional regulation is not something you can teach necessarily, but it is something you can practice. Of course, you need to model it, and don’t worry, we all lose it sometimes, but the more you model it, the better they will do at it. Also try some of these ideas from PBS, or these ideas from The Inspired Tree House.
  • Growth mindset. Remove the focus from winning and losing all the time. This may not work for competitive kids who are just naturally that way, but focus on the fact that life is a journey, and failure is a construct that really means nothing other than “This one time it didn’t work so we need to try again.”. We are Big Life Journal fans here, and have one of the posters on the fridge.
  • Leave it. And of course, games aren’t for everyone all the time. If you’ve tried on and off for a few weeks, and worked on all these things and it still isn’t going well, then leave it for a while (a season, a year) and try again. Maybe your kid just isn’t going to be a game person? I’ll be honest and say I’m really sceptical about this – I feel like anyone who says they don’t like games just haven’t played the right ones - but anything is possible, of course.

“My kids fight. We can’t play games together.”

Yeah this is a hard one! Caitlin has written a brilliant article at My Little Poppies that I cannot improve upon. She has a list of great ideas, and one I will emphasize is snacks. Lol! Seriously though. Eating a clean food (like plain popcorn, because you don’t want to get your game pieces super dirty) while playing is a great way to keep a game moving along and everyone calm. Read her entire article here. I’ll also add that we regularly play games 1:1 here. Like at least once a week with each child.

“I have a toddler who can’t play but wants to, and ends up wrecking the game in their earnest efforts.”

Mmm, also tricky! I have a few suggestions for this one that have worked here. Firstly, it’s always a good idea to play at nap time, but that isn’t always possible, particularly if mama is pinned under said toddler!

  • Snacks. Seriously, just snacks.
  • Play in teams. Toddler can sit on your lap and hold your cards/roll your dice and be on your team.
  • Give Toddler their own game pieces to play with alongside, or even on the board if they can be careful with the pieces that are part of the game.
  • Let them “play along” even if they’re not playing properly. Let them go through the motions. This requires some patience from your older kid/s and a relatively calm toddler.
  • Play two games at once. I have sat playing a big kids game on one side, and a little kids game on the other, lol. Have your coffee/wine handy.
  • Set up Toddler up with their own activity next to you. Chloe is often happy to draw or paint or play right next to us as long as she feels included.
  • Make them Game Master. Sit them up on top the table (yep!) and let them hand out the cards or roll the dice. This was our main strategy for months and worked well. Obviously, it won’t work for all kids!
  • Screen time. I know this will go against some belief systems, but setting Toddler up with a screen to get some 1:1 time with another kid might be your answer for a while. It’s only a season.
  • Game night. Play when Toddler is in bed for the evening. Less than ideal as we’ve already talked about how this won’t work for some kids if they’re too tired.
  • Play when someone else is around. Get together with a friend, and one of you play a game with the older kids, while one plays with the younger kids. Or wait until Grandma comes for a visit or your partner is available obviously.
  • Take turns to play. Older toddlers might be able to understand waiting their turn for their own game. There are heaps of actually good toddler games to consider. Colourama and Busytown are two that come to mind.
  • Snacks. Did I mention snacks?

Honestly, game playing with small kids around, particularly if you have a couple of them is not going to be easy, so only attempt when you have some patience available. You may decide to wait until everyone is older, and that’s ok, too. Chloe used to grab and throw all the pieces and think she was hilarious, *all the eyerolls*. We just waited her out and now it’s great. It’s a short season, mama, hang in there.

The last word

I trust you’re thoroughly overwhelmed and now have hours of reading ahead to check out all those links. If there is something I haven’t covered here, then please let us know. Have any other suggestion, comment, game recommendation, get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

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The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal

This is probably our longest post ever (!!), so if you want to grab a copy to keep and refer back to, Cat Timms has kindly offered a free eBook download for Mulberry readers. Yeah, she's pretty awesome 😉 Thanks Cat! Pop in your email below and we'll send it over to you.

Note: There are no Amazon affiliate links here, just tonnes of resources, so click away. When you click through to some blog there will be some affiliate links. Using them is a way to help support your favourite bloggers.

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The ultimate guide to gameschooling on The Mulberry Journal
Cat Timms

Cat Timms


Cat is an Australian homeschool mama to 2, Early Childhood Teacher, photographer, and game lover. Cat is passionate about play and uncomplicating home education. She's on Instagram @ahumanattempt and @lightheartphotog.

To my child: the only things you ‘can’t do’

Most kids go through a phase of thinking they "can't do" something. Here's a beautiful letter a father wrote to his son about saying "I can't."

Children playing in water happily

By Eric Koelma | Co-Founder of The Mulberry Journal

You can't believe one thing and do another thing and be authentic.

You can't stay where you are and go where you want to go.

You can't make a stand if you're sitting in a corner.

You can't swim against the tide if you're not willing to swim.

You can't blame everyone else if you're not first willing to look at yourself objectively.

You can't expect change to be as easy to deal with as the status quo.

You can't achieve great things if what you're focusing on is what you're diminishing (i.e "I'm going to lose 5kg" is never as good as "I'm going to fit into X and feel more confident").

You can't just want it. You need to be willing to work on it every day. One day pushing forward 50% is much harder to maintain than 50 days pushing forward 1% (and the latter is compound).

You can't expect success if you spend every night watching TV.

You can't give others advice if you're not willing to live out that same advice.

You can't win an argument. You either lose, or you win and then you lose them.

You can't please everyone.

You can't be responsible for change in the weeks of you only ever follow instructions. You've got to create.

You can't skip the life lesson on delayed gratification.

You can't be someone you're not.

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Eric Koelma

Co-Founder of Mulberry

Eric is the dark horse behind Grace's passion for bringing homeschooling communities together. He matches his wife's creative enthusiasm with the underpinning structure of business and digital strategy: he's all logical precision and epic decision-making. Eric's also a rare kind of super-human who works best between 9pm and 2am and still manages to get up early and chase that wilful toddler, WITHOUT coffee (he hates the stuff!)

To homeschool or not: A mother shares her decision-making process

Taking the leap into homeschooling is a decision that may take months or years, but sometimes happens in an instant. So how do you know whether it's right for your family? A UK based mother of two shares her thought process.

Children playing in water happily

By Sophie Copeman

The decisions that we make will shape the futures of our children. This is not a new concept, but for me it is a profound one. On a daily basis we are making decisions; simple decisions such as what they will have for dinner, where shall we go today, who shall we meet... and bigger decisions such as child-rearing techniques, childcare providers and where they will be educated.

So what do people consider when it comes to education? For some this is about location, school quality, necessity. For others this is about exactly how their children will be educated and whom will do it; and this is me, this is where I am at.

My twin daughters are almost 3, so in the coming year my husband and I have a big decision to make, a decision that will affect our children for years to come and quite possibly the rest of their lives. I have lots of questions to ask and only the beginnings of answers.

Why would I choose NOT to put my children in mainstream education?

There are lots of valid arguments for not putting my children into mainstream education, but for me it boils down to these factors right now: 

  • the traditional educational model does not cater well for the individual
  • the UK's schooling system is largely geared towards exams, grades and targets
  •  each pupil is held up against their peers based on how they perform on standardised tests
  • teaching is reliant on external motivation as opposed to internal motivation
  • schools are hothouses of peer pressure, bullying and, in my opinion, unrealistic social interactions

Though I guess if I am 100% honest about my hesitation to put my daughters into mainstream education it comes down to one word: freedom.

Why is freedom so important?

Freedom refers to freedom of choice, freedom of expression, freedom to allow a child space to develop in a supportive environment, freedom to learn outside all day if the sun is shining not just go out between the lunch break bells, freedom to have an input into what and how they learn each day so that they feel empowered as individuals, and the freedom to take them places we couldn’t go to if we were restricted to term time.

Freedom, or the lack thereof is what puts me off mainstream education.

So where to go from here?

My husband is open-minded but also a traditionalist, so for him, the default decision is already made - he wants the girls to go to a mainstream school. So not only do I need to decide what route I want for the girls, if I decide I want to homeschool them I also have to put together a well-reasoned case to convince him that homeschooling is the better option for us.

Of course, I have doubts

On any given day hundreds of questions churn through my mind. Thoughts like:

  • 'Can I homeschool in a mid-terrace in the centre of a town?' (the picture in my head of homeschooling is in the countryside with acres of space around you)
  • 'Am I good enough to teach?'
  • 'Can I handle what other people will say about my choice?'
  • 'What if I miss out something important?'
  • 'What if deciding to homeschool them will be detrimental to them in the future?' 
  • 'What if they would not just survive at school but thrive?'
  • 'What if I am letting an overly negative view of school cloud my judgment?'
  • 'What if I just haven’t got the energy and intellect to keep them stimulated and engaged?'

These are some BIG questions that I need to answer.

How to find the answers

- My first step is going to be talking to homeschooling parents and their children and to adults who were homeschooled. Luckily enough I already know parents whom are homeschooling their 8-year-old, and a young woman who was homeschooled, went on to a top UK university and is now training to be a lawyer, so I’ve arranged to meet up with them to discuss their experiences.

- I’ve contacted a local homeschooling group to see if I can go to one of their weekly meetups and plan to contact more so that I can get an accurate idea from as many people as possible about the realities of homeschooling. I’m hoping those conversations will allay some of my fears and answers some of my questions.

- I’ve begun to look up the logistics of how to homeschool. For example, I’ve read through my local council's guidelines on home education and the laws around it, I’ve begun looking into homeschool resources, using websites such as for information and support.

- I’ve started calculating whether or not we can afford not only to provide resources but for me to continue only working part-time whilst homeschooling.

So that’s it, I have a plan, I have a way to find the answers and I have a belief and hope that freedom of education will be at the end of my search.

Jenny Diaz

Sophie Copeman


Sophie is 32, lives on the coast in the South West of England with her husband and twin two-year-old daughters. She is a full time mum but also works part-time from home for a sea kayaking company. Undoubtedly her biggest passion is her children but she also loves the outdoors, gardening, crafts, photography and adventure. Sophie and her husband raise their daughters in an attachment parenting style, sharing on Instagram

4 ways to raise a young change-maker

Raising our kids to care deeply and passionately about the health and long-term sustainability of our planet should be one of our top priorities as parents.

Image by Coleen Hodges

By Rebecca Lane |

Every single one of us can do something to make a difference. And collectively, we can change the world.

We all have a unique role to play in the journey towards sustainability and environmental stewardship. While climate change, pollution, and threats to biodiversity can feel like overwhelming problems, the reality is that small changes add up to seismic shifts. We all affect change in our own orbits, and parents are in a unique role to facilitate understanding that will lead to compassion and then to action.

Here are four ways to spark a flame in your young change-maker:

1. Reading and watching films are fundamental.

Young children will delight in and grow to care for animals, plants, and the natural world through video and text.

A subscription to National Geographic’s Little Kids magazine is an affordable starting point for the 3-5-year-old set and audiences of all ages will be mesmerised by film series like Planet Earth with its stunning visuals and insightful commentary.

Global Guardian Project’s Learning Capsules are perfect for older children needing a mix of hands-on activities and informative content.

2. Press reset by spending time in nature on a regular basis.

The Japanese have this concept worked out — forest bathing is a national pastime with no goal other than reaping the health benefits of quiet contemplation among trees! Not only is this a positive model for stress relief, it's also a great opportunity for the whole family to learn the names and characteristics of local plants, trees, and flowers.

3. Adopt a cause as a family.

Whether you’re passionate about conserving grasslands, fostering an orphaned elephant, or protecting the grey wolf, the whole family can decide together on a cause to support. Trade the consumption of a typical birthday party by giving up your birthday for charity, help the kids with seasonal fundraising events like a lemonade stand, and discuss news from your chosen charity as part of your regular dinner time conversation.

4. Make advocacy part of your life and stand up for sustainability when it's under political threat.

Even young children will be happy to colour a postcard that can be sent to your members of congress. Older kids can write their own letters to government officials or to the local newspaper editor. Sign up for advocacy alerts about causes you care about and teach teens to use apps like Resistbot which will convert text messages into faxes sent automatically to your government officials.

We all know that we need to take better care of the Earth and better care of each other. We know we should be empowering our children so they can change the world for the better. Resources like the Global Guardian Project can be a platform for parents, caregivers and educators to teach children just that.

Want a FREE Ocean Conservation capsule?

Rebecca is kindly giving away this Ocean Conservation capsule from Global Guardian Project to anyone who reads this article. Pretty awesome, hey! Want to claim yours?

Jenny Diaz

Rebecca Lane


Rebecca Lane is the founder of Global Guardian Project, and an artist and social entrepreneur whose passion for global education has sparked each of her art brand creations, all focused on environmental and social responsibility. A gypsy at heart, she created Global Guardian Project as a way to educate her children first hand, and to offer her family’s experience to parents who are raising their own earth warriors.
Instagram - @globalguardianproject

Sometimes we need a reminder to say ‘yes’ to messy play

Mess is a part of parenthood. Not just the toys and books on the floor. We're talking the wet, grass and mud stained variety of mess. So how do you cope when you're a neat freak mum? (We know you're out there!)

boy splashing in puddle

By Jessica Welsh

Let’s face it, life with little ones is downright messy. Aside from the obvious mess of that first year there’s the ongoing mess during mealtimes, the mess of sick days and toilet training, and -what I really want to talk about- the mess of play.

Now, I’m not referring to the toys and books scattered in the lounge room at the end of the day, that’s par for the course. No, I’m talking about the wet, grass and dirt stained children that have somehow lost half their clothes outside and are now standing on your (no longer) clean carpet asking you for a snack.

Surely, I’m not the only one who has heart palpitations at the mere thought of this? I’m getting much better though, and here’s why.

When the work of motherhood becomes a distraction…

Earlier this year we had on and off rain for two weeks. I counted one sunny day amongst it which meant for two weeks everything felt especially damp and muddy. I’m all for letting children play outside and get dirty but to have to clean muddy children every day for two weeks, and a few times a day at that? I was going batty!

My efforts to stay on top of the mess (mud-caked children included) were in vain. No sooner would I bathe my children, Leo and Phoebe, then they would be at the door begging to go outside again. My days were looking very ordinary and I resented it.

The turning point came one morning when I was, yet again, sweeping dried mud and leaves back outside. Leo appeared out of nowhere, presenting his toy car to me dripping in mud. To my shame, I didn’t enjoy his wide smile and bright eyes, but instead cried out, “Move, I’ve just swept here! Stay out!” Then, as if on cue, Phoebe walked around the corner covered head to toe in mud. She was quite the picture and just as tickled pink about it as her big brother. I could no longer keep a straight face.

My children were clearly having a great time but up until then I hadn’t been. In that moment, I was forced to face the larger problem – myself. I was allowing the repetitiveness of my day and the constant mess to distract me from what was really going on – the makings of a happy childhood.

It was a little shocking to realise all my grumbling about Leo and Phoebe playing in the mud was about myself. I was being drawn out of my comfort zone (rainy days signify happy hours reading with endless cups of tea, not going outside!) and kept digging my heels in at every turn. I began to wonder what Leo and Phoebe would remember about these rainy days as they lay in bed, eyes heavy with sleep. Would all my fussing cast a shadow on their memories? I hoped I wasn’t too late to set things right.

Remember the joy of motherhood and start again

I put the broom down and followed Leo and Phoebe outside. I let them put mud on my feet and they laughed at my obvious discomfort. I watched them relish the feeling of mud oozing between their fingers and running down their arms. Sure, it was messy and not at all my idea of fun but here was an opportunity to enjoy my children in all the unbridled mess of their childhood. I was not going to waste another minute fretting about the state of the house. For the remainder of those two weeks I turned a blind eye to the mess and instead, saw the delightfully messy and joyous children before me.

Now I don’t even bother asking Leo and Phoebe if they want to watch a movie when we see the clouds roll in. I know what they’ll want to do. Sit at the window and watch as the rain falls then, when the temptation to jump in puddles and make mud pies is too much to bear, race outside to get as messy as can be, sans clothes if possible. Instead of cringing, I fetch my camera and follow them because these are their days and their delights. I am simply fortunate enough to bear witness and draw the warm bath for later.

So Say Yes!

Since those two weeks I have found myself saying yes to messy play more often. I’ve also wised up; suggesting we save jumping in the mud for before bath time, that we finger paint in the bath tub (and clean it after), that we build bed forts before stripping the sheets for a wash. Little things like that have made for an easier clean-up which has allowed me to fully enjoy the play as it happens, whether I’m participating or not.

While I still sigh heavily at the chaos that surrounds me, I am getting better at looking past it. It’s what Leo and Phoebe have been doing all along and I’m finally catching up.

Do you struggle with embracing truly messy play? How do you find a balance between wrecked carpet/curtains and children who are happily using their all their senses to discover? Tell us in the comments below.

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Jessica Welsh

Jessica Welsh


Jess lives with her husband, Joel, and children, Leo and Phoebe in Gympie, Queensland. She spends her days doing her best to soak up these early years at home with her little ones but can sometimes be found enjoying a moment's quiet with a cup of tea she prefers not to share. She's on Instagram @themakingofdays

‘What I did when my kids asked to go to school’

For children who are homeschooled from age 5, there will be a natural curiosity in what goes on at school. Here's how one mother handled it when her kids asked if they could try a mainstream school.

Kids looking out window India

By Ally Blase

Our tribe

Hey friends! I'm Ally, wife to Jeremy and mama to three great kids! As a family, we decided to homeschool the year our eldest was due to start prep. Our decision was based both on the lifestyle we preferred, and the fact that we thought our little girl was way too small to be at school! It turned out to be a pretty great decision! We loved the freedom that homeschooling gave us, and when we launched a charity based in South Asia in 2013, the fact that we could leave Australia whenever we needed was a definite bonus.

We travel often, spending months at a time living in Asia, our kids doing school work in mega cities, Starbucks, high rise apartments and dusty rural villages. They have shopped in chaotic markets, pumped water from wells, eaten strange food and been chased by monkeys! Kids learn so much from travelling and experiencing life in other cultures, and I felt as though we were creating an amazing life of learning for our kids.

And then they asked to go to school...

We had arrived home after four months overseas, and our eldest wrote us a letter outlining her reasons for wanting to try school. They seemed well thought out and consisted of things like “learning alongside other kids”, “making school friends” and “seeing what it's like to be taught by a teacher.” At first, we resisted, thinking that she may change her mind. The problem was, she didn’t.

One thing I have always loved about homeschooling is that education can be personalised, children can follow interests and exert control over what and how they learn. As our daughter continued to ask, and now our son too, we began to see that maybe by letting them try school it was perhaps just an extension of that personalised education.

Eventually, we concluded that going to school for a season did not completely detract from the homeschooling path we had chosen, it was just another part of life to experience.

Finding the right school

I had no idea where to look, I had never looked for a school before and all I knew was that I did not want to send them to our local school. In fact, I had a long list of things I didn't want in a school which made the decision that much harder! How do you find the right school for your kid, when you're convinced that home is so much better?

We called a few schools, most expressing a lot of disdain over the fact that our kids had never been to ‘real’ school before. Their immediate response was that our kids would need a lot of testing before they would be accepted or placed in a grade, and that was not what I wanted their school experience to be like. Eventually, we found a gorgeous little school with 50 kids located 30 minutes away from our home. The staff there were amazing and so welcoming. In contrast, they didn't want to place endless tests on our kids but wanted to come alongside them and support them in their new journey.

Our year-long experience at school

Our kids really enjoyed their 12 months at school. For all the backlash homeschoolers get over socialisation and keeping up academically, our kids managed to slip into school life well. They weren't behind academically and really enjoyed the social side of school. Sport, book week, art classes and peer group learning actives were some of their highlights, and they leave school now with wonderful memories and some great little friends!

Like all things though, there were some things we didn't enjoy. From our parent perspective, our kids were always tired. Our youngest, Tillie, started Kindy at the beginning of this year and has been emotional ever since. We often felt like we only saw them when they were completely exhausted. We were rushing out the door first thing in the morning, grabbing bags, lunches and trying not to be late, and then rushing around in the evenings with homework, dinner, and bedtime. Weekends were our only down time, and while that may be the norm in most households, I missed the slow mornings and quality time together that homeschooling gave us.

As the months at school went by, our kids started telling us that they missed being able to learn about the things they were interested in. They would often be working away at something they loved but had to put it away to start a new subject.

They began to notice the restriction of a school timetable and having to work around a classroom of other kids. As these conversations about what they missed continued, and our family made plans to travel more full-time we decided to finish this season at school and begin homeschooling again.

Looking back, I'm glad our kids wanted to try school, that experience has boosted their confidence, stretched their social skills and given them an understanding of what other kids do each day. It also gave me 12 months to concentrate on my work, and have uninterrupted coffee dates, which I must admit, has been pretty awesome!

The next step in our journey...

As we now walk into our next season, homeschooling and travel, I know our kids are excited to be back in control of their learning. They have a list of things they want to learn, and are eagerly anticipating spending more time in other cultures, perfecting their foreign language skills and in the words of my ten-year-old: ‘living the dream.'

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Homeschool mum: 'my kids asked to go to school'
Jenny Diaz

Ally Blase


Ally is the director of Sparrow International and a homeschooling mama to three. Ally, her husband and children have the privilege of traveling a lot and love being able to work and do school in many exciting places! Some of her favourite things include adventuring with her family, good books, long walks on the beach and blank journals.

Serbia: What it’s like to live in a country where homeschooling is illegal

A Serbian teacher explores the complexities of why homeschooling remains an impossible choice for parents in Serbia.

Children playing in water happily

By Anica Markovic 

Situated in the Balkan region of Europe, my home country, Serbia, has never been a place with a great focus on education. Two decades have passed since the grave political turmoil and the dismantling of the long-standing communist regime, yet the general outlook on schooling seems stuck in the previous century.

Until 2013, when the term was added to the law on education, the word homeschooling was not part of our collective vocabulary. Even though I thought it to be a right step forward, in reality, the practice of homeschooling, in its intended meaning, remains impossible in Serbia.

The legal boundaries of homeschooling in Serbia

While the world is focused on finding new ways of improving children’s lives and education, some places are hindered by their cultural and political beliefs. Due to the more pressing issues developing our country's face every day, education never comes first. When I started primary school in 1999, the system was already considered outdated, and it has barely changed to this day.

However, in 2013, with the new additions to the law on education, homeschooling became the talk of the nation. But, no matter how revolutionary and unappealingly alternative the theory of it seemed, the actual option of homeschooling children was far from possible.

While the law stated that parents or guardians had the right to organize children’s classes at home, such a right came with numerous conditions.

The reality is that no matter what, the school is considered primarily responsible for the child’s education. Even if parents were to request to take the kids out of school, nothing guarantees that they would be allowed to do so. The exceptions are children with disabilities or illnesses which prevent them from having full attendance.​

The representatives of the Ministry of Education even stated that this addition to the law was made only for students with special educational needs, and not to be used for children who are physically capable of attending school. The ridiculous part is that even if a child was allowed not to attend school, he or she would still have to be registered with the school and study all the subjects according to the preset curriculum.​

At the end of the year, the child would be tested on all the subjects which he or she would still legally be bound to learn. In case the student fails the test twice in a row, his parents would be forced to send him back to school.

The irony of the whole thing is in the fact that even if by some chance parents are allowed to school their kids at home, they still have no control over what their children must learn. With people mostly citing dissatisfaction with the school curriculum as their reason for wanting to homeschool, the restrictions imposed in Serbia make the practice impossible.

In addition, the backlash to the idea of homeschooling is clearly observed in the fact that only about 500 primary school children, out of over half a million, are homeschooled, predominantly due to an illness.

Why is there such a negative stigma around homeschooling in Serbia?

The leading issue for shunning away from alternative education in a developing country, funnily enough, might be the lack of education. To paint the picture of Serbia, and most of the countries in Southeast Europe, these are places of strict patriarchal rule and belief in a system, whether it works or not.

According to the law, having a child out of school constitutes the child being enrolled in school, and being supervised by the school, just not having to attend classes. The practice relies on parents.

The general standpoint of the parents, teachers and psychologists, however, is that parents are not educators, but more people who keep the child alive, while outside of school.

The majority of parents seem to believe that it is the school’s obligation to educate the child and provide everything he or she may need. It is rare that parents work on their children’s knowledge outside of school.​

In my opinion as a teacher, the system does not inspire parents to operate outside the set guidelines because then the system loses control. By having educators and psychologists against homeschooling, the government is hindering the parents’ right on having a say in their child’s education. In a country full of double standards, even when the law names parents as primary educators of children, in practice, their decisions and opinions need to adhere to someone else’s wishes.​

Serbia is not the only country with restrictions on home education. Do you live in a country where homeschooling is discouraged or illegal? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

A Serbian teacher explores the complexities of why homeschooling remains an impossible choice for parents in Serbia.
Jenny Diaz

Anica Markovic


Anica is a teacher, writer and traveler, looking for places of peace and calm in this busy world. While she was born in Serbia, she believes herself to be a citizen of the world. Next stop on her journey of empowerment and growth is Vietnam. She's on Instagram at @bettyboup.

‘The Vast Unknown: Worldschooling our family of five’

When Daphne suggested to her husband that they pack up their lives, sell their house and take their kids on a daring worldschooling adventure, his response was remarkable.

Children playing in water happily

By Daphne Earley |

One morning, early in the beginning of 2016, I woke up, turned over to my husband, Matthew, who was already half-awake and said, “Last night, I had a dream and I am certain that dream meant that we should sell our house and travel.”

He looked at me through half-lidded eyes, weighing the seriousness of my words and, after only a moment’s pause, said, “I think that makes more sense for us right now than anything else.”

This is how we have always done things in our household. There have never been grand gestures or elaborate, carefully coordinated and meticulously planned events. After several years of being together, one morning he looked at me, bright-eyed and excited, and asked, “Do you want to get married?” I didn’t say anything. I just kissed him. And just like that, we were a family.

We have always ridden the wave of inspiration when it hit us and when it felt right – so, the fact that in that instant, we decided to sell what we once thought would be our forever home and leave for exotic destinations, was just us, being ourselves.

The Philippines

We put our house on the market and left it in the hands of Fate and our realtors, packed our three children who at the time were ages 7, 5, and 8 months and headed to the Philippines. I’ll never forget the first morning we woke up at 4am Philippine time, stepped out into the balcony of our room, and heard a rooster crowing, welcoming us into our new reality. Matthew and I sat out there, in silence and awe of what we had done, and watched the sun slowly unveil the glittering sea.

Our children woke up, joining us one by one, and we saw fishermen in the early dawn, checking their nets, wondering what treasures the ocean had brought them.

We found ourselves laughing at the thought that we were not unlike them, casting our lives into the vast unknown, not quite certain what lay waiting when we pull ourselves back in.

It was in the Philippines where my 7-year-old, Aleksander, experienced heartbreak. We visited a beautiful church, filled with filigreed statues of saints with the priest himself wearing an ornately gilded attire. Upon seeing this, Aleksander began to cry profusely, sobbing, and was completely inconsolable. Matthew and I were at a loss as to exactly what was going on.

We sat in silence on one of the pews, waiting for the crying to subside. When the tears finally stopped, Aleksander took a deep breath and said, “Why is the church so rich, but there are so many poor people out there?” And with that, he was lost in tears again. We said nothing – we just held him.

I felt an immense sense of guilt. Had we, on a selfish whim, ripped our children from the comforts of normalcy and predictability only to show them the ugly side of the world? Children Aleksander's own age back in the United States were currently in school, innocently going about their day, unburdened by the problems of the world.

And here we were, blindly leading our children, right into the heart of it. But, as it turns out, children have this incredible sense of understanding that an experience, even negative ones, aren’t meant to darken our view of the world.

Experiences serve as our inner mirror, bringing to surface the most sacred parts of us that need reflecting on.

“Who do you think is happier? The guy with lots of money but is alone or the guy who has no money but has a fun family?” Aleksander asked not long after.


In Singapore, our 8-month-old daughter, Kennedy, decided to claim her right in the world and walked. Actually, she stood up, screamed both in delight and fear, and ran.

Singapore, with its impeccably dressed men and women and equally pristine architecture, showed us the incredibly kinetic force that is money, when it's dispersed in the world rather than being hoarded and sitting idly in a bank account. There is an affirmation that I love, and it goes along the lines of, “Every dollar I spend enriches the Universe and returns to me manifold.”


Bali, Indonesia is where destiny caught up to us. Unbeknownst to us at the time of booking, we chose a hotel that was situated right next to a Balinese temple. It also just so happened that during our stay, the monks at the temple were preparing for a full moon festival.

At night, we would hear the rhythmic hum of crickets mingled with the hushed voices of the monks chanting their prayers, pleading yet grateful, ushering any soul who would listen, into the welcoming dawn. We knew, with certainty, we were meant to be there. And, we also knew it was time to head back.

Humans have a tragically comical way of doing things. We sit in a classroom for years, learning about all the different places in the world and the myriad of people who live in it, while only a few of us will actually ever go and see those places and even fewer of us still who will actually say hello and meet the people who live in them.

Let me teach you, my sweet girl, so that one day, you may live what I teach, and love this world as much as I love you.

A post shared by DearleyBeloved (@dearleybeloved) on

Many of us will get up every morning, go through our day-to-day routines - sit in our cubicles, sit in traffic, sit in front of the TV - and call that living. Until one day, an opportunity knocks, your spouse turns to you and says, let’s do something different and try something new. You muster the courage to say yes and, suddenly, your whole life changes and nothing is ever the same.


When we returned to the US, we did what any student of the unknown would do – we bought a pop-up camper and drove 11,000 miles across the country and into parts of Canada. Our house in New Jersey did sell. But that isn’t where our story ends.

We are not a religious family, but when we were hiking in Sedona, Arizona, my 5-year-old, Gavin, in a moment of divine imagination said, “When we are born, we each take a piece of God’s soul and keep It always with us.” Perhaps he is not so far from the truth.

For when we travel, we each carry the experience of every place we’ve gone to with us, so that when we return, the place we call home suddenly resembles the world.

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This family's motivation for worldschooling is just as remarkable as what they learned.
Jenny Diaz

Daphne Earley


Daphne is a wife and homeschooling mom of three who has a passion for taking photos and telling stories about her adventures with her family. She loves to find magic and wonder in the everyday and is grateful for the chance to share it with others. She blogs at and is on Instagram @dearleybeloved

Retired teacher: ‘We’re doing this all wrong’

Denis Ian is a retired school teacher from New York who has taught more than 4,000 students over his 34 year career. Since retirement he has become an educational advocate who writes about issues concerning educational reform in America, sharing a unique vision that has to be read to be believed.

Boy walking alone

By Denis Ian 

This post was originally featured as a comment on Why School has Stopped Working. We loved it so much we asked Denis if we could publish it as an article. While Denis specifically mentions the American system, we feel it applies to similar systems in Europe and Australasia too.

We’re doing this all wrong.

Some day …. somehow … education will discover a proper obsession.

Until then … children will suffer these testing-despots … and too many adults will make believe it’s all okay. And it’s not.

But let’s be certain about this … there are some things in life that just can’t be measured … because they can’t even be defined. Love. Creativity. Curiosity. Courage. Passion. And those special forces that jolt the spirit and open the mind.

If you want a real thinker to blossom from childhood, don’t measure them at every turn … or condition them to shine on every command. Instead … help them indulge in their own natural curiosities … and they’ll measure themselves and shine for all of ever.

American education has become so disappointing … controlled by didactic gurus and self-imagined geniuses who share one important experience: they have no experience.

Most have never lived in any classroom for longer than a few moments. Short-stay aliens who parachute in … and then dash off … having seen enough, so they think, to deduce this or that … and to pen another bit ridiculousness … mostly for others who share the very same silliness.

Few have ever spent a morning on a kindergarten floor, or in a hot-hot circular discussion with lively seventh graders, or faced off against wing-spreading high schoolers who have suddenly come of age.

They know nothing of real-deal epiphanies … because they’ve never seen one. Or been a part of one. Or watched one unfold before their own eyes.

That’s what classroom teachers see. It’s what they help happen.

They don’t know … or care … about percentiles and modules and averages and statistics. For them, it’s all about kids and how to help ‘em grow.

But these experts make these testing mistakes again and again because … like love or courage or talent … the important things about education can never be measured so neatly … or so efficiently reduced to graphs or charts or tables.

And here’s why.

Education … real, real, real education … is all about people. And every learner, how ever old or young, lugs trunkfuls of variables to this pursuit of … of … of becoming.

Yeah ... becoming. That’s what education is all about … becoming.

But still they try to wow us … or alarm us … with their neat and tidy assessments of the state of “becoming” … with a barrage of numbers and endless inferences that they puzzled into something that doesn’t even look like “becoming” at all. Because it’s not. Not even close.

So … right from the start, they’ve misunderstood what they’re measuring … so why should we ever take them seriously?

Instead of pushing bubble-sheets in front of kids and asking them this or that … why don’t we ask them about the passions they don’t even know they have. And their talents they can’t even see Or the cleverness they take for granted. Or the gift they have for this or that.

And why don’t we just get out of their way most of the time? And stop bothering them so much. Maybe just nudge them now and again to … to become what’s inside those tiny bodies … and those gorgeous little minds.

Let them be

What the hell is so hard to understand? Stop bothering them so much. Let ‘em be.

We should give every child lots of stuff. Like chances to run and sing and dance. And fall down.

Girl playing and dancing freely

Chances to act their age … and we shouldn’t interfere with that. Or insist otherwise. Chances to sample things … and even walk away from certain things that just don’t do it for them.

Give ‘em chance to make choices … as much as possible … because life’s a stream of choices. Practice can’t hurt.

They need chances to work together … and to be left alone. Chances to drift into their own worlds … where they can imagine who they are … or might become.

They should have chances to feel safe … and to take risks. And to tell luscious-lovely lies … and fantabulous tales … that we should all take very seriously … because that works both ways.

We should let them speak marvelous nonsense … and not interrupt … because they’re just exercising their imaginations. So we should listen … and shut up … and give them the floor for a change..

And, of course, we should teach them to speak and to count and to scribble. And all of that will sprout … I promise … but never evenly enough to please those testing-tyrants … or the extra-serious beard-scratchers who just can’t leave childhood alone.

And you know what? This is what happens when the importance of teaching is cheapened … when professionals are shoved aside because some Ivy League fat-head has decided that teaching is a science … when it’s not. It’s more like conducting … or being in a play … or traveling in time. And most of all …. it’s about remembering. And becoming.

This is what happens when some of us grow too old and become too forgetting of those teachers who swerved our lives … and helped us wriggle out of our cocoons.

Those fuzzy memory-people who polished some talent no one else saw. Or who just whispered us a perfect kindness at the perfect moment …when it was so badly needed. Or who just loved watching us … become someone we never ever imagined we might be. Someone like me.

You get the point? We’re obsessed about the wrong stuff.

We’re doing this all wrong.

Do you agree with Denis' poetic vision for a new kind of education? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Jenny Diaz

Denis Ian


Denis is a retired public school teacher with 34 years of experience teaching social studies and English. He is now an educational advocate who writes nationally about issues concerning educational reform in the United States and around the world. He lives in Westchester County, New York.

‘We encourage our son to pull apart all his toys’

When we see a child breaking or disassembling a toy, our first instinct can be to rush in and take it off them. But what they're doing could be far more valuable in developing logic, problem-solving and fine motor skills.

Children playing in water happily

By Chelsee Richardson | @ozriches

My son loves to tinker.

For as long as I can remember he has preferred to play with real items, appliances and tools or toys which he could take apart. As a toddler, he would pull the food processor out, put it together and take it apart many times.

I remember the first remote control boat I bought for him when he was 3. After a few days of playing with it, he pulled it apart. I was frustrated that he had wrecked his toy, but in the process he had discovered something wonderful:

Toys were even more interesting on the inside.

A Self-Directed pathway

During his toddler years, my husband and I quickly concluded that our children would take a self-directed pathway instead of school. I started to view his wrecked toys differently. This was something he was driven to do. An interest. No longer did I see a wrecked toy but an idea, question or investigation he had.

I started to supply him with toys and appliances from the op shop or given to us by friends, specifically so he could pull them apart. We provided him with tools and encouraged him to use them.

Children playing in water happily

I realised that the more I responded to him with attention and support, the more he would tinker. He started to take motors, gears, propellers, speakers and battery packs from broken toys and appliances and craft up a whole new toy such as a plane, helicopter or dump truck.

I had an epiphany

One day while at the markets my son went to purchase a toy sail boat, when the stall owner told him it was broken my son replied, “well that’s ok I can fix it.”

He knew this wasn’t an issue he couldn’t overcome.

You see my son displays some remarkable abilities for a 6-year-old. He can focus and hold his attention for extended periods of time. He's curious and intrinsically motivated to take problems and either solve them or develop his own ideas. He works through frustrations, setbacks and mistakes. He is creative and innovative by using old things in new ways.

These skills are highly valued in the work place and society at large but are we fostering these critical skills in our children? Do we encourage meaningful work? Every day our actions toward our children show otherwise.

As a society, we are not at all interested in helping our children learn what they are interested in.

We have our own agenda, and we push it throughout our children’s entire childhood.

Had my family taken a more authoritarian parenting and schooling route, my son would no longer be working on what he loves. We may have punished him for pulling his toys apart. Perhaps we wouldn’t have paid attention, nor provided him with the materials, space and time to tinker. We may have put the tools away exclaiming them to be dangerous.

And so by now he would have spent several years at school with his attention diverted elsewhere, doing work someone else deemed more important. Then after school between homework and chores, his love for mechanics and engineering may have been forgotten, not valued and in the end, left behind.

He simply may not be the same little boy.

What about a balanced education?

I can hear the questions. We want a balanced education for our children too. We don’t want to see them struggle in other areas. But when we mentally check off the things our kids are ‘good’ at to focus on the things they are ‘bad’ at are we diverting our children away from their true talents and strengths? Are we leading them to believe their skills and strengths are not of value? If children’s interests get pushed to the side, we may never know what they are capable of.

I occasionally hear remarks about how talented he is. But to be honest, I think he is a little boy supported to do what he loves.

I believe all children can do remarkable things if we support their strengths and interests.

When I think about this route we may have taken, the one society told us we should, I can’t help but wonder how many children have to leave their loves and ultimately themselves behind. Their talents and strengths lost when they could have brought meaning to their lives. And perhaps revolutionary ideas to our world.

After 12 years of forced learning, we expect children to know what they want to do with their lives. Perhaps they left it behind in kindergarten.

Jenny Diaz

Chelsee Richardson


Chelsee is a mother to a pigeon pair. About to embark on a nomadic travelling journey around Australia, she is dedicated to building her family culture around self-directed learning. Her interests are as diverse as her children’s and any day can look like an array of gumnuts, LED’s, Hiragana and roller skating. She's on Instagram as @ozriches

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