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!
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.
Further reading on the why of gameschooling:
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!
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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:
In essence, do what works for you and your family situation. There’s no right or wrong way.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
“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:
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:
“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:
“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!
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.
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.
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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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."
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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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!)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
On any given day hundreds of questions churn through my mind. Thoughts like:
These are some BIG questions that I need to answer.
- 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 www.educationotherwise.org 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.
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 @life.as.a.twin.mum
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 | globalguardianproject.com
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.
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.
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?
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
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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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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
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.
By Ally Blase
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.
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.
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 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!
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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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.
A Serbian teacher explores the complexities of why homeschooling remains an impossible choice for parents in Serbia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Daphne Earley | dearleybeloved.com
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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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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 dearleybeloved.com and is on Instagram @dearleybeloved
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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