Category Archives for Writing Collective

‘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 | 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.

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.

Singapore

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

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.

Canada

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

Contributor

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

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

Contributor

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

Contributor

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

Why school has stopped working

School, in its current form, is destroying children's innate love of learning and ultimately, their true sense of self as learners. Here's why.

By Grace Koelma | Editor of The Mulberry Journal

It's often said that the purpose of education is to 'prepare kids for life'. This statement is thrown around by parents, teachers, principals, curriculum writers and the media. While it's a fairly true statement (though I would dig deeper and say a true education is a life in itself, not something you do before you start 'living') - the irony is it's being used to justify a current approach to Western education that is, in fact, grossly outdated and out of context.

An important note on teachers

When school is referenced during this article, I'm referring to the institution of the education system, the complex and historical web of rules and policies about what education looks like, and how that filters down through school heirarchies. Teachers are not to blame. They're working within a flawed system, and many of them are good-hearted and care deeply about fostering a love of learning in their students.

But even though I know many teachers, am closely related to teachers, (and was one myself once!) I think this message should not be held back, at the risk of offending them. They do great work! I stayed silent for too long, not wanting to look like a 'school basher'. But the school system needs reform. On a global scale. Urgently.

So why does this outdated education system need significant, meaningful reform?

Curiosity is becoming an endangered species

Humans are wired to learn, and learning happens everywhere. As humans, we are born naturally curious about our world and how it works, and learning flows on from that. Curiosity and learning occurs without the presence of a degree-qualified teacher and 2-kilogram textbooks. Don't believe me? Just watch a 6-month-old baby look at themselves in the mirror for the first time, or learn to crawl.

School (the institution) loves to make itself the monopoly on education, and it's astonishing how many people still believe that learning can only happen inside the school gates, between the hours of 9 and 3. But it's simply not true.

Learning happens everywhere and all the time.

It does happen in school, but it also happens in the park, on a bushwalk, getting lost driving to your Uncle's rural property, shopping online and swimming in your friend's pool. And I'd argue the learning that happens outside of school is much more memorable and relevant than much of what's in textbooks.

But the reality is that, on some level, school still works. There are still some (albeit infrequent) moments where school does inspire this innate curiosity in their students, where a specific teacher or science incursion or theatre performance lights up a child, and creates that wonderful, spontaneous thing we call natural learning.

The problem is, that the nature of school - the bells, the periods, the lines at the end of recess - means open-ended, student-directed learning time is limited, cut short or so often followed by a test 'to make sure you've retained everything we outlined in the lesson plan'. The quality of learning is handicapped and undermined by this continual assessment agenda.

There's nothing that stamps out the true love of learning more quickly than standardised testing and benchmarking.

But don't take my word for it. You can read peer-reviewed, substantial scientific studies here, here, here, here and here on how testing negatively affects student motivation and self-efficacy.

And while childhood anxiety is on the rise, this isn't a new phenomenon. ​A 2002 collaborative study found that students reported significant anxiety and tension in relation to testing. But the anxiety went deeper than a bit of butterflies in the hallway before an exam.

In today's schools, how you perform during an exam defines who you are

This summary of multiple studies concluded that "students incorporated their teacher’s evaluation of them into the construction of their identity as learners."

​I'll say it again, because it's crucial. Student's anxious reaction to testing became part of the way they saw themselves as learners. In that they thought because they didn't suit test environments, 'they were stupid'. And considering that learning is one of the most immediate and natural things a human does, from birth, this is very concerning. Because it's a straight out lie.

*Worth adding here that exam culture can also create high achievers who learn how to 'work the system' and get high grades every time. But this is detrimental too, because they will leave school with a different message: 'I'm really smart'. And while that may be true in many cases, it's really only one kind of smart. The lack of school preparation for how to be agile, creative and innovative in the real world will render them feeling useless and frustrated when they don't get A grades in uni, or promoted quickly in their career.

I don't think it's possible to be 'bad at learning', but it is possible to believe that lie.

There have been significant correlations drawn from hundreds of autopsies conducted on America's misguided No Child Left Behind policy. Researcher Geneva Gay has looked at qualitative and quantitative data spanning decades, and surmised the impact of a national plan that has failed to deliver on what it promised. She raises key findings around student victimisation.

"Achievement gaps will continue and even expand; more and more children will be victimized and then punished for being victims… Coercive, subterfuge and ‘one size fits all’ educational reform strategies simply are not reasonable or viable bases on which to build constructive educational futures for a nation in desperate need of new directions that are genuinely egalitarian across ethnic, racial, social, cultural, linguistic and ability differences." (p. 291) Gay 2007

​But America isn't the only country whose education system is in dire straights. After England introduced National Curriculum Tests, this study found that low-achieving students had lower self-esteem than high achieving pupils, while before the tests were introduced there was no correlation measured between self-esteem and achievement. None at all. 

In one state in Australia, the number of Year 12 students seeking special conditions to complete exams due to anxiety rose by one third in 2016.

Why assessment needs a serious makeover

1. Assessment doesn't fairly or accurately represent the student's knowledge

​Designing a high-stakes exam that only tests a student's ability to sit still and regurgitate information on demand in a limited time frame and under strict conditions is not fair to the majority of students. Why? Because only a small percentage of students thrive and perform well under these specifications. Even if they know the content, the high pressure environment can often make their brains perform sub-optimally.

2. The current testing model invites cramming as a valid method of preparation

Because of the​ unrealistic time restraints and the amount of content students are tested on in one exam, the phenomenon of 'cramming' occurs. Students rote learn in an attempt to force so much information through their brains, that they can't possibly retain it all, or even a large majority of it.

Cramming the night before an exam may work for short-term recall, but the information will be gone soon after leaving the exam hall. You may have got an A+ in your senior Politics exam, but how much of your answers can you remember now? I thought so! 😉

So demonstrates my point, that testing in these environments isn't an accurate picture of what many students know.

3. Exams, reports and learning are presented as inseparable

It's no wonder students (especially young ones) get confused when we talk about learning being fun. To them, learning is doing what the teacher says, trying to memorise it (the more tricks and gimmicks used to coax a child to memorise something, the more sure you can be that it's completely irrelevant for them) and being tested on it in high-pressure, anxiety-inducing exams. They walk out beating themselves up for not answering everything in time, and get hit with a low grade (and little or no debrief) a month later.

And because exams turn into report cards that are held up as the pinnacle of schooling and a 'good education', it's something that is intrinsic to the social perception of school. And this leads us back to the views students hold of themselves as learners.

Girl sitting alone studying

4. Currently, test scores carry way too much weight in determining identity and self-worth (for already impressionable students)

Picture this. Jenny receives a C grade for her Maths test and instantly feels disappointed and a little stupid. It doesn't help that her peers joke about test results and tell her that only dumb people get Cs. 

I wish I could pull Jenny aside and tell her that the exam was ONE very flawed measure of what she knows. I bet if we sat down and chatted over a coffee, or she recorded a podcast discussing the main issues, or wrote a screenplay or... (anything else!) Jenny could show more of what she knows and more importantly, what she thinks about what she knows.

Bottom line, Jenny. The teachers, parents and students themselves may hype it up, but a test score doesn't define you. Not in the least.

5. Teachers mostly teach in the way the tests are conducted

Instructional teaching from the front of the room is still the way most teachers convey lessons most of the time. In doing so they customise their delivery to suit only a small percentage of students. Here's a quote from the same study that analysed low-self esteem correlations after the National Curriculum Tests were introduced in England.

"When passing tests is high stakes, teachers adopt a teaching style which emphasised transmission teaching of knowledge, thereby favouring those students who prefer to learn in this way and disadvantaging and lowering the self-esteem of those who prefer more active and creative learning experiences." 

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it's
ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing
it is stupid."

Albert Einstein

It comes down to this.

The institution of school, in its current form, is destroying children's love of learning, and ultimately, their true sense of self as learners.

And it's something millions of people care about and want to see reform in, if the views on this Ken Robinson TED talk and Boyinaband YouTube video are anything to go by. (All kinds of influential people care about this. Sir Ken Robinson is an international author, and Boyinaband is a British rapper and YouTuber.)

As the late educational author and educator John Holt said:

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A's on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean's lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

Are you okay with that, honestly?

Are you okay with looking the other way, and letting this slide?

We send our children to school for roughly a fifth of their life, during their most impressionable, foundational years. School gets to shape a huge part of their future adult selves. Are we really happy with the way the institution of school (whether intentionally or unintentionally) is teaching them to think - about the world, about learning and, most critically, about themselves?

At The Mulberry Journal, we are big proponents of home education and alternative forms of schooling. But this is only a small part of the answer. School reform is absolutely vital as well, and it's something we want to get behind and start writing about more often.

If you'd like to contribute on this topic, or have information you think would be of interest, please email me: editor@mulberrymagazine.com.au​

* We want to see significant change, so if you liked this article, please share with your friends and family. And I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If you liked this, you may like - Retired teacher: 'We're doing this all wrong'

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School reform: why the education system is broken and how we can fix it
Grace profile image square

Grace Koelma

Editor

Grace is the Editor of The Mulberry Journal and when she's not reading submissions, divides her time between hanging out with her simultaneously delightful and headstrong 2-year-old, running multiple ventures, writing and travelling full time with her little family. You can follow her travels at @darelist.family.

Audio interview – author + conscious entrepreneur Margaux Khoury on free schooling

Margaux Khoury

Photo: Ashley Martsen

Margaux Khoury is an author and conscious entrepreneur from British Columbia, Canada. She and her husband Josh have three children, and are raising them in an unconventional way by society's standards. They live toxin and chemical free, and free school their kids while building an earthship home.

In July 2017, Margaux and I had an insightful chat about:

  • The reason she and her husband decided to take the leap into home education
  • What 'free schooling' means... is it like unschooling? 
  • The power of asking why when you are evaluating your life choices and priorities
  • Why the current schooling system isn't fitting kids anymore
  • What it's like balancing life as an entrepreneur, mum and homeschooling parent
  • The best advice Margaux was ever given on parenting and unschooling
Listen to the interview

You can stream the interview via Soundcloud or the window below. If you like what you hear, get in touch or leave a comment below. We hope you enjoy! 🙂

Margaux Khoury and family

Photo: Ashley Martsen

Past audio interviews

Homeschool graduate: Sophie Cottrell

Perth-based travel expert, Sophie, chats to us about her experience being homeschooled from Year 3 onwards. She explains how she transitioned from Cert IV qualifications to founding a print travel magazine and intrepidly travelling the world.

Sophie Cottrell

Hi Sophie. Lovely to chat to you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Sophie Cottrell and I was born and raised in Perth, WA. I currently work full-time for myself and own a travel magazine named Sceen’ry Travel Journal. We create print city guides for around the world that also second as pretty coffee table books. I travel the world shooting for this, but when I am not travelling, I am lucky enough to live in the prettiest place in the world.

How long were you homeschooled for?

My parents started homeschooling me when I was in grade three, and my brother was in grade five. My other two siblings went to school for pre-primary before they both started homeschooling. We all homeschooled the whole way through our schooling years before we went on to further education. Ironically, two of my siblings are now school teachers.

What did learning from home during primary and high school look like for you? Was it curriculum based or more unstructured learning?

We definitely had a structure to our learning in some capacity, otherwise, I think we would have gone a little crazy. I remember on our first day of homeschooling, because I was so used to school, I set the time for recess, lunch and afternoon recess and went around ringing a tiny bell when it was time!

We hit all the main subjects and did some of them all together and then mostly had a structure that my Mum set up for each of us which was tailored to the way we learned. I honestly couldn’t have imagined learning in a better environment as I felt heard and she had the time to really work through the harder subjects with each of us. She also was an incredibly creative teacher, and we learnt some very regular, boring things in such a fun way that I have never forgotten those lessons.

What freedoms did homeschooling give you regarding your choice in what you wanted to study and focus on?

So. Much. Freedom. This is what I reiterate to anyone when they ask me the benefits of homeschooling. We had the world handed to us in a way because we weren’t told that there was a specific way to achieve. We were given tools, and we had the opportunity to put them into action. We spent as much time was needed on harder subjects for us, and we knew the faster we had them done, the faster we could do the things we loved. It was very different for all of us, so it was amazing that we got to focus on our favourite subjects individually.

Many people see ‘socialisation’ in high school as crucial and believe that ‘isolated’ homeschooled children are hugely disadvantaged. What kind of social support system and friendships did you have?

I laugh when people say this to me. If you ever met my family or my friends that were also homeschooled, you will find that we are some of the most social people. We can totally handle doing things on our own but we definitely know how to socialise, and I think in a way, we had more social opportunities than my friends in school.

Tell us about completing year 12. Did you do the leaving certificate or an equivalent? Did you go to university or TAFE? If so, what did you study?

So, I finished my year 12 equivalent studies by the time I was 15 ½ and then went on to further education. I had a Certificate IV in Creative Arts and Certificate IV in International Retail Travel Sales by the time my friends finished high school and then went into full-time work in the corporate world at 18.

TEE was the equivalent exams at the end of year 12, but I didn’t do those. Because I was doing further education already, that was complete enough for me to get into university. A minimum requirement for entry into a lot of degrees is a Certificate IV. There are so many other ways to get into university without doing those exams and so I knew if that was the path I wanted to take I could get in.

What do you do for work now?

As I said, I work for myself and have two other girls working for me. I launched Sceen'ry Travel Journal almost two years ago now.

Looking back on your experience being homeschooled, how would you say that being home educated has impacted you and your choices in life?

I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without having been home educated. This directly impacted my choices and gave me so much experience to be able to run my own business. Self-motivation gets ingrained in you as you have to be the one that makes sure you are on top of all your study, especially in high-school. I am so grateful to have had all the life experience that I have at such a young age.

What advice would you give to parents who are considering whether to homeschool their child?

It is such a massive sacrifice making this decision. It requires giving so much of yourself. Don’t ever pressure yourself into either putting your child in school or homeschooling, only you know what is right for them. I don’t think being home-educated is 100% the right decision for every child, I think there are some that thrive more than others.

You know your child, and the advantage of homeschooling is you get the opportunity to see them thrive and get to know them on a level that so many others miss out on. As hard as it is, it is also an honour and privilege to get to do it. And being on the receiving end, I am forever grateful for my parents doing it. Sign up for loads of activities with other kids and make sure you surround yourself with a like-minded community, so you don’t feel alone.

What advice would you give to homeschooled teenagers about considering their future careers and exploring their interests in a real-world context?

Don’t feel like you have to fit in a box. The decision you make now doesn’t have to be the career choice for the rest of your life. What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Do something that makes you come alive, and I bet it is a pathway to something that you will find along the way. I never set out to start a print magazine, but being in the travel industry was what set me up to do what I am doing today.

Take all the pressure off and enjoy what you are doing.

Sophie Cottrell

Sophie Cottrell

Contributor

Sophie was homeschooled from grade 3 onwards. She later graduated and became full-time in the corporate travel industry. She now runs her own business, a print travel magazine and travels around the world in the process. She's on Instagram @sophiecottrell and @sceenrymag.

A day (or two) in the life of a FIFO wife and homeschooling mama

Join FIFO wife and new homeschooling mum of three, Megan, as she shares a typical day in the life of a deschooling family.

Day in the life of a FIFO homeschool mum

By Megan Ngatai 

We are the Ngatais’. Our family consists of my husband Dylan, a FIFO (fly in fly out) worker; one STAH-ish mum (me!); our 7-year-old Leon, 22-month-old, Mya and 7-month-old, Kendrick. We have ventured into our first year of homeschooling after three years in mainstream, with little preparation but a lot of trust. We’re still in the deschooling process with minimal expectations on ourselves. We love the outdoors and seeking the fresh air.

Day One

Today we ventured out to the beach to take full advantage of our glorious autumn weather. Once we arrive, the kids play. Leon’s running up and down the sand dunes, Mya’s exploring the textures of the sand and seaweed and Kendrick’s feeding in my arms. Dylan is home from work and we’re catching up with friends. Leon spotted some sea snails and abalone on the rocks. We even found a jumping spot but took note of the ‘slippery when wet’ sign, observed the power of the waves crashing onto the concrete and decided to stay on the sand.

We then joined our friends for a juice. Leon sat and played Pokémon with one of them. Honestly, I don’t get Pokémon, but I have to give it some credit - he will happily add up the numbers which are in the tens and hundreds, yet when I sit down with him and ask him the same, I’m met with frustration and ‘I don’t know’. So I guess it’s good for something.

Playing Pokémon can be a great maths exercise

Afterwards, we head home to let the babies sleep. We’d been doing a little bit of research on what’s best to grow in Autumn so a few days ago we had bought seedlings and were preparing to plant. We took the opportunity to plant while the babies slept.

I still battle with Leon to eat healthily, so I’m trying to encourage him to take care of these plants. I’ve not yet succeeded, but I don’t give up easily. I love that just through growing these veggies we can observe plant cycles, measure their growth and experiment the conditions that suit their growth best. What an awesome tool, huh?

In the afternoon, our friend pops around to give Leon a guitar lesson. Leon's still quite a beginner, and we switch up between my father in law and our friend teaching him. Our afternoon is slow because Mya decided to sleep for hours, so we just take the day in our stride. After Leon's lesson, we get onto dinner prep, which tonight is pizza. Food prep is becoming one of my favourite resources for maths, especially pizza. Oh, the possibilities! After dinner, some quiet reading, then off to bed.

Day Two

The next day we spent the day at our local aquarium thanks to a generous friend, there was lots of learning opportunities there and lots that we took into our next day at home.

This day I would say is slightly more common, a slow start... just how I like it! Leon is usually the first one up so he tends to read quietly in bed until the rest of us join him. We sit around the table together, discuss the weather and date, eat, laugh, talk, worship and read together. While one of us reads, the rest eat and draw.

Mya mimics a lot of what Leon does, which I adore! She will sit there quietly for quite some time, as long as she’s beside him. And I find Leon will sit longer when his hands are distracted. You may notice a book of sharks on the table, since our trip yesterday it’s all he has talked about. He’s been dispersing shark facts like an expert, so I can tell a lot of our day/week will revolve around underwater creatures.

We look at Artventure and Leon decides to paint an octopus, so happily goes about his business while Dylan plays his guitar and I sit with the baby.

I noticed earlier that Leon often writes some letters backwards, so I ask him to count in 5’s as high as the blackboard will allow him. He chooses to sit next to his little brother. Perhaps it’s more interesting this way. In-between this he’s also completed a few more stages on reading Eggspress, had some fun on Prodigy and written out some cool shark facts for other kids to read, complete with his own diagram.

Day in the life of a FIFO homeschool mum

As you can see, our days kind of just flow and roll into the other. We haven’t established much of a rhythm and are truly taking it day by day. We love that when Dylan’s home, he can join in. And our kids love being around each other. And I love not having to get up for the school run! Thanks for joining us for our day (or two!) in the life.


Megan Ngatai

Megan Ngatai

Contributor

Megan is a FIFO wife, mama to three and makeup artist to some. When she's not taking photos of her sleeping children, she's sneaking chocolate. If feeling overwhelmed, she turns to her God, the ocean or lifting heavy things.

Homeschooling during a big move

A mother of three from Texas shares how her family made the big decision to move their family interstate and kept homeschooling on the way.

Homeschooling during a move

By Marlo Renee 

If life hands you an opportunity

When Phil and I decided to move our family of five to Texas I was more than a little nervous about it. After all, we’d be leaving the comfort and familiarity of our hometown and heading into something wildly unfamiliar. Making the decision to move had been rolling around in our minds for the last year, so when a friend’s house suddenly became available, we decided to make the leap. At the same time, we also had family in town that we wanted to hopefully drive back with. Which meant we would need to pack, rent our house, and be ready to leave in a few weeks. Crazy, right?!

All this change can wreak more than a little havoc on a homeschool! Luckily my husband was there to bring me back down to earth and remind me that I can be a chronic over reactor at times and should look at the bright side. We get to go on a road trip! I was thrilled about this because I’ve always envied the families schooling from their awesome RVs. Who doesn’t want to be THAT family?

How we packed up and left within weeks

Armed with box tape and a deadline off I went to make our dream a reality. The first thing I did, and this is so important no matter what stage of schooling you’re in, was to ask for help. I put out an SOS on every platform I could and asked for help packing and planning. It’s so difficult to admit we can’t do something on our own and I think often we leave ourselves in a hole because of it.

boy playing with fire truck book

If you’re struggling, reach out. Our circle of loved ones rallied around and took shifts helping us pack and watching our toddler on certain days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help whether it’s for a move or to just get coffee.

We also decided to get rid of as much stuff as humanly possible. Now I know most people do purge when moving but we really had to take this to the next level. Rental trucks are very expensive when going to another state so we really wanted to stick with a certain size to stay within our budget. In the end, we ended up letting go of half our belongings. This mindset translated into cutting down on any unnecessary curriculum we found didn’t fit with our homeschool vision.

books in a basket

Cutting back on everything... even curriculum!

Along the way, I somehow picked up subjects I read about “because that’s what everyone else is doing!”. I was constantly on a hunt for the new shiny 900-page curriculum that was going to save me. This physical and mental clutter will overwhelm you whether you’re moving or not, so why not use a move as a good excuse to start fresh? In the end, we stuck with what we love and works best for us; living books, good art journals, and a couple of math books. This all went into a basket that was readily available on any given day. This 'less is more' routine became the centre of our homeschool after our big move as well.

Learning to let go

At some point during our move learning took on a different feel. It was impossible to have any kind of schedule let alone lay our subjects out on a table. Not having a table drove me a little wonky at first. Luckily, kids don’t need a table to read a delightful book! When things got too hectic and reading wasn’t in the cards, nature journals and a blanket outside did the trick.

To know learning was taking place, though I wasn’t next to my children or at a table, gave me a new-found sense of peace. The shift in what learning looks like proved invaluable during our move and afterwards. Letting go of homeschool comparisons can sometimes make all the difference in our sanity.

When we were finally ready to go, we picked up some maps at the market, and headed towards our new home. The days were long and the nights even longer but we learned that schooling can take place anywhere, if you let it. We learned there is value in nature, the changing landscape is soul quenching, and sometimes the only things you need are God, family, and a good book. Even if you’re crammed in a sedan, living in hotels for almost a week.

Have you ever homeschooled while moving house, state or country? How did it go?​

Marlo Renee

Marlo Renee

Contributor

Marlo is a homeschool mom of three who loves documenting her days. If she's not busy reading a book, you can often find her behind a camera. Her family recently relocated to Texas and they enjoy meeting new friends and fishing. Marlo is on Facebook and Instagram. 

What deschooling looked like for us

The first months and years of homeschooling typically involve a lot of deschooling for your kids and yourself. Here's what it looked like for Caroline.

Young girl looking into a lake

By Caroline Silver

My epiphany in the woods | Sept 2011

Our four-year-old was pouring her usual wonder on the world as she inspected some dead leaves. Her questions led to a conversation about compost, the seasons and the sun. I paused for a moment... if everything was so intrinsically connected, why was school separating the universe into boxes and shutting kids indoors?

I did a tonne of research to find the answers and I wasn’t impressed.

A year later… we decided to send her to school anyway.

Why? We thought she might thrive despite our doubts.

After nearly three years in school, she told me how unhappy and bored she was that school was wasting her time.

So when everyone else went back to join the new academic year, she didn’t. Instead, we rocked up to a Home Education “Not-back-to-school-picnic” in a beautiful Park with about 50 other families. I didn’t know anyone. It was a perfect introduction.

The first few days and weeks

We started our days with me answering Isabel’s questions. It was such a delight. A spark of a particular curiosity would catapult her out of bed and off to make, write, draw or research something. I also kept a world learning picture book by the bed to introduce new topics if need be.

As she was so fired by her own curiosity, I treated Maths and Literacy as the only things in need of focused time.

I would do 20 minutes of Maths and then we took turns to read to each other, followed by some spelling games. The rest of the day she explored through books, DVDs or the Internet on the topics that most interested her – Space, Tsunamis, Hurricanes and inventions!

I based our weekly “schedule” around socialising at a couple of local midweek groups. Other days were a mix of spontaneous Museum or Gallery trips and Home Ed organised events. She refused to go to anything that had a formal learning environment.

The next few months

These were the same except for a few adjustments. I realised that even 20 mins Maths a day was not necessary. She loved numbers anyway so I waited for her to ask me questions or I used supermarket trips and cooking as my main vehicle. Maths is the art of measuring things, right?

She wrote tonnes of stories because she was inspired by books and movies and I learnt not to correct spelling as it was soul destroying for her to have her creations criticised. I just made a note of what kept cropping up and made spelling games for another time.

I also dropped asking her to read to me as she would read out messages or signs perfectly because she was learning this through everything else she was doing.

I always sat with her when watching the TV or DVDs because of all the questions she would have about the content. I used the Pause button a lot. Great learning time!

We travelled to a variety of countries. Holidays were just an extension of our everyday life of learning by now.

The end of our first year | Sept 2015

We had a very successful first visit from the Local Authority Education officer. We had covered masses of life knowledge in a year.

I started to become more focused on good parenting skills as a means to a successful Home education and by using Pam Laricchia's weekly podcast and the online conference run by HappilyFamily.com I was and continue to be reassured when I have wobbles about, “Are we doing OK?”

A typical day | Nearly two years in

My role now is still to be available to answer questions but has evolved more into being engaged with and interested in her work and to carry on providing new vistas of learning at appropriate intervals.

On a typical day, Isabel still wakes up naturally and busies herself or comes to me for a chat and a cuddle. She is now nearly 10.

She’s almost completely self-reliant, using YouTube to research tutorials. Her favourite activity is coding, making stop-go animation movies and inventing cartoons. She is reading and spelling all the time to enable her own progression. At bedtime I still read to her to keep her love of new books alive and then she writes in her diary App and Spell-check helps her spelling. She drafts new game ideas on paper ready for the next day or reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Prompted by whatever questions she has, we also chat about anything and everything. Last night it was Alzheimer’s and Donald Trump.

These typical days are mixed with play-dates with a handful of good friends and peppered with outings like a recent one to see “The Lion King”. After the show, we caught the Thames River boat home so we’d see all the London landmarks. As usual, she had loads of questions…”Why was Simba going to be the next King? Who decided who would be the first King of England?” And on passing the Houses of Parliament… “What does the government do if the Queen is in charge?” And so on….

Which reminds me, a day’s outing to find a Geocache at the British Library started a discussion about “Mad King George III” because we discovered that his entire collection of 82,000 books was there.

Learning is truly everywhere!

Caroline Silver

Caroline Silver

Contributor

Caroline was born in the lush green countryside near Oxford. She became a mum in her forties and lives in London now and homeschools her daughter. She's had many jobs - Tax Specialist (Ugh!), Fitness Trainer (Yay!), Architectural Designer (Finding myself at last) and now Artist (Yes!). 

Learning from a safe place

Anna Grillo explains how stress can shut down the learning centres in a child's brain and gives some strategies to bring it back online.

child hiding on couch in pillows

By Anna Grillo| trueself.com.au

"Right, pack up your stuff and leave the lecture theatre now!"

My friend and I darted eyes to one another - was he talking to us?

It was another day in our psychology class and the lecturer was glaring in our direction. As a young 17-year-old, I didn't have the confidence to speak out and ask who he was referring to. After an agonising two minutes, a couple of students behind me got up and left.

The lecture resumed... but the learning did not. My heart was beating fast, my mind was whirling, and it took a long time to wind down and focus on the lecture.

My story is an example of how fear, or the perception of it, can stop us in our tracks.

When we perceive fear, our survival instinct comes onboard to protect us at all cost. The body can become in a hyper state of stimulation, flooded with stress hormones in an effort to decide whether to fight, flee, or freeze.

Blood flow is moved to our limbs to support our larger muscles to run or fight, our breathing becomes shallow, and our eyes start to scan the horizon searching for danger… not an ideal situation if you are trying to focus on something right in front of you!

Learning - diagram of the brain

How does stress relate to learning?

When we perceive danger or a threatening situation, our reasoning and logical thinking processes go 'offline’. It doesn’t need to be a dangerous or traumatic experience either. Stress related to learning can show in a variety of situations, such as being called upon for a response when you don’t know the answer, being hungry or disturbed by an external stimulant, or a mismatch in learning styles between child and parent.

If we are too busy worrying about things that we perceive as a potential threat, then we become distracted and lose focus. As the saying goes, when emotions are high, intelligence is low. And this is not the type of setting in which invites learning. Communication is a two-way process - the message needs to be both transmitted and understood.

The key is becoming aware of ways you can create a safe and engaging learning environment. The following points outline some areas to consider if you think your child may have turned ‘offline’ throughout the day.

Learning - boy looking up at sky

Meeting basic needs

Has your child eaten properly and drank enough water? Have they had enough sleep? Are their surroundings calm and nurturing? Are they wearing the right clothes for the activity at hand? Are there any external factors such as artificial scents, too many people, or bright lights, etc, that may be interfering? Review the learning environment and see what adjustments you may need to make to prepare them appropriately.

Learning styles

There are so many learning styles, all of them valid. You may be aware of how your child prefers to experience the world around them, but in moments of learning related stress, it's good to remind ourselves so we can help our kids de-stress and reclaim their love of learning again.

Some children may need a quiet space and structure, while others prefer group learning situations with lots of movement and noise. Are they better at reading and absorbing information visually, or does listening or movement help them make the necessary connections of a concept? Do they prefer to pull out books later on in the day or at night, or does everything get completed before breakfast? There are many variables and we are all unique individuals.

Take some time to observe how your child naturally likes to learn and the activities they are drawn to.

Learning styles are different for each child

Movement matters


Does doodling or fiddling while listening help your child to retain information, or would a quick trip to the park to run out their energy before sitting down to a learning experience be a better way to start the day? Create opportunities for movement every day, as full body movement helps the brain to organise and coordinate itself too!

Look after yourself, too

Home educating is not for the faint hearted! Balancing the fine line between being parent and facilitator of their learning can be difficult. Considering that most communication is non-verbal (some sources say up to 90%!) and our tone and mood can convey a very different message to the words we are saying. It’s important that as a parent, you are well rested and fed, and have a supportive environment around you.

When things start to get chaotic, above all, remember why you chose to home educate in the first place. Bring the family together and understand the individual learning styles and ways you can all contribute to the learning experience. Connect often and find a way to move forward together. Happy learning!

Anna Grillo

Anna Grillo

Contributor

Anna is a Kinesiologist & Wellness Educator who specialises in emotional intelligence and self awareness. She home educates her two children in Melbourne, Australia, and is passionate about helping people reconnect with their true selves. You'll most likely find her sipping tea and eating chocolate whilst researching wellness topics on any given day. Anna is on Instagram @annatrudagrillo

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