Category Archives for Big Topics

Bullying: Why harsh schoolyards don’t really ‘toughen up’ our kids

With school bullying rife, many experts are touting the playground social dynamic as a crucial part of 'toughening up our kids'. But what's the real cost for our children's future?


I worry about the deflating hardships my innocent, bubbly four-year-old will face throughout her life. I don’t worry so much about the situations she will find herself in once she’s an adult, but the interactions that will squash her during childhood, particularly in her school years while she’s still building her resilience.

I often hear people agree the schoolyard is harsh, but argue that it will prepare our children for the reality of the world. After all, there are cruel people out there, and our children may work beside them (or for them) throughout their careers and encounter them in social relationships, so they need to be equipped to take these personalities in their stride or even stand up to them. 

While I agree it’s important to prepare our children to face these challenges, I don’t agree that exposing them to harsh behaviour at school is the way to do it.  

A school setting is far removed from the reality of life

Young children are usually grouped together with others of the same age, and all of them are relatively new to navigating their way through social interactions. They’re largely left to work it out for themselves. 

And so, children simply learn from each other, often reinforcing each other’s bad habits, and the playground becomes a game of social survival, behaviour which is carried into the classroom.

I believe that this doesn’t so much prepare children for the harsh realities of adulthood, but rather it thrusts those harsh realities on them too soon.

Perhaps (and unfortunately) it even prepares them to become the very kinds of people we wanted to protect them from in the first place.

A missed learning opportunity

Allowing this to happen in a learning environment is a missed opportunity because this kind of social setting is the ideal place to teach children valuable communication techniques.

In a learning environment, children are constantly sharing ideas and responding to others and, when these conversations are facilitated using techniques that create a safe space, we’re equipping children with the tools they need to interact positively with the world around them. And these are the same tools that will help them thrive when things get tough later in life.

When we create a safe, non-judgemental environment and allow plenty of time to discuss uncomfortable situations that occur in the playground and beyond, we are empowering both parties (and the rest of the social group) with the ability to navigate challenging situations.

Children can use visual tools to share how conflicts made them feel (as often children are not aware of the impact of their actions or words on others) and then problem-solve strategies for next time. Social interactions in the playground can be a learning experience.

What fostering true resilience looks like

The first step towards creating resilient adults is to allow children to develop and practice communication tools in a supportive setting, so they feel empowered and armed with strategies to calmly face difficult people and situations, with understanding and compassion.

The best way to protect our children from the harsh realities of adulthood is to equip the next generation with the tools they need to avoid becoming victims or perpetrators of unhealthy communication habits.

True self-assurance and true resilience comes from a deep understanding of people, interactions and your place in the world. 

This understanding does not miraculously occur when in survival mode, navigating the schoolyard. It comes through practicing tools with others to create and build a strong foundation and an awareness of why people are behaving and speaking in a certain way.

Shrugging and saying that a bit of nastiness at school will toughen up our children for a tough world doesn’t only leave our children ill-prepared for the future; it teaches them to accept that the world is full of harsh interactions.

If we stop accepting this as an inevitable fact and start being aware of a better approach, we can help our children create social change. 

When we equip children with an understanding of the impact of their words and actions, an understanding of other’s intentions, and an understanding of effective communication, they can successfully mediate their way through all walks of life.


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Bullying: Why harsh schoolyards don't really 'toughen up' our kids

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Talula Hughes


Talula Hughes is from the Mid North Coast of NSW and is the founder of Alithia Learning, a supportive space where families come to connect and children can instigate collaborative hands-on projects, access resources and attend workshops. Talula's love of learning and reflexive relationship with education were instilled in her at an early age by her mother, a creative arts therapist and facilitator, who, through homeschooling, taught her the joys of exploring both the natural world and the world of ideas. 

Learning without boundaries: Deschooling ourselves as parents

So often we talk about deschooling our children, but what can deschooling look like for parents, and why is it necessary when beginning homeschooling? Crystal Wiley shares her journey.

By Crystal Wiley

This article was originally featured on Simple + Free and has been republished with permission.

When we began homeschooling almost two years ago, I never would have guessed how much I’d learn about my children, my husband, my family, my community and myself as a result…

To start, for us, homeschooling meant completely deschooling ourselves as parents.

It means removing all the negative thoughts and emotions we’ve carried around with us regarding the conventional schooling we received. This included both my husband and I.

Usually deschooling means throwing everything out the door and starting over.

This was true for our family, but deschooling also meant revisiting how I specifically felt as a child pushed through class after class in which I had no desire in attending.

We have to understand we as a species never truly retains information gathered due to force or coercion from teachers, no matter how well-intentioned they are.

For it wasn’t until midway through my college experience I realised what I enjoyed.

Photo: Crystal Wiley

The passion I have to offer my kids an interest-led learning environment flows in waves as I continue to grapple with a slew of mixed emotions. I feel like I could have spent a more significant chunk of my young life learning what I was passionate about, instead of sitting for hours and hours at a desk doing my best to stay awake in the midst of uninspiring information.

It could have been inspiring if it was something I was interested in, of course.

I’m convinced you do not need to be a philosopher or a scientist to understand a few simple truths...

Real learning happens when someone is passionate and open-minded.

Real learning happens when someone has time to explore.

Real learning happens when you feel safe and loved, not exposed and judged.

Real learning happens when you have the ability to go deeper into an idea and not be told: “we’ve come to the end of this idea and now we’re moving on to the next.”

Real learning needs no boundaries.

How do I refer to “real learning?” To me, it simply means knowledge well-kept, not discarded shortly after a test.

Additionally, I aspire to offer my children the conviction to experience the joy of critical thinking and deep exploration of parts of the world they’re interested in without society’s confines and push and pull by homeschooling… something I struggled with immensely.

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And since no one knows what our future holds, I feel our children innately do – they were built that way. They were created in God’s image which means they intuitively know how they’re supposed to fit into the community. They know what their bodies need to do. They know what they need to learn. They know, planted like little seeds, how they’re supposed to spend the majority, if not all of their time here on Earth.

Much like a flower knows exactly how to grow, given the correct environment.

Our kids may not express their desires verbally but instead subconsciously, if they listen to their heart – given the opportunity to listen to that still, small voice whispering in their ear what path to take – they’ll follow it unceasingly.

Now, if your children attend a traditional school this article is not an attempt to shame you as a parent. I know many homeschool families who shift in and out of schools as well, so this is in no way directed to those who choose a different path. In fact, it’s possible to offer your children the opportunity to follow their dreams, it will just look much different for you considering your time with them is much more limited. Please never doubt your abilities or intentions as a parent – for this unshakeable persistence to be a better parent is at the core unconditionally loving your children!

Regardless, a few things in our future are certain whether your kids attend a traditional school or not. Our children will need to know how to be:

1) Adaptable – our world and the information in it changes constantly. We have to learn to adapt.

2) Limitless – knowing they have the power to make a difference in our vast world.

3) Self-Empowering – not allowing friends or society to tell them they are doing it wrong.

4) In Touch – with who they are as a human being and who God created them to be.

5) Steadfast – never giving up because too many people in life they know will do just that.

For me, it took a good 25-plus years to realise what I was called to do. And I’m still learning every day alongside my kids how good it feels to follow my dreams and surrender to the glorious unknown.

"The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don't know." // Albert Einstein

And it took me having children to realise my offspring deserve a chance to find for themselves exactly what they’re meant to do early on in life and then given the encouragement, resources and environments to pursue these ideas.

No gold stars, prodding or pushing or bribing necessary.


"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." – ALBERT EINSTEIN

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Crystal Wiley​​​

Blogger at Simple + Free

Crystal Wiley is wife to an exceptionally gifted and patient husband with whom she's owned and sold several companies, and a mother to two adventure-seeking children in the Pacific Northwest of America. She loves simplifying through minimalism and slowing down to enjoy each season in life all while focusing on God's big plans for her family's eclectic, interest-led homeschool. Depending on the day, you can find her hiking, snowboarding, camping, mountain biking, reading a plethora of books (to herself and her children) or writing about whatever strikes her heart.

The Start Homeschooling Summit is back again for 2018!

If you're new to homeschooling or looking for something to refresh you, then you'll love soaking up all the wisdom and ideas in the FREE workshops from the Start Homeschooling Summit. It's coming up in February - mark it in your calendar!


By Grace Koelma | Co-Founder of The Mulberry Journal

While we’ve all been laying by the pool and having BBQs (or playing in the snow for our Northern Hemisphere friends!), our friend Kelly George has been working like a trooper over these past few months to bring an amazing series of workshops for this year's Start Homeschool Summit. And can we just say that the line up this year is seriously AWESOME?!

Did we mention it's FREE?

Yep. The best part is you can sign up for FREE and watch all the workshops live between the 19th and 24th February 2018. All 34 of them. Phew! Time to organise a babysitter, and break out the dark chocolate and fancy tea...

Get ready for serious #homeschoolinspo

Of the 34 upcoming talks by amazing homeschooling and unschooling mamas from around the world, here are some we're really looking forward to.

Learning in the Real World: How to Help Them Thrive with Pam Laricchia

9 Essentials of a Charlotte Mason Education for the Early Years with Meghann Dibrell

Why every family should have unlimited video games with Penelope Trunk

Science for Mothers who don't like science with Kendra Fletcher

Ok, so to revise...

Step 1: sign up here

And you're done. #homeschoolinsposorted 👌


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4 ways to raise a young change-maker

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

Image by Coleen Hodges

By Rebecca Lane |

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

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

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

1. Reading and watching films are fundamental.

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

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

Global Guardian Project’s Learning Capsules are perfect for older children needing a mix of hands-on activities and informative content. And right now you can get 10% off anything in store at Global Guardian Project by using our code MULBERRY at checkout

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

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

3. Adopt a cause as a family.

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

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

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

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

Want a FREE Ocean Conservation capsule?

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

And if you choose to purchase form the Global Guardian Project store, don't forget to use our code MULBERRY to get 10% off anything in the Global Guardian Project store.

Jenny Diaz

Rebecca Lane


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

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

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

Kids looking out window India

By Ally Blase

Our tribe

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

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

And then they asked to go to school...

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

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

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

Finding the right school

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

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

Our year-long experience at school

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

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

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

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

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

The next step in our journey...

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

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

Ally Blase


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

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

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

Children playing in water happily

By Anica Markovic 

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

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

The legal boundaries of homeschooling in Serbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anica Markovic


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

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

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

Boy walking alone

By Denis Ian 

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

We’re doing this all wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let them be

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

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

Girl playing and dancing freely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re doing this all wrong.

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

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Jenny Diaz

Denis Ian


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

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:​

* 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
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Grace Koelma


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

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 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


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!). 

Homeschooling with adopted and foster kids

Lauren and her husband Joe have four children, some fostered, some adopted and some biological. Lauren shares about her unique experience working within the government foster system and outside the public schooling system.

Lauren Jones homeschool adopted foster kids

Interview with Lauren Jones |

Hi Lauren, thanks for making the time to chat. Can you tell us a little bit about your unique family and where you live?

My husband Joe and I live in the US (the Colorado Front Range) with our four kids ages 9, 6, 2 and 1. We spend quite a bit of time outdoors exploring, racking up huge library fines and causing a general ruckus just about everywhere we go.

We’ve been fostering for the past three years. In that time we've had seven kids come through our home. Some for as little as a few days, some for 6-7 months and one we've adopted. We are also waiting to finalise the adoption of our littlest one this summer.

I am the primary home educator/money spender and my husband spends quite a bit of time travelling in his job designing and installing AV systems. We started an organisation, Treasured Kids, this year with the mission of getting heirloom quality picture books into the hands of foster children in the US.

Lauren Jones foster homeschooling

What has fostering and adoption looked like for you?

I think we've had just about all the experiences you can imagine. We've had kids live with us and be reunited with their mother. We've had an open relationship with the bio mom of our boys we've adopted. We've also had foster kids live with us for a little bit and move on to another foster home to be with siblings. They all have their stories and adventures attached.

It’s been in many ways a huge period of growth as a family unit. Both impossibly hard and wonderfully good. It’s never been easy to say goodbye to any of the kids and we have been grateful for time to heal in between each one. We can’t imagine life without our adopted boys, and I wouldn’t have ever traded that - even knowing now what it was like to go through.

A post shared by Lauren (@mixingplaydough) on

How long have you been homeschooling for?

While we legally aren't allowed to homeschool foster children, we can still homeschool our biological and adopted kids. We’ve homeschooled our eldest from the beginning. It's been a learning experience of what is realistic and what is too much in both areas - homeschool and foster care.

What considerations and factors came into your family's decision to homeschool?

If I’m totally honest, the real reason we didn’t send our oldest to preschool was that we couldn’t afford it. Turns out, it was a really good fit. When he was old enough for Kindergarten he had a very scattered skill set, and public school didn’t seem to fit the bill.

We had quite a lot of discussions and what it came down to was time. We wanted our kids to have an exorbitant amount of time to just 'be' and grow and learn and felt like homeschool was the way to do that.

Homeschooling fostering adoption

There have been seasons when some of your children have been enrolled in school, while you've homeschooled others. What was that like?

It was super crazy hard. Part of the problem was the school. They weren’t supportive of our foster kids, and everything seemed to be a problem - from 'lovies' (security blankets or toys) to schedules. Having them in school though was the best fit for them. It was one of the consistent parts of their life, and we knew that long term they were going to be in public or charter schools.

It also made that particular season a little bit more bearable for us as a family with five kids under eight. We did pretty well with getting them to school on time and picking them up, but it was extremely disruptive. My daughter had a hard time not getting to go to school with her foster sisters, and in retrospect, we should’ve tried a few more options with that.

Our family felt split. I refer to it as our time as a tale of two families.

The adventuring/the world is our classroom during the day and the pack lunches/eat dinner/take a bath/bed by seven during the night.

A post shared by Lauren (@mixingplaydough) on

Do you gravitate towards a particular style of learning or home education approach? Why have you chosen that style and why does it work for your family?

We started off with Montessori as I have a certificate in Montessori Early Education for 2 to 5-year-olds and it was a good fit for the early years.

We have played around with a few ideas for my daughter including unschooling and Waldorf. In the end, Charlotte Mason (specifically the program put out by Ambleside Online) has seemed to be the best approach for us as a whole family, and we’ve used that for the past few years. We love the short lessons and massive amounts of literature along with the emphasis on time outdoors.

Foster adoption and homeschooling
During really busy seasons of fostering we’ve been able to pack up our books and do school on the road or in coffee shops.

It’s given us the freedom to stack subjects if we need or spend more time on subjects as well.

On occasion, we’ll get calls for some last minute care, and we can shelve our studies for a bit for what we call “service days.” Those days are spent loving on kids in our community that need it.

Your situation is unique in that you're working inside the government foster care system, but outside the public schooling system. Can you unpack the complexities of that?

It’s so complex! In a way, when you opt out of government schooling you are making a statement that you feel you can do better. At the same time, when we signed up to foster, we ultimately surrendered quite a bit of our life to be under their watchful eye. We had to parent in ways that they approved of, and have our home regulated to the highest of safety standards.

A post shared by Lauren (@mixingplaydough) on

It’s hard for me to have to fill out paperwork every day with medication reports or statements about how new bumps and bruises came about.

We also have to log our miles or go to the doctor for every fever or rash. I think a lot of times we end up in little bubbles of homeschool world and fostering bursts that every single time with every single kid that comes through our home.

Homeschooling fostering adoption

One of our fears going into homeschooling was that we would be removing ourselves from the community. I think that by opening up our home to fostering we negated that concern. I’m not sure there is a better way to be fully involved with your community than by opening up your home to the kids that don’t have one.

What does your typical home learning day look like? Is there a routine or is it different every day?

Each season has its own routine. Right now, we aren’t taking any more kids for long term placements, so we’ve been able to find a good rhythm. We have about three days of lessons, one day of an enrichment program and one day of nature study a week. We can usually fit in everything we need in that time!

Homeschooling fostering adoption

The kids have lessons outside of the home for music and foreign language, so that becomes part of our routine as well. Some days we don’t start school until 4 pm (seriously!) but those days are my favourite. Other days we are done by 10 am and I’ll never complain about that either. We do well with weekly goals and generous margins to get it accomplished, so we have lots of time for adventures.

If you had to pick one, what is a mantra, quote or principle of education that you live and plan your homeschool days by?

Always Make Brownies.

What is the primary belief, attitude or value you hope your children will take into adulthood, based on the unique upbringing you’re giving them?

I think a lot of foster parents worry about what fostering will do to their biological kids and a lot of homeschool parents worry about what homeschooling will do as well. I hope that they grow up to become compassionate leaders with an eye for change and a heart for the hurt.

I think that they’ve loved and lost just as much as we have as adults and while I don’t know what that does, exactly, to them as children, I think they will have an incredibly unique perspective on the world. I cannot wait to watch!

Lauren Jones Homeschooling fostering adoption

What advice would you give to families considering fostering or adoption?

Do it! I’ve spent most of my life jumping in head first and figuring out how to swim after the fact.

Fostering will change you forever but in a ridiculously good way.

Adoption is its own beautiful adventure, and even though it’s sometimes sticky, we are so over the moon to have the chance to love our boys.

What advice would you give to families considering homeschooling their children?

Don’t overthink it! You are more than equipped to education your children simply because you are their Mama (or Dad). Don’t ever think that you aren’t qualified. Give yourself, and your kids grace to figure out the best method and the best timing. Find a community that supports and encourages you - Mulberry Mama’s are the perfect way to start.

A tricky season is not reason enough to not do it. We’ve had seasons where we just didn’t do any lessons at all. But as I look back I can see that those are the seasons I think we learned the most.

Lauren was interviewed by The Mulberry Journal Editor, Grace Koelma.

Have you had experience with fostering or adoption, and mixed that with homeschooling? We'd love you to share in the comments below.

Krista Lii profile photo

Lauren Jones


Lauren is a Bio/Adoption/Foster Care Homeschooling Mama of four kids 9 and under. If you can't find her adventuring in the mountains or baking in the kitchen, Lauren is probably scouring vintage shops for beautiful books. As a family, they founded Treasured Kids, an organisation that gets beautiful books into the hands of treasured foster kids in the US. You can follow Lauren at @mixingplaydough on Instagram.