This family of storytellers are giving their kids a global education, and creating something pretty amazing along the way to share with other families.
Interview with Tania and Matt Landin
Can you introduce your family, where you're from and what you're currently doing?
Tania and Matt (the parents), Maya (14), Mirabel (11), Lacey (8) and Elsie (our 4-year-old labradoodle)
We’re a full-time travelling/storytelling family on an 18-month adventure around Europe. Currently, we’re exploring Cornwall England enjoying the mild autumn and cream tea.
In June 2016 — after years of late night “what if” conversations — we quit our jobs, sold all our possessions and left Portland, Oregon to start our own company — Around the World Stories. We create original audio stories to teach kids about other countries and cultures, and we write the stories as we travel around Europe.
Why did you decide to travel the world and write stories along the way?
We’d spent several years overseas, both before and after the kids were born, and learning about other cultures became a natural passion for us. We’ve always loved bringing other traditions into our own home, and as parents we think it’s vital for kids to have a broader view of the world and an understanding of different cultures.
When we moved back to the US, we didn’t find anything that really approached teaching about other countries in a way that was fun and memorable. We realised that engaging, fun stories were the next best thing to an actual foreign experience, so we came up with the concept of writing original stories about other countries and turning them into audio stories. We absolutely love writing and sharing the stories with other families!
Which countries have you been to already? Can you some up each in a few words?
Germany - outdoor cafes and beer gardens, beautiful mountains and idyllic small towns
France - croissants that melt in your mouth, amazing lavender fields, Monet, Degas and that cool metal tower 😉
Denmark - positive Danish mentality, Hygge, kind people and the smell of cinnamon rolls everywhere in the morning
Czech Republic - magical
Slovenia - beautiful countryside - definitely want to come back
Croatia - gorgeous coast, but a bit warm in July in an RV
Switzerland - one the scariest drives of my life over the mountains at night during a snowstorm. The hikes made up for it.
Austria - The mountains, Vienna and the Danube all spectacular. Stunning views everywhere.
England - amazing cliffs and caves in Cornwall and endless wonderful places to see in London
The Netherlands - Van Gogh, biking and seas of tulip fields in April
Spain - Barcelona is so full of life, loved Granada’s flamenco shows, delicious tapas and Alhambra.
Portugal - surprised by the rich history and culture. Promised ourselves we’d come back.
Liechtenstein - Tiny. Bought a keychain to prove we were there.
Andorra - Great skiing in the Pyrenees. And another keychain.
Gibraltar (albeit also UK) - Mugged by a monkey.
Your husband left a secure job as a diplomat to travel the world. What do you think the act of chasing your dreams is teaching your children?
It was a huge leap of faith for us. One of the great side-effects was how it has positively affected the kids’ ideas about their own life and potential. Particularly as things have worked out, it’s such an awesome feeling being able to show our kids a lesson about taking chances and following dreams. I can say that their dreams have gotten even bigger since we left.
What have been your favourite stories unearthed so far?
We’re not actually collecting stories, but creating our own original stories. That being said, many of our stories are based on our experiences on the trip. Two of our stories about France were inspired by a tiny French town in Provence. We ate in a plaza, watched locals play pétanque and saw the sun set over the lavender fields. So many of our characters are also based on people we’ve met. It’s a way to keep the stories authentic and rich in their descriptions.
What drew you to Europe for this kind of journey?
My mother is German and my father is Czech, so Europe has always been a second home for me. There is just so much here in Europe that we wanted to show our girls and experience as a family. One of the big advantages to travelling in Europe for us is how easy it is to jump from one beautiful country (and culture) to another. Just a couple hours drive can bring you to a very different culture — new food, language, traditions and an entirely different way of thinking. We love experiencing that. We’ve biked and even hiked across international borders.
How are your travels working in with homeschooling your girls? Do you have more of an unschooling or structured approach?
It’s been wonderful for us and the kids. As far as the approach, just the act of travelling and being exposed to so many new ideas really lends itself towards unschooling. It’s been one amazing field trip! We’ve found that, for us, it works best with an open mind and flexible schedule. There’s just so much to learn everywhere — history, language, food, traditions. Getting outside as much as possible and meeting new people is a must. Our kids have learned more this year, even with little book work, than we even imagined.
What's next for your travelling adventures? Do you have any plans of when to go home?
Right now we’re plotting our next big story-writing trip. We’ve not yet decided where to go, but it’s a frequent dinner conversation and everyone (minus the dog) gets a say.
Where can people find out more about you?
Try the audio stories for FREE!
We offer our 52-story Europe set and our 6-story Artists Around the World set. Until the end of Jan 2018, Mulberry readers can use the coupon code MULBERRY20 to save 20% on either of our story sets. Or for a one-month free trial of our Europe Story-a-week subscription, readers can use the code MULBERRYMONTH on our website.
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Kelly George has been homeschooling for over a decade and swears by list-keeping as the ultimate way to keep organised, stay sane, and plan and record her whole family's learning.
By Kelly George | Fearless Homeschool
Lists are the only way I keep track of anything.
To-do lists, meal lists, to buy lists, wishlists – if it’s not on the list it really doesn’t get done.
So it makes sense that lists are invaluable in our homeschool, too. We use lists to keep track of what we’ve done, to remember what we’d like to do and to make sure everyone’s doing as much as they planned.
I’ve tried digital, but it’s just not concrete enough for me, and seeing as I usually don’t know where my phone is it didn’t make sense to keep important information on it.
I was very happy to see the new Mulberry Planner has LOTS of list templates, and I’ve been busy filling them out and feeling virtuous about my gorgeous new lists (as opposed to the creased and crumpled bits of repurposed paper I usually use). I’ve also discovered an unexpected bonus of having a beautiful planner - I’ve been more intentional about looking after it, which means I can feel justified when preaching to my children about presenting their work well.
Homeschooling lists are also a great form of record keeping, saving hours of work when re-registration time comes around. You can quickly glance at the books you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, and the curriculum you’ve completed, and expand on it to make a pretty good report.
Here are the indispensable homeschooling lists we keep.
Books are our thing. We borrow 60 books at a time from the library, think books make the best presents, and book sales and well-stocked op-shops are our favourite places to shop.
We all keep a yearly list of the books we read – each child, myself, and my husband. They help us keep track of interests, remember which authors or series we wanted to read more from when it’s library ordering time, and remember what that book was called when we’re chatting about them.
Plus, it’s a subtle competition. Gabrielle always makes sure she’s ahead in numbers. She’s up to 139 books read as of November 20th, so it’s not likely she’ll be overtaken this year.
I also keep a read-aloud list, which I’ll adapt one of these for.
I keep a book journal for myself, but I’m using the Mama’s Book List to keep track of the homeschooling-specific books I’d like to read or re-read.
Finally, I’ll also be using the Kids Book List for a to-read list for each child. I usually make sure I order or buy quality books regularly, so there’s always some available to choose from, but they don’t always get chosen.
I’d like to make sure they each read at least ten classic or high-quality books each year – dragons and battles are all very exciting, but should be balanced out by books that get the brain cells working, in my opinion.
If I give them each a list in January they can zoom through their requirements, and then return to reading Percy Jackson for the umpteenth time. And I can then give them another list in June – surprise!
There’s SO MUCH to keep track of! I used to save samples in a folder on my computer, assuming I’d remember what was in there.
Most of the time I would forget there was even a folder, so when we wanted something new in a certain area I’d start researching again from scratch.
Having a curriculum list means I can keep track of what we’d like to try, what’s good now, what may be good in the future, and what’s not good for us at all. I’ll download and use each sample as we need it, and then either cross it off the list or purchase it.
If I get very organised, I’ll use another to keep track of the curriculum each child finishes.
I’m a word lover, and I love quotes. Anyone who has visited my website or taken one of my courses may have noticed that. Homeschooling means I get to expose my children to what I think is important, and subjecting them to quotes is something I do enthusiastically.
Right now, I put a new quote up on our whiteboard each week, and we chat about what it means. I choose quotes that make us think, that help us define our ideas or values, or show an everyday issue from a new angle.
This quotes list is replacing my Pinterest board (again, I fail at digital – I don’t even have the Pinterest app on my phone because I couldn’t turn off the notifications), and it’s so much easier to pull out the quotes list and choose the new quote.
As a bonus, I don’t get stuck looking at quirky designs for vintage dresses, so the process is much quicker!
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I started listening to podcasts this year, and really like them (again, late adopter of digital). They’re a great way to get through cooking and cleaning without noticing what I’m doing.
Unfortunately, the children aren’t as fond of podcasts about entrepreneurship as I am. I’ve found a couple of ‘educational but entertaining’ podcasts we all enjoy, like The Ancient World and TED Talks Daily, but I’d like to find more.
This is my list of podcasts to trial before adding to our regular listening list. We’ve already trialled Douchy’s Biology, and it’s a hit – Gabrielle has been geeking out to hominid evolution while cutting out sewing projects.
We fail at films. We haven’t had a TV in over a decade, and that pretty much sums it up. We find we have so many other things to do that we never get around to watching movies.
But there are some things I’d really like to watch with the children. Generally, they’re adaptations of books, and our chief delight is shouting criticism at how much it deviates from the book (you really don’t want to watch Eragon with us, how did they get it so wrong?)
I’ve decided documentaries count as films, because we love nature, farming, and science documentaries. And because the sheet would probably compost before we got through that many movies.
I hope that gives you some insight and inspiration into how lists can be useful in your homeschool. The lists included in the Mulberry Planner are a great place to start if you’re new to list making – they’re extremely relevant to the core needs of homeschoolers. As well as the lists I’ve detailed, there are also lists for music, YouTube, and children’s lists for their achievements and things they’re proud of, plus templates for you to DIY. If you don’t use anything else except the lists, you can still have a well-organised homeschool.
Kelly George is a married mum to five adventurous children who have never been been to school. She runs Fearless Homeschool, which is full of articles, resources, and courses aimed at helping parents break away from the school model to craft their ultimate homeschool, and also organised the first Australian Homeschooling Summit. In her spare time she's a nursing student who enjoys juggling dozens of hobbies.
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When Daphne suggested to her husband that they pack up their lives, sell their house and take their kids on a daring worldschooling adventure, his response was remarkable.
By Daphne Earley | dearleybeloved.com
One morning, early in the beginning of 2016, I woke up, turned over to my husband, Matthew, who was already half-awake and said, “Last night, I had a dream and I am certain that dream meant that we should sell our house and travel.”
He looked at me through half-lidded eyes, weighing the seriousness of my words and, after only a moment’s pause, said, “I think that makes more sense for us right now than anything else.”
This is how we have always done things in our household. There have never been grand gestures or elaborate, carefully coordinated and meticulously planned events. After several years of being together, one morning he looked at me, bright-eyed and excited, and asked, “Do you want to get married?” I didn’t say anything. I just kissed him. And just like that, we were a family.
We have always ridden the wave of inspiration when it hit us and when it felt right – so, the fact that in that instant, we decided to sell what we once thought would be our forever home and leave for exotic destinations, was just us, being ourselves.
We put our house on the market and left it in the hands of Fate and our realtors, packed our three children who at the time were ages 7, 5, and 8 months and headed to the Philippines. I’ll never forget the first morning we woke up at 4am Philippine time, stepped out into the balcony of our room, and heard a rooster crowing, welcoming us into our new reality. Matthew and I sat out there, in silence and awe of what we had done, and watched the sun slowly unveil the glittering sea.
Our children woke up, joining us one by one, and we saw fishermen in the early dawn, checking their nets, wondering what treasures the ocean had brought them.
It was in the Philippines where my 7-year-old, Aleksander, experienced heartbreak. We visited a beautiful church, filled with filigreed statues of saints with the priest himself wearing an ornately gilded attire. Upon seeing this, Aleksander began to cry profusely, sobbing, and was completely inconsolable. Matthew and I were at a loss as to exactly what was going on.
We sat in silence on one of the pews, waiting for the crying to subside. When the tears finally stopped, Aleksander took a deep breath and said, “Why is the church so rich, but there are so many poor people out there?” And with that, he was lost in tears again. We said nothing – we just held him.
I felt an immense sense of guilt. Had we, on a selfish whim, ripped our children from the comforts of normalcy and predictability only to show them the ugly side of the world? Children Aleksander's own age back in the United States were currently in school, innocently going about their day, unburdened by the problems of the world.
And here we were, blindly leading our children, right into the heart of it. But, as it turns out, children have this incredible sense of understanding that an experience, even negative ones, aren’t meant to darken our view of the world.
“Who do you think is happier? The guy with lots of money but is alone or the guy who has no money but has a fun family?” Aleksander asked not long after.
In Singapore, our 8-month-old daughter, Kennedy, decided to claim her right in the world and walked. Actually, she stood up, screamed both in delight and fear, and ran.
Singapore, with its impeccably dressed men and women and equally pristine architecture, showed us the incredibly kinetic force that is money, when it's dispersed in the world rather than being hoarded and sitting idly in a bank account. There is an affirmation that I love, and it goes along the lines of, “Every dollar I spend enriches the Universe and returns to me manifold.”
Bali, Indonesia is where destiny caught up to us. Unbeknownst to us at the time of booking, we chose a hotel that was situated right next to a Balinese temple. It also just so happened that during our stay, the monks at the temple were preparing for a full moon festival.
At night, we would hear the rhythmic hum of crickets mingled with the hushed voices of the monks chanting their prayers, pleading yet grateful, ushering any soul who would listen, into the welcoming dawn. We knew, with certainty, we were meant to be there. And, we also knew it was time to head back.
Humans have a tragically comical way of doing things. We sit in a classroom for years, learning about all the different places in the world and the myriad of people who live in it, while only a few of us will actually ever go and see those places and even fewer of us still who will actually say hello and meet the people who live in them.
Many of us will get up every morning, go through our day-to-day routines - sit in our cubicles, sit in traffic, sit in front of the TV - and call that living. Until one day, an opportunity knocks, your spouse turns to you and says, let’s do something different and try something new. You muster the courage to say yes and, suddenly, your whole life changes and nothing is ever the same.
When we returned to the US, we did what any student of the unknown would do – we bought a pop-up camper and drove 11,000 miles across the country and into parts of Canada. Our house in New Jersey did sell. But that isn’t where our story ends.
We are not a religious family, but when we were hiking in Sedona, Arizona, my 5-year-old, Gavin, in a moment of divine imagination said, “When we are born, we each take a piece of God’s soul and keep It always with us.” Perhaps he is not so far from the truth.
For when we travel, we each carry the experience of every place we’ve gone to with us, so that when we return, the place we call home suddenly resembles the world.
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Daphne is a wife and homeschooling mom of three who has a passion for taking photos and telling stories about her adventures with her family. She loves to find magic and wonder in the everyday and is grateful for the chance to share it with others. She blogs at dearleybeloved.com and is on Instagram @dearleybeloved
When we see a child breaking or disassembling a toy, our first instinct can be to rush in and take it off them. But what they're doing could be far more valuable in developing logic, problem-solving and fine motor skills.
By Chelsee Richardson | @ozriches
My son loves to tinker.
For as long as I can remember he has preferred to play with real items, appliances and tools or toys which he could take apart. As a toddler, he would pull the food processor out, put it together and take it apart many times.
I remember the first remote control boat I bought for him when he was 3. After a few days of playing with it, he pulled it apart. I was frustrated that he had wrecked his toy, but in the process he had discovered something wonderful:
Toys were even more interesting on the inside.
During his toddler years, my husband and I quickly concluded that our children would take a self-directed pathway instead of school. I started to view his wrecked toys differently. This was something he was driven to do. An interest. No longer did I see a wrecked toy but an idea, question or investigation he had.
I started to supply him with toys and appliances from the op shop or given to us by friends, specifically so he could pull them apart. We provided him with tools and encouraged him to use them.
I realised that the more I responded to him with attention and support, the more he would tinker. He started to take motors, gears, propellers, speakers and battery packs from broken toys and appliances and craft up a whole new toy such as a plane, helicopter or dump truck.
One day while at the markets my son went to purchase a toy sail boat, when the stall owner told him it was broken my son replied, “well that’s ok I can fix it.”
He knew this wasn’t an issue he couldn’t overcome.
You see my son displays some remarkable abilities for a 6-year-old. He can focus and hold his attention for extended periods of time. He's curious and intrinsically motivated to take problems and either solve them or develop his own ideas. He works through frustrations, setbacks and mistakes. He is creative and innovative by using old things in new ways.
These skills are highly valued in the work place and society at large but are we fostering these critical skills in our children? Do we encourage meaningful work? Every day our actions toward our children show otherwise.
We have our own agenda, and we push it throughout our children’s entire childhood.
Had my family taken a more authoritarian parenting and schooling route, my son would no longer be working on what he loves. We may have punished him for pulling his toys apart. Perhaps we wouldn’t have paid attention, nor provided him with the materials, space and time to tinker. We may have put the tools away exclaiming them to be dangerous.
And so by now he would have spent several years at school with his attention diverted elsewhere, doing work someone else deemed more important. Then after school between homework and chores, his love for mechanics and engineering may have been forgotten, not valued and in the end, left behind.
He simply may not be the same little boy.
I can hear the questions. We want a balanced education for our children too. We don’t want to see them struggle in other areas. But when we mentally check off the things our kids are ‘good’ at to focus on the things they are ‘bad’ at are we diverting our children away from their true talents and strengths? Are we leading them to believe their skills and strengths are not of value? If children’s interests get pushed to the side, we may never know what they are capable of.
I occasionally hear remarks about how talented he is. But to be honest, I think he is a little boy supported to do what he loves.
I believe all children can do remarkable things if we support their strengths and interests.
When I think about this route we may have taken, the one society told us we should, I can’t help but wonder how many children have to leave their loves and ultimately themselves behind. Their talents and strengths lost when they could have brought meaning to their lives. And perhaps revolutionary ideas to our world.
After 12 years of forced learning, we expect children to know what they want to do with their lives. Perhaps they left it behind in kindergarten.
Chelsee is a mother to a pigeon pair. About to embark on a nomadic travelling journey around Australia, she is dedicated to building her family culture around self-directed learning. Her interests are as diverse as her children’s and any day can look like an array of gumnuts, LED’s, Hiragana and roller skating. She's on Instagram as @ozriches
Join FIFO wife and new homeschooling mum of three, Megan, as she shares a typical day in the life of a deschooling family.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
By Caroline Silver
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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 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!).
When a single mum of two children was told to look at 'alternative education options' for her son with Autism, she began a unique journey towards 'Earthschooling' that has changed her family's life.
Hi Dana, thanks for chatting with us! Can you introduce us to your family?
We are a family of three living and adventuring in the beautiful Wet Tropics of North Queensland. There is my daughter Nala (Rylee), the little chief of our house Jarli (Kellan), and myself. When we are not busy attending appointments or activities, you will find us mountain biking through fern gullies, swimming amongst the rocks at secret waterholes, or even foraging for bush-tukka while walking in our luscious rainforest community of Paluma, the little ‘Village in the clouds’.
*Australian indigenous people may have a number of names. For example, a person may have a European first name and surname (Rylee), an indigenous name (Biralee - which means beautiful baby), and a skin name (Nala).
Tell us about what brought about your decision to homeschool your kids
Our journey began after Jarli had finished his preparatory year of school. There were multiple reasons for my decision to withdraw him from mainstream, but the overall reason was that there just wasn't another option better suited.
When Jarli was two and a half years old, he was diagnosed with high functioning Autism, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Non-compliance aggressive behaviour, which later manifested into Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
Having spent two years in early intervention, he was finally making progress and was able to graduate from AEIOU, a school for children with Autism. I had spent the last year of his program, meeting with school advisors and administrators, trying to find the best environment, as there were no autism specific schools available.
The majority of the schools I had met with were zoned, which meant he would be placed on a waiting list. As for the private schools in the area, they were able to assist, however, it came at an extra cost that was financially beyond our means. The more I interviewed, the less confident I became that his needs would be met.
At the time I was working within the state education system at Nala’s school, so it seemed an ideal situation to have Jarli there with us too. I thought that at least then I would be available to provide assistance when needed. I could never have anticipated that he would actually regress at school.
Life became all about putting out a succession of fires - absconded behaviour, aggressive meltdowns, classroom disruptions, then suspension after suspension. It had become evident that the classroom setting was not a suitable learning environment for Jarli.
The final straw came when the authorities of the school advised me of their concerns for the next year. They told me that they would not be able to provide the much-needed support in the classroom nor would they be willing to apply for the extra funding that was available. They made it very clear to me that they didn't want my son at the school. Their final words to me were “perhaps you should look at alternative education options… “
So here we are, two years into our ‘alternative education’. And while I might add how frustrated I was towards the school having given up on my boy, the truth is, I am very grateful for their honesty.
Just like many families starting out, finding the learning style and rhythm that best suited the needs of my children was the biggest challenge. Initially, we began to homeschool via distance education. That lasted a term before we found our feet and I realised that it is important to me that my future adults have input into what they would like to learn. It’s also just as important for me to provide them with a learning environment that will inspire them.
After much research, I became inspired by the Waldorf philosophies. I was, however, looking for a secular approach to learning that enabled a flexible but natural process. That was when I discovered Earthschooling.
I think that what it basically came down to was finding a gentle approach to learning based on the needs of my family but also being able to provide them with the freedom that enables the natural learning process to unfold.
How do you define your unique blend of homeschooling called 'Earthschooling'?
Earthschooling is a complete but flexible curriculum that follows a holistic and earth-based approach to education. While it is a secular Waldorf methodology, the education is based on learning from nature, cultural aspects, natural rhythms, real-life experience, handwork with natural fibres and arts.
I favoured this approach for many reasons. Jarli is extremely imaginative and is a kinesthetics/tactile learner, while Nala prefers auditory stimulation. So, the idea of introducing more creativity into their learning seemed very appealing and I felt the earthschooling elements would suit both their needs quite well.
I was impressed by the cultural aspect that the earthschooling curriculum honours. It introduces input from people from other cultures who make a place at the common table of our shared humanity.
Can you share some influential books or resources have you read that helped you decide on earthschooling?
I would say that our community has been the most influential. Having the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef a stone throw away, the use of the World Heritage Area as an educational landscape seemed like a wonderful and rich environment to learn from. But there have been some inspirational books too.
Taino Earthschooling in the Diaspora: My Early Days by Anani Kaike.
This is an inspirational chronicle written by 8-year-old Anani, a Taino child who shares with us her rather unique homeschooling environment, and the strong connection that her family teaches her about respecting our Mother Earth while at the same time honouring her ancestors.
Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability by Michael K. Stone
I found this an aesthetically pleasing resource that is eloquently written and contains inspirational images.
In my efforts to raise environmentally aware children, both of these books have not only been influential and inspiring, but have also been an excellent addition to their learning. It scares me to think of the environmental burden that my children will face in the coming years but more, who will lead the movement to the sustainable future.
Share with us what a day in the life of an earthschooling family looks like
Ha ha!! It’s not always rainbows and unicorns with my tribe.
One of the things that I love about where we live is that we are in close proximity to adventure. Exploring the different environments from beaches to the outback and of course the rainforest.
Each day we have a different focus for too much structure would inhibit, rather than help, especially when it comes to Jarli’s requirements. Suffice to say, numeracy and literacy are the two core areas we fit in daily through real-world learning, as this is a procedural requirement through the home education unit (HEU).
Because every day is so different for us, I love that education is anywhere learning occurs, and that even unintentional learning can be powerful.
What do your kids think of earthschooling and have you noticed any changes in them since they left school?
The biggest change I have noticed is the step back they have taken from the fast-paced world that we were once part of. Being able to breathe in and out with a rhythm that suits their needs.
I find that Jarli is calmer, happy to engage with learning but most importantly his behaviour has improved.
For Nala, it has encouraged deeper discussions on topics that are of importance to her, such as her indigenous heritage.
Overall, they love the freedom, and I love the flexibility to be able to approach their learning in ways that will work for them. If we’re having a bad day then we ditch our plans and head into the forest.
What is a mantra you live by?
“Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for nature. Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living.” - Zenobia Barlow
To me, building my children’s love of nature and cultivating a deep emotion to their ways of thinking and behaving is a major factor when it comes to teaching them about their place in nature but it is also an integral part of their identity.
Dana was interviewed by Grace Koelma.
Did you find Dana's story as inspiring as we did? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Dana is an Earthschooling mother living in North Queensland with her two children. When she is not running from snakes, shooing spiders or removing leeches, you will find her tucked away in the hammock with a nice cup of brew! She's on Instagram @the_education_of_little_tree_
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.
Interview with Lauren Jones | mixingplaydough.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Ben Hewitt is well known as the writer of 'Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling and Reconnecting with the Natural World'. He's more recently published 'The Nourishing Homestead.' Ben and his wife Penny live on a self-sufficient homestead in Vermont, USA and unschool their two boys.
By Ben Hewitt | benhewitt.net
What did education look like for you as a kid?
My education was fairly typical. I attended the standard kindergarten through grade school, then into high school. Honestly, I was pretty miserable the entire time: I was very overweight as a grade schooler, and young kids are not kind to fat people. In high school, I slimmed down but was still pretty unhappy. I could never really see the point in it, nor could I understand how most of what I learned was relevant to world beyond.
I had a really good friend who’d been homeschooled for most of his life, and he was building his first house at the age of 15, and that looked really, really good to me. I dropped out of high school when I was 16. I did end up returning to college later in life, where I complete three semesters, before realising I wasn’t terribly fond of that, either.
In your book 'Home Grown' you talk about the notion that even homeschooling families make themselves too busy with extra activities like organised sport. What have been the long-term benefits of being less busy, and how much would you recommend is too much?
This is an interesting one, in part because our now-15 year-old suddenly finds himself wanting to be more engaged in activities beyond our small community. And honestly, I can see the benefit of it, though it brings all those familiar challenges of scheduling, lots of driving (we live very rurally), and so on.
That said, I don’t regret all the years we managed to maintain a more low-key life, in large part because it meant our boys were very engaged directly in our family, on the land, and in our immediate community. I guess that’s the main benefit of being protective of schedule and space. I think those connections will stay with our sons forever. I sure hope so, anyway.
In terms of what’s too little or too much, I really think it depends on the child: Do they express loneliness or simply a desire to be out and about more? I still subscribe to my over-arching point: there’s simply no way to expose children to every “opportunity” in the world, there will ALWAYS be missed opportunities. And I think the ability to just “be,” to really immerse one’s self in one’s surroundings is in itself an under-appreciated opportunity.
As a guy, how did your mates take it when you first explained that your boys weren't going to school?
No issues at all. We live in a community that’s very progressive and understanding in this regard.
When you do speaking engagements, what's the most common question you get, and what's your answer?
I can think of two that come up frequently. The first is the socialisation question, to which I always draw the distinction between being social (having friends and being engaged in the community) and being socialised (being taught to adapt to certain normative). I do want my boys to be social - and they are - but I’m less certain I want them socialised to many of our cultural norms.
Also, I like to point out that our educational path has allowed them to foster some very meaningful relationships with people who aren’t they’re peers, simply because they’ve had the time and flexibility to do so.
The other question is always technology, and it’s a really hard one to answer. Our lifestyle has been helpful in this regard - we’re certainly not Luddites, but I’d wager our dependence on tech is somewhat less than average. I really think its incumbent on parents to create alternatives that are more compelling than staring at a damn smartphone all day. It’s also incumbent on parents to recognise their own addictive behaviour around these devices… don’t forget that kids are learning all the time, just by watching you!
As your boys get older, how do you see the way they learn evolving?
I’m not sure the way they learn is evolving - they’ve both always been hands-on learners, as are Penny and I. I see that our older son has a greater need for peer-to-peer social contact, and also the need to individuate, and we’re trying hard to accommodate that. Right now, he’s going to a self-designed study program at a local high school for two days per week, and it feels like a really good fit. I’m always asking people to not get caught in their educational dogma, and I sometimes have to remind myself of the same!
Do you have any suggestions for being as self-sufficient a "homestead" as possible when you don't have the land?
I think “homesteading” can mean a million different things to a million different people. And it’s certainly not an “all or nothing” proposition. We’re really privileged to have a lot of land - and I try to not forget that - but I also know folks who are doing really cool stuff on leased land, or on friends’ land, or even in their apartments. Also, while most people think of growing food when they think of homesteading, that’s really only part of it. To me, it’s fundamentally about a mindset of thrift and appreciation of and reverence for the land and how it supports us, whether we actually own it or not.
Ben lives in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom with his wife and two sons, and runs a small-scale, diversified hill farm with a focus on producing nutrient dense foods from vibrant, mineralised soils to feed themselves and the immediate community. He's the author of five books, and is currently working on a sixth.