Less stuff and more time: homeschooling in a caravan
By Kara Turner
Our family lives in a caravan park. All our lives we have lived in either a rental house or in recent years, our own house.
Living in a caravan park allows for constant socialisation and awareness of social etiquette. As soon as we step out our front door there is someone, young or older, to talk to. On hot days, our kids are at the communal pool or camp kitchen socialising with people of all ages until around 8pm.
Our overheads are minimal and so we have more time to spend with our children. Within reason, we can choose the hours we work. We don’t have to work ridiculous hours, like before, just to keep our head above water. We are taking the time we won’t ever get back to spend with our children now. When my husband comes home from work we sit and have a cuppa every night. There is not any house maintenance to do on weekends so we can simply take the time for us as a family. We are definitely a much closer family than we have ever been.
Rainy days in a caravan
We are out numerous times during the week so that breaks it up anyway. We are busy people. If we are having a home 'caravan' day we do our book work, play board games, watch documentaries, draw, play with Lego etc. Yep, just the same as in a house, only closer. We sit at the table, lay on our beds, sit in the annex, sit at the camp kitchen etc. We spend many days at the local libraries.
The campsite managers run a tight ship, so not much gets past them. If anyone is being disruptive they are asked to leave. This is why we chose this caravan park, as it has a great reputation. We come and go for short camping trips, but this is our residence: Our home and we love it!
Why we decided to live in a caravan
My husband Clayton and I spent all our time working and only had a few short, tired hours in the evening to spend with our children. By the time that 6pm came around we were all tired and grouchy and would usually just zone out, as we were all stressed and exhausted. It's a common story.
We would have around 10 minutes of quality time when we interacted over dinner about our day, and shared the bad bits and the good bits.
Then, one day husband and I looked at each other and said: "is this it? When do we get time to enjoy our kids, while they are still living with us?"
When school stopped working
Our children were 5 and 8 years old at the time, they're now 12 and 9. One of our children had had a rough year at school and was not coping. We were managing to keep on top of it until their teacher screwed up their homework in front of them and threw it in the bin. Well, that was that and do you think I could ever get my child to complete homework again?
I went to the school to have a cool, calm discussion with the teacher and let them know how their actions had affected my child. I wanted to problem solve and come up with a solution. I was told that "she can't have that many pieces of paper each week and she didn't need it anymore". The teacher honestly didn't understand why I was upset. This event was the beginning of a myriad of issues for my child.
It was around this time we started to look at other avenues. Home-schooling was the top on our list, but I couldn't do it, as I was studying full time and hubby was working full time. Once I finished studying we decided to have a sea change. A move to New Zealand.
A fresh start and a new school
Unfortunately, things turned sour rather quickly with our children not being well received at the New Zealand school and being bullied. They had so much joy in exploring a new country, but at school they were miserable and came home with bruises. Every morning there was a myriad of protests, losing shoes on purpose, meltdowns and screaming. Every afternoon was full of attitude and arguments.
Should they just 'harden up'?
Although suffering does occur in this world I don't believe that our vulnerable, impressionable children should be subjected to it daily.
Why do we simply accept that to live in this world we must suffer to survive or thrive?
Why do we allow our children’s peers to raise and teach our kids, when they themselves have no idea what they are doing?
It’s the blind leading the blind, creating a set of social standards that are destructive. Yes, some children cope well and fit in with the mainstream schooling system, but others simply don’t.
Psychologist David Elkins puts it quite succinctly: “Society no longer seems to regard children as innocent or to see childhood innocence as a positive characteristic. Children are exposed to every nuance of human vice and depravity under the mistaken assumption that this will somehow inure them to evil and prepare them to live successful, if not virtuous and honourable, lives. This assumption rests on the mistaken belief that a bad experience is the best preparation for a bad experience”.
Back to Australia
So, after thinking along those same lines and with the mid-year holidays approaching, things felt different. I had time off and we came back to Australia for a week. The change was good, and Clayton and I could see things more clearly.
Homeschooling again came to the forefront of our minds. We decided to try it until the end of that year and if it wasn't working, then we would put our children back in a different school in the following year.
So I wrote our homeschooling exemptions and eagerly awaited a reply. About four weeks later they came in the mail. What a joyous day that was.
Our first months homeschooling
We joined the local homeschooling group and would meet up regularly to plan, organise and run activities. It was a cosy group with Christian values, who welcomed us in with open arms. They offered so much support and in so many ways were our lifeline when stepping into uncertainty and I can’t thank them ENOUGH!
After some research, I came across the term 'de-schooling'. It's the mental and physical deconstruction that occurs after you withdraw a child or adult from a formal educational or institutionalised system. Dictionary.com describes it as “to abolish or phase out traditional schools from, so as to replace them with alternative methods and forms of education ”.
So, it was out with the paperwork and in with everything 'hands on'. We watched lots of documentaries, did hands-on science sessions, played with cogs and Lego models with moving parts, spent lots of time outdoors at the beach, in fern forests, museums, bubbling geothermal mud pools and exploring the North Island of New Zealand.
This 'deschooling' process took around the months, roughly a month for every year our children had been in the traditional schooling system. After this time we then included reading, English and Maths in more formal study. I already had lots of homeschooling books so getting started was easy.
New Zealand homeschooling brought us so many freedoms
There was no need for endless documentation and all the regulation that home education in Australia brings, so there was MORE time to sit and be with our children, time to explore a new country, time to just be a family. Bliss!
Then, our circumstances changed rather quickly and we found ourselves back in Australia. I miss New Zealand and the lovely time I had with amazing inspirational people.
It was when we were in New Zealand that my husband and I started researching the tiny house movement and different ways of living. I was working full time, I had adrenal fatigue (though I didn’t know it at the time), along with many other health issues and including migraines. I was exhausted, but had no choice. I had to keep going, not for the love of my job, but because society and our mortgage told me so.
Then the day came for us to sell our house, we had intended to stay in New Zealand and rent, but we couldn’t find anything suitable. So we found ourselves back in Australia.
Homeschooling with illness
Once we were back, in Oz, and everything was settled, we registered as homeschoolers and began the new year, as usual. My health had suffered over recent years and I was having migraines almost daily. It was such a blessing to homeschool even with migraines. I spent a lot of time in bed, but the kids still completed their work. If our children had have been in school they would have missed lots of days of school because I couldn’t drive. Some days they were not so productive, but then on others really productive. Minecraft helped a lot!
Once our children had finished their work, for the day, they could play half an hour of Minecraft. This meant that most days I didn’t even have to ask them to get their books out and they would also forget what day it was and whip out their books on a Sunday morning, lol. They are always keen to learn.
I have sought medical treatment and now have been migraine-free since August 2016.
Kara was born and raised in South Australia. She met Clayton and have now been married for 16 years with two beautiful children. They lived on the Central Coast, NSW, for 10 years before moving to New Zealand for 2 years. In December of 2015 they returned to Australia and set up living in a caravan.