Why I Let My Young Children Leave School To Learn At Home...

People have been asking me a lot recently about why I took my kids out of school, how I educate them and how it's going. At the ages of 8 and 9, it was my children who actually asked to leave school. There wasn't any 'problem' except that they were feeling intensely frustrated at school and wanted more. They are bright, well-adjusted kids who were just not being stimulated or challenged.

Strawbale play inspired story-telling and architectural investigation into strawbale and cob building design.

I began to notice that they had stopped asking those interesting questions and had developed chronic 'Monday-itis'. Their curiosity was waning, their enthusiasm to learn was too, and I could see that they were rapidly becoming knowledge-consumers, rather than critical thinkers and knowledge-creators. Very worryingly, there was a sadness emerging. I had to do something. I had to pay attention. 

As Sir Ken Robinson says in his TED talks, children are natural learners. Spark their curiosity and they will learn without further assistance.  Teaching for learning is important, not the dominant focus on testing which creates a culture of compliance rather than creativity.

I want my children to be creative, robust thinkers and problem solvers, fascinated by the world and inspired to keep learning and sharing each day, wanting to be engaged and making a difference, and forever wondering and asking the interesting questions.  I think these sorts of qualities will hold them in good stead as happy and resilient adults.

We've been educating at home now for almost 18 months now - first my daughter then a few months later my son decided he'd prefer to learn at home too. They are thriving and without the testing, I know they are not just keeping up, but actually learning more rapidly, broadly, deeply and in a more connected way.  They've regained their sparkle and thirst for learning - I love it!

Making a worm farm - part of Hugh's project to breed worms for his chickens, and also to sell at the local market with his worm towers. 

One of the things they love about learning at home - there is no fixed timetable. We design and negotiate the program each day and it always remains flexible to allow them to go with the flow of where their interests may take them.  This gives them the opportunity to go deeply into a topic until they are satisfied. When they are ready, they move on.

My mum was a primary school teacher and the way she taught really inspired me. I remember going into her classrooms and being in awe of the amazing learning wonderland she had created.  As a kid, I was so excited when she came into my class as a relief teacher - she had a way of drawing everyone in, learning was fun, exiting and stimulating.

What I learned from my mum's approach is that by surrounding children with things of interest it presents them with opportunities to naturally engage and connect. Our house has become like this - multitudes of 'activity stations' always ready, books on every topic imaginable, materials to create and design with, instruments and music galore, homemade posters reinforcing language and numeracy, and lots of tools for investigation - magnifying glasses, microscopes, binoculars and monoculars, note-pads and clip-boards, and of course a permaculture playground in this ecovillage setting, surrounded by amazing natural places.

Homeschooling has it's challenges particularly with regards to managing time for work and house keeping, but it is so incredibly rewarding that I find a way to make it all possible. Evan and I decided to both work part time from home and share the role of being the learning support person.

Dressed up for their musical performance with the Hinterland Concert Band's gig with local band, the Unusual Suspects - very exciting!

To help us meet our kids' voracious appetite for learning, we have also found mentors locally and online to help extend them in their areas of interest - particularly music, writing, theatre - and take them to lots of workshops and organise many ourselves.

Hugh checking out how the biochar system works - at a biochar workshop we organised at Crystal Waters.

learning about the world

Being a permaculture WWOOF host we often have international guests come and stay. This is a great opportunity to learn about the history, culture and language of many places. For the past couple of months we've hosted a Columbian WWOOFer so the kids have learnt so much about South America and have been practicing their Spanish.

We have also travelled to teach permaculture overseas with the children a couple of times, immersing them in cultures so different from their own.

learning to be educators

Being a centre for permaculture education we also have many groups coming here -from playgroups to Year 12 geography classes, to permaculture tours and classes. The children always get involved and are so stimulated by engaging with kids from all different areas and of various ages. They are becoming excellent communicators. They've just finished doing toastmasters and have signed up for two plays with local drama group this term.

Year 11 Geography camp - the kids took part fully in the entire 3 day program.

learning to be designers

The children understand why and how we designed our house and our edible landscape, and why we live in an ecovillage. They have heard me explain it to so many visitors. We often discuss the design of settlements, houses and landscapes wherever we go and chat about what we could do to make them more sustainable. I have taken them to design projects with me and they are becoming good designers themselves. The critical thinking and problem solving skills that design requires are great to cultivate, and are useful in so many different situations.

I am planning to write more about our journey of educating our children at home over the next weeks. If you have any particular questions or have experiences to share regarding education/learning at home, please leave a comment.

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