Homeschooling in a Permaculture Village

We are currently homeschooling our children and absolutely loving it - the whole family is. 

I have written about why I homeschool before (Why I let My Young Children Leave School) and many people asked me then to write more about this journey. I have also spoken on 612ABC Evenings about the topic. 

Some people would call what we do unschooling, because we don’t have a fixed curriculum, but whatever the name, to us it’s simply an intuitive approach to cultivate a love of learning, to respond to our children’s interests and questions, and to help them become capable, articulate, caring, self-motivated, self-confident humans and engaged citizens.

Participating in a year 11 geography permaculture design activity.
Our children did attend school for a while -  a lovely little community school of 85 students in the local town. But after a couple of years, the children themselves asked to try homeschooling instead - primarily to be able to explore ideas and interests when and where they arose, and to go into them for as long and as deeply as they needed to gain a sense of satisfaction and understanding around that inquiry. We are never short of things to do or explore - questions keep coming thick and fast. 

Why did I accept to take them out of school ....

A few of the reasons I accepted to try homeschooling were that:

They are bright kids and had been identified as needing extension, but their learning needs weren’t being met at school. Now at home every day, every moment, every activity is a learning opportunity fully taken. Another difference is that we explore things in a connected way - every topic and situation can be explored from so many different perspectives - language, culture, science, maths, history, geography …

Learning to sail while out and about exploring concepts of physics, coastal management, oceanography, meteorology ...
At their young age (8 and 10), we cannot underestimate the depth and breadth of thinking that takes place and the potential for solution-finding. The opportunity to inquire, investigate, create, interact in a self-directed way is proving to be far more successful than I’d ever imagined. I initially tried to cram in textbook worksheets - which was met with much resistance and took a disproportionate amount of time. I have learned to match the traditional learning methods with my children’s current passions and interests. Everything happens so much more quickly when I go with the flow.  I have learnt to observe and interact (permaculture principle #1).

But what about socialisation?

You wouldn't believe how many people say, “Yes, I can see how it would be good for them academically,  but … what about socialisation?” (italics, because this is how most people say it!) To be honest, I find this question quite perplexing and difficult to answer without feeling and sounding like I’m trying to justify what we are doing. I have come to think that perhaps the common perception of homeschooling is that you mostly stay in the home and that this is seen as isolating the children. 

Quite the opposite is true, at least in our context. Our children are part of so many groups (music, toastmasters, drama, tennis, sailing, swimming), they also connect with a range of mentors during the week and have lots of playtime with children their own age and others. I am finding it to be an absolutely nourishing experience for them socially and I watch them comfortably and confidently interact with people of all ages. 

At Kids in Action - Kids Teaching Kids Environmental Conference
Part of the Conondale Try-Athalon team.
Even when they are at home in the ecovillage, there’s lots of children to play and we also regularly have friends over and international guests staying with us. Our children get to meet and learn from people of so many cultural backgrounds and be exposed to many languages. What I have particularly noticed is that they now relate to older people much more fluidly - rather than seeing them as figures of authority to be afraid of.

We often have guests from around the world who share their language and culture with us.

Gaining intrinsic motivation for learning

With homeschooling, the external motivators of report cards, student of the week awards, icy poles for timetables, and the stress of tests and exams are no longer present (although they are happy to do the occasional diagnostic assessment for me when I feel the need to check that they are keeping up with the curriculum).  I remember they both used to complain bitterly about producing pieces of work that seemed to be regurgitation of things on the board, or from a book, from an internet search. They felt uninspired. Now that there is intrinsic motivation in the work they do, I am noticing that the quality of work and depth of analysis has increased dramatically.

Both of them are avid readers - our house is littered with books about so many different topics and we consistently have 30+ books out from the library.

But what about university?

Another question I hear often is “What about marks to get into University”. I’ve thought about this a lot. I think by the time they get to that age, because of the pace they are now learning, they’d have already done a number of university subjects, and have a portfolio of work in areas they are passionate about. With good communication skills, an understanding of what they want to do and why, along with a body of work - they will be able to get into most courses. If a particular course doesn’t offer this, they can sit an entrance exam. 

Quality homeschooling is not limiting children’s options - it feels somehow like it is opening many doors. Who knows, they may not even decide to go to university and be a lifelong self-directed learner following their passion and create social-enterprises. Who knows, but currently their talk about being an eco-architect, earth scientist, inventor of regenerative technologies, but also of being a doctor, novelist, musician, actor and Prime Minister. Maia is almost finished her first novel and has plans for the series!

Helping to design and make a worm farm.
Maths extension work for 8 year old Hugh.

Village and Nature as Classroom

Growing up immersed in an ecovillage community, living in an owner-built ecohouse, surrounded by permaculture gardens, chickens, solar systems, water tanks, greywater systems, compost toilets, and able to interact directly with abundant wildlife, explore in native forest systems, rock hop through wild riparian zones, gaze at night to the endless stars where the milky way does actually look like a great milky spill in the sky. This context provides an amazing sense of connection to place, community, self, and the earth and an awesome sense of wonder.

They love the interaction with wildlife everyday - birds, frogs, lizards, kangaroos, wallabies ...
Their wanderings and wonderings inspire deep questioning about earth’s systems, life, the universe, history and possible futures, social systems and governance, pollution, waste and consumerism, ideas for solving the problems they’ve seen. Their amazing questioning has returned with full force, and they are pressing and immediate. We talk all the time - from early in the morning until their eyes finally close. The conversations follow their interests and inquiring minds. We are all learning together and it is absolutely fascinating.

Exploring the riparian zones of the ecovillage.
Our little 3 year old also loves that his older brother and sister are around to learn from and play with. They are so much more involved with his life than if they were away all day. They love to teach him things (such as numbers, the alphabet, games, science concepts, music). They patiently explain ideas to him and take great joy in animatedly reading to him. But it’s not a one-way benefit. The older two are learning great skills in communicating effectively, being a teacher, story-telling, comic performance, puppetry as well developing patience, understanding and responsibility.  

Making friends at tennis and including little Monty in the fun.

On being a ‘Stay-at-home homeschooling Mum.

It feels strange to describe myself as a stay-at-home homeschooling mum. Firstly because we’re not really home that much - we’re out and about exploring, making, doing and learning - in nature, in the community, with mentors and at a two-day-a-week extension school at the university. Secondly, I still actively work, but I’ve redesigned my work to flow with the children’s needs. 

I grew up encouraged that women can do anything and should put their career first. For two decades after finishing school, I worked independently and internationally creating my own livelihood around the things I am passionate about, volunteered on many community projects and completed three university degrees.  My husband and I met when we were just 24, but we didn’t start a family until I was 37 and I had our youngest at the age of 44. In my 20’s, never in my wildest dreams had I thought I would be a ‘stay-at-home’ mum, nor find it so completely nourishing and rewarding. 

My work has continued to evolve with my children as they grow, develop and find new interests. I often ask them what they’d like to learn more about, then invite interesting people to lead sessions and share this experience with others.

I organise a program called the Young Ethos Scholars to bring together children, in a natural environment with mentors who are passional about their field of work. It is an opportunity to deeply explore fields of knowledge through an ecological framework, to problem-solve and make friends. So far we’ve led programs with architects, engineers, designers and writers. I also co-ordinate a program called Nature Kids which gives children an opportunity to connect with and learn about nature, in a natural setting. We’ve run sessions such as ecovillage design, permaculture, volcanology, river ecology, native wildlife, aboriginal culture, art and dance, nature art, weaving from weeds, sourdough cob oven cooking, and the seedball slingshot challenge.

Participating in a Young Ethos Scholars permaculture design intensive for children with Robina McCurdy.

Joining in the Nature Kids painting workshop

I find that as a mother and a self-employed person I am able to keep co-creating my work with my children and remain flexible. My husband also works part time from home so we share the homeschooling, housekeeping and parenting. I am staying ‘at home’, but maintaining a strong sense of self because I want to provide a strong but engaged and connected female role model for them. 

I am not living my life through my kids, but fully with them. We are growing together, evolving and changing the pattern of our days to flow with the our collective projects and learning.

 Here's a few more images of the sorts of things that fill their days....

The kids are interested and active participants in eco-exhibitions we go to and speak at.

Both of them love to cook and create things using ingredients form the garden and local food coop.

Painting her entry for the Maleny Show.

They join in all the school tours and camps that come here as active participants - often with children far older. It's one of the highlights of their year.

What bug is that? They go and look up the books, then the internet, and if they can't work it out they send it off to Bowerbird for identification.

Chemistry through exploring natural dyes

Participating in multi-age workshops offered in the community.

Both are part of the Hinterland Concert Band - Maia has now been into the Sunshine Coast Youth Orchestra for 2017

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