As a qualified teacher who has worked in early education for many years I am always curious to talk with parents who have made the decision to homeschool their children, especially in Australia where homeschooling is still relatively uncommon. It is such a big commitment for parents to make and surely cannot be a decision that is made lightly. I recently met Shae of Free Range in Suburbia in person and we talked about this very subject as she recently made the decision to homeschool her three young children. Today she has kindly offered to share her insights her at Childhood 101…
Tell us a little about yourself and your family
I’m Shae. Married to Luke and Mama to our three amazing girls – Tannah who is 6, Willow who is 3 and a half and Harper who is 2. We live on Melbourne’s outskirts on a tiny block with 4 chooks and 3 guinea pigs.
What led you to the decision to homeschool?
It seemed like a natural progression for us. Just as home education is not for every family, the school system was not for ours. I believe in children having lots of unstructured time and space to learn and explore as well as feeling that it is a lot to ask that children all grasp the same concepts at the same time to meet the schools expectation. Just as my children all walked and talked at different ages without pressure, I wanted their education journey to be the same. I wanted them to have exposure to all kinds of stimulus and to be able to follow their interests rather than learning by rote. I knew a few other families who were home educating at the time so I was able to ask them questions as well as do my own research which supported me in making the decision.
Are you using a particular approach or curriculum?
We unschool which is learning from life and following the lead and interests of your child. The underlining principal is that humans are born learners and learn best with the freedom to be self motivated and learn what, when and how they choose. Unschooling rejects the idea that there is a linear, pre determined body of knowledge that everyone must be taught and tested on and embraces the notion that everything is educational and that you can facilitate your child’s learning and be their guide without putting restrictions and external motivators on it. It is about exposure and freedom rather than the stereotype of sheltering and control.
How can you be sure that your daughters are learning everything that they need to know, that nothing falls through the cracks?
The “teacher to student ratio” is very small which is an immediate advantage to picking up any areas where problems may arise as well as having more time to suit each child’s learning style. I believe that what each child “needs” to know is different as they will grow to be different adults. If they want to do maths all day and complete workbooks years ahead of their age they can or they can spend all day building things – both could lead to successful careers as adults. Children are driven to know things – think how many times do you get asked “why?” in a day. Unschooling is not about limiting information, it is about exposure – the world is our classroom and what they can learn is limitless.
What does a typical day or week look like for you?
It has been tricky for me to answer this because our days are pretty fluid and the learning happens very organically – our “maths class” might be baking a cake or going shopping. I am available to help my children with questions or writing, etc, as they need me. It might be for a really long dedicated time one day and all over the place or not at all the next.
A typical week would see us heading to the library and many visits to the park. We have another unschooling family who we visit every week and we have our regular dance classes and trip to the pool. We go shopping together and the kids come on my errands most days. If there is a local farmers market on we go to that. We go to the museum, zoo, Scienceworks, city and botanic gardens very regularly so a typical week might see us visiting one of those. We make plenty of time for friends and family so we would have a couple of catch ups planned each week. At home we do LOTS of unstructured art. The girls have access to lots of great materials and a dedicated art space so there is much creating on a daily basis. They also love books and we spend a chunk of each day reading together. I do the work of running a household, sometimes they girls join in and help clean or cook. My girls enjoy television and online games and use these daily. If there is a subject that someone is interested in we might spend some time together using Google and You Tube to find out more. I strew lots of interesting things around like new books or other stimulus and see where the kids want to take it. And of course we play! The most important part of my children’s “education” at this point is unhurried and open ended play with and without other children.
How do you manage the needs of three children of different ages and stages of learning?
In some areas this can be tricky. For example we all went as a family to see the Tutankhamen exhibition recently and while my 6 year old thoroughly enjoyed it the younger two were both bored and overwhelmed by the crowd so we rushed through faster than Tannah wanted to. But we are planning a return trip with just Tannah and me.
But because learning happens very organically with unschooling I find that mostly it’s quite easy. To give you an idea of what I mean – Tannah is working on writing letters and often asks me to write words for her to copy. Willow often watches and might chime in and point to a letter that she recognizes “That’s a W!” but has no interest in actually writing it down. Harper is too little to participate at all so she might be off making play dough or trains. If someone wants particular information or help sometimes another child will join in if they are interested too. If I am helping out for a long period of time with one child and the other 2 are bored I will set up another activity or perhaps a DVD to keep them occupied.
Are your daughters involved in an extra curricular activities?
Tannah does Irish Dancing and Willow does ballet. These are activities that the girls have chosen themselves and enjoy. We also go swimming at the local pool regularly and often attend our library’s story time. Tannah is keen to learn an instrument and as soon as she can decide between the trumpet and the piano she will start formal lessons.
What about socialisation?
The myth of the socially stunted homeschooled child has been busted as a misguided stereotype. My girls have many friends who are both home educated and who go to school – and not just in their age group, socio-economic group or postcode. They often have more time for long periods of unhurried play with their friends and they accompany me on my errands which afford them opportunities to chat with new people. We also go on regular home education family camps and meet ups. My family live interstate and not having school allows us to go and visit them for longer periods as well.
What (if any) are the legal requirements in Australia for families who make the decision to homeschool?
You are required to register as home educators in all states. Each state is different as to how much reporting and planning you are required to submit. Your main obligation is to cover the 8 Key learning Areas (KLAs)-science, maths, English, the arts, studies of society and environment, technology, language other than English and health and physical education. You can choose to cover these KLAs in a way to suit your family and learning styles of the children- you can use part curriculum, full curriculum, NAPLAN testing, a more emergent or natural learning approach and unschooling. Many unschooling families keep folios of what they do to show that they are covering the KLAs.
How have your family and friends responded to your decision?
Initially there was some reservation from our families as they are exposed to the same stereotypes and misinformation as most people, but they have been reassured as they see how well unschooling is working for us all. I know there are some concerns as it is quite a different way to raise children and they only want what is best for the girls. I know they read my blog and I hope they find it reassuring!
Friends have been great. Most see home education as another valid education choice like private or public school-they understand that like all choices home education not for everyone!
Are there any resources you have found to be useful?
- Home Education Network – a Victorian site with great links
- Joyfully Rejoycing – specific unschooling information
- John Holt – any books written by him (particularly “How Children Learn”) as well as the website give fantastic insight
- The Natural Child Project – articles on learning
- The books “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto and “Challenging Assumptions In Education” by Wendy Priesnitz are both fantastic.
I would like to thank Shae for her openness in answering these questions, if you have any questions for Shae please feel free to ask them in the comments as I know she would be happy to answer. Alternatively, why not share your experiences in making a decision about how and where to ‘school’ your children.
And be sure to visit Shae’s blog, Free Range in Suburbia, where she shares her story of being a mama to three small people.