The pieces of my life's mosaic are many.... family, parenting, unschooling, social justice, community, faith, ethical issues and the environment. This blog will reflect a bit of everything, I imagine, all mushed up together, just like life is. The "glue" in my mosaic is the bit that's not always visible, but definitely holds it all together: the love, joy, peace & faith without which life would pretty much fall apart. The spiral signifies the ebb and flow of life around a central point, which for me is God.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Unschooling (Un)defined

I figured I'd put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and try to explain a little bit about our life outside of school.

It's easy to define "schooling", because we all went to school when we were growing up. And yet most people are unaware of the history of compulsory schooling, and might be surprised at its roots!

It's easy to define homeschooling (although people still often misunderstand it) because in essence it is replicating in the home what is done/taught in schools, often with the mindset that the curriculum can be taught more effectively at home, because of the higher ratio of adult to student.

But what about when kids don't go to school, or even do "schoolwork" at home? Now THAT is mindbloggling to most people! It is hard to imagine or understand, so therefore it is feared, judged, misunderstood. Funnily, in spite of the fact that the majority of people didn't really enjoy their school experience growing up, and that most people recognise the shortcomings of the education system, the idea of doing away with it can be terrifying! The idea that children might be able to grow up freely, outside of the structure of the educational system seems preposterous to most people. This, in and of itself, is evidence that schooling worked on most people! Most people have learned that they themselves can't be trusted to learn what they need to know unless a teacher "teaches" them. In spite of the fact that most people don't doubt the ability of children to learn at home up to the age of 5, and recognise that people continue learning after the age of 17, we somehow think that between the ages of 5 and 17 human beings are suddenly unable to learn without a school teacher, or school materials!

Call it what you will - unschooling, life learning, autodidactism, self-learning, natural learning, organic learning.... it can seem hard to describe, and hard to understand, but basically it's living as though school doesn't exist, similar to what you did before you ever went to school, and after you finished. It's a form of homeschooling, but it's not homeschooling because it's not SCHOOLING at all. It's living and learning from real life, rather than in a classroom with prescribed lessons and required outcomes. It's not learning to a schedule or by coercion, because someone else "out there" has decided that all children of a certain age should know a certain thing. It's learning naturally from the experiences that come your way, or that you realise it would be helpful to know. It's more about finding out the answers to the questions you're asking, than trying to answer the questions someone else is asking. Oh, that our children will never stop asking, "Why?"

For me, it has been an interesting and at times challenging process to try to get "school think" out of my own head, in order to create a free unschooling environment in our home. This process, often called "deschooling", can be much easier said than done, being as most of us were schooled for at least 12 years, and continue to see schools and school-children all around us. It's so easy to consider the "norm" to be the only, or best, way. For me, my deschooling has been compounded by my childhood desire to be a primary school teacher. In fact, when my older two children first came home from school I was very excited that I could finally be a teacher AND a mum. It wasn't long before I realised that life was going to teach us all!! I wasn't going to get to "play schools" with my kids! And I no longer want to! We're having too much fun living life to limit ourselves to playing schools.

Of course one of the difficult parts of unschooling for most people is that, well...... it just doesn't look like... school!! And we've been raised to doubt our own ability to learn, if it's not taught to us by a teacher in an "educational" setting. So it can be hard to trust that when they're living their life (which usually means playing in its various forms!), they're also learning just what they need right now. And it can be hard to trust that when they find a need to know something they will do what they need to do to learn it! They won't fear it, or be afraid of "getting the answer wrong if the teacher asks", or looking stupid by asking questions. They won't be bored by learning ("But the bell's gone, Miss! Can't we go?") or separate learning into something they only do at school or when they're doing homework. But trust can be so hard.

And unschooling requires trust. Trust that children have a natural drive to learn, that they are naturally curious (at least until school deadens their senses or dampens their curiosity, as it does for many). It's not teaching to the test, or even thinking about what would be on a test! It's delighting in the joy of living, and trusting that a child (or adult) who's fully engaged in an activity, will be learning. Try going a day without learning anything! John Holt wrote, "To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves ... and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted."

In response to the question "What happens when you grow up and find you haven't learned something you needed to learn?" one very smart 10-year-old simply said: "I'll learn it then!" We ALL have gaps in our knowledge. We don't need to fear them. We can learn what we need to know, when we need to know it. As can children of school age. Why do we fear the future so much? Let's live this moment with joy, and the next... and the next.... And before we know it, our children will be looking back at lives lived joyfully, and continuing to do so as they move into the next chapter. As will we.

It can be helpful, as adults, to look back on our life and consider what we've learned and how we've learned it; to compare the way we were taught in school, with the way we learn now. I know that for me, if I want to learn about something or need to know something, I'll draw on all sorts of resources to find the answers I need to know: people who know more than me, books from the library, magazines, instruction manuals, experience, maybe a course or two if I think it will be interesting and relevant. And .... wait for it, even TV (yes, TV - it is as valid a resource as any other)! Of course, there's also the internet.

Ah, the internet..... an unschooler's best friend. It really has opened up the world of knowledge to the masses. It was amusing, and yet hardly surprising, when my daughter, at the age of about 4, said, "Let's just 'Google it', Mum!"  So many universities have lectures by their top professors available for free online. If you want to learn about something, you're sure to get a pretty good head start on the internet. Even the school curriculum is available for free on there if you're really interested in finding out what school kids are apparently supposed to be learning during their 12 years of confinement. It's all nicely set out year by year, so you can make sure your child is "keeping up", not "getting behind". As if that really matters in the grand scheme of life.

I'm sure you're familiar with the show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"  One night we happened to be watching it on TV and I said to the kids, "Do you realise that the kinds of things they ask on this show are pretty much basic facts that you can just look up the answers to if you really want to know?" So I did a little experiment. I opened up my trusty Google page and raced the contestants each time a question was asked. Every single time I had the answer before they did. There wasn't one thing I wasn't able to find out really easily and quickly. Sometimes the answer even popped up as I was typing the key words into the search engine! I didn't even have to open the site.

I don't think heads need to be stuffed full of knowledge just in case it's needed one day. It's far more joyful and exciting and normal to learn what you need to know when you need to know it, because you want to know it or appreciate the side benefits of knowing it. Have you ever tried to learn about something you're just not interested in? A friend said to me recently that her son is really into a particular type of computer game. He likes to tell her about it, and she really really tries to listen to what he says with interest, but lo and behold the next time he talks to her about it, it becomes painfully obvious that she just hasn't retained much of the information he told her last time, so he has to repeat it again. She just isn't all that interested in the game. Even though she adores her son and tries to be interested in the game because it matters to him, it's really hard for her to absorb and retain information about subject matter that doesn't relate to her life and that she sees no need for or has no interest in, outside of her love for her son.

Some people think unschooling is "doing nothing", just because you're not "doing school". But far from that! Unschooling isn't doing nothing - it's doing anything! And everything! Whatever your heart desires (both parent and child)! Finding ways to follow your passions, finding out what you need to know along the way; learning by doing, rather than before doing.

As a parent, my responsibility is to provide a rich, exciting, wonderland for my children to explore, both within our home, and in the world outside. It's up to me to find resources to support them in their interests, to suggest opportunities to them that they might not stumble upon by themselves. To engage with them, observe them, delight in them, listen to them, REALLY listen, talk with them, watch the 700th rerun of their favourite TV show or movie with them, validate their passions rather than undermine them or worry about "broadening their interests", share the things I love with them and share in the things THEY love with them too. To give them time and space to just "be". To appreciate and delight in who my child is, rather than put all my effort into preparing for a future that may never come. To bring wonderful things and people into their lives. And to be fascinated by life myself! It's not about just focussing on what they're doing, but living it myself, alongside them. It's being their partner as they journey through life, pursuing my passions too, not just watching passively and disconnectedly while they pursue theirs. That can make it all sound very glamorous. It certainly is a priveleged life; one which I feel blessed to be able to live. But it isn't perfect! It's just life, warts and all. It just doesn't have school in it.

It's been said, "Homeschooling: the whole world is our classroom".
I prefer to say, "Unschooling: the whole world is our PLAYGROUND!"

When I first started blogging I was going to have one blog for social justice issues, one for ethical/environmental issues, one for unschooling, etc. But then I realised that I just couldn't separate our unschooling from everything else that we do, because it's all part of one big connected whole. We don't separate living from learning. We don't separate life into subjects.

You probably noticed from my heading for this post that it's really hard to think of the best word to use to describe this philosophy of learning. In reality, it existed long before schools were ever thought of, and the human race did pretty well up to that point. Some people feel that unschooling sounds negative, and in some ways it does, but on the other hand some things are so undefinable that the easiest way to say what it is, is simply by defining what it isn't. So unschooling is like everything outside of the school system, outside of "school think". School, by its very nature, has a fence around it. So unschooling is everything outside the fence. The trick is seeing the fence that is in our thinking too - the invisible fence. And finding the courage to climb over it and be free!

I thought it'd be good to finish off with some validation by a few famous people from times gone by, whose wonderful words give credibility and validation to this grand adventure called unschooling... natural learning...  life learning....
"If we taught children to speak, they'd never learn." William Hull
"Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each." Plato! (428-348BC)
"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." Elbert Einstein

Monday, September 20, 2010

RSPCA Cupcake Day

One of the things that really matters to me is social justice, and making a the world a better place for all to enjoy! I used to be part of a local TEAR group and enjoyed learning about & raising awareness of various issues, but ended up deciding that my time would be better spent doing it with my kids rather than off on my own. I really want to share my passion for this with them, and hope that they'll also choose a life of compassion and advocacy for the poor and disadvantaged.

I figured they'd enjoy it more and have a bigger impact (and more fun!) if they banded with some other kids to do stuff, so our "World Changers" group was formed! It's a small group of home educating families, with parents whose christian faith inspires their passion to help the poor. Our aim is to get together once a month or so to learn about an issue, maybe do some simulation games, and partner with the kids as they brainstorm ideas about what we can do to make a difference!

The first thing we did was my daughter M's idea (she's an avid animal lover!!) and it's more about helping animals than people, but they're part of this world too! We did a fundraiser for the RSPCA called "RSPCA Cupcake Day". All the kids made cupcakes and promotional posters, then we got together to run a stall at a local park after a home ed excursion to a worm farm (definitely no connection between worms and cupcakes!!). We had a lot of fun and raised $130 for the RSPCA!
These are mostly D's creations - every face tells a story!

Miss M enjoyed using LOTS of lollies to decorate hers! :)

Things got a bit silly after awhile! :)

The kids had a lot of fun running their stall at the park. For the younger kids it was like playing shops! Some of the more outgoing kids enjoyed going around to people they didn't know and trying to get them to come and "buy" a cupcake for a donation to the RSPCA.

Donations to the RSPCA Cupcake Day can be made until 3rd October 2010, so if you'd like to make a donation, go to

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No Dig Vegie Patch

We've finally done it! The no dig garden in my imagination for so long has finally become an actual thing in real life! Like most things, I learned a lot by researching on the internet and in books, but I topped off that learning by actually DOING it. I've now realised a few things I'd do differently next time, but like they say - live n learn!
Our good friends Ruth & Maddie putting Melissa's (horse's!) poo on top of the wet newspaper.
We made the edging for the no dig garden out of corrugated iron & hardwood from a local reclaimed building supply centre.
The only new thing is the screws to hold it altogether!
Let the planting begin!
We had bought some bales of hay and straw for Geoff's 40th earlier in the year, and they've been slowly rotting in the backyard ever since, waiting for us to clear the weeds and get our no dig garden ready. They're now nicely gross, ready to decompose further and provide beautiful nutrients for our plants to hopefully thrive in!

The chooks went a wee bit crazy with excitement at the opportunity to consume vast quantities of bugs from under where the bales of hay had been sitting for some months. Woo hoo! Bugs into eggs - can't complain about that!

Let there be a worm farm - in the middle of the garden!
Thanks Toni for paying for a permaculture design course so I could scab some good ideas off you! :)
The idea is that you cover the PVC pipe with a tile so it's nice and dark inside, you place food scraps in the pipe from time to time, and the little wormies crawl through the holes that are under soil level, get the food, and go back into the soil to do their "business", adding the fertiliser right where it's needed, without any need for me - a la worm-a-phobe - to have to actually touch or look at them! :)

Lookin good
Geoff, D & M built a trellis out of bamboo from our friend's backyard, for our sugar snap peas to climb up. 
A work of art :)
Baby sugar snap pea plant, ready to climb up up and away!

Success! (With the addition of some finer plastic trellis attached to the bamboo.)
Lesson learned: it would have been better to put the trellis on the north-facing side of the garden, rather than the east-facing.
Notice how the peas on the northern (right hand) side of the trellis are growing more quickly cuz they get more sunlight?
Live n Learn - it's all good :)
As Albert Einstein said: "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried..."
I thought this was our first red strawberry, but was informed that there HAVE been others.
At least they've been enjoyed! :)

Medieval Fayre plus "Just Macbeth"

Well it didn't happen today, or yesterday. It happened back in July, but better a late blog post than none at all! :)

Winterfest Medieval Fayre

We finally made it to our first ever medieval fayre. It wasn't a full-on re-enactment styled one, but it was a great opportunity to have a bit of a look. We had an awesome time!

They had an exhibition of "birds of prey" and the kids got to have a turn of holding one of the birds on their arm. They were really heavy!

We got to watch some jousting & cheer for our own "knight in shining armour"! Oh, and I have to say the female riders did awesomely well!
It was fun to watch grown men playin with swords & shields in the fighting re-enactment. They had to re-do the scene multiple times because it was being filmed, so it was interesting to see that process too!

Scary Lookin' Dude!

Another scary lookin' dude!
Dude-ess! Also scary looking! :)

Finally - an opportunity to hit one's sister with a real sword!

And the mighty come-back!

"Just Macbeth" by Andy Griffiths (blood red font, of course)

The day after the Medieval Fayre, we had another awesome treat. A trip to The Opera House to see a performance of "Just Macbeth" by Andy Griffiths. A great way to introduce Shakespeare to kids! And equally entertaining for adults. We laughed so hard - it was absolutely hysterical. Absolute silliness in true Andy Griffiths style, complete with a brief flash of.... nudity! :)


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our "Rainbow Bay" Holiday

We've just returned from such an amazing, wonderful adventure! First, we enjoyed a MUCH needed holiday break at beautiful Rainbow Bay on the Gold Coast. The people who were in the unit we'd booked prior to our arrival had requested to stay an extra few days, so we were moved to a different unit from the one we'd booked. As we walked in to the unit, we just kept walking.... and walking.... and walking! There were absolutely massive, beautiful living spaces including two kitchens, plus there were 4 bedrooms & 3 bathrooms, and all up there was pretty much 360 degree views since we had the entire floor to ourselves!!! We quickly checked to make sure that we were in the right unit, and were delighted to find out we were - for no extra cost! What a blessing! After having so much stress & busyness over the past few months, with Geoff working multiple jobs and studying his masters at the same time, it was such a blessing to be upgraded to such a beautiful place. And for no extra money!

Inside looking out:

I'm so cool, man! :)
How cool is the sky in the background - it's in two halves, and top bit looks like ripples in the sand!

A progression of photos showing about half of the view of the ocean from different windows in the unit (beautiful!). I wish I could have taken a video from one side all the way around to the back of the unit - a full 360 degrees!

On most days, I was treated to a bit of a performance by whales on their journey south.

One day Geoff took D & M to Australia Zoo, mostly because of M's absolute passion for all things "animal" and also because of the hero status she ascribes to Bindi Irwin:

Our other big day out was when we all went to Movie World (half price tickets made it even more awesome!).
Miss M got to pose for a photo with the gang from Scooby Doo, which was a huge buzz for her:
And she was QUITE the daredevil on the dodgems!

We had some fun trying to get the camera working in the dimly lit "big kid" dodgem ride, with the bright lights on the cars. We tried adjusting the shutter speed, using the flash & no flash, and adjusting the ISO, but in the end decided there is still lots to learn about our new 2nd hand digital SLR camera! Regardless, we all decided the photos were actually pretty cool! This is Mr T - obviously going WAY too fast for the camera LOL.

"I'm SOOOOO tired, PLEEEEASE can you carry me??" :) (Such lovely big brothers)

D got to go up the front and be a volunteer in making a film at the "Hollywood Stunt Driver" show
(He's on the left towards the back, with the black, red and white shirt on)

It was such an entertaining, funny show - we all had an absolute blast. Check out the car split into 2 halves by the bike!
Here, the funny character in the show proves that he actually CAN drive a car (probably the best stunt driver there!) when he ended up driving over the top of the rooves, and into a building, which immediately burst into flames!
And in the end it all went off with a big bang! The kids all had different favourite rides, which, of course, had to be ridden over and over and over again! I'm sure I got queasy before anyone else - and I only went on the little kid stuff LOL!


Miss M having fun on a playground ride at the caravan park at Nambucca Heads. Look at that HEAD of hair!!

T learning some tricks on the Z-Flex:

Skater Chick!

What a handsome lad - otherwise known as the one who seems to hate having his photo taken (hence why there's not very many photos of him on here!)

Words cannot possibly express the fun that was had this night!!....... :)

One of the big reasons we discovered beautiful Rainbow Bay was because T & B knew it was a great spot to surf, with about 3 or 4 awesome breaks all within easy walking distance (and all VERY close to our awesome unit!). But alas, the swell was not our friend, and for our ENTIRE holiday of 2 weeks there was barely a wave in sight. Seriously, on most days it was like Pacific Lake, not Pacific Ocean! Anyway, out of sheer determination, the boys did attempt to catch a few little waves on most days. Here they are at D-Bar (see the HUGE waves!!):
Synchronised Surfing :)
Did you see those HUGE waves??

So there you have a very LONG blog post outlining a little bit of our holiday to the Gold Coast, and some of the fun we had along the way. We felt very blessed and privileged to have such a wonderful holiday in such a gorgeous part of the world.
A fantastic opportunity to reconnect as a family in the midst of a hectic crazy year!

Stay tuned for the 2nd installment, about our trip to Tallebudgera for the inaugural Australian Unschooling Conference!