Friday, November 26, 2010

National Home Education Week 2010

Through the National Homeschool Network, Jenni Domansky organised a series of free online conferences from the 15th to the 19th of November, including facilitating several ‘park meets’ for home educating families across the country. Four of the online conferences were presented by veteran home educator and author, Beverley Paine,

The 2-3 hour presentations included a Powerpoint slide show with Beverley talking about her experiences and sharing her knowledge. They covered state by state legal requirements, socialisation, organisation and getting started, and learning styles. After each slide show participants were offered the opportunity to ask questions. The evening session on different approaches to home education was very popular and it is planned to hold more panel sessions of this kind next year.

More than 50 parents registered to attend, many new to the idea of home education. Many expressed appreciation at being able to attend the conference from the comfort of their own home, not needing to organise child-care or find car parking. Most found the conference room easy to use, especially the ability to log into the conference and leave at any time without disturbing other participants.

The series of conferences offered many attendees the reassurance they needed to feel confident to begin home educating next year: “It put my mind at ease knowing that I can do this too.” Others found the information presented gave them ‘starting points’ for further exploration of home education as an alternative, as well as valuable advice on pitfalls to avoid.

Attendees came up with an impressive list of future workshop and conference topics. Jenni would love to hear from experienced home educators willing to present workshop using the Network.
The National Homeschool Network is planning monthly workshops, beginning with Natural Learning in December and Choosing Curriculum in January.

Regular sessions currently held through the Network allowing parents and children from all parts of Australia to get together for social or support. To find out more visit

Monday, November 08, 2010

Independent Public Schools

There is a growing trend in the western world for the provision of independent state schools. To me, that sounds like an oxymoron – how can they be independent if they are paid for by the state? But then I remembered that here in Australia private schools allegedly receive more funding per student than state schools, which means that private education is paid for by taxpayers as much as it is by the parents of private school students. Unlike state schools, however, private schools are able to manage the schools the way they want, and this includes determining how they deliver the curriculum. Some are even able to write their own curricula. And that’s the thrust behind the creation of independent state schools.

Since the early 1990s I’ve watched the debate about giving state schools greater autonomy with some interest. On the one hand it places greater responsibility on school councils which have positions usually filled by volunteer parents of varying management experiences and abilities. This generally translates into areas with a wealthier and/or tertiary educated parent body managing quite well, whereas schools in financially depressed suburbs or towns find it a struggle to get ahead. Even though we home educated, the health and prosperity of a community is related to quality of education available.

In the UK, the new ‘free school’ template allows schools set their own curriculum and control admissions, as well as selecting staff. The UK model was inspired by the charter school movement in the USA, where more than one million children are educated. In Australia, Western Australia moved to implement independent public schools with over 30 schools trialing the concept throughout 2010, giving principals greater control over staffing and budgets.

Research from the USA on the charter school movement offers mixed results: good for students in lower socio-economic areas because of better quality teaching, but with some in other areas schools underperforming compared to their state or private counterparts. The ability of private and independent state or public schools to pay teachers more may eventually impact on the availability of quality teachers in the public education system.

What is obvious from the movement is that governments are beginning to investigate different approaches to delivering quality education to children and young people. Home education should be one of the options in the mix. Sadly it is still overlooked. Although recognised as a viable alternative to school based education there is no official recognition and thus no funding provision. Home educators need to keep pressuring their local member of parliament, both state or territory and federal to put home education on the education funding agenda.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit Always Learning Books for a great range of homeschooling, unschooling and books on natural learning!"

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Perth Home Education Conference July 3rd & 4th

Beverley and Robin Paine will be guest speakers at the annual Home Based Learners Network of WA Conference:

Prolific home ed writer and supporter since 1989, Beverley began home educating her children in 1986, but like many families this really started with the birth of her first child in 1981. It's almost 30 years later and Beverley is about to become a first-time grandmother – she now finds herself pondering the homeschooling implication of this amazing event!

Being a parent profoundly changed Beverley's views on education and parenting. She's moved from a `layering on' and `filling the pail' view of both to one that works with and honours the nature of each individual child. Her `educational' experience includes a four year voluntary stint working in an alternative classroom with children aged 5-13 years, during which time her confidence in home education grew exponentially!

She's not just passionate about homeschooling – she's also a keen gardener, landscaper, builder and writer. Her practical and logical approach to life informs her views on education and learning. At the Perth conference she'll talk passionately about what she believes are the essential learning and developmental experiences for children, and how families can build a curriculum around simply living in a way that naturally and largely effortlessly develops the skills and knowledge children need. She'll touch on learning to describe daily life in education-speak and why she thinks recording is invaluable for all types of home educating approaches.

Beverley's been a home education activist for 20 years and feels like she's `been there done that' many times over. Her session on `Getting Involved' will be a great opportunity to pick her brains, ask her opinions, get some tips, etc. She began promoting and supporting home education by producing South Australia's first homeschool newsletter, has organised a few conferences and seminars, run home ed TAFE workshops, as well as organised a few homeschool camps. She is currently a committee member and the Editor for the Home Education Association of Australia, and owns and runs Homeschool Australia, Always Learning Books and several yahoo support groups.

Another consuming passion is considering the role of motivation in our lives – particularly how to avoid doing what we don't want to for reasons that don't make sense to us. In a nutshell, how to deschool ourselves so that we can allow our children to learn efficiently and with the least amount of hassle.

Beverley and Robin will both be present at the conference – please introduce yourself (if you get the chance). Their three children are all now adults, living happy lives doing what they want and consider themselves active lifelong learners.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Difference Between Natural Learning & Unschooling

For some families the terms natural learning and unschooling are interchangeable. Others see natural learning as the Australian term, unschooling as the USA term and informal learning as the UK term.

Unschooling to me means taking the school out of education - that is, approaching learning from a more learner-centred point of view. Unschoolers don't work try to fit the learner into an arbitrary sequence of learning processes and knowledge to suit someone else's agenda (eg to suit national politics, improve the school's reputation, produce a particular type of employee, or even what mum's short and long term goals!) Unschooling starts from the learner's needs and puts learning into a meaningful context that is both immediate and long term, but makes sense to the learner. Unschoolers typically use a hands-on, integrated unit study approach to covering the typical school subjects with activities that make use of the whole person - head, heart and hands. Recording helps the parent feel confident and more at ease with this approach in the early years.

My definition of natural learning is that everyone learns all the time. It doesn't matter where you are - if you are a school student you are still learning naturally. A lot of what school children learn isn't in the curriculum and I believe they learn this stuff because the other stuff (that is in the curriculum) is either boring, way above their heads, already known, presented in a manner that doesn't suit the individual learner or just doesn't make any sense, sometimes because it isn't accurate or is doled out in such a piecemeal manner it become contradictory. And the learning environment is a desert, almost devoid of anything children tend to use when learning is at a peak for them. In the absence of anything meaningful to learn children still learn - they are keen observers of behaviour, for example. They will use any resources to make sense of the world around them, and if they aren't given the opportunity to pull things apart to see how they go together will end up 'misbehaving'.

I'm wandering off the subject however…

Natural learning is recognising that we are all learners and that no matter what we do or happens there are lessons and abilities that we are learning in each moment of every day, even when we sleep and dream. Instead of adding arbitrary and often unnecessary tasks to our daily lives, we capitalise on the learning that is already happening. Natural learners take their cue from what is happening as a natural consequence of living. There are important lessons to be learned that arise naturally from daily life: nutrition, staying healthy, caring for possessions, pets, family, others, creating an environment that sustains life and feeds the soul. Humans have been living and learning like this for millennia, creating civilizations along the way.

Unschooling is challenging because we don't have timetables and curriculum checklists to mark off as milestones and parade to insecure others to prove our children are actually being educated (and usually to a high standard, though not necessarily at the same rate/pace as schooled kids, or towards the same goals).
Natural learning is very challenging because our lives move to a completely different pace to others. We also seem to speak a different language. Ours is not a rush to learn everything that can or should be learned, or to cover a certain amount by a particular age (adulthood) - it's life learning. We talk more about the processes at work when we learn and we like to reflect on those learning processes. We know that everything in life is interdependent so learning is integrated. It can be exceptionally hard to translate natural learning into educational jargon to help insecure others feel okay about what we're doing (and therefore give us 'permission' to continue!) You can tell by how I'm writing this that natural learning isn't something we do to or for children - it's something we all do, all the time.

I began home education as a school-at-home mum, modelling our learning program on my daughter's experience at pre-school (kindergarten) and my own school life from years before. We then spent many years unschooling as my confidence, knowledge and understand about the nature of learning grew. My youngest child experienced the tail out of my unschooling behaviour and I feel confident to say his education was 'natural'.

That isn't to say natural learners and unschoolers don't do anything 'schooly' from time to time. Both use the best tools in their educational toolboxes to achieve their goals. The difference between school and unschool has often been cited as the motivating force driving the act of learning - who is in charge really? Is it life compelling learning forward, the will of the child, the will of the parent, or the will of the State? Natural learners are compelled to learn because they are allive. Unschoolers blend this with the need to learn particular things deemed important by the learner, parent or tutor. School layers on so much other less personally interesting stuff that the natural learning agenda is hindered, subverted or almost completely squashed.

© Beverley Paine

Become a member of the friendly Homeschool Australia Frequently Asked Questions email group. Visit Homeschool Australia to read more original articles on home education by Beverley Paine. No time to visit the site? Subscribe to the free Homeschool Australia Newsletter. Visit Always Learning Books for a list of books written by Beverley.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unschooling and motivation to do the 'have to do' things in life.

I've just read an excellent post by Kelly Hogaboom's Life in HQX blog, a reaction to the current internet discussion prompted by an inflammatory media article on unschooling aired this week in the USA. My attention was caught by her comment "if I may be so bold to rephrase, she worries a child who is not raised with duties and commitments they “have to do” will develop to be entirely self-centered."

I find it hard to convey to homeschoolers who aren't unschooling yet but look wistfully over their fences at it, that unschooling, or natural learning as we tend to call it hear in Australia, is definitely not abandoning the concept of duties and commitments children have to do. Heck, life just ain't like that - it won't allow us to do that. Children can't handle it either. They quickly show signs of real stress.

Parents who love their children will do anything to alleviate this stress. If a parenting or educational approach or method isn't working, parents make adjustments. We're constantly looking for win-win solutions, which means we're constantly compromising, negotiating and cooperating with our children and our selves.

I've had a problem with the definition 'child-led' learning for a long time because it's a piece of jargon and jargon isn't well understood outside of its niche. All learning is learner-led. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Of course unschooling is child-led learning. But what makes unschooling so successful is that context that learning-led learning is embedded within.

The level of permission and freedom to learn in the way that best suits the individual is paramount to that success. We're not putting fences around the learning moments, saying it has to happen in this or that way, but in the best way that suits the learner. We're shifting responsibility of the learning back on the learning and in the process, unshackling their ability to learn. This keeps curiosity, creativity and motivation alive and ticking at full pelt. And not just for children - for any learner at any age.

One of my most poignant memories of unschooling learning is when my son, then 15, consciously tackled overcoming his lack of motivation to do things he 'had to do'. He's always done things he hadn't wanted to do, having found some motivator or other to convince him they were worth doing (which included at time, doing them to please me, whether I had asked him to do them or not). However, at this age, for some reason, he'd come across something he couldn't avoid doing and he simply didn't want to do it. THe goal he'd chosen required him to do it. If he wanted to achieve his goal, he had to do it. Unlike many people, he's a thinker and self-reflector. Unstanding motivation, cause and effect is important to him. He truly wanted to know how motivation works and why we do the things we don't want to do, or do things we know are not right for us, or why we don't do things that are right for us or others, etc.

Each of my children has worked through this personal understanding of motivation, but in different ways. Life doesn't happen to these young people - they are actively and consciously involved in the construction of their daily reality. There are LOTS of things they don't like about life. They do lots of things they don't want to do. They do lots of things they are compelled to do for reasons they don't like and sometimes don't even understand (such is the nature of society and its rules!) But they don't mindlessly do them because someone else is in charge. They make their own choices.

And that's what unschooling has given my children that I see missing in so many of their schooled and unschooled peers.

Homeschooled and schooled families both admire the results and fear the method. Kelly's observation is spot on - us unschoolers all too often promote the results enthusiastically, but lack the perception to fully understand the motivation behind the fear, and to answer those needs. Only then will we be successful in convincing others that it's okay to give it a go, experiment with the unschooling approach, see what works, see what doesn't, build on success. That's what we did. Getting something right or wrong, or incorrect or correct, is nowhere near as important as playing the learning game.

At the heart of their fear is the feeling that they will lose control. We need to help them see that this control is an illusion - they never really had control of their children's ability to learn in the first place.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are You a Home Educating Activist?

This article was inspired by an article in Fruitful, a regular e-zine by UK homeschooling mum and lifestyle coach, Sally Lever.

As a teenager I wanted the world to change, to become a more child-friendly place. My frustration that generations of wise, educated people hadn’t fixed the world’s problems continued to nag at me and pointed me in the direction of education. Luckily I failed high school, missed my chance at becoming a teacher and became a home educating parent instead!

Teaching my children at home – changing the world one child at a time – was never enough to satisfy me. I needed to share what I was learning with others. My brief foray into alternative schools was disappointing but illuminating. It was hard and often unrewarding work being an activist pushing for change within the education system. I gave up on that and put all my energies into helping other families enjoy an old, tried and proven approach to education, one that within a supportive community works really well.

Activism conjures up images of people chained to trees, lying across roads in front of bulldozers, defying soldiers with guns in poverty stricken or totalitarian countries far away… Those people put their freedom and even their lives on the line to make a statement about what they believe in or to fight for change. We don’t do that, but we do push boundaries and engage in activities that challenge our perceptions about ordinary everyday life; who we are, what we want and how we can achieve our goals.

In her article Sally asks: “How can we follow our hearts and speak out for what we believe in without causing further suffering or hardship? How can we be effective and consistent in how we decide to act? How do we engage in non-violent methods of transformation?” Fortunately for home education the issues we face rarely require radical action, but many of us do face challenges that leave us stressed, disturbed, frightened and sometimes inclined to react rashly, often in ways that can impact negatively on our lives.

One of the side effects of becoming an activist is being more visible in the community – we put ourselves in the spotlight and this means we can become the target of criticism or adulation. Neither is welcome and both are stressful to manage. We can also, as I did, expose our family life to the world, which can be a positive experience, provided our families are happy to have their privacy destroyed for a ‘good cause’. It is difficult to be an effective activist when using a pseudonym and probably impossible in this internet-connected world.

For a long time I wasn’t clear about my abilities as an activist and tried to do too much. ‘Burn out’ is a common symptom; too many of my friends suffered breakdowns, ill-health and even marital problems due to not understanding their personal limitations or the limits set by their circumstances. The need for change is so great and the work required to bring it about so vast it is hard to know where to begin or where to stop…

This means that the first thing to do if you’re thinking of becoming a home education activist is to take inventory of your personal skills, ambitions, limitations, situation and circumstance. Work out what you are a good at, what comes easily, what can fit into your current lifestyle without too much personal or family sacrifice. This will translate into action that doesn’t drain you of energy.

Determine what kind of action suits your personality. Are you a communicator that loves writing. I am, hence I write for my website, edit and produce newsletters and magazines and books. Perhaps you love talking to people; you could find yourself happy giving seminars or training people. Or maybe you are a whiz at debating and love a good argument; working towards legislative change may be your niche. If you are great at persuading people, finding ways to market your goals to a wider audience could be the way you work to change the world. Or you could be a ‘people person’, able to put people in touch with other people; every cause needs a campaign manager.
What life skills do you have that you can bring to support this cause? The home education movement needs book-keepers, lawyers, public speakers, salespeople, writers, child-minders, caterers, managers, teachers, sound technicians, secretaries, visionaries – you name it, there is a job that can be filled by a volunteer at some time now or in the future. Organisations like the Home Education Association have volunteer registers where people can put their names down for helping out should the need arise.

Activism doesn’t have to be loud campaigns seeking solutions to immediate problems; a softer form of activism exists in which ongoing education, mentoring, coaching and training, writing and journalism and facilitation of discussions work continuously to effect change. I take heart when I read that over 400 home educating events and activities were organised by HEA members in the past year – every one a sure and steady statement that home education works and is a viable alternative to school based education. Getting together and sharing our experiences is the simplest but probably most powerful form of activism.

If you’d like to help promote home education, ask yourself what moves you emotionally the most. Are you angry that the law, or how it is administered, discriminates and victimizes some families? Are you passionate about promoting an educational approach that respects children’s individuality? Follow your heart when picking your causes; your passions will motivate and energise you.

Analyse the situation carefully; what needs to change? Research all aspects. Tune into news about your cause. Have others found appropriate solutions that could be adapted to your situation? What can you learn from them that can help you in your cause? Anticipate and understand the obstacles that may stand in your way, be they legislative, bureaucratic, lack of education or training, lack of funding, etc.

Find allies, people who think the same way as you. It is more productive to seek like-minded people and form coalitions than it is to spend endless hours persuading people with opposing opinions to your point of view. Think laterally – you may find allies in surprising places. Don’t be an island; communicate with others regularly. Keep in touch by telephone, messaging, emails, newsletters, online social networks, blogs, etc. Seek out mentors and personal heroes, activists that inspire and encourage you by their stories.

You will need to work out how much time and energy and which of your personal skills and attributes you can dedicate to your role as a home education activist. We are all time-poor parents living busy lives and our first responsibility is to be there for our children and families. Be realistic. Set clear boundaries about what you can do and when you can do it. Learn to say ‘no’ as often as you say ‘yes’. But most of all take care of yourself. To serve others and your cause you need to regularly express gratitude for being, work to stay healthy and enthused about life, serve and take care of others, be interested and involved in your community and what’s happening around you and in the world.

On a personal level, being a home education activist has added meaning and purpose to my life and given me a tremendous feeling of achievement. Feedback from people whose lives I have touched by my writing or workshops – families who were desperate with children falling behind at school, or homeschoolers who felt lost and ready to quit – encourages me to continue. I know that my efforts, no matter how small or insignificant they feel to me, count and make a difference.

© Beverley Paine, 2010
first published in the 2010 HEA Resource Directory -
Homeschooling since 1986, Beverley writes practical e-books for families getting started. See her suite of home education websites at Homeschool Australia.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Home Education Article Published in 'School Days'

I was invited to write an article introducing home education in Schooldays magazine:

The blurb for the magazine says, "Schooldays magazine is for designed for school educators and parents who are interested in their children's education. Written by international specialists in their fields in education, the magazine is filled with a variety of quality editorial on topics such as child development, home education, personal development, learning difficulties, professional learning, school marketing, time management for families. Plus there's product and book reviews and fabulous giveaways. In future issues Schooldays will report on different school systems, learning styles, gifted and talented learning, interviews and there will be special features, profiles, special offers and much more. Take advantage and register for your free subscription now - they won't be free for long and be in the draw for one of the great giveaways!"

It can be found at