Thursday, November 29, 2012

Do Homeschool High School Differently

by Beverley Paine

Education is about meeting children's learning and developmental needs: these are determined by the nature of the child and the environment in which they live. Rather than trying to cram in some curriculum that is designed for schools, ask what is it that you want your child to be able to do at age 18, what is it she wants to be able to do by then, what will she need to be able to do, and what kind of person do you want her to be and more importantly, what kind of person does she want to be? These are your guiding questions in working out what to learn, when and how.

When we personalise education we help our children take ownership of and responsibility for their learning: it is something they do because they need to grow and want to be become adults rather than something that happens passively to them because other people think it is a good idea.

When we become fully engaged in one topic or area of life we naturally use, build and reinforce skills and knowledge from other areas to support our learning.

Say, for example, for a 15 year old decides to spend months pulling apart and repairing or rebuilding a car, learning about road safety, rules, working safely, purchasing parts, working with others, researching information on forums and the internet, fixing dents, respraying, etc. Some would say this is a hobby or an interest. I'd call it a curriculum - describe it as a course. It is possible to write this up as a course coordinator for TAFE or Year 12 would present it - a six month course in Automobile Repair and Servicing. Bullet point some of the main skills covered: 'communicating with peers and experts in a variety of ways to obtain, share, formulate and discuss ideas, experience, results using written and oral media', etc. (Basically asking the guy over the counter some questions, sending emails, replying to forums, chatting with like-minded friends, etc!)

We're home educators and we're carving a new path in education experience (actually a very old one!). And, at the moment and hopefully for the foreseeable future, we're able to it in whichever way we want. We have the ability to show them that the nature of home education is different from school and that although it achieves the same outcomes and covers the same ground as required by the school curriculum it does it can do it vastly different ways - many of them more akin to how adults learn in tertiary education than how children learn in classrooms.

Such examples of recording confidently and assertively presented in our applications and reviews educate those making and applying the rules just how innovative and superior home education is compared to what is happening in classrooms. Eventually, gradually we will collectively begin to make a difference.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

How to avoid unrealistic expectations and feeling overwhelmed as homeschoolers

Sometimes when we're active on homeschool groups like this or regularly read books or magazines and articles we can build up an unrealistic expectation of what home education should look like or be. It's too easy to think, wow, we could be doing that, or I wish we lived closer so we could do that... or, if only we had more money, or more time, or better health, etc. And there are a gazillion brilliant ideas and wonderful activities jumping off the internet pages every day, tempting us, taunting us... do more, do more they whisper at us!

Relax. You are doing enough. Perhaps you should even think about doing less... Take a break. Whenever you feel a little overwhelmed, before you become totally overwhelmed, take a few minutes to touch base, ground yourself by focusing on your senses. Work your way through each of your senses, acknowledging and appreciating what you see, hear, feel, touch, smell and taste. Take several deep breaths, stretch tall, touch your toes, wave your arms high and low and around your body. Wriggle. Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly.

It's hard to remember to do this. We're too busy with too many things we must do. We forget that being grounded gives us the energy to do what we need to do. It helps us work efficiently and in a balanced way. When we're grounded in our bodies we remember who we are, not who we think we should be or who others think we should be. We remember what it is we need to do, not what we think we should be doing or what others think we should be doing. It's a simple thing to do - often the simplest things are the hardest to remember to do!

As home educating parents we make time for our children to to be themselves and we work to remove unnecessary pressure from others to live up to expectations and standards that don't serve their immediate developmental and learning needs. It's time to do the same for us! Getting ideas and sharing information is the cornerstone of any support group, but if we're not grounded in who we are as individuals and what our personal and children's needs are, then we run the risk of falling prey to expectations that undermine our sense of purpose and balance. For years I felt insecure as a home educator because, without realising it, I was comparing myself to everyone else, often feeling reassured but more often than not feeling inadequate and pressured to be doing more.

This is why I encourage parents to write a statement of philosophy: what education is and means to them and what they hope to achieve by home educating their children. And why I encourage parents to get to know their children's learning styles and preferences. And to work from that base and that knowledge. Become grounded in who you are and what you need and remind yourself frequently. I would read my philosophy statement frequently, especially when I would start feeling frantic (usually the days when I found myself threatening to send the children to school!)

All that other stuff out there is brilliant, excellent, and it is great that we have such a vast array of resources, approaches and methods we can use to help our children learn. But ultimately it's the cream on the cake. Family, home and community are the cake: we can build a fantastic education based on simply living and actively being and appreciating fully family, home and community. By removing hours of meaningless busy work and crowd management tasks from our children's lives we gift them the one thing they need to learn everything they need to learn: the time in which to learn it. So relish the time you have together. Don't fill it up with stuff that doesn't meet your or your children's needs.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Think like an Educator

by Beverley Paine

Deb's son is an avid PS3 player. It's all he does, or so it seems. Three months into unschooling and she's starting to worry... She's happy for him to play PS3 all day everyday but as a registered home educator she'll need something to tell the moderator come time for review.

This comes up a lot in unschooling groups.

What I find is that as parents we tend to notice only a fraction of what is really going on. I usually tell people to keep a log of everything, science or sociology experiment style, for a few days. Tell t
he child that it is the quickest way for the parent to learn that a lot is happening when a child is apparently 'doing nothing' or only one thing 'all day'. Most kids are okay with that - so long as it doesn't mean they have to do anything to help.

List everything, from getting out of bed, getting dressed, cleaning teeth, mopping up spilled milk, reading the competition ad on the cereal box... Does he read comics in the toilet? Did he ask a question about an ad on telly? What did he talk about with his siblings? Note when he starts playing PS3, when he stops playing and when he starts playing again. Ask what games he played, how long he played them for, what his score was, etc.

Okay... you've filled a page (or two) with what he did in one day. Get some coloured highlighter pens and using blue for maths, highlight anything, absolutely anything that required any kind of calculating, problems solving or spatial skills. Think patterns, symmetry, fractions, whatever. Science is easier (I'd pick green!) English: think communication, listening, speaking, reading, writing. Any new vocabulary? If he talked about the PS3 game, that's narration. If he asked about the cereal box competition, that's comprehension.

Learn to think like an educator.

Our children don't have to do school for them to learn stuff, but it helps us to think like an educator for us to recognise the education in what they are doing.

The way I see it, we help our children stay at home and avoid all that garbage and time wasting that goes on at school. They can't organise that themselves, they need our help to ensure they continue to have that freedom. So it's okay for me to ask for a bit of cooperation in making sure the situation doesn't change.

I might ask for a poster about a topic they are interested in - something that shows they can write whole sentences, organise information for publication, retell a story or offer instructions. I might ask for a photo collection with captions about their last holiday, what they saw, what they did, what they thought. I might ask them to write a shopping list out for me when my hands are covered in flour. I might photocopy the birthday card they made for Grandma.

Thing is, it's okay to ask them to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops too. After all, they are going to spend the rest of their lives needing to jump through the odd bureaucratic hoop, just another skill they need to learn.

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Expectations, Stess, Trust and Learning.

by Beverley Paine
The last two years' learning journey for me  has focused on 'expectations'. I have come to the conclusion that expectations trip me up. It's hard to live without expectations but the more I notice when I have them the easier it is to let them go, and with them goes the anxiety that we usually refer to as 'worry'.

We all worry. What we don't realise is that low level constant worrying is actually anxiety and holds our body in a constant state of stress. For me that triggers an immune response: inflammation. The long term affect of that on my poor body hasn't been that great.

Letting go of expectations, and thus the worry and anxiety that goes hand in hand with them, means I am less stressed. A bonus I hadn't expected is increased resilience. It's  never too late to build resilience! I bounce back more quickly, feel more confident and optimistic and I can't begin to tell you how much of a relief that is in my life!

Expectations give rise to conflict. What happens isn't always aligned with what we expect. Sometimes our expectations are based on accumulated experience, which can be misleading. What I forget when I'm relying on old trusted knowledge that underpin my expectations is that life, people and things change. Life is change. I need to be open to change. Which means I need to be vulnerable. Which is where the resilience comes in... I am more resilient and open to change because I let go of expectations, confident that is okay to be observant and make choices on what I'm experiencing now, referencing the past only as a guide, not a guru.

The less I rely on expectations the less stressed my life is becoming. I feel more comfortable with myself and with others. I don't expect them or me to 'be' a certain way as much as I did, or 'do' things in particular ways. I'm not holding onto judgment, attitudes and values as tightly as I used to and it's refreshing, relaxing and liberating.

Life is a learning journey. It's easier to learn when we remove stress from our lives. Learning to let go of expectations assists the learning journey.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Unschooling Resistance to Planning and Keeping Records

By Beverley Paine

Recently I was asked which of my books or articles offered the best advice to unschoolers who have to register with their state home education authority, especially for those natural learners for whom writing lengthy documents about our children’s learning feels ‘wrong’.  This is something I battled with myself as an unschooler – the need to balance my responsibility as a citizen intent on not breaking the law (even if I did disagree with it!) and my need to stay true to my beliefs and values as an educator.

However, if I’m absolutely honest and I need to be, my reticence wasn’t about a need to comply with the law, or feeling irritated that I was answerable to someone other than my children for their education. It wasn’t even being irked that I had to seek approval to home educate in the first place, or being annoyed at the silly bureaucratic paper-work and never-ending ignorance about the nature of home education by the authorities. What made me balk most was a deep seated insecurity based on my perception that I was being judged as a parent and a person and that I would be found lacking in some way and told I couldn’t do what I wanted and needed to do. I was afraid.

Sure, all those other reasons were valid and real. I’m not making light of them. I’ve worked hard for many years to make life easier for other home educating families starting out because jumping through those hurdles is daunting. But what stops us in our tracks and makes us hesitate and feel insecure is the doubt that we’re not ‘educators’. It’s easy to think of ourselves as parents, simply getting on with life and living, playing with our children, doing our own thing and allowing learning to unfold naturally, effortlessly. We did it for our children’s first six years and no-one hassled us then: why can’t we simply continue doing it?

I truly wish it was that easy. And for some families it really does stay that easy. I wasn’t one of them. Like most unschooling families our educational journey was a huge compromise, most weeks floating somewhere between bouts of doing school-at-home and simply learning naturally. The urge to interfere, intervene, enhance, introduce new opportunities, gently direct the children into activities and directions we valued most as parents was always present. Natural learning makes sense but it is hard to describe. Most of the time we don’t know how and what our children are learning. We trust that learning is happening but deep down we’re not completely sure ‘education’ is taking place: it takes years to de-school ourselves, undo the conditioning and dismantle the myths we’ve picked up about learning and education from our personal experiences. Until that time arrives, we are constantly beset by doubt and insecurities about the efficacy of natural learning as an educational alternative to school.

And that’s where I was at. Holding desperately onto the concept of trust, keeping my fingers crossed that all would be well and my children would ‘turn out’ okay. People could see that my approach to education was producing desirable results and they wanted to know how they could replicate it. Just ‘trust’ I’d say, somewhat tentatively. It wasn’t enough. Trust in our children’s ability to learn is predicated on trust in us and that’s something our own educational experiences worked hard to eliminate! In those early weeks, months and years we need evidence and proof that natural learning is a viable and successful approach to education, if only to hold the doubts at bay when stress knocks down our convictions and life gives us a hard time. And we can count on it to do that! We need to be ready, confident and assured about home educating our children because all too often it is the first thing we think to let go, or are encouraged to give up by well-meaning others to give up.

One of the things I’ve discovered as I’ve grown older is that my memory is not as good as I think it is. And it’s subjective. The darn thing changes details on me! There’s only so much I remember and I can’t be 100% sure I’m remembering it accurately. I tell stories about my children’s early lives now and worry if that really happened. Rose-coloured glasses, tinged with the desire to meet a present need, might be misrepresenting or twisting the account. How to tell? How can I be confident talking about our home educating life to families seeking advice and reassurance? I wrote things down. I took photos. I made notes. I collected scraps of paper, drawings, kept things that meant something important at the time. I wasn’t obsessive about it (and now wish I’d taken more photos); I simply collected enough to gradually start to feel confident that what we were doing every day was a valid approach to education and that it really was working. And over time I gradually started to communicate confidently about natural learning, unschooling and home education because evidence plus trust is an incredibly winning combination!  

Here’s my take on registering as unschoolers: just because we reject school doesn't mean that we reject the very useful tools planning and recording. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t naturally make plans. And we all record some things, some more often than others for sure, but everyone keeps some kind of records. Planning and recording exist in everyday life and we constantly use them to achieve our desires more effectively and efficiently. School doesn’t have a monopoly on writing or recording plans. Every area of life uses plans. People record their plans, evaluate their plans, adjust them, review them, and renew them. Some plans live in our heads, but others, especially more complex ones, are recorded, either on paper, on our hard drives, or on our phones, because that is the only way we can recall them in the detail we require. School life may be remembered as one long tedious need to fill endless pages of paper to satisfy other people’s ambitions, but what we’re doing with our children isn’t school, it’s different and we’re doing it for different reasons. Our need to observe, reflect and record how and what our children are learning happen not because we need to be like those teachers in school, but because we want to understand our children’s needs and how we can meet them. For many unschoolers their aversion to writing, planning and recording stems from the context of meaningless activities disconnected from real purpose they experienced as children. It’s a understandable knee-jerk reaction, but it undermines the efficacy of these tools and how they can enhance and add value to their home educating lives.

I seriously think that if we have been exposed to planning and recording enhance in a natural way as children, and had we been given sensible and meaningful opportunities to practice and use these tools, we would be more comfortable and not intimidated by them as unschoolers.

Most of us don't hesitate to buy a recipe book (or download recipes off the 'net), write a list of ingredients, make the meal, adjust the recipe (jot notes on the page) to suit our taste if we're keen to make it again. Some recipe books go further: they tell you about what kitchen utensils you'll need, some basic cooking methods, how to set up your kitchen, etc.

My book Getting Started to Homeschool is a recipe book with those extra bits. In it I encourage you to write a personalised individualised curriculum for your child. A curriculum is simply a ‘course’, a plan that we propose. Plans aren’t set in concrete: they are simply suggested pathways to achieve our goals. And goals and objectives aren’t set in concrete either. They are based on our needs and desires and these constantly change. Our plans – our natural learning curricula – need to be flexible and adaptive to these changes. When following any road map we have the liberty to take another path, but if we take notes on where we’ve been we’ll remember that highlights and pitfalls and should we revisit that area – and in learning and life we constantly revisit old ‘lessons’ – we’ll do so with greater insight and understanding. That’s efficient learning.
Your unschooling ‘curriculum’ can be whatever you want it to be. If you need it to be responsive to the particular needs of the home education regulatory authorities you can shape it to suit. Using eduspeak and school subjects makes it easy for others to understand what we are talking about, but it’s not necessary. If you feel confident we can communicate our purpose and approach/methods describe your curriculum in any way you desire.

So, even though the title of my book says 'home schooling' I believe it is a great starting place for unschooling families intent on living and learning naturally. There are articles on both my Homeschool Australia and Unschool Australia websites where I talk about the necessity for writing your own unschooling or natural learning curriculum and why I honestly believe you'll be more confident throughout your home education journey if you do. I have met many unschooling families who sadly give up home educating and start seeking 'the perfect school' simply because, without planning and recording, they have no concrete evidence to convince themselves their children are learning what they  believe the children should be, especially as the children get closer to or into their teens. Or the doubts of others slowly undermine their confidence.

I started writing Getting Started with Homeschooling when our youngest, who was fully unschooled, was nine years of age. I packed into everything I knew about education from my experience as a homeschooler and unschooler, my natural learning perspective, experience as a voluntary teacher's aide in an alternative classroom, early childhood education studies at university, stints on playgroup/kindergarten/school councils, as well as everything I'd picked up from talking to hundreds of home educating families. I wrote it to meet the needs of all home educators. Back then it didn't seem to matter so much what we called ourselves...

I developed my Learning Naturally Diary for home educators who lacked confidence in allowing their children to simply play or follow their interests all day. Most parents tend not to fully value the activities their children choose, or see the intrinsic educational benefits or outcomes of them. Parents also don’t recognise the educational value of everyday activities that are naturally part of life, things that we ask our children to do to help with the smooth, efficient running of our homes and family life. By regularly recording what are children are doing, and what we bring into their lives, in the Natural Learning Diary I highlight that ALL activities in our lives are educational. We are learning all the time. And by using this form of record, hopefully we'll send a message to the authorities that home educators recognise that play and ordinary everyday activities are an important and vital part of a child's education.

Having examined many different school curricula I realised that by and large they are built on what is known about child development: that is, what children need to learn as they grow, meeting their physical and social and emotional needs. It’s not rocket science and it’s not complicated, but generations of curriculum writers have made it overly complex. What happens in our homes and as we move about our communities enjoying all the learning opportunities naturally available to our children is a complete education.

Years ago, prompted by requests by parents who felt lost when it came to planning and recording, I developed my Home Education Report system. In essence I designed it to be an easy way to retrospectively plan and record our home education life. The idea of using the terminology 'assignment' for activities came from looking at my daughter's high school report card. It was easy for me to see her brothers were doing far more activities (assignments!) that she was at school each year. I read through three different state curriculum guidelines and condensed them into one page statements for each subject. I created three levels of education (early childhood, middle childhood, and early adolescence) instead of year levels because I think stages make more sense than age when it comes to childhood development. The idea is to use this ‘objectives’ part of the Report as your curriculum (though it isn't individualised and does include a lot of eduspeak!) The blank pages are for recording the ‘assignments’ (activities, unit studies, outcomes of hobbies, etc). While your children simply get on with whatever they choose to do each day you are making brief notes and recording their ‘education’ in a form that suits bureaucracy and will help you build confidence.

The Sample Natural Learning Learning Program and Review is one a friend gave me permission to publish several years ago. She initially had trouble getting approval in South Australia when she stated her intention to allow her children to learn naturally. After a provisional registration period she produced an incredibly detailed review. Together with her planned learning program, the document shows natural learning at work, but described in a way that educators can easily understand. I published it to show families that you can do what you want and still satisfy the needs of the authorities. We don't have to sacrifice how our children live and learn because we are recording what is happening, we simply only need to record our plans and keep some samples of our children’s work to illustrate the learning that is happening. Planning and recording are useful aides to many things in life anyway and we already use them for some things, why not this too?

So, for writing unschooling learning plans (curriculum) for the purposes of registration I would recommend:

* Getting Started with Homeschooling Practical Considerations
* Learning Naturally Diary

* Home Education Report (whichever one suits your child)

* Sample Natural Learning Program

Available from my daughter's website:

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