Wednesday, November 07, 2007


I recently received a few sample copies of a (US) magazine called Life Learning. It makes for rather inspiring reading, with stories from both parents of home-schoolers and the adult products of home-schooling families. Ever since the wee man was quite small, I've ideally wondered about home schooling & unschooling, as an option to the conventional schooling options.

For me, it's not a matter of any firm convictions about one way or another being better, it is more about which is better for us.

There are aspects of the structure and society of many schools which are absolutely not appealing: bullying (both from fellow pupils and teachers); cultural and peer pressure; rigid structure and narrowly focused curriculum; and poor student-to-teacher ratios which mean that individual needs and talents can be missed or neglected. I've looked at the philosophies and curriculums of local Steiner, Montessori and humanist schools...and the fees. Whatever I think about the philosophies, those schools are just not economically feasible for us at the moment. The local primary school here in the village actually has a fantastic reputation under the headmistress of the last couple of years, and is just 3 houses away from us - it's got a lot going for it.

In my own childhood, I had an unconventional and highly varied schooling history. I started kindy at age 5 in Melbourne, but less than a year later my parents had fitted out an old Kommer van and we were on the road, travelling up the east coast of Australia. Most of the next year or so we did correspondence school, supervised by Mum - as an avid reader and learner, this suited me just fine, but my 3-years-younger brother just wanted to play.

The next few years were very nomadic, as my parents split and Mum continued to travel Australia with us kids, as she worked and saved to make her dream trip to SE Asia. I actually don't know how many primary schools I attended - I lost count. Usually, we were enrolled in whatever state school was local to where we lived at the time, though I remember one notably-horrifying occasion when she enrolled us in a famously progressive "free school" (free from rules, not fees!) where the little monsters ran the school and made the lives of newcomers like ourselves an absolute misery. (I had to defend not just myself, physically, mentally, and emotionally, but also my little brother, especially when they realised that hurting him was the best way to get at me.) We lasted a term, before I finally told Mum what a horror it was - I was devastated (so was she!) as it was my dream school, beautiful grounds and incredible facilities with a big focus on creativity.

Once overseas, we travelled through Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal and India - we ended up living 6 months in India as Mum joined the Rajneesh Ashram in Poona, which had a great school for the many children of the Westerners who had come to study with the guru. It was a magnificent experience overall - as children do, we adapted to the needs of the moment, communicating with the locals in sign language and smiles and rapidly-shared snatches of each other's languages. It was the mid-seventies, and western women travelling alone were still uncommon; women with white-haired, blue-eyed children were such a delicious novelty that we were almost universally treated beautifully, and welcomed and treasured wherever we went. I could wish that the world would feel so safe today...

We returned to Australia, and I eventually came to live with my Dad in the very region I live in now, and spent the last 3 years of primary school at a local 2-room school run by an inspired and inspiring man - god, I still feel so lucky about that experience! Then 6 years of conventional high school - it was a mixed, mostly positive experience for me, but even then I knew I was never really tested or stretched...I coasted along, had fun with my friends, and achieved well enough to not be pushed to make any more effort.

I wouldn't be me without the amazing experiences I had outside the conventional schooling of many of my peers. And yet, much of that experience marked me as "different" and I often had to struggle to be accepted and certainly became a bit of a chameleon to make friends. I still think of myself as a shy person with a confident outgoing exterior - it's not front, but it is certainly hard-won skills in action.

I read articles and web-sites about schooling alternatives, talk to people who are home-schooling, and was even surprised when the Big Feller raised the idea first. I can see that in many ways the wee man would be suited to leading his own learning - he's inquisitive, constantly questioning, articulate and confident. A lot like me mentally, I think - another magpie mind in the making!?!

But he also loves his preschool, and has obviously been very happily and positively stimulated by his time there this year. I joke that he'd be happy to go there 7 days a week, because he wakes up every day and asks if it's a preschool day.

And to be frank,I don't know if I can make the necessary mental shift to put aside my own personal wishes and plans for my time if he was at home full-time (I feel incredibly selfish, writing this). I love it when he goes to preschool - those 12 hours every week are precious me-time. Though they are rapidly filled with housekeeping, preschool and playgroup administrative tasks, I always manage to spend some time reading or looking at the Net or a few favourite bloggers. Or just doing nothing at all for a little while, sitting on the deck having a cuppa and talking to the dog. Precious, sanity-saving time that a true introvert can't do without.

And then there is the economic reality that my family really could do with the income I'd generate if I returned to the paid workforce. Let me not, today, get on my soapbox about what that kind of pressure is doing to our kids and the society of their future.

He's only 3 1/2, and I'm happy that the preschool experience is right for him now, so this is not an urgent decision. Merely musings, triggered by the thoughtful articles I read last night. What decisions have you made for your children, and why?

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