Investigating your home education options? Homeschooling? Distance Education? Unschooling? Radical unschooling? Boatschooling?!
Firslty, don’t get caught up in the homeschooling terminology. For the newbies out there, these are all terms for educating your kids without sending them to school. They are all legal options in Australia and many other countries of the world and there is loads of help and support out there if you need it. Including right here.
We started out doing ‘school at home’, or homeschooling in 2012 when our eldest daughter was old enough to begin grade 1 in Queensland. By the beginning of 2016 we finally took the steps to merge more into unschooling after finding help from a mentor. (You can email me for her details if you like.)
You can buy package curriculum that tells you what to teach and when to teach it. Many cruising families prefer this option. You can also go through a Distance Education school and they will send you monthly packages with set curriculum but it might be a bit more difficult to orchestrate if you are moving around a lot and there are set times for completion of each term.
You might decide you can do your own thing but still based on the current curriculum (which can be found online) and this is still homeschooling. Some families even set up rooms in their house designed like little schools, have set start and finish times each day and give their school a name. This is a perfectly acceptable choice and suits most families including cruisers.
Another approach and the one we’ve chosen is unschooling, where you just let your kids be kids and secretly tick things off as they happen. Unschooling is not following a prepackaged curriculum exactly ie: in the order it’s being taught in the schools. It’s more just following the kid’s lead and nurturing what they want to learn. I like to call it interest lead learning. We usually find we cover the curriculum and some. If you find the kids haven’t covered something by the end of the year you can usually find a natural way for them to learn it. It’s a lot more involved than homeschooling in that you are constantly looking for learning opportunities, perusing the curriculum to make sure you are on track and learning happens 7 days a week, all hours of the day. We don’t take holidays from learning at the end of each school term and I keep a really comprehensive diary of what we do each day.
Radical unschooling is letting kids totally learn everything they want to through life and experiences at their pace, researching as they wish, going to bed when they like and immersing themselves in whatever their curiosity leads them to each day. Don’t be alarmed, some very successful people were radically unschooled but it takes a strong stomach and is not for everyone. I imagine a great diary is needed here too! Some kids might take longer to learn something, but they learn it quickly because they learn when they’re ready.
There are of course positives and negatives to all, but I won’t go into that here.
How we choose to homeschool
When we were homeschooling we didn’t like to call it ‘school’ because we found that if we told the girls we were going to do some school work it was usually met with resistance. Telling them we were going to play Monopoly, Scrabble or Yahtzee or going for a nature walk instead sounded more appealing. We just had to get more creative. I like to call it ‘sneaky learning’. What we do is something somewhere in the vicinity of unschooling and homeschooling. Remove the pressure and watch them soar. I don’t like labels and there is always another homeschooler out there ready to point out that we aren’t technically ‘unschooling’ but I don’t care. It works for us!
What home education looks like for you and what it looks like for us could be very different. However at it’s very heart it should be tailored to the child’s needs and wants. Kids will learn more efficiently if they are learning about something they show an interest in. Sometimes you may be a puppeteer leading them in a certain direction. But like that old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. It will also be affected if you are a cruising or liveaboard family like we are. Think how much more exciting your kids education could be if they actually visited the Great Barrier Reef and got to snorkel with a clown fish instead of seeing it in Nemo or at the Aquarium. Imagine the possibilities of teaching your kids how to tie knots, navigational skills, cooking, sail trimming, passage planning! You’ll also want to look at HOW your children learn. Sadly they don’t all do it the same way either so while you may find one of your kids needs to learn by doing, the other might prefer being shown or reading about it. You’ll need to factor this in at the start or you’ll find a brick wall pretty soon in front of you.
Don’t worry about what others think!
Whatever you decide to do, remember it’s your family. There will be plenty of people excited about what you’re doing and just as many standing by asking you all sorts of weird personal questions along the lines of what the hell are you thinking. You might even ask yourself this a few times along the way. That’s ok.
Take it all in and keep the advice that works and discard the advice that doesn’t. You won’t do your kids any good if you’re pushing a mandatory 6 hour day just because someone told you that you SHOULD be. Most kids get more out of an hour with you one on one than they ever would in a day at school anyway. At the crux of it all, TRUST IN THE PROCESS AND TRUST YOURSELF. Your kids learnt to walk by themselves right? You taught them how to speak right? You’ve got this.
The ‘s’ word (socialisation)
Lastly, don’t worry about ‘socialisation’. It’s a common misconception that homeschooled kids are poorly socialised. I always chuckle to myself about this one. Firstly, you don’t socialise kids you socialise your pets. Secondly we are usually so busy catching up with friends we have to put our foot down sometimes or we’d never be home and thirdly what social skills are our girls supposed to learn from other kids their own age anyway? Isn’t it better they know how to hang out with people of all ages?
Homeschooling your kids is not for everyone. School is a great option but it’s just that, an option. Most people don’t realise they have a legal right to educate their kids themselves too, and for what it’s worth, it’s pretty cool and a great way to spend more time together as a family.