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For a few years I was a member of a 'families sharing newsletter' group. Each of us wrote about our year, sharing our thoughts and events and experiences in our home educating lives. I've changed names, to respect privacy.Greetings once again!
Every year I think 'this was the worst one yet'! And yet every year also seems to be the 'best one yet'! Confused? So am I! Life is such a muddle, a mixture of great happiness, joy, excitement, pleasure, tears, grief, anxiety and worry. Every week I feel like I am standing on the edge of a great precipice, hanging onto to whatever balance I can find as great gusts of wind blow me this way and that. Finding an anchoring point has been the focus of the last year. More on that later.
My sister, 44 years young, died in January. While resigned to, and totally accepting of, this fact I feel like there is unfinished 'work' to do, and believe this resides in my ongoing relationships with others, as 'working' on building relationships was the greatest lesson she bestowed on me.
Jacqui was my first 'teacher'. I believe teachers come to us in life and it is up to each of us to recognise the value and depth of learning they bring, and to capitalise on it. I am blessed by three great teachers - Jacqui (sister), Robin (partner), and my youngest son. Although everyone that touches my life offer valuable opportunities for me to learn and grow, the greatest and most profound insights and leaps of growth have stemmed from my interaction with these three beautiful people. I actively tease my learning from my, often confronting, relationships, made steady and true and sure by a deep abiding love and soulful trust. The learning is always my responsibility. And so, in losing my sister, I now have only memories and a great wealth of learning I can reflect on to progress further, and each day I renew my commitment to do this, in honour of her inspiration, creativity and enormous compassion.
Death in a family is life changing; so is 'moving out'. A couple of months after her 19th birthday, our daughter left home to set up house with two friends in Adelaide. Although absolutely loving the process and enjoying independent life the pressures of recently beginning University, her auntie's death, cash flow restrictions, and work commitments took their toll and her health deteriorated. University has been deferred and after a brief period of unemployment she now has a job in a gift shop. Needless to say I worry about my little girl every day, but celebrate her independence and her wonderful womanhood! She's a beautiful treasure, that's for sure!
For several months this year I became lost in the planning and preparation for the SA Homeschooling Expo. Not being the most effective communicator in the world, and being allergic to committee structures, I found myself taking on the lion's share of the work, with a fair amount of negativity and hostility to deal with. This was extremely hard for me, and I buried my grief for my sister to cope with putting on the best show possible. A good friend once told me this was my problem - I immerse myself so totally, so passionately, in my projects, but don't realise my limitations and usually back out or break down. In the past this has meant 'dropping my bundle', and this very nearly happened this year, but I'm pleased to say, despite the odds I pulled through. I know my life with all its incredible ups and downs and stress has shown my children just what can be achieved if one dares to fly high. But they also know the cost.
I've discovered I am a 'driven' person and can't sit around watching telly or reading books all day. Even in the garden I work in enthusiastic bursts, completing a garden pond in a couple of hours (having mustered materials and help, of course!) I work like this in every sphere of my life. It may have a lot to do with my asthma which limits me to short bursts of vigorous activity, but even when I write I tend to binge - writing for a few weeks then having a long time off! There is a contradiction in me, though, as I am a couch potato of sorts, only I sit at my desk most of the time, and am not at all an energetic person. My body conspires against me - every time I promise that I will walk daily I sprain my ankle!
Instead of fighting this innate nature and trying to conform to what others think I should be like I am separating myself from others, once again, socially isolating myself, so that I can peacefully work with 'who I am'. I like myself, yep, I do have faults, arrogance being on top of the list to work with this coming year, but even so, I like myself. It's taken a lifetime to be able to say that! And I have to admit my main reason for home educating my children is to allow them to grow up, away from pressure to conform to the models of being others prescribe for them, with self esteem and self confidence intact. I never really gave much emphasis to academic learning - I knew that to be happy, truly happy, a person had to like oneself. My goal was to try my hardest not to destroy that in my children, and to do so I had to work damn hard on learning to like myself, rebuilding my self esteem.
This year we've done lots of things, and if I listed them, or talked about them I know people will apply the super family label once again and feel despondent, falling into the good old comparison trap. This used to happen to me whenever I picked up Growing Without Schooling and other great natural learning magazines. I could talk about all the depressing times, but that might have the same effect! So I'll talk about the things our lives tend to revolve around. As I said we are fairly antisocial people, but this year we reconnected with a crowd of homeschoolers we used to hang out with years ago. Cirkidz was the focal point for our social interaction, with weekly lessons followed by getting together for the afternoon, either in the park or at Sally's house. We would have 20 children present at these gatherings, aged 2 to 17. Once a week was more than enough!
Penny and her family became firm friends over the summer and we enjoyed holidaying in Burra and then in Moonta, doing a little relaxed touring of the copper mining history of SA. Our son enjoyed a close relationship with someone his own age, although once again his brother was by far the eldest in any group setting. I don't think its healthy for someone to always be the oldest in the crowd as it dumps a lot of responsibility on young shoulders and can lead into negative leadership qualities. Luckily he gets to mix with his sister's friends, both two years older than him, but for about five years there I had to manage his friendships carefully. I found that stressful. Young children don't really understand that adolescents tire of kids' games much quicker than they do!
Our eldest son continues with his circus training, but with an adult class. His brother gave it up when the homeschooling class began to become performance oriented. Both boys attended to stretch their bodies and challenge their limits, building self confidence and self esteem, in their own time. Performance oriented circus changes the motivation. This has meant a sudden breakaway from our social network. Homeschooling networks are like that, especially for us as it is hard to arrange to get into the city, and manage only one day a week. With their sister living in the city we tend to visit her, rather than homeschooling friends, plus get all the shopping and other stuff out of the way. But I have to admit, after my busy social year, with Expo planning and all, I am glad of the break.
The Expo took up a lot of time, almost a part time job for several months. As a result I neglected the garden and property, so we've jumped back into that. Without 'grounding' by connecting to the soil where we live, and spending most of our time inside, we almost forgot how important our place is to us. We almost lost our 'roots'. It is important for me to plant 'roots', being a migrant, having lost my ancestral ones. Working the soil, planting trees and gardens, does this better than anything else.
We've finally finished our low cost appropriate technology greywater system, built a garden on our balcony instead of a balustrade, refurnished our languishing vegie garden, cut down several rogue olives, planted 400 native grass trees (all on drip irrigation for the first three years), and built a memorial bulb garden and pond for my sister. I consider all the work the boys do in maintaining our property and lifestyle, and they do a lot, as education. We don't document it, or plan it, or write anything up, there are no projects or assignments. They just work and learn.
Computers have almost taken over our lives, or so it seems. This used to be Lego House, now it is Computer House. I have two lap tops, one for my homeschooling writing (desktop publishing) and playing games and the other for writing fiction. The computer room became my writing room, sometimes known as 'the office', but we're slowly changing that habit. Setting up the room, when space is scarce in our small house, was my gift to me on my birthday. It is an airy comfortable space and I am working on making look less like and office and more like an retreat where I can exercise my imagination.
Our youngest sacrificed his bedroom to make way for our three desktops. With four computers networked we play a fair bit of our favourite computer game, Diablo II. Some nights we watch a movie, but most nights will find us playing together, helping each other level up and find really cool items for our inventories. Computer games are an important part of his life, and with the twelve new solar panels on the roof providing almost unlimited power, he can play all day, and sometimes does. I learned long ago to trust that he is still learning when playing.
The boys seek a balance in their activities, naturally, most of the time. I think they are developing the same kind of binge activity pattern that I have, though, and we are beginning to build in a discipline of going outside for at least an hour or two each day. That is to say, I am learning from their example!
Our eldest son is taking maturing into adulthood slowly, and it is wonderful to watch. I am protecting him as best I can from the pressure to rush into adult life, both from myself and from other noxious adults. He has no real inclination to learn to drive, having no real need to, despite the fact that he already owns a car! He doesn't want to work, doesn't want to go on unemployment benefits, is happy to pick up computing trouble shooting jobs for $20 an hour from time to time... He works hard and well when he's asked to and does a good share of housekeeping without being asked. He may not have a higher school certificate or a job or even ambition, but we think he's an excellent advert for homeschooling!
Our youngest continues to do what ever he wants. For those that really doubt the 'learn by yourself' method the boys did a spelling test of the 100 most commonly used words a couple of months ago. He got 79% - a vast improvement on when we last did the test about 2 years ago. He reads whatever he wants to and still has trouble with many words but is confident. I know he is gradually picking up spelling from his reading, using common sense strategies and memory to work out spelling. He rarely writes, but when he does I notice the improvement in all areas. I am confident in allowing him to develop this way because of his older brother's success. I know he still doesn't spell everything right - but most adults I know can't either, and most of them are University qualified! Spelling and maths are cornerstones of education, elevated to unreasonable importance in mainstream and homeschooling education. I only mention spelling because I know a lot of parents who want to let their kids learn naturally spend endless hours fretting about the so called 'academics'!
Our telescope lies unused, although my dad sends us astronomy magazines and we read all the articles. We watched the lunar eclipse, but overall the telescope doesn't offer the same picture we see in the mags and is disappointing. And you only get to see one star at a time. This is hard with the Milky Way blazoned across our sky, surrounded by another billion brilliant stars. Our television is stationed downstairs in the cottage (where our eldest son's bedroom is) so we often get to stargaze on our way to the house after watching telly, which is so infrequent nowadays. I can't remember the last time, actually.
We still have ducks, geese, pigeons, guinea pigs, chickens and two roosters. Add a fledgling magpie to that list. Kangaroos, possums and echidnas occupy our land, but we rarely see them. The number of native birds has increased again as the garden and fruit trees fill in all the blank spaces left by our olive destroying efforts (we have about 30 olive trees still!) The animals aren't such an important part of life now, just a routine each day. I guess it is a sign our family is growing up. I see them all as part of the great permaculture plan... the one that just keeps evolving as I learn more about what the land wants me to do with it!
I am working hard, editing my novel, getting it ready for publication. This has been a five year journey for me and this last stage is really difficult. I have to slash 30% of the book, cut it to pieces, destroy all those hours of dedicated, painstaking work. But it's better than doing a writing course at Uni, and cheaper too. I feel lost most of the time, but know that the way and the answers lie within. Self criticism is as good as any other if I am honest with myself and engage some lateral thinking skills. I have another two novels on the go, put on hold for the time being, and a dozen short story ideas. I am getting articles published in alternative magazines and also sci-fi short story magazines. I feel like I am finally realising my dream, my cherished goals set at an early age. That feels good, and I know my kids are taking it all in, knowing that you don't have to cut the grade as soon as you become an adult and that learning is life long!!! I only wish their grandparents would understand that!!
I'll finish now. There just isn't enough time in each day any more, not that there every was. I am really happy to correspond with people privately, either by email or snail mail, although I'm not as prompt with replying as I used to be. Thanks for being there; peace and love.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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