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2001 Ramblings

by Beverley Paine

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.

Hello again! Three newsletters arrived this week, to my delight, and I thought - why not risk being different and put mine out early? The way life happens here that's sane advice, as I feel I have a bit of time of my sleeve right now.

January and most of February whizzed by but the happy arrival of the Batson's newsletter made me feel the year had really started!

Life with older homeschoolers is just as much fun as when they were young ones, although completely different. I am reminded of this as I read the newsletters and various Internet homeschooling mailing lists. I'm glad to be past the decade of worry and concern that perhaps our homeschooling method isn't adequate or easily measurable. Standards and standard curricula never really worked in our house as reassurance we were on the right track. Only our growing children could do this!

I love Ron's comments re competition and fully agree with them. There's a book waiting to be written in what he has to say - or perhaps several articles that could do the circuit of Oz home education newsletters. The reminder that competition is healthy and thrives in everyday life, without the need to go to great lengths to artificially contrive additional competition to test our children's emerging abilities, is always timely.

The Batsons musings on their overseas experiences makes me yearn for a life of travel - this dichotomy within me causes great distress and unrest every year. I've often been tempted to discontinue receiving newsletters that bring out the gypsy yearning within me! In truth, I love the couch potato adventurer aspect of my spirit and honour my strong nesting instinct. Perhaps one day I will be brave and courageously leap into a travelling life and experience it first hand with zest and zeal! For now I am too busy to even contemplate it seriously.

Ron also mentions undertaking challenging tasks. This is something I'm continually confronting my family with. I embrace challenge, though work within my restrictive stress reactions which cause physical illness and hold me back all too often. Learning to live within my limits, but stretching myself continuously, and loving the growth and learning that results, is the only way I can demonstrate that embracing challenge, stepping out of my comfort zone (though not too far!) is exhilarating and immensely rewarding to my wonderful family.

Jenny brings to mind once again the importance of taking care of the physical self and I know from experience that successful homeschooling hinges on this simple fact! I would make the perfect homeschooling mum now, knowing what I do, if I were to start over. So many issues that distress homeschooling families can be fixed with attention to proper nutrition, adequate rest and exercise, all tailored to individual needs. Only at the end of our hands-on parenting time of life Robin and I are finally putting into practice habits that would have saved much heartache all those years ago!

It's August now. Winter arrived early, with a blanket of grey cloud that hung around and curtailed our solar powering pleasure! With the solstice behind us I'm hanging out for long hot sunny days!

I've enjoyed the newsletters that arrive in my post office box. Mostly they remind me of the long, happy years behind me, as we have one young person, our daughter, out in the world making a home for herself, and yet another one old enough to vote and our youngest, although only fourteen, seems a lot older. I'm glad to have contact with other 'adolescent homeschooling' families.

Sue's flash of insight resonated with me - thanks Sue! Your comments on dance patterns and culture bring up a subject dear to my heart, that of relationships between elements. I think I noticed these a long time before I met permaculture thinking, but the theory underlying permaculture sang this knowledge wonderfully for me, and I'm trying to live by the design principles. Nature, if observed closely, abounds in wonderful patterns we can flow and move to. All to often I feel crippled, or hobbled, by my consumeristic, materialistic upbringing and cultural enclosure. I've had a need to be radically different, to rebel, and I think our homeschooling practice stems from this deep need to dance to the patterns of a natural life.

My essay on 'Practice Makes Purpose - Dispelling a Myth' may seem to contradict Sue's observations about patterns, practice, embedding of knowledge and skills and so on. Her comments challenged me to think deeper, something I really enjoy. Sue says 'I am building pathways and it takes that many times to do it (to become 'burned in')'. I agree completely, but I have seen pathways that are invisible, the pathways of absorption learning. I believe that every moment is a building moment, leading to consolidation of processes, knowledge and skills we can have no hope of knowing until the lessons are learned and the skills accomplished. Only then can we look back and appreciate the vast anchoring roots, trailing deep into our pasts, our past experiences, the accumulation of a great many diverse paths, leading to our final ah-ha! or triumphant moment. I think that success is the tip of the iceberg and most of the learning leading there is safely tucked underwater, in the vast ocean of life, barely glimpsed, rarely acknowledged. How else can explain the sudden success or triumphs I see occurring without apparent practice?

I agree one hundred percent with Sue's remark that life learning has to be voluntary and passionate. Perhaps this could be a guiding charter for all homeschools, a motto that unifies us.

Long ago I realised that survival, in a basic animal instinctive way, included social activity. This was brought home to me with a loud bang when my sister's illness became critical. Building community is the hardest work humanity faces. When Sue talks about the patterns she finds in communal cultural activity I believe these are derived from our natural surroundings - we sing the geography of our location; we dance our relationship with the earth. This I need to do more of. This I wish I did more of with my children.

Robin's father died in May, casting long shadows on our lives. This followed the sudden death of our daughter's best friend's mother late last year. Kirsten was my age, and her death was avoidable had she visited the doctor and had her condition diagnosed. Like most of us she kept putting the visit off, finding completely rational excuses for her sudden weight loss. A sharp and tragic reminder about the silly practice of procrastination. I worried for our daughter, with her taking the brunt of the caring on her shoulders, helping her friend cope with his loss. The last 18 months have been enormously stressful for our daughter - her aunt dying of cancer in January, then leaving home to start Uni, quitting 4 months later, finding a traineeship, her bosses' divorce adversely affecting her working environment, living on a very low income, her grandfather diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, Kirsten's death, bad asthma and muscular problems causing ill health. It's hard to know how to 'be there' for this adult child. My life has entered another phase.

Our eldest son has no intention of finding permanent or part-time work just yet, and despite owning a car, he isn't that interested in getting his license to drive. I am always fielding questions about his employment situation and this is difficult - much worse than trying to explain homeschooling! He's a young 18, not at all ready to move into the adult world and he keeps evaluating his sister's impoverished and stressful life and comparing it to his comfortable, relaxed lifestyle. I can't blame him for hanging at home, helping out and generally acting like a 'retired gentleman'! He does a little bit of computer trouble shooting now and then, for pocket money, and doesn't have any ambition. It is hard to not succumb to the paranoia so prevalent about youth and success in our society.

Something I've noticed over the years is how many children follow their parents' career paths. My brother became a fitter and turner, like Dad, and my sister and I tried motherhood and housewifery, with an active role in education (both in the home and in educational institutions), like Mum. I glance around at people I know and see the same thing happening, and find examples splattered across the media. Movie actors, doctors, politicians, writers, plumbers, scientists, mechanics, musicians. Centuries ago this was typical and made sense, but there is no reason for people to do this nowadays, yet I see it still happening. Children following in their parents' footsteps. Schooling doesn't seem to make much difference. It's an interesting cultural pattern.

Re the ever recurring socialisation debate: I'm always telling people that children want to be with Mum and Dad first, have Mum and Dad as their best friends, from birth to about age 10. but people don't believe me. If children have these first best friends then all that social stuff seems to work out fine as time goes by. Once I discovered this amazing fact, most of the problems and disputes and hassles that beset our family life seemed to evaporate and cooperation and understanding became second nature. It sounds ideal. It feels ideal.

Good, effective communication is essential in life. I can track all of my social problems down to poor or ineffective communication. Talking and listening, conversation: these are, or should be, the basis for education - not reading and writing and arithmetic. Not dull bookwork, or academic testing. Not glitzy educational activities or toys, or you-beaut learning programs. Just respectful listening and talking and conversations, about anything and everything, about how we move, act, feel, dream, think. and how we think about thinking.

John Holt told me that, by way of words in a book, way back in 1985. I'm still listening to those words and learning their wisdom, even though the book has long left my hands. Imagine if I'd had the opportunity to chat, over a cuppa.

Like everyone else I get paranoid about education. Last year I formatted a 'Report' for our eldest son, in lieu of a Year 12 Report from a 'proper' school. He studied nine subjects at Year 12 level. His report shows grades and assessment tasks, assessment criteria, and subject aims and objectives, plus evaluative comment. A thoroughly professional document! Our youngest son is working through a Year 7 maths book and remedial reading workbook. I've a Year 8 maths book lined up next, and ask that he complete them by the end of the year. He's planning on finding a part time job when he turns 15, and we think he needs some basic skills to impress whomever. It keeps the inner critic at bay. Like his brother before him I find no trouble in organising our youngest to do this study - he is completely self motivated and puts in about five hours a week of maths and three of comprehension skills without prompting at all. I think this cooperation and self-organisation comes from his complete lack of 'having to do' formal study or bookwork on a regular basis when he was younger, and his understanding of the purpose of the study.

Then again, as with all other areas in their lives, I found my children naturally grow into cooperative behaviour, especially if I didn't nag, coerce or insist. It just took time and patience and the setting of good examples on my behalf.

I rarely talk about Robin. That's because I take him for granted! He has just completed his first full year of relatively full time employment - four days a week - in over 17 years. Last week Centrelink advised us we were no longer eligible for a low-income health care card, and after the initial shock, we went out and celebrated. We're no longer 'poor'!

Robin is a mainstay of support. He built our house, like the one before this one, with his own hands. I stand back in awe and look at this magnificent creative endeavor sometimes, but mostly I take it for granted. I know growing up, with two houses built around them, has taught our children so much, in every curriculum area. And it shows. they each have amazing organisation and planning skills. Dreaming and imagining aren't alien to them, especially when problem solving practical issues.

I totally rely on Robin - he's my backbone (which is why he's had one spinal operation already!). Without him I couldn't do what I do, especially in the field of home education networking and my writing. Ironically, we met at school. We'd been in the same class for four years before our eyes became entangled, closely followed by other parts of our anatomy. I've known Robin 30 of my 43 years. I wish for my children the love that we have found and continue to nurture.

The Reynold's family newsletter reminded me of the incredible diversity that exists within our homeschooling circle, with their solid foundation in religious faith. Barry asked what our real hopes and aspirations were in this life. I want to build community, starting from the self out. I feel my own upbringing left me very deficient in this area of life. For starters, I need to develop a healthy lifestyle, suited to my individual body. This is a hard task, much harder than it sounds. I'm all for integrating mind, body and spirit, and believe that health can only come when all are congruently and passionately attended to. I've a long way to go. My children are at that stage of life when they 'know' they are immortal, despite attending three funerals in the last eighteen months. Robin, well he focuses on the 'here and now', this moment, what's next, what does he have to do now, and then gets on with the job. I'm glad for that, because without this focus we wouldn't have such a beautiful and comfortable paradise to live in!

Here at home we all know that our love for each other is immortal, and life builds upon this foundational knowledge.

The 'Forest Fanatics' challenge me to stay on track, in much the same way as Bernice and Sarah, with their diligent practice of faith, do. Keeping heart, knowing ourselves, following the wisdoms of the great teachers. It's not easy when life gets busy and things don't go the way we want them too!

Barry got asked: Why do you choose to home educate? I loved Barry's well-expressed answers to all the posed questions. My answer is not so eloquent - I have no choice. It's been like this for years. My youngest insists on it, even when I'd like to throw the responsibility as far as I can!

Robin sidestepped the responsibility years ago, saying he'd put the kids into school if I wasn't around. I resented this abdication of the fathering values and practices I'd dreamed about, planned for, and yes, even tried manipulating our lifestyle and environment to make happen! Steadfast and solid in nature, Robin simply took the back seat, 'being' there for the most part. I've always seen the value of this participation, but wished, still wish, that he'd actively and consciously DO more, especially of the planning and evaluating.

Nothing changes as the children grow into adulthood. I am 'mother'. and a traditional mother, locked into the role of 'relationship builder'. I'm the person they all (Robin included!) come to with their problems and needs. Robin is the one they boast to or chat about life in general (not personal problems, of course - that's mum's role!) Did I create this dichotomy in my parenting practice? Of course. Even with eyes wide open we fell into gender stereotypes. Upon reflection I see that this is who we are and what we want from our lives. It reflects our traditional family values.

Deliberately having Robin as an 'at home' father for most of the children's early years was wonderful. His fathering is modelled on his father's practice: Tony would do housework to help Irene, take an interest in the education of the children, involve them in his hobbies and interests without pushing, and was active in home building. I've challenged some of the more worrisome elements with traditional role models - especially around responsibility issues, and this has created many unhappy moments in our life. I often felt the need to fight to change inequalities. Even now, after all these years of marriage, we continue to find discriminating assumptions still underlying a lot of our behaviour. It's scary how little, or slowly, we learn and change.

Change is the hardest thing to 'do' in my life. I worry for my children. One of my ambitions in life was to change to be a 'better person' while my children were little, so that they may grow emulating the 'better' ways of life. sigh. Patience was my first recognisable life lesson: accepting that change is slow. Sudden, permanent change is usually accompanied by trauma and conflict and I don't like that in my life. Who does?

John Peacock once wrote that we should find role models to emulate, to help build character. I think I do this subconsciously, but feel it should be more of an active process. I'd achieve my goals faster this way. Rather belatedly, I'm telling my children this piece of wisdom. Finding role models, in the flesh, takes a fair amount of assertive searching, and a little social courage.

I've always written the family-sharing newsletter. I'm the designated writer in the family. I'm so good at it; no one wants to have a go. They can't handle the innate urge to compare themselves, despite their own excellent abilities, or so they said one year. Another is that no one but me writes. unless it's a list, or an occasional poem, or project. Pen and paper don't often come together and computers have other uses. I feel guilty that my family don't care or share for the newsletter in the same way other families, do. I feel like that, in some way, we are letting you all down.

Unlike a lot of other homeschooling families we haven't developed a reading culture. Books don't play a large part in our lives. We read for information, mostly magazines, because they can be read in snippets between jobs. My asthma prevented a read-aloud habit developing - it was just too difficult and uncomfortable. No one else wanted to read aloud - once again because I was too good at it!

This 'being good' at stuff is a real pain. Robin and I are 'all rounders' - good at just about everything without being excellent at anything (although on casual inspection we look brilliant at most things, on close inspection you fill find all the faults and flaws of learners 'having a go'). We have very high standards and are super-efficient. This has made it very difficult for our children, although they tend to learn a lot by absorption and this is reassuring.

The 'have a go, don't say no' policy became concrete in our family, because otherwise the children were hesitant to do anything, because it wouldn't look like the 'grownups' efforts. I've seen this so often in learning environments - children trying their best to live up to unrealistic expectations. Comparison is at the heart of competition, and although a certain amount is healthy and necessary, taken to extreme it seems to erode, not build, self-confidence. Finding the balance, as in all areas of life, seems to be the trick!

There are some areas I'm hopeless at, but wish to correct as time passes. I love the idea that life begins at 40. I know mine began 43 years ago, but this new phase is definitely very exciting. I don't feel like planning for retirement, like the adverts say. I'm planning a career! And a steady income. I don't see a need to stop earning at any set date. Society has many strange, and I believe, unworkable, ideas!

To sum up our homeschooling practice in two words: 'embrace challenge'. I think I'm the only one that consciously does this, but I watch the others and see that they take on challenging tasks, in their own time, stretching that comfort zone, expanding it. Sometimes I want it to happen quicker; then I must go back to my life lesson on patience and understand that nature grows best when all the nurturing elements are there.

I'm planning on writing some more homeschooling booklets over the next twelve months - rather belatedly - and will definitely get my Homeschooling Reports finished. However the muse may take hold and whisk me away to fiction-land, and there I might stay, in absolute bliss, ignoring the real world. So don't hold your breath.

Time. I empathise with Bernice on this one. Why isn't there more time? I'd hate to cram anything else in to my day, so perhaps I should learn better time management techniques?

One thing we're really trying to do at home is learn how to have fun. That's sounds really strange, but I think fun isn't a natural state in our modern society. We've re-labelled consumerism as fun. We try hard to 'play' at life, but even then the 'fun' element seems missing, or contrived. So that's our goal for next year - introduce fun into everything we do.

'Til next time,

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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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