Monday, May 28, 2012

What sort of school IS this?

I wouldn't be surprised if someone walked in one day and asked that very question. Sometimes I laugh and think the same question myself! Because this homeschool of ours sure doesn't look like any school I've ever been to (and I went to 7).

What do you think of when you hear the word


A few years ago, I would have pictured… a desk for a child to sit behind. A blackboard for the teacher to write on. A space between the teacher and the child. The teacher standing before the class, or sitting on a chair with the children in an obedient semi-circle at his or her feet. I would have imagined learners listening and a teacher speaking. I would have imagined it as I lived it, because that was all I knew.

When we began homeschooling, I got a white board. A big, beautiful one where I wrote the day's plan. I also bought a lot of workbooks. Books for spelling, comprehension, maths, history. I pored over curriculum, lesson plans, education outcomes. I searched to find something to hold onto, some recognisable and sturdy structure to build in a land that was completely new to me. This new land had a horizon too far away to see, signposts I didn't know the language to read, roads that twisted and rearranged themselves as I walked. I remember a day when I bamboozled myself—by reading so many ideas on what to do and how to do it that I had to take myself to bed.

I tried a daily structure, and dismantled it. I tried rebuilding different structures, but they fell at my feet, or the children stepped out of them. I tried schedules and textbooks and plans and packaged curriculum. I relaxed and had no structure. Then panicked. I lost my way, found it, lost it. The new world sometimes seemed just too large. There were days I doubted myself. I worried that the children would be behind, or not learning what they needed. I worried that somehow, in some way, I was making terrible, unfixable, mistakes. I wept. Sometimes, I would rant. Sometimes I did all of this in a single day.

But a lot of days, in fact almost all of our days, were actually magic.

Those days, when I let go of the worry and the doubt and the expectation and…just watched my kids and listened to them and said yes to their ideas and we walked and talked and read and explored and created and… we went to the library and to the beach and the art gallery and…sat in our pyjamas all day reading or writing our novels or playing games and music and…we went to hang out with friends,

those days were (and are) unbelievably amazing.

They are why we've homeschooled this long.

Three years! It feels long, and it feels…
like a blink.

And just recently,

I had myself a little epiphany.

It suddenly hit me, finally—big and wild and hard in the gut—that

our homeschool never has to look like school.

Not in any way. Not even remotely. I really, truly, can let it go. The teacher teaching, directing, deciding everything. The child listening, passively. "School"—this enormous, impossible entity—didn't need to be here. Not the structure, the look, the feel, those books, the invisible wires that were my idea of "School" holding me still … none of it needed to be in our home.

Then I looked around, and saw

we'd actually already been living my epiphany. For years, we have been loosening the wires, stepping away and forward.

But I don't think I'd realised.

After my epiphany

I could see clearly

 that our homeschool is already our special, particular, walk of invention.

Instead of accepting a land already made, we have made our own. We found roads that turned corners we liked then built new roads that branched away; we entered buildings that were interesting (but we didn't always stay inside). We have written our own street signs, made our own rising towers and glorious bridges, and we have strung the streets bright with lanterns. We found fields to run in and silken beaches and we painted the world in technicolour. We have sung and written and drawn and dreamed our own school into being and as we have, the word "school" has grown fainter and fainter…until with the slightest, quietest, 'pop!' it has disappeared. We have made our land a land of learning, made it so it fits us, built it so we grow finer and greater, every single day.

It's so beautiful here. Not always perfect. But it's ours.

A daughter on the couch, looking at Science For Kids on the iPad. A boy lying on another couch, writing page after page of his story. A girl lying in her bed with the computer, designing her website. A boy discussing the existence of oak trees ("if you have a 700-year-old tree that has a new, week-old branch, can the tree really be said to be 700 years old?"). A girl writing about bald eagles at the dining table for her blog. A boy juggling and juggling, inspired by numerous TED talks and his circus class. A girl lying in the big bed with her mum, discussing long division and playing book stores and making up change. A boy playing Words With Friends with his mum (and beating her! She will have to lift her game.) A girl drawing cartoon cats and reading books on animation. A boy poring over Greek history. A girl reading every Warriors book under the sun. A boy and a girl and a mum, walking on the beach almost every day the sun is out.

A boy. A girl. A mum. A dad. Thinking, dreaming, creating. Talking, all the time. Playing in the land we made. The land we made. 

It is so beautiful here.

linking up with the lovely Owlet's 


  1. Hey Helena
    your homeschool sounds just right for your family. It is really a gift of your courage to step outside the conventional and nurture and inspire your kids to follow their passions. I too have dreams at times of making such a break, but never seem to have enough concrete reasons to do it at the moment (our kids are generally pretty happy at school and have a good balance of school things and out with school interests and friends). I do always feel that we are treading a fairly narrow rope though and that it wouldn't take much to tip the balance in favour of breaking away from conventional school.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughtful and thought provoking insights.
    Cheers, Lou xx (P.S we really miss our daily walks along the beach)

  2. Oh, Helena,
    It IS so beautiful there, and inspiring. Thank you.

  3. Yes. Exactly.

    "It is absurd and anti-life to be a part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry." -John Taylor Gatto

  4. Glorious! We've been following K's lead so I know unschooling works. But being a little nervous, I have all the workbooks and all the curriculum materials picked out just in case. But so far, she hasn't needed it and is doing far more than I ever dreamed. My confidence and trust is growing and I no longer feel as nervous as the first day...but I still have my curriculum picked out for that just in case day. ;)

  5. this all sounds so familiar - and i still have those workbooky, curriculum rummaging days, but they are fewer and far is always so encouraging to read how another family is figuring it out!

  6. Great post!
    I love how epiphany came to your consciousness after the reality had already been achieved naturally.
    A wonderful telling of your journey to Beautiful!

  7. Helena, there are soooo many things I love about this post. I love your honesty. I love the journey you guys have been on and continue to share with us. I love your bravery in taking the unknown path and your trust in your children. And as always, I love your words.

    Your ability to take a special story and turn it into a work of art via your wordcrafting is a joy to behold and I'm very happy that I discovered your blog and you, because you bring me lots of happiness and inspiration :-)

  8. This is perfect. I think most of us start off trying to recreate 'school at home', but quickly realize how unnecessary that is. I love this so much.

    The further away from 'curriculum crazy, workbook, textbook, schedules' we get the happier we both are.

    Love the last paragraph...can you imagine if EVERYONE could learn like this?

  9. LOVE! Isn't it just the most amazing realization that our homeschools NEVER have to look like "school"?! It's our life, as we create it, and we get to live it...hooray!!

  10. This is so perfect. I deal with same issues you have. Should we do more. Should we have a set schedule. Do I need to plan it all? All these doubts surface every few months. Then the days I just let happen are so wonderful. I just need to remebmer that more often. Your post is a great reminder.

  11. Like everyone said your words describe beautifully that painful/joyful road to "home school".
    Awesome as always :)

  12. Lovely :) It is both liberating and terrifying to realise you're living school-free.

    Popping over from unschool monday.

  13. Just beautiful, Helena. And so in line with where my head is at... Just a perfect post for me to read on this wintry Sunday afternoon. Thank-you. xx

  14. Oh I am bookmarking this blog post for the days when I feeling so very lost in it all. I am still up to the dismantling stage. Thank you for showing the light at the end of the tunnel!


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.