How We Unschool Despite Strict Homeschool Regulations


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to answer to anyone and could unschool our children with total freedom? I guess some people are fortunate to be able to do this. But we’re not.

In our state of Australia, if we want to homeschool, we have to fulfil certain requirements. Our children are supposed to follow the same syllabus as the one used in schools. And we have to prove they’ve done that. But how can we do that if we’re unschoolers? What if my girls aren’t at all interested in what they are ‘supposed’ to be learning? What if they want to do something else?

I can fight the system. Maybe the registration process will become more relaxed if we all protest and work together. Perhaps we won’t always have to live under this strict system. It’s possible we might gain the freedom to unschool without any restrictions. And I’m really hoping this will happen.

But what about now? How can we unschool TODAY without compromising our educational beliefs but still stay within the system? How does our family do that?


 It’s fortunate my girls have a wide range of interests. (We are all visibly and audibly excited about anything and everything so I think that helps.) Usually, I can translate my children’s interests into the right educational language and apply it to all the required key learning areas without a lot of trouble. I just need to be good at matching up the right areas of the syllabus to what my girls are doing naturally. For example… We took a trip to Canberra not so long ago. When we came back, our heads were buzzing with all we’d seen at the various museums we’d visited. We’d heard about Walter Burleigh Griffin, the American architect who designed Canberra. He also bought acreage in Sydney, planning to build a community of knitlock houses which would blend in with the natural environment. Our imaginations were captured. We wanted to know more.

One thing led to another, and later when it came time to update my homeschool records, I realised the girls had shown interest in so many things that just happen to be ‘required’ learning, without any planning whatsoever. Their natural interest was enough to enable me to tick off a number of outcomes in the syllabus. Of course, Walter Burleigh Griffin might not be mentioned in the syllabus but ‘design’, ‘relationship with places’, ‘safe living’, ‘Federal government’ and other topics, which we explored, are.

So the girls learn, I record and life goes on.


 But occasionally there are times when the girls show no interest in a required topic at all. What do I do? I could say to my girls, “You have to learn this and that and the other because that’s what the education department demands. When you’ve finished doing the required stuff, you can then go back to following your own interests.” But I don’t.

Doing things only because you are required to isn’t real learning. It’s just a waste of time. My children wouldn’t really be unschooling if we worked in this way. I am not willing to compromise, even if compromising means we’d sail through the registration process without any trouble.

Is there another solution to this problem? I think there is. I think we need to look at the school syllabus in a new way.


What is a syllabus? Is it a boring list of things someone not very important has decided our kids must learn? Or could it represent a whole range of wonderful learning experiences? EVERYTHING in this world is potentially interesting. This is a fascinating world we live in. Just because the educational department has marked some topics as essential doesn’t mean they automatically become boring and irrelevant. It is possible my children still might be interested in something that’s in the syllabus. How do I find out? I could do some strewing.

Of course, I won’t look at the syllabus through schooly eyes. I’ll be looking past all the jargon that clutters up each requirement, that turns something potentially interesting into something deadly boring. I‘ll try to find something that ignites my own interest, something that makes me feel excited. Because if I’m not interested in what I am about to strew, there is less possibility my children will be interested.


For example, Sophie is supposed to know all about rates and ratios in maths. I took this from the stage statement for the maths syllabus for children her age:

Students are familiar with the concepts of ratios and rates, and apply these when solving problems.

I could say, “Sophie, you need to know about ratios. Let’s get this out of the way so I can tick it off. Just do this worksheet and we can say the topic is done.” Or I could try something else. This is what I did the other day:

I did a bit of browsing on the internet and found a video about scale models and then said, “Hey, girls, this is so interesting! (I was telling the truth, not trying to trick them.) Do you want to watch with me… “

The girls picked up on my tone of voice and came running. They were eager to share what I had discovered. Of course, I didn’t mention the word syllabus. Why should I have? Why spoil something genuinely interesting by associating it with the word ‘required’.  This information isn’t the exclusive property of the education department. We are entitled to learn about it just because we want to. And many times that’s exactly what we end up doing.

So we watched the video and then we started talking about scale model cars, maps, model railways, model villages, dolls’ houses. Dolls’ houses? I remembered when Andy and I saw Queen Mary’s dolls’ house at Windsor Castle many years ago. Sophie and Gemma-Rose wanted to hear about it. They picked up on my tone of excitement. I really did enjoy seeing that house. I found the fact that everything is a perfect scale model of something in real life very fascinating. And so did the girls. We found a website about the dolls’ house. Then we remembered our visit, a couple of years ago, to the model village, Cockington Green. The discussion continued. Ratios turned out to be a very interesting topic!


But what if my strewing fails? I could try again from another angle. And if that fails too I might just say, “I presented my children with the opportunity to learn such and such but they rejected it.” Because all we really have to do is provide our kids with opportunities for learning. No one can force them to actually learn. They have to cooperate. And if they won’t, despite our best efforts, there’s not much we can do about it.

Of course, there may be some things on the syllabus we feel are inappropriate for our children. I’d just gently object, saying they do not meet the needs of our girls, or go against our beliefs.

Looking for resources to strew, translating my daughters’ learning into the right kind of language, and trying to juggle their needs with those required by the educational authorities is hard work at times. I have to stay a step ahead of my girls, always on the look out for things that might interest them. I have to be aware of what’s in the syllabus and be creative about how I interpret the official requirements. I always have to ask the question, “What syllabus outcome matches what my girls have been learning today?”

Is all the effort worth it? We think so. My girls can happily follow their interests, unaware of all the behind-the-scenes work I’m doing that allows them to learn in the way that works best.

So we can unschool, despite the strict homeschooling requirement. We can still live an amazing unschooling life!

 


(If you do some browsing on the Internet it probably won’t take you very long to come across people who declare that unschooling is a lazy way of life. A lazy way of life? Oh my! They have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about!)

The Angels of Abbey Creek

 


All the above photos were taken at Questacon in Canberra.

I’ve created a new Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page. I thought it makes sense to have a page with the same name as my blog instead of posting all my extra blog stuff on my Sue Elvis Write Facebook page.

I hope you’ll join me on Facebook!
Thank you to everyone who has already ‘liked’ my new page!

This post is linked to the Hip Homeschool Hop

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Comments

  1. Reply

    I've been waiting for this post, Sue 🙂 Lots of ideas to ponder here. One thing, though, that overwhelms me is the amount of work that strewing takes. I don't mind so much if it's about things that interest me and I'm feeling energised but when it comes to things like Maths, I feel oppressed. How do you get excited about things that really don't excite you and how do you get it all done if you're not feeling 100%?

    It's funny how some people think unschooling is lazy parenting but I think they're probably thinking about non-schooling. Unschooling seems, to me, to be more labour-intensive than most other methods.

    1. Reply

      Vicky,

      Yes, strewing does take a lot of work. I do enjoy it though. I don't think there is much I am not interested in so I'm happy to take up the challenge of finding interesting ways to approach such things as maths. But even if I did find something oppressive, I would still make an effort to investigate the topic and find appropriate resources to strew. Unschooling is so important to me, I am willing to do whatever it takes so our children can live this life. Who knows? Something oppressive might turn into something exciting once we start looking at it in a new way!

      Imogen and I have just put together a podcast. We talked about the question: Is unschooling an easy way of life? Maybe some people think unschooling mothers just can't be bothered putting together a proper program of education for their children. As usual, it was a bit difficult to get all our thoughts concisely in order within the podcast but we did our best!

    2. Reply

      I'm looking forward to your podcast, Sue!

      My problem is that maths is not my thing. I'm happy to spend hours planning and reading and learning with the children but I resent having to spend time on high school maths when our limited time would be better spent on our passions and talents. Who decides that higher maths is more important than religion or art? It's not important to me (or most of my children) so I don't enjoy learning it. Do I sound like an unschooled child?!!

      Vicky (masquerading as Beth who must have sneaked off with my iPad today!)

    3. Reply

      Vicky,

      I also wish the registration requirements were different. We would all like more freedom. But this is the system we are working under today. I am not prepared to wait until the system changes in order to unschool. So if I am required to at least offer my girls high school maths, I will. The higher maths isn't required because children only have to learn up to year 10 maths. I remember my older children learning maths in society (banking etc) rather than the more theoretical maths, and that was okay. We can offer, kids can still refuse.

      I wonder if many people don't like maths because of the way it has been traditionally presented. By looking for a new approach we could capture the mathematical imagination of a child who otherwise wouldn't even look at the subject. This is what happened with Sophie. Seeing her involved with maths makes me feel the effort was all worthwhile.

      If maths isn't your thing perhaps you could find someone who is interested in maths to share their talents with your children. I remember when Imogen wanted to finish the HSC advanced maths course (her choice),. I couldn't keep up with her so I asked a teacher in the parish to tutor her. Imogen really loved her lessons because John was passionate about maths. He combined his maths lessons with chemistry which was a bonus.

      Whatever method of homeschooling we choose, we still have to offer our children maths if we are registered homeschoolers. Do I spend time looking for interesting ways to make maths relevant to my children, or do I use that same time to teach them maths from a workbook and then mark the exercises? It all takes time. To me, the first way of doing things is much more valuable.

      I think unschooling is perfectly suited to crisis times. We all learn so much during such times. Strewing isn't necessary when life presents us with unique challenges. And if kids love learning and are used to following their interests they will still do that, even if a mother is unable to be fully involved. But maybe the question has more to do with the strewing that's done in order to offer particular things on the curriculum. Can that be kept up? I wouldn't even try. I don't need to do that all the time. That's just filling in a few gaps. The girls learn so much from their natural curiosity. They can dip into the big resources and ideas notebook I've put together for them. I'm sure we'd find plenty of things to add to the records book.

      Maybe homeschooling in a more conventional way is more of a challenge during crisis times. Plans still have to be made. Teaching has to be done. All of this, on top of the record keeping. I think it's much easier to go with the flow of life. Then again, we are all different. Unschooling isn't for everyone. I can see that many people wouldn't like to live like we do, and would prefer to have everything set out neatly.

      We are certainly discussing lots! Thanks for your questions. It's good to explore ideas!

    4. Reply

      PS. One more thing – how could unschooling be adapted n times of family illness or crisis? I'm not thinking about mothers who want an easy way out but, rather, situations where the mother may not be able to strew as much as she would like.

    5. Reply

      Vicky,

      Perhaps if you can see how maths, you are trying to learn, is relevant to the real world it will be much more interesting. Seeing maths in action is easier to understand. Sophie and I enjoy dipping into the Yummy Maths website:
      http://www.yummymath.com/
      The Numberphile website videos are also good for older kids. They are made by people who are obviously fascinated by maths!
      http://www.numberphile.com/

      I look for resources when I can see a particular need. I also stumble over things when I'm on the computer doing other things. I often see things in my FB feed or on other blogs which I chase up. Every now and then I have a resource hunting afternoon. I will also look around the house for resources we already own. I put everything into my Evernote notebook so I have a stock of ideas and resources for when they're needed. I don't have to strew every day. If the girls are already busy with their projects, engrossed with their learning, or if life is busy and rich and interesting, there's no reason to strew.

      I hope that helps!

    6. Reply

      I agree with you about having to work with the system, Sue. I just couldn't imagine a situation where I could actually like high school maths! Recently, I haven't been able to get my head around complicated problems so it's a bit frustrating that we're doing it just for the sake of the requirements.

      One more question – do you have ebbs and flows with your strewing or is your level of work and research fairly consistent?

      I'll go over your past maths posts and see what has worked for you. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Reply

    Your blog is always dangerous for me. I come to read one thing, then end up following an endless rabbit trail of others. I end up with ten tabs open on my browser, all just for your articles! Thank you for sharing how you make unschooling work within the system framework; that's always a tricky thing for me to think about.

    1. Reply

      Lynne,

      It sounds like you hopped all over my blog! That's a nice thought. Thank you for sharing my stories. I wonder if you too have to satisfy educational authorities in order to homeschool. It can be tricky at times seeing to our children's needs but also staying within the system. It can also be frustrating but I'm trying to stay positive and make things work!

  3. Reply

    This is a great encouragement to those who have to record as you do Sue. We would like to move to NSW eventually, but are staying put in Victoria for now because the requirements are so reasonable (I'm sure that will change eventually).

    1. Reply

      Kelly,

      You'd like to move to NSW? Oooh! I don't suppose you'd like to move closer to us, would you? Yes, I can see how attractive the homeschooling situation is in Victoria. Perhaps one day we'll have the same freedom here. I hope so!

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