Saturday, November 28, 2009

the process of de-schooling

When both of your parents are teachers, and both of your partner's parents are teachers, de-schooling is complex! One progresses through adolescence rebelling against one's parents, and grows into a person who begins to understand why their parents did the ODD things they did, or one who has a decent understanding of the intentions behind the behaviour of the parents anyway. Of course I am only referring to healthy parents here, not abusive or neglectful parents.

And that is what I did! I grew to respect my parent's belief that education was the best pathway to a chosen future. I always believed that public education was the best way for children to achieve their goals, and the best start for dream weaving. 

So when I put my daughter into a local public school I was surprised at the way I was treated by her teachers, as s single mother. The teachers I had encountered in my past life were all lovely, and they would never have judged me. No, not me - but they did judge others!  I remember a child at my primary school (where my mother was a teacher, and my father had himself attended school) who once handed in a late note that explained his partial absence with the simple notation "had to find pet snake". It was a well known fact that this child's mother was a stripper, so the snake was obviously a part of her act, and the child was late to school because of his involvement in her dodgy life style. Admittedly this excuse for lateness is funny, no matter what the context but ... Regardless of the link between the snake and her career, the teachers assumed, and discussed it all with each other! And I heard about it through my mother's conversation with my father. 

Upon my daughter's arrival at school we were experiencing on going problems with her father's presence in her life, it was sporadic at best and what small contact there was was coupled with maternal alienation. Whenever I tried to discuss this with her teachers I was met with stoney silence. I understand the teacher's duty is to stay out of the private lives of the parents and concentrate on the well being of the pupils, but surely taking into account serious events (such as my daughter being poisoned against me on an ongoing basis) would have HELPED them to meet her needs. 

The rest of her story in prison .... I mean SCHOOL! is documented in the earlier posts from this blog. Suffice it to say that things did not improve. When my daughter's father and I finally went to court to work out a permanent agreement, when her baby brother died, when her grandmother was diagnosed with cancer - and consequently died, the teachers refused to involve themselves in the welfare of my child. When there was so much going on at home that I literally sent her to school for a break from it all .... she did not get one. The way I view teachers is similar to the way I view check out staff at the supermarket. Some are helpful, some are useless. Some are good at what they do, some are not. To expect otherwise - with the number of students the education system is responsible for - is foolish.

De-schooling was a slow process for me. I first started to hear of homeschooling as a genuine option for my children from my sister - she planned to homeschool her two children. At first it was an odd idea that worked on an extreme rejection of everything we had both grown up with. 

The more crap I witnessed going on at the school where my daughter spent her time, the more I started warming to the idea of home learning. The more time I thought about home learning, the more time I spent wondering about the things that schools teach. The longer this went on, the more I de-schooled. All that remained was to convince Stylish of the validity of leaving conventional education. Sleeping in was a bit of a clincher. No stressing over maths was a big one. learning whatever she was interested WHEN she wanted to learn about it was pretty significant. And she eventually consented to being withdrawn.

It's been over a year now since I pulled her out of prison. In that time de-schooling has been an ongoing process for us all. Interestingly, I went through a huge leap towards de-schooling recently, only to encounter my daughter struggling with it herself. I thought she had finished the process, however after 5 years and 9 months in the institution it's hardly any wonder that she continues to question our current path.

I expect to keep going through this process for some time. It's no longer an emotional battle but there are still days that schooling comes to mind as an advantage, or as the correct way to go about raising children. For the most part I know, and genuinely FEEL in my bones that I have made the right choice, and I know my partner is getting to grips with it now too. The preschooler - who will forever remain a preschooler - tells strangers on the bus "I homesool" so he's clearly not struggling with the idea, and the child who spent years hating so much of her forced existence is slowly, ever so slowly, warming to the idea that she IS learning. I guess for her, learning was always about boredom, subjugation, a lack of freedom of choice - and bodily integrity (eat when you're told to, pee when you're allowed to) so it's normal and expected for her to encounter some doubts as she discovers her love of learning anew, and centres herself as a person, not a student with a teacher who holds the power of her whims against her.

Life is all about learning. Centurions are often quoted as saying that they have spent their whole lives learning, so why do we think that children will only learn if they are imprisoned? We do not teach children to walk, or talk, with Any method past simple demonstration, and yet they must be goaded into learning inside the institution which calls itself "school", and teaching methods are argued over by "experts" from here to Timbuktu

I, for one, am going to make an effort to relax, while I support my daughter to de-school herself. I am also going to work extremely hard on fully de-schooling the entire family before my son reaches the official age of institutionalisation, so that he never has to endure the life time of crap the rest of us have, and so we never have to go through the painful and complicated journey of de-schooling with him!

Friday, November 27, 2009

more de-schooling coming up!

Stylish spent the night with a friend of her Grandmother's who has this idea that homeschool is sitting at a table for 6hrs a day doing boring stuff like everyone at school does. It raised several things for her. Firstly it made her angry, secondly it made her fearful.

The anger is at one of the friends who has lost the charm bracelet that her Grandma bought for her 10th birthday, one week before she died. Stylish took off the bracelet at this person's house after her grandma's funeral and it has never been seen again. She is heart broken, I am heartbroken for her! They claim to have had some younger visitors over, and they blame them for it's disappearance. Personally I am so livid about this entire series of events that I am -and this rarely happens - speechless.  

The second thing - the fear - is based on the friend quizzing her about what she's learning. Stylish told her that she's learning lots about lots, but avoided details. It left her feeling very very worried about what she IS learning. She has requested more structure, and some more lists to help her feel like she is "learning". 

Instead of arguing I said that we could definitely do that. Today we went to the museum. I gave her the task of learning about The Stolen Generation. She went through the Indigenous Australia exhibit with a fine tooth comb, and learnt so much. She learnt about traditional living from pre white settlers, colonisation, black deaths in custody vs traditions indigenous community justice, and the Stolen Generation. I think it really moved her. Spikee enjoyed the dot paintings, which is good in keeping with this weeks art projects. 

Spikee also enjoyed the skeleton room, and spent a good deal of time looking at the different bones and guessing what they were from. then he went to the dinosaur room and played on the computer that lets children choose what type of dinosaur they want to create, and how to colour it. Then we went to the play area and played for a while, while Stylish went to the Search and Discover area and got some stick insects in a plastic take away container.

And one more thing that we did today .... we had Malaysian for lunch, Stylish and I had laksa, chicken and prawn respectively, and Spikee had a bowl of rice which he rubbed into his clothes and face like some sort of beauty therapy. 

All up it was a great day! I took pics to prove it, they'll be forthcoming. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

from Sydney to Brisbane!

artistic afternoon

First paintings

experienced painter

first painting!

pics of children not learning anything

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Diff'rent folks, same strokes

As I process and displace my long held attachment to the institutionalised method of education, I think of more and more questions about the lifetime of belief systems that I have accrued surrounding what constitutes "a good education". The schooling system is the unquestioned expert in the field of children's tuition, and yet there are so many complaints about how it operates, from funding, to discipline, to what children should be taught and by whom. There is more and more empahsis on "learning" and the age of children who are supposed to BE learning is shrinking every day. It can't really shrink further than in the womb can it, and there are products available that are designed to help babies in the womb learn!

What a total waste of money right? it's obvious that this is a crock. But parents are so fearful of their child not being able to compete in the education system that they buy this product, and they are sold countless other TOYS under the guise of them being educational. What is wrong with children simply playing, and why don't we view play as a learning opportunity on it's own without having to empahsise the learning properties of plastic toys!?

Which brings me to the point of my gripe. As a beginner unschooling parent, I sometimes questioned whether or not my child would learn the same stuff as all the other children who went to school. I worried that her ability to do fractions, multiplication, spelling and grammar would be somehow dash her hopes of attending university and pursuing the career of her choice. After all, we were unschooling, and we did not spend 6 hours a day doing structured lessons, I did not lesson plan (or I did not intend to continue lesson planing anyway). What if my daughter were at some hideous disadvantage from not learning exactly the same thing that the other millions of children around the state are learning?

It's odd how ingrained this totally unrealistic ideal of the educations system has become in our culture! We pride ourselves as a multi cultural, all encompassing, difference celebrating, culture, the way of life we live is apparently full of freedom and it all begins with our education institution. The very same education system which children hate. The very same one that makes children so competitive they commit suicide in large numbers if they feel they are not going to achieve the marks they want, the system that so many children simply drop out of because it isn't working for them. This is the way of education that states all children are wonderful and different, and that they strive to be inclusive of all cultures, varying ability, and both sexes, and then insists that the children all learn, and be constantly compared to one another, and tested on exactly the same stuff.

Wouldn't recognising children as individuals mean that children had more control over what they learn? Wouldn't it mean that comparing the children to one another, creating either fierce competition or "drop outs" was obsolete? Wouldn't it mean that children were graded on individual achievments not a set level of achievements that is often too low, or too high for many of them?

So, based on the importance of all the children learning all the same stuff, surely when they leave school they will have all the same requirments and opportunities? Ahhh. No. That's not how it works!  Why? BECAUSE ALL CHILDREN ARE INDIVIDUALS!!! Some are good at maths, some are good at English, some are bilingual, some are artistic, some are historians, some are scientists, and the last thirteen years have done little to help them discover and explore their true calling in life. 

Bring in the un-schoolers! 

My daughter hated maths. And maths is one of the most ridiculously over emphasised subjects taught in schools. Maths teachers have tickets on themselves, and yet children across the board hate them and their classes. In reality, schools aren't really doing a great job of teaching the even the most basic maths skills, the most useful maths is the stuff that we use every day in our fast paced society. Fast calculations, times tables, estimation, some fractions and percentages, and time and graph reading are crucial skills. Un-schooled children may not be using calculus or trigonometry but they can read a bus time table. And to them, maths isn't a chore, it's just life. What an interesting approach! Maths is JUST PART OF LIFE! What a shame the maths syllabus seems to have missed the boat on the true importance, and genuine usefulness, of the subject. What a shame they've made children feel inferior to others, and most children hate it!

My daughter is learning about frogs. That's what she's interested in, and it's what she actively researches. But she's also learning to manage a house - from cleaning the toilet to budgeting the weekly shopping, how to get around in the city she lives in, current affairs - and expressing her views on them, growing her own food, cooking it, saving the planet, and lets not forget USEFUL MATHS!  

Sheesh. I hope she didn't miss anything good in school today that she can forget next week. I hope the life skills that school children learnt today .... oh, they didn't DO life skills did they ... well I hope they learn lots about REAL LIFE over the xmas holidays, coz they need to be prepared for life when it starts, and they need to be able to compete with kids who have been LIVING LIFE instead of learning useless stuff and forgetting it. They need to begin to learn about their chosen career path, whereas the un-schooled children have most likely spent the last eighteen years immersing themselves in the same stuff. 

Well I know I feel a little bit more de-schooled! What about you? 

my 80th post! my 150th rant

A friend posted a link to my daughter's blog on her facebook page and one of her "friends" contacted her to say that she feels sorry for the girl. That her parents are crazy. That the girl can't spell and has terrible grammar, and a few other choice comments. 

At first I was angered that she could judge my daughter that way. My daughter's language skills are excellent for someone her age! Then I was tempted to go and correct all the spelling mistakes on her blog, until I remembered that it is HER blog, and if she wants help she will ask me. 

Then it occurred to me that this woman has probably never MET a child who is un-schooled! And in fact, upon discussion with my friend, I discovered that she has little or NO contact with ANY children who are the same age as my daughter, so what cause would she have to involve herself with their literacy skill set?

How odd that someone with no knowledge of home learning, or of children in general feels so strongly about this! The fact is that my daughter WAS in school while the foundations of her reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation were learned. So in all honesty, that speaks more about the lack of success that institutionalised learning is having on children. My daughter was one of the top students in English. Her skills are better than some of the ADULTS who were schooled that she encounters on her reptile and frog forums!

All I can say to this woman, and the others who doubt the process of natural learning, is that they should walk a year in my shoes. In the last year my daughter has gone from a shy, self conscious child who was getting in trouble at school, and arguing violently at home, to a relaxed, confident (as confident as a healthy 11yr old anyway) who happily pursues her own interests without hiding them as she had to do at school. Frogs are uncool at school, hideous bratz dolls on the other hand are encouraged - and so is pointless consumerism, sexism, racism, and pack mentality.

You see, it's all well and good for school to SAY that they don't tolerate the less savoury behaviour of their students, but the reality is that they are largely UNAWARE of what happens in the playground - and many times in the classroom right underneath the teacher's nose! My daughter is still telling me stories of bullying, racism, homophobia, sexism, and overtly sexual conversations, and antisocial behaviour, from her days at school. She most certainly didn't tell me these things when she was at school participating in them!

I say to the parents who think they have good, close relationships with their schooled children "you do not know what goes on in the playground - you should be afraid, VERY afraid". If you Do think you know what goes on, take your self back to the playground when you were a child, and consider how much of your antics were duly reported over the diner table each evening. I know I didn't discuss taking time off school to smoke bongs in the abandoned  morgue at the hospital near the school. I know I didn't discuss some of the nasty catty behaviour that I was both the recipient of, and the giver of. It's not just at high-school nasty stuff happens. Don't fool yourself into thinking your child is too young or innocent to sling sexual ugliness around, or homophobic insults. 

As an un-schooled child my daughter's days were at first filled with time wasting activities. TV watching, internet games, arguing with me, refusing to participate in household activities, and finding interesting things boring - as a matter of honour. As she has de-schooled, she has grown into a really likable, interesting, smart, funny, articulate, young woman! Some of these changes may or may not have occurred in the prison system, but they would have been as a result of peer defined self analysis, not because she was free to be herself. 

So maybe I will, and maybe I won't ask my Stylish if she'd like some help to spell check her blog. And maybe she will and maybe she won't accept that help. But regardless of that, I will not EVER send her back to a school, unless she begs me. And even then, I will allow her to follow her own direction and leave school again if she chooses to. As I trust myself to instinctively know what is best for me, I also trust my children. I hope that by un-schooling them, the youngest will never grow to doubt his intuitive quest for health and happiness, and that the subconscious ability to do so comes back to roost in my daughter's life until she is a very old woman.  

Sunday, November 22, 2009

solar system link

That's a great link to a website with plenty of info, and a moving diagram of the solar system, showing how the planets all orbit around the sun! 

discussions of orbit over sultanas for lunch

Today Spikee asked me where the sun went to bed. I explained how we orbit around the sun to him while he ate sultanas and corn biscuits.

He wiggled his fingers at me, pretending to be the suns rays. I pretended to be the earth, and turned around discussing how I could or couldn't see the sun. Of course that was such fun that I ended up doing it about three hundred times!

Then he asked me where the sun had gone today, it's a very grey cloudy day here. So Stylish pretended to be the clouds and writhed around in his face while I pretended to be the earth, unable to see the sun!

Spikee was impressed enough to warrant some further research later, to show him some pictures of the solar system, the sun, the moon, and our measly planet Earth.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Summer taking over Spring

We've had some insanely hot weather for Spring, days nearing 40C and it's only Spring. Admittedly it's nearly Summer, but we seem to have bypassed Spring, which is a shame because I love the in-between seasons! Extreme weather is no friend of mine.

We have spent the week watering the garden constantly, and covering the more delicate of the seedlings over with umbrellas during the heat of the afternoon sun. The pet rats started behaving strangely this afternoon so we had to move them outside and spray them with cold water. They soon perked up and wandered about chomping on grass and other goodies.

Stylish has been busily decorating the indoor cage for the rats with hand sewn hammocks, and various things for them to climb on and rest in, they are loving life! And she learns so much from her little projects. Needle craft is such a useful skill, as is caring for pets, and providing all their sustenance, which she does with vigour!  

Her pet frog is starting to call for a mate. I think he should be re-named Pavarotti, but .... what would I know. Their names are Hansel and Gretel. She hopes they will breed and that she can sell them for billions of dollars. Owing to the fact that the two she has cost her $50 of her hard earned pocket money, I think it's possible that she can make something off their breeding habits. 

Spikee has developed a sudden interest in writing so I bought him a wipe clean numbers book and he is happily tracing the numbers (well, scribbling on them anyway). He amazed us all with his ability to circle certain things and draw lines between things that are connected - like a lamb and a ewe, a foal and a mare. He rather impressively understood their relationship of mother and child, which I was interested to see. Sometimes we forget how many things small minds can absorb in their daily existences. Who ever compared them to sponges was onto something. 

Watching the children learn by simply living reminds me each day that the natural learning process works! I know that I struggle with de-schooling myself, more than the children struggle with it, especially Spikee because he has never been institutionalised. I really wonder about how literacy develops without a structured system being imposed on the children, but from discussions that I've had with other parents .... it just does! How could a child grow to adult hood without learning to read in our culture? Our culture relies so heavily on reading and writing skills, that it would be impossible!  Having grown up with an English teacher as a mother, this is really departing from my own early belief system though, and that's why I often have questions or niggling worries. However in a recent discussion on a forum I frequent a member told me that an illiterate adult can learn to read, or learn the skills which make reading possible, in just 30 hours. With Stylish being fully able to read by the time she was pulled out of the institution, I never witnessed the amazing ability to self learn that so many natural learning families have experienced. I guess I just have to resign myself to a bit of waiting now that I have that information on board!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A day at the park!

We travelled to the not local natural learning group today. Believe me when I tell you that it takes dedication to get there on public transport with two children, a picnic and a pram in tote! That's why I want to get my license. The park is terrific, but getting there is beyond a joke. I'm absolutely worn out now, the kids are too. The spent all day running around like mad things, going on the giant slide, splashing around in the wading pool, walking on the beach, playing in the sandpit, and with other children as well as climbing up and down stuff.  I'm tired just thinking about it! It was well in the 30's today so it was HOT HOT HOT, add that to the insane public transport journey and .... I'm going to bed. I just have to convince Spikee to have a story and booby now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Another busy weekend!

This has been a busy week end! We did plenty of gardening as a family, and Stylish finished making the cover for her frog tank. We also put a lay-by on a heap of camping equipment for our upcoming xmas camping holiday! We are now the proud owners of a camp kitchen and a table with built in chairs. 

The frog tank looks amazing now! Stylish put so much hard work into it, and it really paid off. For some reason or another the lid that the tank came with (she bought it with pocket money, off ebay) was no good so she needed to make one. She did lots of research - google is her friend - and worked out that with some wood and some fly screen she could make a more suitable lid. It was an exercise in many areas .... but it was a PRACTICAL exercise in them, and she enjoyed it because she wanted to do it. The measuring is maths, the budgeting was maths, the whole process was artistic, it is a science lesson to care for frogs .... I could go on, but I will spare you.

After a trip to the local hardware shop to buy two planks of wood and a metre of fly screen, she set about measuring the tank, cutting the wood to size, nailing the planks together, and then attaching the fly screen. She was a bit disappointed with the finished product but I think it's great! She is unhappy because it is a tight fit over the tank, but it's not TOO tight at all! And it slides on tightly enough to keep the little froggies in!

The garden is going really well. We transplanted all our mustard and rocket seedlings yesterday. They're now in a big, was-unused, black recycling box, surrounded by organic sugar cane mulch. They seem to have transplanted really well. The only problem we had was the sun was too hot for them the last few days, so we put Spikee's umbrella over them and they were doing fine ...until our CAT SAT ON THEM!!! Suffice it to say he will NOT sit on them again because I have put bbq skewers all the way through the box. I suspect it will be an uncomfortable resting place now!

We also turned our compost heap into a new garden bed, planted rock-melon, corn, and pea seedlings in it, covered it in mulch and news paper and tied blue wool all around the patch to keep Spikee off it. We have started a new compost heap at the back of the garden and will aim to have it in use as a garden in the next month, as our current seeds sprout and get to a good size to go out into the wilds of the garden where there are snails, cats and children everywhere!

I feel like I spend my whole life saving water from our washing machine and carrying it out to the garden beds. We have an elaborate system of plastic juice bottles, and buckets, that I catch the water in, then I tip it into the watering cans and lug it out. It's a time consuming process, but I know that I've saved hundreds of litres of water simply by using our grey water on the garden beds.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

garden pics


life goes on ...

This week has been a really productive gardening week. We've planted lots of seeds, and lots of our seedlings are sprouting enthusiastically. Two trays of seedlings (rocket, mustard, and bok-choy) will all need to be planted out either this week end or next. I'm pleased to say that some of our crop specifically designed for fussy eaters has started growing. These include rock melon, watermelon, strawberry, and corn.

Stylish has been busily organising life around reptiles and frogs. She recently obtained her amphibian 1 license, and bought (using her own pocket money that she saved) two dwarf tree frogs. She intends to use them for breeding purposes and hopes to earn millions. She's very enterprising, in an 11yr old kinda way! Her next goal is her reptile license, and a blue tongue or a bearded dragon, but we'll wait until we get home from our xmas fishing/camping trip to start worrying about that.

Friday, November 6, 2009

the evidence

murdering point beach
Basil, the wild green tree frog - a BIG THRILL!Looking for frogs
Crocodile farm - don't ask me why that photo uploaded with weird light!?

Dream world, feeding kangaroos

I'm mad! 36 hours on a train with two kids ....

Our trip home from Cairns was remarkable! We had a 36hr train ride from Cairns to Brisbane, and another 15hrs from Brisbane to Sydney. I particularly enjoyed - and so did the kids - the stint to Brisbane. 

The journey must be at least 1000k. We were lucky enough to have a sleeping carriage to spread out in, with our own beds and a bathroom complete with a shower. On the train there was a dining carriage, and a carriage for entertainment and snack food as well. The kids thought that eating dinner at a table on a train was an extremely special event - they weren't wrong, but their excitement was very cute.

When it came time for bed Spikee was unable to sleep because he was so excited about having his own bed and a ladder up to it. He climbed up and down the ladder, insisted on having his photograph taken repeatedly, requested to brush his teeth a few times (you don't' often do that on a train), squealed about having hot chocolate from the cafe carriage, and then repeated the process. he eventually fell asleep beside me on my bed, at the bottom of the ladder. 

Stylish found the lights on the beds, the movies (in the cafe carriage) and the CONSTANT MOVEMENT to be the best thing. I enjoyed it all! Especially watching the kids lapping it up, and watching the landscape change from incredibly dense rainforest to yellow, dry bush land and paddocks.

It was an amazing trip. The trains made it even more so. Lots of people laughed at me for embarking on a 36hr train ride with two kids but I knew it would be great! Those who prefer plains are missing a hell of a lot!