One of the hardest decisions we ever had to make as a family was to withdraw our 8 year old daughter from school and embark on our adventure as home-schoolers. We are a family of passionate learners – eager to experience all that the world has to offer. Unfortunately, our daughter attending school on a daily basis was taking its toll on this passion to the point where we were literally seeing the spark go out in our daughters’ eyes.
What made the decision even more difficult was that not only am I am primary-trained teacher, but that I currently work part time in the ‘system’. I come from a family of teachers and as such, have had, up until recently, a tremendous faith in the education system. And yet, the ‘system’ was not supporting my daughter’s passion for learning. Nor was it supporting her passion for friendship, emotional security and resiliency. In short, my daughter was becoming more withdrawn, moody and sad.
So we decided to become ‘home-schoolers’. We had already chosen to not start our 5 year old son at school, reasoning that he would be better to begin at the legal age of 6 years. In arriving at this decision to apply for home exemption for our daughter we also submitted an application for our son, with both becoming ‘official’ home-schoolers at the end of May.
Our goal for the remainder of Term 2 and the transition, mostly for our daughter, to a home-school routine was to reignite the passion we had once seen in her. For her to not view learning in silos, but rather as a natural part of her everyday life. Having spent 3 and a half-years in the school system, she viewed learning as occurring between 9am and 3pm, Monday to Friday. She also viewed learning as generally ‘boring’, and ‘tedious’ with most tasks being about writing and responding to the adult in charge of the learning. For her to be given the option of having control over what she wanted to learn, when and how, initially was too much of a leap for her. She struggled to understand that learning happened in and around us constantly, and that being at home learning, the options were endless in terms of what she could possibly study. She was far from a risk-taker with her learning and looked to us, the adults, as the directors and providers of her learning material.
An avid reader of the Percy Jackson novel series, we set up learning opportunities to support her passion for anything related to Greek mythology. We allowed her the luxury of hours curled up in bed in the middle of the day reading her favourite novels. We continued to work very hard to have her understand that learning didn’t have to be divided up into ‘subjects’, but could be much more about her pursuing knowledge and understanding that was interesting and exciting to her.
As her teacher, I looked for ways to integrate key skills and strategies into her learning activities without these appearing to be the learning in itself. She expressed a desire to complete a series of Percy Jackson ‘fact cards’, not unlike the popular Countdown animals cards recently collected. In completing over 30 of these cards, we spent a significant amount of time researching and comprehending the 5 novels in the series as well as other Greek mythological facts. Spelling and writing conventions were followed, as well as proof reading, editing and presentation skills. The end result reflected well and truly the passion our daughter had for all things ‘ancient Greek’! So much so, she took them down to share with the children’s librarian at our local library. She was (and is) truly proud of her work and continues to read and review these cards regularly. At no time did she see this learning as ‘school work’. Instead, it was meaningful and exciting – being allowed to follow her passion in learning about topic that she initiated herself.
We have now seen the spark return in our daughter’s eyes when she shares passionately her learning undertaken for the day or week. The freedom home-schooling has provided us has meant that we are able to capitalise on key moments at any time of the day (or night) to respond to the children’s inquiring minds.
To be able to truly encourage passion in our children, we too, have to model passion for new knowledge. We are looking constantly for ways to expand the experiences our children have. An example of this recently occurred on the first day of the ‘official’ school holidays. Falling on the 4th of July, the children were keen to experience an ‘American Food’ day in recognition of Independence Day in the States. (Food is a great source of motivation in our household).
We regularly ‘visit’ other countries to discuss important and interesting information about the area, and adventurously try some of the local ‘cuisine’ from our very own dining room table. The 4th of July was no different, as we researched, planned and baked/cooked the chosen American foods for the evening. The only catch: tell Mum why the 4th of July is so important in the States…..or no dinner! The children quickly researched the history of Independence Day. This research then motivated a discussion about famous Presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt (our son’s middle name is Theodore) and then on to famous landmarks such as Mount Rushmore. At the conclusion of the meal (suitably represented by ice-cream sundaes), the children could name some famous American presidents and the reason for the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, our 5 year old now knows of a famous President with the same name as him, who also happened to be home-schooled as well!! A kindred-spirit in our son’s eyes.
The past 6 week transition from having a regular school-attending child to a fully-immersed home-school household has been an exhausting and challenging one. It has not been without sacrifice and reflection, as well as a significant amount of sleep-loss. But the passion we are now seeing in our children as they eagerly look for opportunities to engage with their world around them, and use skills, strategies and tools to access this world (such as reading, writing, mathematics and so on) has made the transition without a doubt the best decision we have made to date yet as a family. It is our intention to have our children return into the mainstream system in time to obtain all the usual qualifications required for a productive career ahead. But we hope this experience will enable them to continue following their passion for learning, all the while becoming resilient, creative, expressive and confident in their own identity as life-long learners.