The blurb below is an out-pouring of my thoughts and experiences on the various schooling options that our children have been through. This is not a guide to home-schooling or advice on the choice of curriculum; it’s the story of how and why we have chosen a more un-schooling approach to our youngest daughter’s life-learnings.
I’m currently reading a book called “The Teenage Liberation Handbook”; a very interesting book that was written in the early 90’s with teenagers as the audience … and the book has been such an eye-opener to the enormous benefits of home- and un-schooling our children. The tag line is “How to quit school and get a real life and education.” WOW!
By way of definition:
- Unschooling is: “an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning.
where as …
- Homeschooling is: “educate (one’s child) at home instead of sending them to a school.”
Our foray into home-schooling started with our daughter, Emily, when she was 12 [now 18]. She suffers from a Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Although on medication in Grade 6, she was still “out of control” in many respects and we took her out of school to avoid her become further anxious and physically ill. One of the biggest learnings from this experience is that “a child taken out of main-stream schooling needs time to readjust … and shouldn’t be required to do any formal learning for at least six months”. Wish I realised that at the time.
Our experiences with curriculum looked something like this:
- we used Brainline(http://www.brainline.com/) initially but although it was advertised as a Computer-Based curriculum, all it was [then – it might be different now] was PDF’s that had to be printed out and completed. However, this curriculum still required assignments and exams to be done, at or by a specific time, which caused further stress for Emily so we stopped using the curriculum.
- we then used ACE [as members of the Active Home School Academy …http://www.activehomeschoolacademy.co.za/].
- ACE stands for Accelerated Christian Education and they only use Christian based books for the setwork and Bible Studies and learning Bible verses is a compulsory subject. Now, I have no problem with that [being a believer myself] but the lack of exposure to other books [both classics and contemporary] was a bit wayward.
- With ACE, the learner does not ever write exams, but rather works through individual workbooks [i.e. paces] per subject and with regular check-ups and in-pace tests … the learner makes their way through their subjects. I liked this very much.
- With ACE, the learner can be learning various subjects across different grades i.e. Emily was doing Grade 8 English while still making her way through Grade 7 Maths. This was something we really appreciated too.
- As Emily had completely some Grade 7 subjects with Brainline, and after her ACE assessment tests, we expected Emily to do the Grade 8 syllabus with ACE, while just completing the weaker subjects at Grade 7 level. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and the academy insisted she re-do all the Grade 7 subjects which was actually a great pity as it set Emily back emotionally.
- ACE is a very admin-based with the tutor/parent required to mark and remark, check and recheck as well as “book visits” being required [at Kraainfontein] every quarter. This was tiring and time-consuming.
- For the child requiring social interaction and outings, the academy offers this at their location in Kraainfontein.
- we also tried Alpha + Omega[http://www.aoacademy.com/] but didn’t make much progress as Emily became very ill with depression and we stopped formal learning completely.
She was ill for about a year but made a full recovery from her depression after hospitalisation. She then spent the next year being physically ill with recurring tonsillitis. She eventually had a tonsillectomy, took about three months to get her strength back to normal and by this time, her peers were in Matric; so we decided to let her unschool herself for last year. This year, she is now using Top Dog [www.topdog.co.za] to gain exposure to Matric subjects and will be doing a Vet Receptionist Course [via distant learning with Oxbridge Academy] which doesn’t require Matric. We don’t expect her to write Matric exams until she’s ready [if ever] … but if she does, most likely as an adult. However, Top Dog are providing her with computer-based modules which introduce her to subjects at a Matric level.
She is an extremely well-rounded, street-wise and beautifully spoken individual who was protected from the possible negative impacts of school and the access it may have provided to people with drugs and alcohol. She has said more than once that if she had attended high school she would definitely have “got involved” in the “bad” scene.
Storm started Grade 1 at the “Green School” in Pinelands, in 2012. She enjoyed school although found the routine and rules tedious and didn’t enjoy organised sport at all. In January 2013, she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and with that, an advanced anxiety condition. Prior to her diagnosis, she had shown anxiety related symptoms but these were tremendously exasperated by the diagnoses. She started Grade 2, as a diabetic, and “survived” the year … but mainly by being excused from “this” or being excused from “that” and spending large amounts of her time being stressed, which meant her sugars were “running high” most of the time; not a good thing for a diabetic. At the start of Grade 3, last year, we realised we had made a mistake by sending her back to school and within a few days of the school term, we elected to remove her from school. Fortunately, I was working from home at the time as I had given up full-time work the year before in order to help manage the diabetes.
The school was very kind and gave us the Education Department workbooks for her to use. Although we didn’t work through them all, they provided a good base for English and Maths and for the second part of last year, we made the use of a tutor [Storm’s Grade R teacher] who coached and guided Storm through the balance of the year. A lot of learning, though, was done through outings with myself and, later, our au pair. Storm developed a love for reading non-fiction books and has taught herself much by reading books about the body, animals, the sea, Africa, etc.
This year, we are using Top Dog [like Emily] to expose Storm to Grade 4. I’m going to approach the school to see if she can participate in the national assessments that take place once a year, which will help give us a sense of where she’s at. Her new au pair [I’ve now gone back to work, although only work 5 hours a day] goes to great lengths to ensure a rounded unschooled education e.g. today they had a “cultural” day. Tea and Scones at a local restaurant and then went shopping for the ingredients to make Mexican food for lunch, combined with research about Mexico.
With Storm we are going to take one year at a time … perhaps she’ll return to school for her high school – perhaps she won’t. Her psychiatrist has indicated that in order for her to cope at school, she’d most likely require medication and we have no interest in putting our diabetic child on meds to go to learn in an environment which really isn’t the best for her anyway. Emily has been medicated since she was 11 and although it saved her life, this is not a road we want to take Storm down if it’s not required.
Our eldest daughter, Carla, matriculated from Pinelands High in 2011. Carla embraced school [she went to the Pinelands North Primary School for primary school, as did Emily] and made the very best of it all. She’s now studying through Unisa … interestingly she’s chosen a distant learning option for her post-high-school education. She is excelling at UNISA with excellent marks throughout and even regular distinctions [this was not the norm at school].
My viewpoint about schooling as changed so much since (a) I was at school and certainly (b) since Carla was at school. If I could do my children’s schooling all over again, they would all be unschooled until they started demonstrating the desire/need for something more formal. I have come to believe that our current education system dictates that children, who should be free and at ease, are compelled to sit still and obey …. and if they don’t conform, they are medicated so that they can maintain themselves in a classroom situation. Having been-there and done-that, this is no longer a game I’m willing to play and believe that all our children are so much happier and at ease by being at home.
Once of the home-schooled moms I met last year explained to me that their sole reason for home-schooling their four children was to reduce the stress levels at home. They didn’t see the point/need to have that stress every morning of getting the children ready and off to school. Oh my word – that was music to my ears and a turning point in my thinking. This is now our mantra … health and happiness first … and as little stress as possible. Life, itself, has enough stresses [especially for Storm and Emily who have their own health battles to conquer] so the less outside stress there is, the better for all of us.
About curriculums … I know that Sonlight [http://www.sonlight.com/] is highly recommended [it’s an international curriculum] and of course, ACE is very good if that admin-based system works for one. For high school, I understand there are a number of international learning sites [e.g. Cambridge, Alpha + Omega] which appear to be very good. Before I discovered Top Dog, I was going to buy relevant learning books from education books shops e.g. Caxtons for Storm this year … but for now Top Dog is proving great. The modules are short and light, with audiovisuals and quizzes and both girls are really enjoying them. They are just learning modules, no opportunity to write exams.
I know that social interaction is a biggie for many families … with my girls and their anxiety disorders, socialising was/is something that makes them more anxious, however both girls are active horse-riders and this has led to them being in environments with other children. I think the need for children to hang out with children their own age is over-rated; it’s good for them to spend time with children/people both younger and older than themselves.
One of the very biggest benefits I’ve seen, is Storm’s constant desire to know more. She asks SO many questions and is like a sponge the way she absorbs information. The amount of “stuff” she’s taught me is quite embarrassing.
Thank you for reading this blog post.
Pinelands, South Africa