Thinking outside the box (by throwing away the box)
How many of the following behaviours would you say are characteristic of your child?
• Very curious/inquisitive
• Asks questions frequently
• Likes to move around, or can focus more easily when active
• Likes to do things ‘their own way’
• Prefers to complete tasks in their own time
• Cheekiness/strong sense of humour
• Easily stressed
• Vulnerable to peer pressure
• People-pleasing behaviours
• Low self esteem
• Strong sense of independence
• Sensory processing issues or sensitivities
• Sensitivity to others feelings and/or expectations
• Insensitivity to others feelings and/or expectations
• Fear of failure
• Tendency to bully others/is experiencing bullying
• Poor impulse control, or under-developed self-regulation
• Any degree of depression
• Learning difficulties/cognitive differences of any kind
If your child has any of these characteristics, it is likely she perceives school to be somewhere between tedious and soul-crushing.
If your child has five or more of these characteristics, it is likely she will need more than just generic encouragement to get through twelve years of schooling.
If your child has ten or more of these characteristics, home-education could be a kinder, less damaging, and more successful alternative.
Remember – if you remove your child from the school system, she hasn’t failed the system. The system has failed her, and her best chance at a successful adulthood (not to mention a happier childhood) could be as close as your own backyard, lounge room, library, museum, or playground.
In addition to public and private schools, there are many types of alternative schools, some of which may suit your children better than the school they are struggling to cope with. These options are worth investigating, but school is not necessarily the answer.
If you don’t know very much about home education, you might have an image in your mind of children sitting obediently at the kitchen table, filling out worksheets. This is not what home education generally looks like (although some families do enjoy this learning style). Learning looks different in every family.
I have spoken with at least one hundred home educating families over the years, and I have home educated my own children for over a decade. I have never met two home-educating families whose average day looks the same.
Homeschooling can be very traditional, and involve a curriculum (or enrolment in online classes) but it can also be unstructured, interest-based, and customised to suit the individual needs of your child.
Beverly Paine (The Educating Parent) has been a home-education activist for over thirty years. She has written a variety of books, resources, and learning programs, and has helped thousands of home educating families across Australia. I highly recommend Beverly Paine’s passionate wisdom to anyone considering homeschooling.
"I'm at my best when I'm encouraging and reassuring people that home education is definitely an option for them, that it isn't as hard or onerous or as challenging as they first think. I love helping people find their feet and their confidence as homeschoolers and unschoolers, and am convinced that learning outside of schools is efficient and child-friendly and can be incredibly successful."
- Beverley Paine
Unschooling is more hands-on, and less structured than traditional schooling, although it can be structured if structure is what your child craves. Unschooling is learning joyously, as if school did not exist, by following the unique interests of the child.
Children learn remarkably well through autonomous play, exploration, interest, joy, travel, hobbies, games, workshops, entrepreneurship, reading, movies, discussion, museums, libraries, mentors, sports, community, or all of the above.
If the concept of unschooling interests you, you might want to read some books by John Holt, (who coined the term unschooling), such as How Children Learn, first published in 1964, or Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children.
Peter Grey is an American Psychologist, the author of ‘Free to Learn’, and the founder of Alliance for Self-Directed Education. If you are interested in exploring the impact of coercive schooling on the minds of children, (and what we should be doing instead), you will find Peter Grey’s books and articles thought-provoking, intelligent, and life-changing.
Radical Unschooling is similar to unschooling, except the child’s autonomy extends beyond educational choices, and into every facet of life. Radically unschooled children are free to make their own choices, learn from their own consequences, and choose how to spend their time.
Dayna Martin is an advocate, activist, and author, who has spread world-wide awareness of radical unschooling by sharing her own family’s journey. Her book, ‘Radical Unschooling - A Revolution Has Begun’ was published in 2009, and is a must-read for anyone intrigued with the idea of alternative education.
"Radical Unschooling is an evolution of our understanding about learning and the rights and respect of children. We are on the cusp of change and many people are looking for alternatives to the traditional schooling model. With Unschooling, we are reprioritizing. We are taking back our freedom and putting happiness, connection and family first!"
- Dayna Martin
Worldschooling is learning immersively (without school) through travel, and recognising life for the adventure it truly is.
Like radical unschooling, worldschooling is not just an educational model - it is a lifestyle.
Lainie Libertie and her son, Miro, have been slow-traveling around the world since 2009, learning about everything from mythology to quantum physics without ever requiring a traditional classroom. Lainie and Miro support teenagers from all over the world by inspiring (and creating) temporary learning communities through Project World School.
Lainie Liberti hosts a show on CCN - Conscious Consumer Network called, For the Love of Learning —Voices of the Alternative Education Movement. Each week Lainie explores the voices within the alternative education movement with a panel of guests representing different perspectives. If you are looking to learn more about alternatives to traditional education, you will find her show to be an invaluable resource.
Deschooling is the process in which a child who has previously attended school is transitioning to home education. Most people recommend at least one month of deschooling for every year spent at school. I believe deschooling for a minimum of six months is best for kids who have had a hard time in traditional school, or who have lost their love of learning, even if they only attended school for a year or two.
Deschooling basically involves allowing your child to regain control over his own time, thoughts, and choices, by not insisting on any formal learning. It is a peaceful (or fun, or both) transition space, which can help children break the negative patterns imposed on them by school.
Deschooling can help children come back to being able to learn for the sheer joy of learning, and regain autonomy over their lives and minds.
Allowing your child to choose how she spends her time can be confronting when you have been brought up to believe that good parents tell their children what to do, and how to do it, and when.
Let go of what you have been told, and embrace what you know at your core.
If your child has felt trapped, restricted, limited, or deprived of freedom for any length of time, it is natural for her to spend weeks – maybe even months – immersing herself in previously restricted activities, such as playing video games or watching television. You may feel (at first) that your child isn’t learning anything. Be patient. Your child is recuperating. Allow her the space to do so, and trust that when she ready to step into something new, she will.
Focus on having fun together, bonding, and allowing your child to immerse herself in whatever it is she finds interesting/safe/relaxing/enjoyable. Don’t criticise or place value judgements on her choices. It takes time to undo damage, and, just as you intuitively know what you need, you child will be drawn to what she needs.
Deschooling is a great opportunity to reconnect your child with who she really is – as opposed to who she has been told to be. It is also a fantastic way to deepen the connection between you both, and reinforce that you trust your child to make her own decisions. Knowing that you respect her needs will help remind your child that her needs deserve to be respected, which may be an important aspect of her recovery from the school environment.
Kids who have had their self-confidence shattered may need to relearn – not just how to trust other people – but how to trust their own thoughts, needs, and feelings.
Kids who have been numbed by boredom, or who were significantly behind their peers in traditional schooling, will benefit greatly from an extended period of deschooling.
When children who ‘hate’ schoolwork are given the freedom to learn on their own terms (and in their own time), they can surprise even themselves with just how capable they are.
Children who are perfectionists can learn to stop comparing themselves with their peers, and to embrace their own way of doing things.
Kids who are ‘too cool for school’ can refocus their attention on what actually fascinates them, instead of wasting energy worrying what other people are going to think.
As your child feels more secure in herself, and is no longer threatened by whatever her particular stressors were at school, you will see her begin to re-engage with learning.
You don’t need to be a teacher to educate your child. You don’t need to be an expert on every subject. There is a whole world of information out there. You just need to be there to help your child figure out what it is he wants to learn, and help him make it happen.
What does your child love? Is he creative? Sporty? Arty? Does he love animals, archaeology, playing music, or collecting insects?
Whatever it is that captures your children’s interest, delve into it whole-heartedly. Find opportunities to explore their passions.
Fill your home with books, art supplies, science experiments, cooking ingredients, musical instruments, robot-building-kits, and unusual plant species. Go to plays, libraries, new towns, caves, beaches, forests and planetariums. Volunteer in your community together. Meet interesting people. Read together. Create art. Enrol in workshops. Watch documentaries. Visit heritage sites. Go bird watching. Rock climbing. Play. Love life, and don’t be scared to say yes to whatever random opportunities come your way.
There is so much more to life than school, and so many more authentic ways to learn than being spoon-fed factoids from textbooks.
Do you remember that sweet toddler who learned to walk, clap, run, jump, and speak an entire language with no formal instruction? Your child is still capable of learning amazing things, even if she has forgotten.
School is not compulsory. In most countries, it is the right of the parents to decide how their children are to be educated. If the education your child is currently receiving is not working, it might be time to make a change.
School is a relatively modern institution. For most of human history, schools did not exist, and yet children have always learned.
Nowadays, the whole world is literally at your child’s fingertips. Your child will have more time and incentive to learn, when it is on her own terms, in a way that suits her, in an environment that is respectful, safe, loving, supportive, and happy.
Your child is not the problem. Your child is the solution.
The above is an excerpt from Nanci Nott's book, 'Why does my child hate school... and how can I help? Practical strategies and philosophical support for parents of stressed-out kids'.