A Radical Educational Alternative for our Family
Beverley Paine, 1997
Every so often I am reminded by the look of shock on people's faces that the lifestyle I have adopted is extremely radical to that of my neighbours. In many ways we live like any other family, but if you look closely you'd be amazed at the differences. For example - no fridge, no flushing toilet, no mains electricity, and no school for our children!
Before my partner enthused me with his do-it-yourself philosophy during the last of our tender and naive adolescent years I was a regular, ordinary person. Neither myself nor my family could have pictured the life I live now. A couple of years ago my father commented that I could have been successful if I had wanted to, as though what I do now is far from it! I refuse to be judged by the materialistic standards of his society. By rejecting what others take for granted as necessary for living I have found power and freedom. Power to choose for myself what is right for me, and freedom to find it. And in doing so, I have been able to reduce my dependence on money, the thing that so often gets in the way of seeing my own happiness.
Not everyone has the opportunity to live this way, even if they wanted to. Living close to the shops means we eat dairy foods and meat the same day we buy it. A composting toilet, although an ethical choice for us, is often not available to most people, due to ignorant local by-laws. Generating our own power fits with our Earth friendly philosophy, but tinkering with electronics is Robin's hobby also. Homeschooling, even if it is becoming more well known, is definitely radical by today's standards, especially when you live next door to a perfectly good school you have no quarrel with!
Homeschooling is, however, only a natural extension of the do-it-yourself philosophy we adopted more than twenty years ago, when we took the almost crazy decision to build our own home. Why spend a lifetime aiming for self-reliance only to hand over your children to someone else, or more accurately an endless stream of other people over twelve or more years, to take care of them and teach them those important lessons about life? Especially when the messages and values they are receiving at school are in contradiction with those you hold dear. Keeping them at home was one of the best decisions we ever made. And definitely the most controversial!
People are usually surprised to learn our children are educated at home. Their first comments often relate to our children's social life. There is a basic, and misguided, assumption that, next to the three R's, the main reason children attend school is to become socialised. There is much I can say on this topic, but I find I no longer need to dwell on it. My children have shown me that any concerns I may have had about their socialisation were unfounded and based on ignorance in the first place.
One of the biggest problems I have experienced is a direct result of living in the country. I find the distance between us and other families who think similarly and share our enthusiasm for homeschooling and permaculture has made it difficult to maintain confidence in our educational choice at times. Contact with other homeschoolers was nice for the children but absolutely essential for me. In 1989 I decided to start a newsletter, networking homeschooling families across the state. Within no time I was receiving phone calls from people I had never met inquiring about how to begin homeschooling.
Most of what I learn is from my own observation, often confirmed within a short time by something I read. When I talk to people about home education I draw upon my experiences first. One of the most amazing things for me about networking was how most of the families I have talked to over the years echoed my experiences, despite varying philosophies and approaches to education. I learned that what we are doing, this thing called homeschooling, is actually better labelled parenting
Many parents, particularly mothers, remember fondly their children's preschool years, as a time of closeness and busyness, filled with activities together. Hassles and problems had to be worked out quickly so family harmony could be restored. Homeschooling means retaining this approach for the next ten years of a child's life - with lots of learning done by both parent and child. Whatever we did well as parents of preschoolers we continued to do. Most of the things we dropped along the way were traditional educational activities and ideas. These often had no meaning in the home environment or were too contrived to be of any real use. The children were, and still are, our harshest critics of our educational and parenting approach!
What we do each day at home has naturally changed over the year. How our eldest was educated/parented is completely different from our youngest. Permaculture and natural learning shape our lives now, not the messages in our heads about the importance of appearance, competition and money. Every day we have to make difficult decisions about what we are going to do and how to do it. Difficult, because everything impacts on everything else and we need to tread lightly on the planet. Maintaining the wonderful relationships we have in this family is just as important; I believe by building families we build communities.
Home education is an enormous commitment to our children's lives and futures. The responsibilities of being there each day for them is sometimes daunting, but friends are quick to offer support. I know that we are pioneers of homeschooling in South Australia, and that pioneering work is often hard. I believe in a family's right to choose the most appropriate education for their children as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So often people are happy to select from the limited smorgasbord already available without thinking they can create something entirely different!
With homeschooling education can be whatever you want it to be - whatever you need right now. For me that is the freedom and power I feel I have and I want my children to grow up with.
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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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Beverley Paine, The Educating Parent
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