Growing into Our 'Tribe' Instead of Finding One
by Beverley Paine, Mar 2013
Even though I had three children who got on exceptionally well (though that's fairly normal for home educated siblings!), in my early years I felt very insecure about opportunities for social activity. It actually resulted in us moving house, looking for a like-minded community that I believed would meet our growing social needs. I was wrong. basically I was still thinking about what was 'normal' and trying to live within that framework, rather than observe and reflect on who we were as individuals and honour and celebrate that.
We are not social people - although I suspect that if I didn't have health issues I could easily be a very active social extravert (luckily the internet came along and became the nexus of my social life). We are happy to sit on the fringe and choose to participate when we want or need rather than be at the centre of social situations (which we find we inevitably gravitate to because of our leadership skills and 'have a go' attitudes). Over the years we cultivated a few close friendships with other home educating families, but we had to travel between 1-2 hours to be with them as there was nothing local (that was like-minded - we were, as most people are, fussy about this).
In addition, I felt insecure and threatened hanging out with people who didn't understand or support my education choice for my children. That and the fact that it was hard to arrange mutually acceptable times to get together with families of schooled children meant we isolated ourselves from the local community to a large degree. This had implications I hadn't anticipated as the children grew into adolescence and their early adult lives.
Our hobby as owner builders kept us busy and we used that as an excuse too to avoid getting involved in the local community. The things we were interested in - Landcare, Dunecare, community garden - took us away from doing essential things at home. After a year helping to build a community garden we realised just how much work had built up on our four acres - what's the point of owning and living on such a beautiful place if we're putting all our time into a small allotment in the local town? Our thoughts, attitudes and actions isolated us socially. I worried about social activity - not just from the socialisation point of view but also the development of social skills and the building of social networks that would sustain us into the future. But not enough to shift out of our comfort zone and start to build a sustainable social life for our family. I worked hard to build a social life that was within comfort zone - which meant countless hours in the car trekking off to home educating gatherings, activities, camps and excursions.
Compromise is a necessary part of life. Our eldest opted to go to high school part and then full time. This didn't integrate her into the local community - in fact, the friends she formed after school went to a different high school. She got a job in the local supermarket while at school but this didn't anchor her in this community either - she moved to the city to go to university (looking for the 'college' social life that the movies promise). The lack of access to quality tertiary education is a huge problem for all rural families. Looking back on her childhood and education as a young adult, she commented that it is really important for families to get involved in their local communities, to get to know the people who live in the town, work and play with them, no matter how hard it may seem at first (especially for families like ours who moved into town and didn't grow up here). This helps to develop that sense of belonging within a community that should be a part of every child's life. Home is incredibly important and children will thrive (as ours did) with limited social contact. This doesn't hinder the development of social skills - in fact, everyone who meets our kids comment on how caring, aware, helpful and wonderful they are.
Becoming involved in the local community would have changed our lives -at the time I couldn't see how or why that would have been an advantage but I had a continuous nagging suspicion that it was important (which kept undermining my confidence as a home educator and would end up with me looking wistfully at school as a solution and which we eventually tried). Looking back it's easy to see how getting involved in the local community doing things that were outside of our comfort zone or interests (eg, supporting the local football team, watching netball on the weekend) would have enhanced all of our lives. Back then my husband and I were thinking selfishly - wanting to stay within our comfort zones, doing what we wanted, meeting our personal needs and not taking in the broader, long-term view of not only what our children needed, but what we would need as we grew older to sustain us.
There has to be a way of being true to the people we are, honouring and celebrating our nature as individuals, and challenging ourselves to grow in ways that may not feel comfortable but which we definitely see as necessary. And there are lots of ways we could have become involved. Visiting the local library every week, talking to the librarian, getting to know the other regulars. Taking the time out of our busy lives to volunteer and support local community services - taking the children (making sure they had something to do if the activity became boring for them) would not only be broaden their experiences but would educate local adults that home education isn't elitist, hippy, or something related to cults. Try out whatever after-school activities are on offer - dance, martial arts, sport, scouts, etc. Just going for a walk and making the effort to say hello and smile to whoever we pass. It would have been very hard for us as we're very private people (and I had health issues). The thing is, I know that our lives would have been immeasurably enriched had we been brave (and sensible) enough to do this.
I come across a lot of home educators who are reluctant to record for one reason or another. Most quote time constraints. I was not very diligent about recording, although I did record enough to help me build confidence as home educator. I think that this was my main motivator for recording: when I didn't do it, especially in those early years, I would often fall into thinking that we'd done nothing educational for weeks and think that I was failing as a home educator. Plus, because we were registered, come the end of the year I would naturally panic and spend all day (actually a week or two!) throwing some kind of report together, scrabbling to find samples of the children's work.
Recording doesn't have to be onerous. It can be tailored to suit your nature and how you work, as well as resembling something the registering authorities would recognise as a record of your children's educational progress. There are lots of ideas to be gleaned from fellow home educators on support groups. There are short cuts you can take to satisfy overly picky authorities (those that like you to quote bits of their curriculum!)
Some unschoolers don't like to record because it seems artificial and too much like school. As well as being an aide to memory, when we, as parents record, we demonstrate important communication and thinking skills to our children. Recording is the cornerstone of the scientific method and is employed in all areas of life. If we didn't value recording we wouldn't have cookbooks or gardening books, or the internet! Or photo albums, or documentaries on the television. If you have ever tried to lose weight or chase down allergies you will know the value of a food diary. Bite the bullet, make regular recording a natural part of your daily routine. You'll be amazed at how it will enhance your life and build your confidence not only as an educator of your children but as their parent as well.
Home education throws up many challenges and it can become overwhelming. There are times when we need to nurture ourselves and not step out of our comfort zones to embrace and celebrate change. And there are times when doing so both enhances our lives and those of our children, widening both our worlds in positive, constructive ways that will reap much welcome dividends into the future.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
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 supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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