The start of a learning adventure

The start of a learning adventure

Guest Blog Post by Fabienne Vailes

On 17th January 2022, we started our journey and adventure into home education and officially de-registered our son from secondary school.  He is 14. We initially described it as jumping out of the plane! 10 weeks into this new approach to learning, we feel like we’re slowly settling into our new life and routines. I’ll be honest – it was harder for me than it was for Thomas. He took to it like ‘duck to water’. I initially spent a lot of time crying and letting go. We both said that it felt like breaking up with school.

Here are our four take-aways so far:

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

As I said in the intro, it took us several months to finally make the decision to de-register Tom and it wasn’t an easy one for us to make. That said, my heart knew long before I allowed my head to ‘catch up’. My challenge is I am an overthinker. A pure product of the academic system in France and in the UK, I used to believe that I had to use my logic and to ‘think about things’. My final decision was made when I watched my son’s face as we were heading home after having a chat with another home ed Mum and her son in early January; Thomas asked me: ‘do you think it’s possible for me to leave school? Do you think there is truly another way?’ Sometimes as parents we know in our ‘heart’ what the right answer or the next move is. We just need to give ourselves permission to follow our hearts. Taking this step for Thomas and starting the journey has enabled my ‘head’ to catch up.

AGENCY

Our decision to home educate coincided with my own year-long sabbatical and stepping off the ‘hamster wheel’.  Combined with Thomas becoming self-directed in his learning, this means that we are both discovering the power of agency – that feeling of freedom and choice. We can decide how we schedule our day and what we explore. We can be open and flexible and that feels good. And the exciting thing is that as we develop our sense of agency and we explore new skills, we build a sense of competence too.

BELONGING

We were very lucky that we connected with a local group of home educating families. We join their regular gatherings two days a week. With a range of ages from 10 – 15, all the young people have been so welcoming.

With Thomas’s help, I started sharing my French and Spanish skills one day a week offering an immersive languages day.  The young people have embraced this learning opportunity and every week I feel so energised. I feel so lucky to be able to spend time with these young people. They are all so different, so friendly and always willing to share. What I love the most about this group of adults and young people is that they are so life-giving and life-affirming. They have created a real safe space for us all to learn, grow and evolve.

I feel like I am also getting to know my own child. I am discovering who he is, what he likes and doesn’t like and what he stands for. Last week, Thomas and I commented on how we both feel that ‘we have found our tribe’ and how lucky we both feel to have access to this amazing community and self-directed learning hub. Everything in life is relational and interconnected and we can feel the real benefits of the sense of belonging and the positive relationships we are establishing with every single individual in the group.

PURPOSE

Over the last ten weeks, it feels like we have ‘freed’ Thomas. We have opened the cage and most importantly unclipped his wings. We are allowing him to explore new areas of interests. We are allowing him to stretch his wings and to see what they are for. He is discovering who he is and what he stands for. He currently thinks he might want to become an architect and so every week he attends a local architecture course, and he is loving it. He also takes part in a weekly woodwork workshop. These things wouldn’t have happened if he had stayed in school. It’s so wonderful as parents to watch our child flourish. His passion-led learning is enabling him to soar.

And it’s not just Thomas who is becoming a self-directed learner. I am also allowing myself to explore my own interests and to become in charge of my learning – this is a truly liberating experience.

It feels like we are both discovering what inspires us – our sense of purpose and passion: architecture, design and technology for Thomas, educational reform and the link between being self-directed and wellbeing for me.

Together we are discovering our preferences, through experience and we are taking action. Empowered to do so.

And of course, it’s still early days – we are only just starting on this new adventure, but I feel that we have the right ingredients to move forward. My professional research has shown me that it all starts with ‘flourishing’. We have the five wellbeing essentials in place: intrinsic motivation (purpose), sense of belonging, positive relationships, agency, and sense of competence.

I am sure the rest will follow…

 

Fabienne is an educator, author of The Flourishing Student and co-author of How to Grow a Grown up, wellbeing expert and parent of 2 boys aged 14.5 and 12. She will share her learning from 7 years of action research and hours of conversations on her Flourishing Education Podcast in order to empower all to become flourishing lifelong learners.

You can follow Fabienne’s journey as she connects with educational thought leaders in her weekly blog: https://flourishingeducation.co.uk/podcasts/

You can find her book here:

https://flourishingeducation.co.uk/book/ 

Journeying in Freedom

Journeying in Freedom

Guest Blog Post by Stacey Piercey

I can remember the moment we decided to homeschool our three boys. It was late June 2009. I had returned home from picking up my oldest attending kindergarten at his art-centered charter school. I relayed the scene to my husband.

“He was a little over-excited about it being the last day of school. So I asked him if he was going to miss it over the summer – hoping to hear he was looking forward to returning. He thought maybe he’d miss his friends. But when I explained come September he could spend all day with them because grade one was ALL DAY, he threw himself down on the parking lot pavement and sobbed, “Nooo! I can’t do it all day! That’s too much!”.”

This was after a challenging spring of feeling finished and yet enduring through tears and pleas for days at home.

He had a lovely and nurturing Waldorf trained teacher whom he adored. The other children were lovely for the most part, he got along with everyone, he participated…they did Brain Gym every morning! The walls were painted in mosaics, the halls lined with beanbag chairs, they had an artist-in-residence that the kids could visit and see what they were working on without needing permission. Completely free and open. It was, by every standard, the perfect school. And yet he didn’t like being there so much. It seemed to be just too much.

I still had two little ones at home, and by April, the daily dance I had to go through to get him to go was becoming tiresome. He wanted to be at home with us. But he had to go to school. Right?

My husband noted at the end of my story that he didn’t like school either and I offhandedly said, “maybe we should homeschool”. He shrugged and said, “why not”?

The next month was spent flirting with the idea. He bought Blake Boles’ book “College Without High School” because that’s where parents’ thoughts go first. What about university? This wasn’t the first time I heard the term “unschooling” and thoughts of a previous encounter made me wonder if this wasn’t exactly what we needed. Why not homeschool? Better yet, why not unschool?! With the charter school set to start August 15th, surprised ourselves by we making the decision right then to keep him home.

I didn’t drag my feet – I did my research, found out what we was needed to legally homeschool in our province (Alberta, Canada), registered with a schoolboard and called to withdraw him from grade one all in one day. Done. The emotional work of our decision would take years to unpack, then question, then justify. We had a great support person (all homeschoolers in Alberta are assigned a facilitator who is a certified teacher and works for the board in this role only. Usually, they also homeschool their own children). That first year, she helped us understand how varied and family-specific home education is. She provided us with the tools to determine our own pace and rhythm. She was a source for everything and a gentle hand in guiding us towards the realization that we are the ones making all the decisions and no decision is a bad one; just a path we are on that can be changed on a whim as needed. Thank you, Cindy!

In the ensuing years we moved boards, and subsequently facilitators. But every facilitator for every school board we’ve had has been outstanding. Unschooling stayed our gold standard because we discovered that the more we interfered, the less they did. When we got out of the way and schooled “from behind”, waiting for them to tell us in one way or another what they needed to grow and learn, they flourished. From the beginning, we have not used curriculum in any form. Admittedly I did buy some, but they were still in the wrappers when I sold them years later. We have tried many things, but in the end, they have learned most of what they know on their own with no help or interference from us. If they wanted to take a formal course, we would get them access – whether that meant driving them to and from or buying the materials they needed. We found that they bring us answers to things they discover, more than they come to us looking for the answer.

Over the years our oldest went to public school for grades 9 through 11 for access to a unique sports program. The pandemic brought him home to finish grade 12 and graduate in April 2021. He found a tutor for Japanese and will be leaving, when borders open, to spend a year in Japan immersed in the language and culture he loves.

Our second child jumped a grade (because they don’t follow grades) and tried grade 10 for only a semester of public school at 14 years old. Despite straight A’s he deemed school was for people not interested in learning, but only there because they were compelled to go, and thus a waste of his time. As of February 2022, he is also a high school graduate. He’s adding higher math and chemistry to his skills over the next few months and looking at a STEM degree that will “get him to space”. Both completed the government diploma requirements.

Our youngest, and most unschooled, is bright, and full of hope and wonder. Not at all interested in being in school but looking forward to following his own dreams and passions. There is no doubt in our minds he will be successful at whatever he pursues.

It has almost been 13 years since the decision to home educate was made. There have been countless moments of genuine concern and intense doubt. But mostly it has been a joyous ride and an amazing journey of discovery. We love spending time with our boys – they are funny, smart and a pleasure to be around. We look back on that summer and are so thankful for every moment of freedom we’ve had since.

 

Stacey Piercey left the corporate world to teach her three boys at home in 2009 and is an active member of the home learning community in Canada. She has run various home-school co-ops and was chair of her home-school board’s parent council. In 2014 she started a home-school program supporting children ages 6 to 17 in starting their own business, ending in a Children’s Business Fair. It was so popular, Stacey began presenting it to students in community clubs and eventually to schools that heard about the program’s success. In 2019 she scripted her curriculum for on-demand delivery and eventually sold her online course to Galileo XP, an online school for at-home learners. Stacey continues to teach her program at Galileo and to local home-school co-ops in Canada.

Find out more about Stacey: 

 

The difference between learning and school

The difference between learning and school

Guest Blog post by Rebecca Chambers of R.I.S.E. Academy*

Learning is definitely a lifelong journey and where I find myself today, I could not even have imagined five years ago. Until the global lockdown I was a teacher in the public education system in Ottawa, Canada. During the latter part of my 17 years in public education, I spent time unlearning what I knew “school” to be and developed a program called the Social Change Maker Model (SCMM). I will share how this led to the R.I.S.E. Academy today.

In my classroom it was evident that if my students were trusted to follow their passions and take control of their learning they would flourish. I found the youth in my lessons thrived in this SCCM program – our learning space was a buzz of activity as the students worked on their projects, collaborated with each other and the community around them and embraced the adventure of learning. However, while the youth were flourishing in creating their own projects, unfortunately other teachers in the system felt threatened. The school environment became quite toxic, and I was seen as a threat.

This led to me taking a career break, a much-needed space to breathe, re-balance and explore within myself what learning is. This coincided with the global lockdown and gave me the space to develop the SCMM further and trial it on a willing group of youths from around the world.  Their experience was overwhelmingly positive. Their motivation ran high, and their creativity came alive. As an example of a project, three of the students grouped together and embraced learning about Black Lives Matter (BLM) – they created a BLM march in Minecraft which, at certain points on the march, you could stop and read about civil rights campaigners. Other students were invited to join the march and it was a powerful experience for all those involved and great learning for the collaborators/creators of the project.

Trialling SCMM with these students over two cycles gave me the confidence to launch *R.I.S.E. (Reach Inspire Soar Empower) Academy which has continued to grow and develop over the months that have followed. I have developed the R.I.S.E. programmes to allow youth to follow their passions and co-create their learning journey, have flexible deadlines, reflect and focus on their processes rather than testing, work on real world problems and authentic projects, connect to community outside of the classroom walls and finally celebrate risk-taking and failures. It is built on the pillars in the image below.

I can now reflect and see that this was something that the current system just wasn’t ready for.   In September 2020 I officially opened R.I.S.E.’s virtual doors to 12 youth and I have not looked back since. We received accreditation from the Ministry of Education in Ontario which has enabled us to follow more of a self-directed learning philosophy.  Working with the young people that come through our doors is a privilege; they are motivated in their learning because they have chosen their project, based on their passions and interests – I trust them to create and learn, I simply facilitate the process and connect them with experts or people in the community when required. My learning curve has been steep, I stepped out of a system that I knew was broken with deep uncertainty; I grew a dream, piloted it, learnt from the youth in the programme, and then launched the Academy. It has taken courage; I have taken risks and I have learnt so much from the young people I have journeyed with. My passion is to instil in them courage, a willingness to take a risk, to innovate and dream.

As mentioned above, at R.I.S.E. Academy we believe it is imperative to provide youth with choice, autonomy and self-direction in their learning.  Gracie Sacca is a grade 12 student who has attended R.I.S.E. for the last 2 years.  In that time, she has had the opportunity to be a co-creator in her learning journey.  Gracie is a product of the Ontario education system and taking control of her learning was not easy at first.  I invited Gracie to share a little of her own experience of how R.I.S.E. has impacted her own learning journey:

‘In the beginning I thought my time at R.I.S.E. was going to be similar to traditional classes where I would read, write, take tests and move on.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was very different.  Even though I was excited, it still took me a while to jump into having so much control over my learning, I didn’t know where to start.   In our first 10 weeks we spent time trying to figure out how I wanted to learn.  Rebecca took the lead in the beginning to support me while I figured things out.  She was able to take my love of hockey and relate the courses we were working on to it.  As we progressed through the year, I slowly began to see what made me excited to learn.  After getting out of my comfort zone, I realized that I really enjoyed talking to people about issues related to hockey.  I created a podcast, interviewed people from all over the world, spoke to 150 academics about racism in hockey, lead a roundtable discussion with prominent people in the hockey community and lead a social media campaign called #blowthewhistleonracism. Having choice, autonomy and self-direction in my learning has allowed me to recognize my strengths and it has made me feel smarter and more confident, as compared to regular school where I always felt stupid because I did not fit in their box.  I have learned that I like learning, whereas before I equated learning and school as the same thing.  I am not a fan of traditional school.’

Gracie is only one of many students who the school system has failed, this reality continues to drive us as we develop, believing that we can contribute to the conversation about systemic change which is so needed in our ailing system.  It is our belief at R.I.S.E. that we all have strengths and when given the opportunity we can all shine.

*R.I.S.E. (Reach Inspire Soar Empower) Academy is a not for profit, virtual, alternative high school that works with high school aged youth through the province of Ontario in Canada.  It is accredited by the Ministry of Education in Ontario, within this accreditation it still follows more of a self-directed learning philosophy.

My Children Have Never Been So Overall Happy or Engaged

My Children Have Never Been So Overall Happy or Engaged

What would happen if a school treated its students and parents as customers? If it built classes around the interests of its students? If it thought that college was but one option for the future? If it gave students the ability to meet with others from around the world on a daily basis?  Welcome to Galileo. My children have never been so overall happy or engaged in learning as they are with Galileo. My 15-year-old completes group and individual projects that she helps to design weekly and is given multiple opportunities to practice leadership skills. My 12-year-old takes a very different set of classes mostly focused on technology. We easily meld their interests and other curriculum that is not part of Galileo into their weekly schedules. Both are gaining skills that my husband and I know will serve them well in the future. Both are working with students and adults from around the world and are learning about others’ cultures and lifestyles. Perhaps most importantly, they ask for help when they need it, provide help when others need it, are accountable for the commitments they make and are self-motivated. There is no nagging them to get schoolwork done. As a parent, my job is to help them manage their schedules when they have too much or too little going on, give guidance when they ask for it and listen when they enthusiastically give me a play-by-play of the latest class. If you believe that your child wants to learn and is ready to drive that desire, Galileo is the community for you.

https://galileoxp.com

https://galileoxp.com
Why We Are Home Educating

Why We Are Home Educating

MY SCHOOL EXPERIENCE

My own school experience was on the whole, positive. As my parents were largely ‘uneducated’ immigrants who spoke very little English and worked long hours, school gave me an education that my parents could not. At school, I excelled in my GCSEs and A-levels, then at university gained a very good degree and thereafter a PGCE. I went on to become a primary school teacher, a job which I loved. Having been “successfully” educated in the school system and then having worked as a primary school teacher, I was a proponent of the school system.

 

HOMESCHOOLED KIDS ARE WEIRD!

I grew up in Cardiff in the 80s and everyone I knew went to school. I didn’t know anyone who was homeschooled.  NO-ONE. I didn’t even know such thing as “homeschooling” existed. It wasn’t until I was an adult working in Hong Kong that I first met a boy from a Canadian family who was homeschooled. The boy was clearly socially awkward and a bit slow and strange. My husband and I concluded that homeschooling makes people weird and made a mental note to never ever homeschool our (future) children! That boy has since grown up to be a wonderful young man and I’ve also since learned that the boy had once attended school and had experienced some bullying there. As my husband and I started to meet a few more families who home educated their children, we were surprised to find that the children were bright, engaging and…quite ‘normal’! One family had access to one of the very best and highly sought after private schools, at no cost, yet still chose to home educate their children. This then begged the obvious question, why?

 

MY UNQUESTIONING TRUST IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM CHALLENGED

As we sought to explore this hidden world of home-education further, one of the first and most surprising discoveries was that contrary to popular belief, school is actually not compulsory; it is a system that we opt into. For the first time, we started asking questions of the school system, especially about the people who set and change the contents of a curriculum for the children of the whole country…

  •       Who are they?  What qualifications do they have for this massively important job?
  •       How attuned are they to children and how they learn best?
  •       What is the process by which they decide what children need to learn, and the ages at which they should learn it?
  •       On what basis did they decide that all children across the country should be reading and writing at the age of 5?
  •       Why is there increasingly less play for children at school, when studies overwhelming show the vital importance of play in a child’s learning, development and well-being?

And as we sought answers to these questions, our list of questions seemed to grow. Can schools really operate with each child’s best interests at heart?  Needless to say, my previous unquestioning trust in the school system as an ex-primary school teacher were massively challenged and, from there, began our journey of home-education.

 

Story written by Kayi and uploaded by Streams.