FASHFEST 2017 Masthead
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The Simple Life: School’s out

Emma Macdonald

For our latest Magazine, people who have gone back to basics – a homeschooler, a tiny house dweller and a kitchen garden cook – explain their lifestyle choices. 

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There are no Monday morning alarms in the Gribble household, no school uniforms, no lunches to pack and no buses to catch.

When five-year-old Sarah and seven-year-old Jack wake up, their ‘schooling’ begins at home. Their subjects range from studying what is growing in the garden to reading books, creating artworks and Lego towers, or taking excursions to any number of Canberra’s numerous repositories of wisdom – the museums, libraries and galleries.

The Gribble children are part of a recent explosion in numbers of ACT families choosing home education over traditional school settings. Just three years ago, 166 children were registered in the ACT as being homeschooled, according to the school census. But last year the number rocketed to 252.

The Gribble family

The Gribble family

For parents Kate and Nick, the decision to educate Sarah and Jack at home came gradually, as their toddlers approached preschool age. Kate began researching school options and was taken with the Montessori approach.

“It had so many of the ideals regarding children that I valued
– viewing children as capable and independent, allowing children
 to take the lead in their learning and development, creating an accessible home environment 
for children and offering children beautiful and inviting toys and learning materials.”

The more she researched online, the more Kate came across families who were eschewing mainstream schooling and educating their children at home.

“The idea lingered in the back of my mind for a little while until, I think, I was fully able to process what that would mean for our family. Could we do this? As I continued to watch my children learning so naturally through everyday life and play, I knew mainstream schooling wasn’t for us, and that a simpler, slower, freer life was what we wanted.”

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As a former teacher, Kate said she “had to unlearn what I had learnt and how I approached the learning process in a classroom and change my approach to fit our situation”.

“The most important thing for
 me was seeing education as something other than the model which happens at school. Once I could see that children can and do learn very naturally from life, I was able to relieve myself of a lot of the unnecessary pressure I was putting on myself.”

Most importantly, it has meant slowing down and letting the children take the lead.

“The biggest advantages are freedom and time – freedom to learn, freedom to live and enjoy living, freedom to go wherever the day takes us, whether that’s exploring the rocks around Cotter Bend, discovering mushrooms around the forest floor at the Arboretum or simply planting seedlings in our kitchen garden. We are free to choose.”

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While Kate and Nick considered the issue of their children missing out on socialisation opportunities, these fears have dissipated as 
they partake in a number of group activities and stay in contact with a lively home education network in the ACT. They plan to continue their home education until their children make their own choice to go into a formal training or tertiary setting.

“Canberra has an active home education community so many of the people I talk to know someone who is home educating – we definitely aren’t pegged as ‘weirdoes’!”

“Home education isn’t a decision just for religious families, or families with children with a severe disability, like is often portrayed in the media. We don’t choose to home educate because school didn’t work for us; in many cases, school really has nothing to do with it. We are regular families seeking a different path.”

All families choosing home education must register with the ACT Education Directorate and need to attend regular meetings with officials to check on their children’s progress.

While curriculum choices are up to individual families, they must present evidence of educational progress and keep a record of each child’s participation in educational activities.

Kate said she had found the Directorate’s home school liaison to be “incredibly helpful and supportive” and said the experience of taking life and education at a slower pace had produced two confident, happy and independent learners.

“Now we can’t imagine doing it any other way.”

Photography by Martin Ollman

This article originally appeared as part of our The Simple Life article in Magazine: Back to Basics for Autumn 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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