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I have just over a year until Gaja officially starts school, and I find myself looking into all the different schooling options. We have always traveled a lot as a family, and I know that once they start school it won’t be possible to just take them in and out of school. That doesn’t mean that I am thinking to home school - that for me would be torture!  I for sure do not have the ability or the patience to do such a thing. But I start questioning the current educational system. As a good friend of mine pointed out, ‘While schooling has not changed much, the world around us changes daily. The top 10 jobs of 2021 do not exist yet and by the time students have completed their studies – the world is expecting creative problem solvers, people who can adapt and think outside of the box.’

Here I interview 4 different people from different perspectives to try and understand what it is I want to do with my own kids... needless to say, I am still confused 😉

Kathy Kawamura
Mother of a 7 year old boy and 9 year old girl.
Home Schooling

Q: How did you decide on ‘home-schooling’?
The kids attend a public (free) charter school that offers optional schooling two days a week (meaning it's not a huge deal if we take days/weeks off of school as needed). I homeschool the remaining days. The curriculum and materials are provided to me as options, though I can choose to ignore their suggestions and implement my own teachings.

We initially chose this option because we live in a neighborhood that doesn't have the best public schools. I loved the idea of homeschooling the kids during their earlier years because there is still so much to be learned naturally in their environment. We've used our flexible schedule to travel off-season, stay with grandparents, attend Japanese school, and go to museums, amusement parks, hikes, and beaches on days that are enjoyably uncrowded. I have appreciated being able to change their curriculum as I felt necessary. For example, rather than teaching my first grader the specifics of medieval European history(!), he chose to create an informational poster about Japan before our visit there. I also tailor the topics to their specific abilities so that we skip concepts they've already mastered and take more time on concepts that are more challenging to them. Another benefit is that many days we are able to complete our homeschool in a few hours so we have the rest of the day for family activities and loads of unstructured play time. There's also some peace of mind knowing that I had a few more years to firm up the kids regarding our family values.

A concern I've heard is that homeschooled kids are not properly socialized. With part-time Japanese school and part-time regular school, I figured my kids received sufficient exposure to classrooms, classmates, and "real" teachers. We are also proactive in maintaining frequent contact with close friends and enrolling our kids in sports and music classes. Another concern I've heard from every homeschooling parent is that it can be stressful teaching one's own child, but I hear the same thing from parents who are trying to do 2 hours of homework at the end of the day after their kids have already been in school all day.

Q: What change has this method had on your kids? Do you see any difference in their learning ability or enthusiasm in learning?
My kids seem to have an enthusiasm for learning. People have commented that my kids always seem to be in learning mode (in a good way). They often play "homeschool" for fun and will teach each other real topics in math, social studies, and English. They take notebooks to museums and write down interesting information. They try to learn about places they visit. They call this all "homeschool." It's frustrating when they always have an opinion about what to learn and how to learn, but I try to embrace their ideas while also sticking to my own academic agenda. I do value the knowledge, passion, and creativity of "real" teachers, so I am transitioning the kids to experience full-time school just for their later elementary years.

Q: What advice can you give other mothers and fathers trying to decide on the right schooling method for their children?
We've considered what type of schooling would work best for each child's personality. My daughter craves mentorship from adults and peer interactions so she is scared but excited about going to "regular" school. My son likes to work independently and is happy with his few close friends and thus is adamant about wanting to remain homeschooled. The personality of each parent matters, too. Some parents I've met chose homeschooling for the flexibility but do not enjoy the process of teaching. I've always loved teaching and learning so initially being able to homeschool felt like a gift to me rather than a chore. Patience is another important factor, especially during these younger years. Like many kids, when mom walks in the room, there is more acting out, more whining, more neediness. I can feel depleted at the end of the day, and I'm wanting more love and energy left within me to share with my husband.

We feel we've maximized all the benefits of homeschooling and are now ready to put the kids in regular, full-time school for a few years. I want the kids to experience it, and to be honest, I've had a personally challenging year and feel I need a break if I want to be the best parent and teacher to my kids.

Steven Sherman
Living Maths
He calls himself (Chief Imagination Officer and Executive Day Dreamer)

Q: Please give me a brief background on yourself and your thoughts on the current education system.
I have been running an educational NGO for 22 Years. I feel that the Educational system has not changed much in the past 100 years and yet the world around us is changing on a daily basis. If you want your child to be ready for the 21st century, then you need to equip them with essential tools: Computer literacy – Problem Solving – Coding – EQ – Communication skills – making - etc

Q: Which methods of schooling do you most agree with, out of all methods available out there today?
I feel that Homeschooling is great if you have the right teacher (not all homeschools make use of the parents). There are great advantages to travelling, outings, flexibility with holidays and learning.  The cons… Social aspects like team sports, mixing with classes of other kids, birthdays, etc.  There is limited social interaction.  Some schools have embraced 21st Century education and consider themselves to be innovative learning spaces.  These schools nurture your child’s talents and expose them to so many learning areas that a homeschool might be unaware of.

Q: What is your project and what is the idea behind this project?
I have always held the belief that schools need to make changes to offer the requisite tools to their students. Many schools claim to be innovative because they have internet in the classroom and an interactive whiteboard. Some schools claim to be innovative because every student has an ipad or laptop. I have always dreamed of creating a school that is truly innovative. Where the learning environment is ever changing, the teachers are constantly adapting their content to connect with each student and students participate in opportunities that very few get to experience. PBL is key - Project based learning where many skills are included to facilitate a project as the end goal. This makes for interesting learning and greater skills acquisition. We are looking at innovative approaches for the talented students – allowing them to study specific subjects with older grades, exposing the students to innovative role models, like Astronauts etc.  A colleague is hoping to build such a school and has requested that I play a role but at present projects like these do not come cheap and the project is moving forward but the time frame might have to be adjusted.

Q: What advice can you give other mothers and fathers trying to decide on the right schooling method for their children?
I teach many students every week and I can assure you that not every student fits into a private school or a public school. Some are better suited to be homeschooled. Not every child will thrive at a regular school – some are too sensitive and some have special learning needs that cannot be met by a regular school. You know your child better than most teachers do. If your child is happy at a school and thriving then you have found the right school. If your child is very unhappy or your child is different and does not fit in, then a change in school can make a world of difference.

Alex Cousins
Mother of a 8 year old girl and a 10 year old boy.
No-Schooling

Q: What is your chosen schooling method for your children?
We initially had them in the German school and whilst kindergarten was great for them, once they started school I observed changes in them that I didn't like. Both became very focused on "getting it right" and comparing themselves with others- taking away from enjoying their process and making them competitive. The homework seemed ridiculously excessive and it was a fight every day. That also didn't sit well with me because I saw how it made them hate school and learning. It became a chore rather then a joy. I saw them become "flat" and disinterested and uninspired.

Q: How did you decide on ’no-schooling’? Can you give us some background to this approach? How does it work?
I had done a lot of research over the years, looking at alternative schooling methods and all the pros and cons. I then happened to meet an "Unschooling consultant" who's children were fascinating me. My husband and I went to have a chat to her and within two hours we made our decision to take them out of school the next day. Unschooling IS really hand-off schooling and initially really takes quite some effort to get out of our hands and into a totally new way of being.  Unschooling IS based on the principles that all kids actually love learning and are learning ALL the time. Life is our best and most natural teacher- as adults we also just learn all the time without realizing it.  The other principle is that we all come here with certain talents, gifts and interests and that by following them we will naturally go towards our purpose.  The learning in Unschooling is not linear... so again, trusting your child and trusting life and it's unfoldings is very important.

The first phase of Unschooling is really about "de-schooling", so letting go of all rules and boundaries and just living into the wonderment of what wants to be and to trust that too. It may sound chaotic, and it is... but out of chaos we birth a new way of being.  So initially we simply dropped everything... all rules and the kids were just allowed to decide about their day as they pleased.  The first hurdle was for them to get out of the habit to look for guidance from an authority and to just be their own authority.  I had many moments of thinking "this is totally crazy and not working!"😂, but my consultant kept saying to trust the process AND to simply take care of myself... in other words, kids learn from what we DO not what we say or teach...so I did observe that the more I got focused on what I needed to do to be happy in my life and pursue my goals, the more they went after their interests and got busy.

Yes they spend a lot of time on their electronics but they are doing the most incredible and creative things! They are building servers and making YouTube videos and learning to program, edit, marketing etc and even making a bit of their own money already.  They learn from real life and natural consequences.  Skyler is reading voraciously and has so much knowledge about a breadth of things, it amazes me!

Q: Do you see any difference in their learning ability or enthusiasm in learning?
Their enthusiasm for LIFE is through the roof and they are relaxed in the process.  We don't ever hear "I am bored"... they always find things to do and every day is exciting.  Some days we go do things and learn things by going places, but most days they are happy to be home and tinker away at whatever it is they are busy figuring out.  Sometimes weeks seem lost in insignificant play and then something new is born. All those are significant teachings about real life.

Gracelight doesn't quite know how to read yet and has shown zero interest up until recently. Now she wants to be able to speak/write/read to her "fans" and read their messages... so she is teaching herself to read. Zero prodding from us... she simply has learned that it is a necessity. Same with writing ... she'll sit there and practice. Then she'll leave it for a week or two and come back to it.  It's truly fascinating to watch!

Another thing I have noticed is how advanced they now seem to school kids.  Ours seem so self confident and sovereign- they are their own authority in all ways yet with the comfort of knowing that mom and dad have their backs always. That makes them feel invincible - my son tells me all the time!

Q: What advice can you give other mothers and fathers trying to decide on the right schooling method for their children?
My best advice is to trust your gut feeling and trust the dream you have for your children!  I always dreamt of spending all day with my children, of always being there for them. I know homeschooling would not work for me... but Unschooling is perfect for me because it truly sits well in my body.  The mind sometimes comes in and wants to interfere, but in my heart, what I am witnessing is just perfection.

Also, don't be afraid to make mistakes ... there are days when we think we might send the kids back to a school and we are on a waiting list for a Waldorf because they might enjoy that for a while; just to make friends and get new input... but I will never again see school with the same eyes.

When you choose a schooling system, I would say that it needs to really represent your values and you need to feel you can stand by everything (or most) of what the school stands for - otherwise you are out of integrity and that will confuse your children.

Niko Velasco
17 years old, Student
Decided on home-schooling himself at age 16.

Q: Can you give me some background regarding your education system to date?
IB system at an international school in Madrid until around grade 9. Grade 10 at an IEB at a school in Cape Town. Still doing the IEB now but online. Currently on my last year. IB is slightly more project based whilst IEB is pretty much exam based.

Q: What made you suddenly decide you wanted to look into the option for ‘home-schooling’?
Really felt like my time was being wasted. Don’t really agree with the current educational system or way of teaching. Was spending 7 hours a day locked in school, and honestly didn’t think I was learning anything. I found school pretty easy in grade 10, never studied for a single exam, and so I figured 7 hours was way too much time to be spending on something I didn’t find beneficial, and was just plain boring. I was looking for alternatives to school, and there isn’t much out there. That’s when home-schooling came to mind. I’m still doing the same system which I was doing when I was in school, so I still don’t agree with it or find it beneficial, but I’m spending about an hour a day (if that) on it, not 7… so its bearable.

Q: What was the reaction of your parents and others around you when you approached this topic?
Both my parents understood my position. My dad was quite happy with the idea, as it would result in more time to do things… My mom wasn’t convinced at first. Once we met with universities and colleges to confirm that they would accept us in the same way as they would if we were at school, she was more open to it. She was slightly worried about the social aspect at first, but quickly realized it wouldn’t be a problem.

Q: What about your social interaction? 
I personally haven’t had an issue, its lead me to meeting more people that I have things in common with and with whom I can get along better. I had already developed my social skills though, and perhaps people with different personalities would struggle more. I personally wouldn’t home-school children from a young age. I think its something that the child must want and must ask for. I probably would’ve liked to start one year earlier… It is however, significantly harder than school, there is nobody to babysit you through the process. It really comes down to personal preference I guess.

Q: What is the process for exams, etc?
I print, write, scan and upload my exams, all with an invigilator present and within the given times. Final exams are written at an exam centre. The rest of the work is done online. I’m given due dates and I must just make sure I hand my projects in by then. Pretty straight forward. I’m given study material as well, but usually use google more than anything. The hardest part is definitely not leaving everything for the last moment. Due dates are usually given about a month in advance, so it’s probably wiser to start early. I usually do nothing for 3 weeks and then rush it all into one week, I seem to work better under pressure😉

It was really interesting for me to understand these 4 peoples different perspectives.  What are your thoughts or experiences with the different schooling methods?