“So do the girls go to school then?”
“No, actually we home educate them.”
“Oh, so do you like follow the curriculum and give them lessons.”
“No, that’s not really neccessary.”
“Oh, so like, what and how exactly do you teach them?”
“Um, nothing we don’t really see ourselves as teachers, we just kind of do life with them.”
*Cue confused eyebrows*
This is usually how most of our conversations go when people ask us about the girls and schooling, which they do, every time we meet someone new. Most people don’t realise that home education is even an option, people that do generally believe that we have to follow a curriculum and undergo scrutiny much like school. Some people just think we’re mad and that choosing to live a life without school will hinder the girls.
They ask us how we can possibly give them a better education than they will get at school.
We’ve talked lots recently, William and I, about the future, the girls and the kind of lives we want for them. We stand firm in our belief that the enriching experiences we are exposing them to by living life alongside them in the real world is by far a greater education than they could ever receive at school.
It is worth mentioning that the majority of our learning, as with most unschoolers we know, is done through conversation and hands on learning. The girls interests will be piqued by something, they will ask questions which usually leads onto a discussion down a rabbit hole. Inspiring more questions, which leads on to more interests – deeper down the rabbit hole we go. I like to compare this to school when all of the children are on the carpet listening to the teacher explain something. We explain stuff much the same way. Except when our children ask questions they are not told to ‘put their hands down’, ‘save your questions for later’, or the absolute worst ‘don’t ask questions’ – meaning that the childrens natural curiousity to learn is supressed, eventually forgotten.
Unschooling means all the questions get answered. Even the awkward ones. Like the one that arose the time the girls found a picture of the Karma Sutra whilst visiting a temple in Jaipur. Or the time Ava read how large a Blue Whale’s penis was and asked me if we could calculate how big a Spinosaurus’ penis would have been by using the measurements from a Blue Whale to compare, which lead onto to a whole discussion about whether male Spinosauruses actually had penises. Anyway you get the jist.
After we settled the girls in bed last night, I got out my notebook and decided to write down all of the bits of “learning” that I could remember throughout the day. It was a chilled out day yesterday, we just headed to the beach and spent all day there. So I didn’t actually think that I would have much to write down. I was so shocked when I actually realised how much learning had happened throughout the day.
We all woke up at 7.30am to the sounds of Cicadas mating sounds, which have been incredibly loud each morning here in Koh Tao. We googled them to find out more about them, particularly why they make such a racket.
After we were washed and dressed we headed to breakfast. Near the kitchen is a talking bird, a Mynah, he mainly talks in Thai. But each morning the girls say “Hello” and today they were amazed when he replied with “Welcome”. We googled this bird species and talked about how they are able to mimic sounds and why they do this. Google is an unschoolers best friend!
We ate breakfast and noticed the tide was in at the bottom of the cliffs, so we talked for a while about tides. The girls brought up the Tsunami again as we’ve talked about it lots and how it impacted the areas of Sri Lanka and Thailand that we have visited. We chatted about what to do in an emergency, and how we’d be safe as we’re up high on a cliff.
The girls then read their books whilst we had breakfast. They continued to read back at the room whilst we packed up our stuff for the beach.
Mummy was badly bitten by mosquitoes in the night, so we had lots of conversations about bites and how insect repellent works. This led onto questions about cross contamination of blood, meaning that mosquito bites can carry potentially nasty diseases. Ava asked why mummy gets bitten more than everyone else, so we chatted about blood groups and how Mummy is an ‘O’ blood group which the mosquitoes seem to prefer due to the different types of proteins in the blood.
The roads on the way to the beach were windy and steep, our taxi was basically us sat in the back of a pick up truck on benches, as with most of transport in South East Asia, no seatbelts. The girls sat on the floor of the pick up as it was safer, so we chatted about risk and why the health and safety laws are different back home.
Once at the beach we set up camp in the shade and headed straight into the sea. The beach we visited was surrounded by a huge coral reef so we spent the whole morning snorkelling. We saw so many different varieties of fish and live coral. It was incredible (You can see the video of our time at the reef on our facebook page or at the end of this post).So much learning about fish species, feeding habits, coral reefs, coral bleaching, ocean food chains, habitats – the list could go on and on. But you get the picture…so much learning!
Before lunch Daddy jumped off a very tall rock into the ocean. Ava wanted a go but the climb to the top was too dangerous for her (just a rusty old rope up the side of the rock). She was pretty upset so we had to have a chat about risk assessments and how you should always weigh up the risk of something (like mummy does) before just going right ahead and doing it (like daddy does).
Ava has been wanting to go vegetarian for a while, but she can be a very fussy eater. So we had a repeat of the same discussion we currently have during every meal about food groups and nutrition. About how mummy and daddy worry about her nutrients if she isn’t going to substitute meat with the right kind of vegetables.
Once we’d eaten lunch Ava asked the waitress for the bill, saying please and thank you in Thai. Bonnie then paid for the bill, worked out what change we’d need and calculated the currency conversion to see how much we had spent in pounds.
After lunch we chilled on the beach. The girls read another chapter each of their books. Bonnie chose to read aloud to daddy, Ava wanted to read hers to mummy.
We then decided to go for a family snorkel all the way out to the big rock daddy had jumped from earlier. It was so much fun snorkelling together and watching the girls marvel at the creatures they spotted.
Then things went south pretty quickly. We got out to the rock fine, and climbed out of the water to stand on the rock, admire the view, catch a breath. On the way back in the water Bonnie sliced her heel on a piece of coral. This was today’s biggest lesson.
Bonnie’s heel was bleeding quite badly. Ava was very responsible and helpful. She removed her swim top whilst treading water and handed it to daddy on the rock to tie around Bonnie’s foot. She then independently swam all the way back to shore and waited at the waters edge with the towels. What an actual superstar! We were so proud of her maturity, and ability to stay calm and be helpful.
Bonnie calmly climbed on mummy’s back so we could get her back to shore.Daddy carried her into the cafe, whilst mummy and Ava fetched the first aid kit.Ava helped, and Bonnie watched as we patched up her foot.
A local Thai lady came out with a bottle of Iodine solution and painted some on the wound. Obviously the girls have never seen Iodine as it’s only used in hospitals in the UK, here in Thailand you can buy it from any pharmacy. Whilst wrapping Bonnie’s foot we discussed the properties and uses of Iodine.Bonnie then spent the rest of the afternoon swinging in a hammock engrossed in her book.
Ava went back in the sea with daddy and filmed lots of footage using the GoPro.
We ate dinner back at the hotel and the girls read more of their books whilst we ate.
We looked out to sea in the dark and saw lots of ships, we noticed there was no moon tonight. The girls told us about the moon cycle and tides.
We had a shower, which smells weird as the place we’re staying uses recycled rain water so we talked about how that works.
The girls sat on the bed and drew pictures together, then Ava snuggled up to Bonnie and listened to her reading the last few pages of her book, Before they fell asleep together, book in hand, with salty hair, sandy toes and sunkissed skin.
If I wanted to be really thorough I could go back through this list and highlight all of the subjects, such as science, english and maths. But I don’t really feel the need, the breadth of their learning is pretty obvious to me.
They haven’t written any of their learning down, or completed any worksheets. There will be no testing. But I know they’ll remember the stuff they need, they always do.
Some would argue that all of this stuff can be learnt in school, on a whiteboard or textbook. Which it can, I don’t doubt that. But it’s not the same is it? How can you compare learning about life within the same four walls, with the same group of people, to actually living life, meeting a diverse range of people? For us it really is a no brainer.
So that’s unschooling for you. Living life alongside your children as equals. Providing them with enriching environments and experiences. Being good role models, answering questions and fascilitating lots of learning opportunities.
It sounds like a huge responsibility, but it’s isn’t, not for us. We just see it as “doing life” with some awesome, curious little ladies.