This September marks the start of our third year of home education together, and we’ve come so very far from where we started. We have found our rhythm, we understand what works well for us, and equally what doesn’t work so well. Our passions have been discovered and we have run with them, and are soon to embark upon an epic adventure together.
At the start of our journey into the unknown world of home education, I’ll be honest and say that I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to recreate school at home, stayed up late into the night setting up Pinterest worthy activities, and panicked if we spent too long playing. I cringe when I think back to that first month, I had my teacher head on and worried that the girls would be left behind their schooled peers, worrying that my rash decision would hinder them.
Then I remember stepping back and remembering why we’d made the decision to remove them from school. We deregistered the girls because we had lost Ava to the education system, she was a shell of herself, a little girl lost in a world of academic pressure and societal conformity. The thought of losing her sister in the black hole of the school system terrified us. That was why we were doing it.
“To understand a child we have to watch him at play, study him in his different moods; we cannot project upon him our own prejudices, hopes and fears, or mould him to fit the pattern of our desires. If we are constantly judging the child according to our personal likes and dislikes, we are bound to create barriers and hindrances in our relationship with him and in his relationships with the world. Unfortunately, most of us desire to shape the child in a way that is gratifying to our own vanities and idiosyncrasies; we find varying degrees of comfort and satisfaction in exclusive ownership and domination.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
At this stage, over 2 years ago, travelling around the world was a pipedream. Something Will and I would chat about late into the night. I couldn’t imagine at that stage taking Ava anywhere. A scared, quiet, shy little girl with zero confidence and a whole heap of anxiety.
I am so very proud of the girl she has grown into. A vivacious, funny, daring individual. A passionate feminist who has a wicked sense of style and strong world views. Knowing the girl she was then, and the girl she has become, I know that this growth would not have happened had she continued attending school. It actually terrifies me to think about who she would be now had she stayed, how it would have shaped (damaged) her personality and stagnated her growth. I hand on heart believe this personal growth is down to one thing; Freedom.
Freedom to grow and learn at her own pace, freedom to be who she wants to be and express herself however she chooses, and freedom to feel and love without fear of reprimand or punishment.
There have been times along this path that I have faltered and doubted our decisions. It is extremely hard to break away from the traditional route in life, to undo the years of conditioning that we, as parents, have had.
“The most important question I ask myself as a parent is this. How can I best help my children be fully themselves and happy with who they are in the world, however they show up.” – Lehla Eldridge
I am so passionate about unschooling because it works. I have had the privilege and joy of watching my children unfold, becoming complex humans without being molded and shaped to fit a certain role. It’s messy and it is beautiful in all of its breathtaking chaos.
“Watch carefully, the magic that occurs, when you give a person, just enough comfort, to be themselves.” – Atticus
I thought it would be helpful to share our journey to this point in our lives. Where we have two brave little girls ready to embark on an epic journey around the world. How we brought our little girl back from the brink, lost, a child suffering with anxiety, and helped her to find herself again.
Ava went from being such a placid little girl, to a bottle of anger almost as soon as she started school. This manifested itself at home. She would come home from school and lash out, scream until her throat became sore, throw things, tip over chairs, slam doors and sometimes she would try to kick or hit.
We have done lots of work to help Ava cope with her anger. Removing the catalyst is always the first step – in this case that was school. We never, ever punished Ava for being angry. All feelings are valid, even the bad ones. We created an ‘angry bag’. It was basically a bag containing some things to help her when she felt those angry feelings coming on. Inside the bag there was this book about anger, a squishy stress ball, a cuddly toy, a mini figure of the character ‘sadness’ from the Inside Out movie (to help her understand that angry feelings usually come from a place of sadness and these two emotions are interchangeable), and because Ava is a very sensory person she chose a bottle of Oregano (no idea why this particular herb). She said that the smell made her feel calm.
Whenever she felt angry, or we could see the telltale signs of anger, we reminded Ava to grab her ‘angry bag’ and take herself someplace quiet to calm down. When she felt calm she would then come and talk to us (usually daddy) about the reason she felt angry.
Ava now recognises her anger before it escalates and is able to tell us she feels angry or take herself off to calm down some place quiet. She no longer needs her ‘angry bag’ and is happy just cuddling her hippo or one of her (many) dinosaurs. It has taken lots of patience, and reminding her, and everyone else, that she likes to be alone to process these angry feelings.
It has been so long since she last had an outburst of anger that I cannot actually remember when the last one was.
At the lowest point of her anxiety, Ava really struggled to play with her peers. She would always end up playing alone, sometimes through choice because it’s easier to play alone and protect your feelings than leave yourself open to risk.
I vividly recall a teary conversation I had with a six year old Ava. Where she told me how she wandered around the playground alone everyday because the girls said she couldn’t play with them once and she didn’t want to go through the heartache of asking them again.
“I’m different mummy” she told me, “I’m not the same as them and they don’t understand”.
My gosh, she was so bang on! She is different and still really struggles to play in groups, you will often see her on the peripherals of a game, dipping in and out of group and solo play.
The difference between then and now, is that she embraces it. That is 100% down to our lovely home-ed community. No longer forced to play at set times, with only peers her age, Ava now gets to choose when and with whom she socializes.
A particular group that I have joyfully watched Ava interact with is toddlers. She is just gorgeous with the babies and preschoolers in our groups. I have the joy of watching her take tiny fingers in her hand and lead them around, telling them all she knows about the world, identifying insects and plants. Passing her knowledge as the ‘big girl’ of the group onto these little ones, who always seem in awe of her.
From going to a place where she was always seen as bottom of the class, and the least ‘clever’ (her words). To a safe space where she feels intelligent and her knowledge is valued highly. It has given her the roots she needed for her self-confidence to grow again.
Ava loves to play. She spends hours deeply engrossed in the fantastical made up small worlds, lost in her imagination. She needs to play, it is how she processes and deals with everything.
And I am not ashamed to say that we have spent the majority of the last 2 years just playing, all day every day.
“Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good” – Lucia Capocchione.
Our lives are full to bursting with fun, joy, happiness and childhood dreaming. The result of all this fun is an 8 ½ year old little girls who still adores toys, has a wicked sense of humour, vivid imagination and, unlike some nearly 9 year old girls, she still retains all of that yummy childhood innocence.
Ava’s anxiety always manifests itself in sickness. We can tell when she is anxious about something as she complains of tummy ache and in extreme cases this will lead to vomiting.
During the worst days of her time at school, Ava was being sick several times during the day. I would regularly get phone calls at work to go and collect her as she had vomited at school again.
This has settled greatly now. There have been two instances recently where she has vomited due to anxiety. One was during a sleepover with her friends, and another was after a play date with some new people.
Ava is super sensitive and highly sensory. She struggles with noise, bright flashing lights, and strong smells. We have noticed that her anxiety seems to be triggered by situations where she has to work extra hard to process these senses. So to help her we talk about things before the event and prepare her for it as best we can. She is happy to take her ear defenders along and use them if needed, and isn’t embarrassed or worried to do what she needs to. For example, at her sleepover she knew she couldn’t cope, so she asked daddy to take her to sleep at nannie’s house.
This is huge progress for Ava, she can now recognise her feelings and deal with them appropriately. This is because we have had the time to help her grow and develop her emotional literacy, and recognise the symptoms and triggers of her anxiety before they kick in.
Anxiety cannot ever be cured, but with help and guidance Ava will be able to manage it.
School really stifled Ava’s creativity. She was pushed to read far too soon and it saddens me that she has only just started to love reading again. I have talked about this before in great length and you can read more about our reading progress here.
Unschooling means Ava chooses how she spends each day. If we are inside she usually chooses to play small world, read, listen to audio books, conduct science experiments and create lots of 3D art work using clay or junk modelling. If we are outside she is happy climbing, this little girl was not made to have her feet on the ground.
“Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside of you that is greater than any obstacle.” – Christian D. Larson
So that is our story of how we nurtured our beautiful, brave daughter back from the brink. She still suffers anxiety, and the sensitive soul that she is, will continue to for the rest of her life. We are so fortunate to be able to unschool her and give her the tools she needs to cope in the big wide world.
We cannot wait to watch her curious, creative little brain flourish on our worldschooling adventure.