"out of school"


Aleksandra's Education:
When we just started - friends, family, neighbors and people in the supermarket were asking me – how this “homeschool” or “out of school” works and will it work at all? I couldn’t say much in the beginning of our journey. Now when Aleksandra has been studying on her own for about 6 years, I can say, that - yes, for us it works well, and without judging which way of education is good or bad - I'll describe what we've experienced.


In brief: Aleksandra never went to school. I wanted her natural curiosity to be the “motor” of her studies, so, she's never received any external reward for her achievements (neither good, nor bad marks, no incentives, no prizes) knowledge is her only reward for knowledge. I've never acted as a teacher at school, I didn't have a certain "plan" what to do, though I thoroughly researched books and works of great educators. She has friends of her age, and in addition to that she has opportunities to interact with people of various ages and cultural backgrounds.
From 2 to 5 she attended a playgroup in Bangkok, 9 till (almost)11 we've been traveling fulltime, when she was 10.5 I noticed her constant interest in architecture, and she started two online courses about architecture. Now at 11 y.o., again in Bangkok, she’s taking classes with a real architect, either she’s going to choose architecture as her future profession or not – doesn’t matter, but today she has to push so many subjects (math, science, social studies, art etc) in order to be able to move forward in something that interests her.


Why “out of school” ?

Kids are naturally curious, they are interested in challenges, they don’t need any “outer” motivation / stimulation / reward (such as grades, sweets) to learn many things, to overcome many challenges when they are babies (learning to walk, to hold spoon etc). They have this amazing “inner motor”.
Getting older kids loose this "thirst for development", usually it happens when they are at school. I read and researched books written by great educators who created Montessori, Waldorf (R.Steiner), and other kids-oriented schools, but I couldn’t find any school around us, that bears not only the name and prestige, but also the “impression”, “attitude” and the “truth” of those great teachers. After learning to read in a playgroup Aleksandra was very interested in reading, and of course in solving puzzles and challenges. Kids are thirsty for challenges. In order to satisfy her curiosity I had to give her different tasks and provide her with enough math, information about the world and languages. When she turned 5, then 6, I was worried that we are missing the school, until one day I understood we are actually homeschooling.

“out-of-school” extremes.

There are two extreme ways of studying out of school: very+home+schooling, when parents entirely bring “school” to their homes, and not only school subjects, but even more. The more, the better. Active parents and teachers start creating, teaching and selling seminars and systems – “how to study out of system”, comparing their kids' knowledge to other homeschoolers or schoolchildren.

Another extreme is “NO-working-at-all” - with total freedom: when parents are not allowed to educate their kids, relying only on kids' inner desire to explore. The parents’ logic is “the kid is pure and knows better” or “I never used algebra in my life, so my child won’t need it either, unless she asks for it.” Some kids indeed ask for knowledge, while others just watch TV.

Usually when I say Aleksandra studies “out of school” people think we are in one of these extremes, but no, we don’t belong to any of them.

It’s a common knowledge that every kid has his own rhythm of studying, but besides that, I noticed that every different week the same kid has a different rhythm of studying, some days Aleksandra absorbs new information like a sponge, while other days - she doesn’t learn anything new. I strongly believe we all have cycles, like nature - some times we are active, while sometimes we have to stay passive.

Some days Aleksandra studies at home, others at the beach, or in a park, one day she has no books with her, but she visits a new country, museum, or plays with other kids the whole day. She doesn't stop studying during holidays or weekends, she can take her books and notebooks - any day, any time of the day, on the other side - there are days, when we travel or meet friends or read books, and she doesn't study those days at all. So, studying - it's not a Monday to Friday duty, but something interesting, that can happen anytime.

Once, when we stayed in Hua Hin she had nothing to do, no one to play with for a while, she was no entertained at all, and in order not to be bored, she rewrote hundreds of pages from a book on English grammar theory into her notebook.


Which Curriculum do we follow?

Many and none. Each subject, each field of knowledge consists of certain set of topics and themes. The basics of Algebra were created centuries ago before any curricula appearedwhile physics (like quantum physics) is something that's happening right now.
We take themes and topics of each subject, one after another and move from basics – step by step, from the past to the present. Some topics are very simple for Aleksandra. For example in algebra she is ahead of her age (here's her math journey). While other topics were very confusing, for example - 5 paragraph stories – she didn't like it at all, so, I looked for additional books, exercises, and tasks on this topic.

A couple of months ago, when she was 10,5 y.o., I noticed her interest in Architecture. and helped Aleksandra to enroll 2 online courses on architecture. And she started writing essays about architecture with much more personal attitude and passion than any of her 5-paragraphs stories about “how I spent my summer holidays”. Some tasks were too complicated, as she was missing knowledge in physics, and I helped her to find some explanations in youtube. 
Knowledge is amazing - architects, photographers, chefs, filmmakers – they need to know the laws of physics, chemistry, math, geometry, history of the world, history of their subjects. These subjects are not boring, when kids do them with a sense, for the sake of the area they want to be good at. Then - “knowledge is the reward for child's hard work”, and “external” rewards or motivation (such as grades and marks) are not needed.

Traveling

Studying out of school allowed us to be flexible. I couldn’t imagine being anchored to a place / school for 10 years. In 2015 we left our home base in Bangkok and for 2 years we have been living for 3-10 months in different places: Hua Hin, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Ubud, West Java, traveling everywhere around – learning from the world. For longer stays we rented entire apartments via AirBnB and similar platforms, while for shorter stays we really enjoyed rooms in homestay accommodation.

We’ve connected with other traveling self-educating families, and everyone’s trip is very different, there are people who sold everything and now just travel; people, who work and study online; families who rent their homes to travel or swap houses with others; backpacking families; international professionals, who look for jobs at a new place, staying there for a while, exploring countries around, and then continuing their trip. There are no certain rules, that these families are following, just consider that our Earth - is our home, and education is an adventure.
Oman, January 2016
Asian Civilization Museum - photos and notes - Singapore, June 2016
Hua Hin, 2016

How can you teach – if you are not a teacher.
Many self-educating families hear this question and many parents answer with a back question - what's the value of school, if after graduating people can't explain the basics to a 8-15 y.o. kid? And even though I remember school subjects well - I’ve never acted as a teacher in school.

One of the mechanisms of kids survival and development is mimicking repeating actions that they see in those adults that they trust. That’s how lion cubes learn hunting, "imitation is vital to the development". Kids play being us. (I remember once when I was 3, I saw my mom working on a typewriter – since then I was typing for years – fast, loud, doesn’t matter I typed “gibberish” – I felt that I am as cool, as  my mom is.)

So, I’ve never acted like a teacher. Aleksandra explores, and I’m curious and supportive about what she’s doing. I work and I still study myself (just accomplished an online university course on Renewable Energy). I also consider and talk about my professional work as my personal development and growth, and she sees it. My role is not teaching, but being a sample of productivity, exploration and development. My other role is to provide Aleksandra with materials, taking into consideration her personality - I choose mostly books, animation videos, online courses and catchy and informative songs like this one:


Other families that also study "out of school" with a similar attitude, follow some other ways, that we've never tried – studying with a help of interactive games, with personal teachers via video conferences etc. There are numerous options. Different parents find different ways for their kids. There are numerous possibilities, and what works for one kid - doesn't have to work for another, while information and knowledge are accessible like never before.


What about socialization?
It's commonly perceived that 15-30 people of the same age in one room, spending with each other 5-10 years is the only way to socialize, but it's not the only way.

We make long friendships when we connect with families who have a similar lifestyle - traveling and self-educating, we meet people, kids, and homeschoolers in the neighborhood, my friends have kids and we meet, when our georgaphical location allows.

According to the studies of Gordon Neufeld kids don't need friends, in the sense we understand «friends». On a daily basis kids need adults, that they can follow. The parent is the child’s primary attachment figure. One of the most disturbing and misunderstood trends of our time - peers replacing parents in the lives of children. In the book "Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers" (link to the book), Dr. Neufeld explores the phenomenon of peer orientation: the troubling tendency of children and youth to look to their peers for direction - for a sense of right and wrong, for values, identity and codes of behavior.  
(video: www.parentspartner.com/kids-need-us-more-than-friends)

Traveling (homestaying, for 1-2 weeks in different cities with other kids, ridesharing, petsitting, saying goodbye to old friends and meeting them again in other cities, hosting travelers at our place) is a great lesson of socialization.

Not sticking to one way, often changing roles and positions: being the youngest and being the oldest, being a guest and hosting travelers, helping others and asking for help, leading and following etc, etc. 

Aleksandra is constantly learning from those who are older and/or have more experience, as well as teaching / sharing with those who are younger.


Aleksandra (10 y.o.) sharing Grandma's Apple pie recipe with kids (12 and 8)
Their family hosted us when we arrived to Malaysia, in July 2016
BDay party with other traveling self-learners. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, October 2016

What our days are like? How does she study?

4-5 years, Bangkok, playgroup: Aleksandra went to a playgroup, where 10-15 kids, age 0-6 were playing together, under the observation of 5 nannies and the main teacher. The teacher was taking older kids one by one to her table, teaching them how to read, write, and count. Some topics were simple, some were too hard for a 5 year old, our teacher said, that later, when they come back to this topic - it will be familiar, and very easy - kids enjoy things that are familiar.
6-8 years, Bangkok, home: she loved reading, I encouraged that, and interesting books were always around.
For difficult tasks (it was handwriting) – we went out everyday for a couple of hours to Starbucks, where many freelancers and students work. It was hard, but bit by bit very slowly, surrounded by many people who work hard – we overcame what was difficult to her, besides handwriting she was learning to notice her frustrations. At some point I really wanted to "motivate" her, by promising a reward or a punishment, but I decided to avoid "outer motivations". Her real reward was to look at the page - that was full of her handwriting and be able to say - I did it!
Math journey - here
Filmmaking – we were making short films on different subjects, not for “likes” and publicity, but for ourselves. It’s something that interests me, I saw many homeschooling parents are “bored educating their kids”, so I chose something that was interesting for me and Aleksandra was happy to join, to do it together, even though she had to memorize scripts:


9 years old – Hua Hin: we lived near an endless, empty beach. We found a huge wooden table in the shadow on the beach, that became her desk in addition to one at home.
Math, science, geography, language arts she learned via books (no e-learning, no devices till now), puzzles on paper, our own filmmaking, joining me when I work on the filmset, and traveling.


unusual desk

10 years old – we lived in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia - learning from traveling, meeting other kids, visiting museums, homestaying for 1-2 weeks in families with kids, online courses, and books that we could find in local bookstores and libraries.

Library in Ubud, Bali. 10,5 y.o., June 2016
A very important milestone was a recent decision to start a course on architecture. Education is rapidly changing and universities understand that – we've found a course from Harvard university,  they share their precious lectures and programs for free, and, if after studying it for a year, we want a certificate - we can buy it anytime later.

Almost 11 - there are web platforms, that allow people to host travelers, including hosting in exchange for help. I registered there looking for someone to help us to expand Aleksandra's knowledge – to my surprise the first person who applied to help us – was an architect from Europe, he took some time off, and now he's backpacking in Australia and SE Asia. For a month Aleksandra has been learning architecture from a real professional, every day for 4-5 hours, while we helped him around the city after the classes. My friends asked me: if I checked his certificates and portfolio and.. no, I haven't.. We met before starting a course, and I haven't even asked if he had a "paper" after years of his studies.. probably he does... but "paper" is something that people can achieve by faking. I paid attention to the way he talks about the subject, the way his and my daughter's eyes shone when they started discussing some famous buildings. Aleksandra is still a kid, and her emotional perception is still stronger than a logical one, so during the classes it's not only "information" that she is getting from her teacher, she perceives everything: his attitude, attention to the details, respect to the great architects, organization of his own papers, the way he chooses his pencils. You can't fake to have that "sparkle" if you don't. Our next traveler was a journalist from Germany who helped Aleksandra writing essays and reading German. 


Universities.
When Aleksandra started homeschooling at 5 - people were asking me – how will she find a job? no school = no university = no degree = no job.
Today, when she's almost 11 – she is already taking a university course in the field that interests her.
I also think that before aiming to "higher" education, grades, exams, and Education in general, we should be more attentive to the “intrinsic motivation”, that I mentioned before, after that, the meaning of the Universities would be easier to understand.  Overall there are more and more homeschoolers every year, and many Universities add a page to their websites, explaining how a homeschooler can enroll.

A great support
Life has brought me to many interesting and highly educated people: scientists, diplomats, and other professionals, who achieved a lot because of their formal education and hard work. I questioned myself in their presence - am I doing right? It was a great support, when they repeated my favorite quote 'I have never let my schooling interfere with my education' (by M.Twain) and that “travel is the best education”. I also paid attention that - what matters is not only their knowledge, but their values, ethics, standards, their attitude to life, to people and their hard work. These are the things we are working on, while the knowledge and facts - can be found in internet, museums, books and during the trips.


a couple of more things that helped me:
Of course I was anxious to start a journey in self-education. (Though much less anxious than thinking of a school). I read a lot of books and talked to many parents, a phrase that helped me was that – homeschooling will never feel or look or be like a school. That helped me to understand – I don’t need to recreate traditional school at home. Uncertainty or a feeling like "we must have a school at home, but we don't" worries many parents in the beginning. 
The second thing that helped me was a realization that schools stall for time.
The entire 6 years math can be taught in only 20 hours. Daniel Greenberg (Sudbury Valley School) in his book “Free at last” describes teaching entire 6 years mathematics in only 20 hours to a group of boys and girls, age 9-12.
Same with other main subjects - so, the information of a 6 year long school program can be aquired in around 100 learning hours.
Many schools stall for time to keep children busy, to keep them out of streets, to keep them in a safe place, while parents work. «Modern» schools were created during the industrial revolution, when parents had to spend long days at the factory. While living and traveling in several countries, we noticed that the longest school hours and the hardest homeworkds are in those countries, where adults work longer hours. At the same time longer school hours – never meant deeper knowledge.
Street piano in Singapore, September 2016

What else was useful for me:
* researching a lot about the reward-system and neurotransmitters, about how our actions and activities influence us.
* knowing that the right side of the brain is dominant at this age. Babies perceive world in a non-verbal form, young children still prefer to explore the world through the vivid colors, shapes, things they can touch, just later they are comfortable to operate with abstract notions. In the beginning I supported her studies by presenting abstract subjects – in a sensible, colorful way. (Montessori math is a bright example of this, she also did handwriting with colored pens).
9 years old, Math is still full of colors. Hua Hin, 2015
Geography, Hua Hin, 2015
* Because of these 2 points above until 10 y.o. Aleksandra never had her own electronic device, and rarely could use mine. All her tasks were done with a pencil and paper (Yes, we used a lot of paper, but I cared about trees by recycling and never buying fashion magazines).
* Montessori's ideas about "freedom in discipline".
* There's nothing good, there's nothing bad, what matters is the meaning of everything what's happening. Studying and being active is not always good. Boredom and passive time are not always bad. "Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves." (article)
* Playing vs. studying - there should be enough time for both. These two areas of life can interact, but I wasn't hiding "knowledge" behind the games and fun. I think, knowledge and education are amazing by themselves - they should be respected for what they are, not as a chance to play.

***
So, here are the questions I heard, and answers that I found in our journey and ways, that were developing for Aleksandra. 

It’s amazing when she looks back at what she has done and smiles, saying “I did it”, when she shares her knowledge with people, and they LISTEN, because it’s interesting, she’s interesting - and this is a very special reward.

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