With thanks to Kate Fogarty, Principal Assumption College, Kilmore.
Maybe think of home-schooling in isolation like a big trip around Australia…
We all know families who pack up the van & take off to circumnavigate the country, right?? Six months later they reappear, their kids go back to school and reintegrate into their learning and the schooling routines without too much drama. This is kinda the same...
Preparing for extended time away from school
Sure, as you head off, the school provides some worksheets and encourages the kids to connect back in from time to time (internet permitting!). But mostly, they encourage parents to get their kids reading and to help them to keep a journal of the things that have interested them along the way. They might arrange a few hours of online learning each week, or the kids could be asked to put together a presentation to teach their peers about the things they’ve learnt along the way.
Melbourne to Adelaide (along the Great Ocean Road!)
The first week is FUN – everyone’s excited and trying to figure out how routines are going to work. Not much reading happens, but the family is curious and conversational, talking lots about what’s happening and getting excited for what the next few days might hold. There’s plenty to keep everyone interested. Routines, everyone learns quickly, are important. Without routines, the dishes don’t get washed, the beds don’t get made, the milk doesn’t get bought and the tent poles get left behind. Routines help build a sense of community. Routines make everyone’s life a little easier. Routines matter.
When the exciting side of this new way of being wears off, it’s just long days without much to interrupt the view. The books will come in handy now because there’s not much else to look at anymore (and the internet has stopped working!). Routines are still important, but everyone just wonders when the excitement is going to come back. There’s a majesty in the vastness of it all, but mostly it’s just lots of kms to chew up. It won’t be like this forever, but it’s going to be like this for quite a while.
We all set off thinking a long car trip will be fun– singing along, car games, amazing conversations. Then the reality sets in: ‘she’s on my seat’, ‘he’s looking at me funny’, ‘I don’t want another game of car-cricket’, ‘Are we there yet?’ Tussles for power and attention are inevitable. And irritating. And they seem to come in cycles. Learn the cycles. Acknowledge cycles (and triggers), and try and to intervene in positive ways. Unfortunately, you can’t get out of the car, but you can help to mitigate the troubles happening again (learning how to have Restorative Conversations – instead of everyone just blowing their top and then ignoring the problem until it happens again - will help!).
The WA Coastline
There’ll be positive & amazing moments in between the long periods of driving. Unexpected and planned happenings, surprise learnings, astonishing things to give each person in the family a reburst of joy and energy. Be on the watch out for these moments in yourself and others and savour them (and make sure the kids put them in their diary!). Be attuned to the unexpected moments of awe, grace and ‘ah-ha’. These are incredible learning experiences, and if we’re being honest, they’re where the most profound learning takes place...don’t let them pass you by.
Let’s face it, there’ll be some moments along the way where everyone just needs to down tools and chillax. Think of this as your ‘Darwin Time’. Everything’s kind of ‘same-same but different’ - a little more relaxed, a little more kooky, a little bit funnier, a little bit more unpredictable. We all need some ‘Darwin Time’ (but most of us couldn’t live there!).
There are going to be some experiences that take us to the heart of the matter – sickness (both physical and mental), dislocation, tragedy, deaths. The heart needs to be listened to and given the chance to do what it needs to do. Talk. Listen. Be silent. Reach out. Acknowledge the rivers that run deep underground. When children and adolescents visit Alice Springs, they generally have lots of questions about people, life, death, suffering, justice and the universe at large. Find some Dreaming - a spiritual response - that makes sense for your family, and create some simple rituals around it. Admit that you don’t have all the answers.
No one can go to the Great Barrier Reef and not learn a thing or two about biology, geography, colour, movement and the preciousness of life. Where the ‘teachable moments’ present themselves, grasp them and wallow in them with the family. Stick around and encourage the conversations, reflections and the sharing. Like when visiting Cairns, don’t be in a hurry to move on.
Down to Sydney
This part of Australia is pretty heavily populated, and we’ll probably have old friends or family to drop in on. Use all those great technologies the school has provided, to have some family time with people you haven’t seen in ages! Sure, it’ll be a little awkward (like lobbing in on that old school friend you haven’t seen in 20 years), but you’ll feel better for it. Don’t let the kids escape to another room – make them sit through awkward conversations – they have to learn their social skills from adults (the good and the bad!).
Southern NSW and Gippsland
Just when we think we’re getting close to home and our normal lives, we still have to go through the region most recently devastated by bushfires. Use this time to reflect on the resilience of the human spirit: how people who have lost so much can still see hope and a positive future. We have to talk about this with the kids. We have to look at the land destroyed by fire, see the burnt-out houses and shops, feel the loss of these communities and pay daily homage to the belief that despite devastation, life will go on. This part of the journey will take longer than we expect, but there is no other way – through the sadness, loss and hurt we must go.
On arriving home
When people come back from their big trip round Australia they are rarely the same. They’ve seen things, they’ve done things, they have stories to share and quite some time of processing still to occur. Going back to old ways of being can seem trite and unfulfilling. We will need to acknowledge this in ourselves and each other, and help everyone to find their way through it in the way that works best for them. School will resume and kids may feel a little disorientated for a time, but they’ll bounce back. They’ll appreciate how much they’ve learnt – both explicitly and implicitly, and you their parents, and their teachers, will make sure their time away is honoured, remembered and even celebrated.