Notes from our unschooling diary


We’re still finding our way as a family on this new path that our middle daughter is leading us on. We’re getting to know some really lovely families in the home-schooling community (though the word *school* doesn’t really work – as learning in a natural / home environment is very far removed from a school environment).


On the other side of the spectrum, our oldest daughter is happily enjoying the multitude of activities she experiences in a private school environment, whilst our toddler is happy living in the moment, day by day.

Alice at Avalon Park playground

It is our unschooling journey, that is so new for us, that I wish to write about and reflect upon. Our daughter has now been officially out of the school system for four months. I am slowly learning to ‘let go’ of a ‘school at home’ notion and am increasingly following her lead in terms of what topics she’s interested in and how she learns (she is fascinated in fabrics, design and sewing – since my knowledge in this area is lacking, a very good friend is teaching her – passing on skills – beautiful to see).

Sophie 'doing' school at home

I still try to make sure we cover some form of language, writing, reading and maths every day (but have to be increasingly creative in how we do this so that it doesn’t become too staid!). I try to make sure we have a balance of focused learning time and social ‘free play’ time across the week. Some days are all play (like today for instance – meeting up with a group of lovely unschooling / natural learning families at wonderful Avalon Park), and others are more around the home learning, reading, baking and doing chores.


“You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

The families we have met all have their own special talents and it’s lovely to share in their breadth of knowledge and wisdom. Some are very musical, others come from a background in teaching or counseling. There’s a lot of supportive husbands bringing home the ‘bacon’ to enable natural learning to be a way of life for their family. Interestingly, quite a few of the supportive husbands work in the I.T. industry (another successfully brews and sells craft beer – which I sampled, with very little persuasion, on Saturday evening!).

The children of the natural learning families are all very imaginative and creative. They require little prompting and suggestion to play. They engage with each other comfortably, very articulately, with great self-assurance and confidence. They are used to engaging with children and adults of all ages. On ‘meet ups’ I often find myself standing back, listening and observing – but rarely needing to intervene (plus my hands and attention are usually rather engaged with young Alice). I also feel incredibly relaxed and able to ‘be’ myself. I have never, in my eight years of parenting, felt so relaxed with a group of fellow parents.

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” – Mary Lou Cook

I’m finding that my two older daughters are bringing a fresh, unique dynamic into our home from their different choices of education. At first my oldest daughter, who is at a private school, struggled with understanding why her younger sister wasn’t going to ‘school’. I expect she was getting asked that question a lot from her peers too! But now, I think, she is over that and accepting that they have each made their own choices, as individuals. They each have their own, unique path in life. Since she has accepted this the relationship she has with unschooling sister has strengthened.

They each have their own ‘lives’ and are bringing the best bits from their ‘worlds’ into the home. We are so proud of our oldest daughter for coming to terms with this and being so supportive and accepting. She is doing so well in her learning, at a wonderful school, and really makes the most of all the amazing and varied opportunities that come her way. She is, as she was from day one, very independent and knows her own mind. She is in a school that encourages independence, initiative and leadership – character traits that she showed very early on in life.

Our wonderful oldest daughter x

As parents, my husband and I are always trying to adjust with each stage of development, learning and growth (or sometimes we feel like we are playing ‘catch up’ and have a couple of months that don’t ‘make sense’ until we have the benefit of hindsight!).

Our unschooler is now so much happier and over much of the anxiety she was plagued with last year, whilst trying formal ‘schooling’. She still doesn’t feel confident to commit to regular weekly activities – such as swim class, gym and drama, but is getting renewed confidence to be with friends and their parents without her own Mum and Dad always being in the same place. Anyone that knew her at Kindi would never believe what we went through last year. She was always the ‘life and soul’ of every party, an active and confident personality at Kindi, first to volunteer to ‘sing’ or ‘act’ in front of an audience. But last year, her first year of ‘formal schooling’ took all that away from her. She became anxious, constantly going to the toilet – night and day, clingy, emotional, angry, teary and nervous. Her spirit and personality was quashed under a boulder. The rigorous ‘testing’ that happens frequently in school made her question her own abilities and start to doubt herself (even though she was scoring well above ‘expected’ for her age). Her normal flood of artwork from Kindi petered out to nothing, as her creativity diminished under a tide of, what any adult would call, depression.

Now, as term one of this school year draws to a close, we are finally feeling happier, stronger and more comfortable all round (and our unschooler is at her happiest again – especially when climbing trees!).

“It is necessary to be concerned about the importance of educating a really beautiful human spirit.” – Shinichi Suzuki

All that we do as parents we do out of love x

Bush walk in Wellington

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~ Albert Einstein

Interesting links:

Homeschooling & Education Quotes

Challenge encourages learning, anxiety kills it – by Asha Dornfest

Homeschool Mom Interviews: Asha Dornfest – posted by Kristen Chase on The Pioneer Woman

When School Goes Against Your Very Nature – via Katarina Silva

The way of peaceful parenting – from Zen Habits

Authentic Parenting: Unschooling Question – What about the things you have to know?

Thinking About The Way My Children Get Their Education – by Jen of Snapshots

  • Kiwi@Heart

    I’m in awe of your open mindedness & flexibility I’ve never known such different realities in 1 family! Usually the families I know are one or the other extreme if I may call it that. I wonder what Alice will prefer!!? Following your journey with great respect xo kiwi in Auz


  • Chicken Granddad and Grandma

    This is so wonderful to read and I had a big smile on my face as I read it and a feeling of joy in my heart.You are amazing parents and do so much to make things right for the girls. I also liked the quotes you have included and all is good.
    Thinking of you heaps and big hugs from us both.


  • Jen

    pleased your family are all happy
    bless that friend helping your home schooler

    I believe that the core subjects are still very important too

    bless all those supportive hubbies it makes a world of difference (believe me I know what an un-supportive partner can be like)

    I really liked what you wrote about your girls different paths in their education.  I agree that they both bring into the home their special way of getting that education.  Just as some parents enjoy the home schooling lifestyle I believe this is true of the students themselves.  I see this too in my own family.  Daniel is very happy at school and enjoying the learning going on there.  He has just learnt to spell his long last name :)  Whereas Billy didnt cope with school at all well but is doing well here at home in a one to one system.  I love his creative writing he has been doing recently.

    I love reading about the experiences your daughter has a home schooler
    keep learning growing and living
    As I already mentioned each child needs to get their education in a way that suits them best
    all get their education
    same but different


  • Lien_allnewadventures

     I thoroughly appreciated reading this post and admire your family for doing the “right” thing by Sophie. It isn’t an easy decision to stray from the norm and the expected, so it is very brave of you to see the need and jump in at the deep end. Your increasingly following of her lead in terms of what topics she’s interested in and how she learns is aligned to the Montessori educational approach.

    Your children are beautiful, Sarah, and this post and your lovely photos reflects your accomplishment as a parent.


  • Theresa

    I just shared this lovely and interesting post to all my Facebook friends. I love it and love the way you portray Wellington. I lived there for 4 years, and loved it!! Now I am in Australia, and miss NZ so much!!!! xo Love your parents who faithfully read and comment too – they are lucky to have an articulate daughter blogger in NZ!


    Sarah Reply:

    Theresa thank you so much for your kind words. This parenting journey is a wonderful (& at times worrying!) path. Living so far away from our much loved family in the UK is of course hard at times, but we forever remind ourselves of how the wonders of modern technology truly ease our hearts and minds. x


    Theresa Reply:

    I agree; I lived in Island Bay for a year, love that Coastline ( I used to go there and on clear days stare at the South Island when visible as my parents are in Dunedin!)  By the way they were my comments too from Kiwi@heart.. 
    Yes my parents are in NZ, not as far as yours, but an ocean is an ocean however wide!  Go well xo


  • I love that you have recognised that what works for one of your girls doesn’t work for the other, and have made such an awesome choice for your family. It’s so lovely that you have a friend who is able to teach her the things you don’t feel you can :)


  • donnasimone

    This is a very moving post Sarah.
    I honestly have goosebumps and tears in my eyes; that last picture of your “unschooler” up a tree, with that quote from Albert Einstein just got to me.
    I have to applaud you for your bravery in finding a solution that fits your daughter instead of requiring her to fit into someone elses’ mold. Amazing.