By Carolyn Franzke
(Otherways Magazine, issue 140)
I used to be a teacher. I taught maths and science, and sometimes other subjects too. I was on the curriculum committee, attended lots of conferences and ran staff meetings about the value of a quality curriculum. I studied for my Masters in Education and wrote a thesis about the value of digital portfolios in improving the quality of learning. In short, I was a hard-working, inspired teacher who was trying to change the system for the better.
It was all going rather swimmingly until I had my first daughter, Rosie, and developed postnatal depression (which then returned with my second daughter and required medication). Suddenly, of course, life looked different, and not just because I was now a mother. I also felt broken, like some things that I had been relying on now weren’t true. I needed something more in my life.
I felt myself drawn to more heart-centred approaches to my life. I read lots of self-help books, began a blog to explore this new way of being, began helping others more and started looking more at my passions as a teacher and a person. From all of these experiences I kept coming back, again and again, to a passion for home educating and natural learning.
At first this was a covert desire that I attended to by buying books – Learning All The Time by John Holt, And the Skylark Sings with Me by David H. Albert and Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. These I devoured, wanting more, implementing what I could with my young brood before they reached school age. But an odd thing happened – the more I read and thought and understood and felt, the more I realised that the schooling and teaching I’d experienced, despite being academically successful, did not allow for that passion and purpose that I was growing in my life. And that wasn’t what I wanted for my girls. Much was bubbling around in my head, needing to be explored: how could I follow my heart, learn to listen to it, and then send them to a place where heart-based decisions are not valued very highly? And then, more positively: how could I be the best role model to them? How could we learn together about the value of following our hearts?
By the time Rosie was ready for her first year in school I felt uneasy about her transition, but went ahead anyway, on the train with all the other parents in our small town, from preschool to kinder to ‘real school’. And as the year progressed I was still thinking that my uneasiness would get better, that she would love it so much that I wouldn’t need to make the decision to follow my heart, that I could get away with doing what everyone else was doing and avoid being different. My resistance to change was still there, despite my desires and passions.
Then, towards the end of the year, a chance meeting with a home educating family who were visiting our town became a catalyst. One meeting over tea and cakes was enough for me to know that this was what I wanted to be doing with my life and in the lives of my children. And that was it. Decision made.
So now I find myself home educating, although we are more accurately unschooling, and it is the most wonderful choice that I’ve made. In following my passions and listening to my heart, I’ve opened up the doors of our family. We now stand firmly by our decision, based on the small experience we’ve had so far (our daughter is seven this year). My husband and I look to a more positive future with our children in it, rather than outsourced to other educational professionals. As former and current teachers (he still works in the education department) we use our knowledge to access resources that we can tailor to meet our needs as home educators. We work on de-schooling ourselves to allow learning to happen at home, and are surprised that we love this process. We read more about other home educating families and feel a connection, an understanding. We are in love, I think, with this new development in our family. We are soulschoolers now.
You might be asking what soulschooling might be for us? What’s its essence? How can soul and school be put together? And the best way for me to answer all that is through example (for it changes day to day of course):
- As parents we listen to that voice inside that says ‘you know, this doesn’t feel right’ – and we encourage and scaffold our girls to do the same when they make decisions.
- We ask questions like ‘what would our perfect home educating day look like?’, and write down answers and draw pictures together – a joint venture that puts us on the same page, equal in this learning adventure.
- We work to minimise any power differentials between parent and child – all have the opportunity to add to the program of learning and the program of our lives.
- We talk about following our passions – and use our own examples of how it feels (sometimes scary, sometimes inspirational) to help our girls follow theirs.
- I use ideas from my favourite self-help books to develop my girls’ (and sometimes my husband’s) ability to move forward, make decisions and change their lives in positive ways. My favourite books for this: The Passion Test by Chris and Janet Attwood, The Desire Map by Danielle La Porte and Ask and it is Given by Esther Hicks.
- A happy mum (and a happy dad) is the first prerequisite for happy children in our family, and as parents we work to move our lives in the positive directions we can, following our own dreams, being the best role models we can imagine.
- We use the power of imagination a lot. Not just in play with blocks or dolls or nature, but also to create our lives – I’ve used vision boards with Rosie to help her build a picture of what she wants her garden to look like. We go to our imaginations in conversation to build a picture in our heads of how we would like the day or activity to work out. Always these are joint imaginings – the power of co-operation at its best.
Overall, we have our challenges as much as the next family. However we are facing our challenges more and more as a team, using the power of our hearts, of imagination and of our passions to build a life with our children that is lived on purpose. We are, above anything else, soulschooling. And I think that that’s the best thing we can give.