By Jess D
My homeschooling journey started in 1987 when we were living in the UK for 18 months. I was seven years old at the time, and my parents were considering taking a position in Africa. They didn’t like the idea of boarding school for us kids (I had two younger siblings at the time), but my dad was quite unsure/against homeschooling. After researching, praying and visiting a homeschooling family to see what homeschooling actually looked like, Dad came around to the idea. They pulled me out of school and we became a homeschooling ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) family. The Africa venture didn’t come to pass, and we ended up back in Australia in mid-1988 in time for my mum to have baby number four.
After we moved back to Victoria, my parents continued using ACE. My mum bore the brunt of our schooling as my dad worked long hours, and ACE suited her quite well. She is a naturally structured and self-disciplined person and the curriculum methodology made sense to her. I am (somewhat to my chagrin) not that personality type, and while my scores reflected good academic understanding, I tended to work just to ‘get it done’ and am not sure how much I really engaged with the material. Anyway, that, combined with a lack of homeschooling friends (my few friends attended a state school and were mostly busy with their own academics and social lives), meant that I found my teenage years in Melbourne a bit lonely and mundane.
At the end of 1997, my parents bought a farming property near Benalla. I finished up my year 12 certificate with ACE the following year on the farm and decided to enrol in an agricultural course at Dookie College. At the time it was a campus of the University of Melbourne. I took an SAT test in which I did quite well, and we submitted the results along with my ACE scores and a letter of application directly to Dookie College. One of the lecturers at Dookie was a homeschooling dad (also with ACE) and he guided us through the process which was very helpful! In the end though, I wasn’t accepted into the Bachelor course (my first choice), but I was offered a position in the Diploma course. I accepted and, given I was a city-girl by upbringing, I really benefited from and enjoyed the field trips and hands-on aspect that the Diploma offered. After my first year results were in, I was offered the opportunity to transfer to the Bachelor course, which I did and graduated with Honours in 2003.
My next sibling down from me wanted to do veterinary science, also with the University of Melbourne. This proved a harder course to get into, but she did a couple of subjects via Distance Ed in addition to her ACE subjects, and was accepted by personal application and interview into a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne. She then worked hard to achieve the necessary scores and transferred into Veterinary Science a year later and is now working at the Rochester Veterinary Clinic.
After the challenges my sister and I faced in getting into university courses, my parents made the decision to stop homeschooling for my youngest four siblings at the end of their year 10 and send them to the local high school in Benalla for years 11 and 12. All of them are now pursuing various careers (surgeon, CEO of Catholic Social Services Victoria, obstetrician/gynaecologist and small business owner respectively).
I met my husband shortly before our 21st birthdays and we married a few months after I submitted my honours thesis. He had done science and then primary school teaching at uni, and, after a year of relief teaching (for him) and casual work in a parasitology laboratory (me), he landed a fulltime teaching position at a little ACE school in Echuca. I still find it amusing that of all the jobs he applied for, he ended up teaching the same curriculum I was homeschooled with. For those of you unfamiliar with ACE, it was designed to be used as either a school or homeschool curriculum and at that time there were a handful of ACE schools in Victoria. We loved Echuca. We were there for six years and our three daughters were born during that time. We settled well into the community and found a church family that had a mix of homeschooling and school-going families – in short, we put down roots.
During these years my mum asked me to organise a tambourine ensemble for my youngest sister (who was still homeschooling) and her friends to perform at the annual ACE student convention … and thus I re-entered the homeschooling scene. My husband and I attended a few ACE conventions as rivals – him as a teacher with the school and me with the homeschoolers (who banded together as a ‘school’ in order to compete in the team events). Our kids were pretty little at the time, but they came along too and between us, my parents and the other homeschooling parents/young kids, they had a ball!
One other thing worth mentioning here is that it was during these years we made the decision to homeschool our own kids. I always liked the idea of homeschooling (after all, it was the norm for me), and my husband hadn’t been completely closed to the idea, but a couple of key conversations he had with the principal of the school at that time (who really was a homeschool advocate at heart) put us both on the same page.
When I was growing up, homeschooling was pretty novel. I didn’t know anyone else in Melbourne who homeschooled, and I mentioned that I found it a bit lonely/mundane as a teenager. But by the time it was our kid’s turn, there were actually quite a few people I knew who were homeschooling, though most of them used ACE. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a naturally structured nor self-disciplined person, and after so many years of doing ACE curriculum, I just didn’t want to use it with my kids. I wasn’t exactly sure what my alternative options were, but, as I am sure you are aware, homeschooled people tend to be pretty (over) self-confident and so I launched out with some early phonics activities for my eldest daughter and found a couple of other homeschooling families to run a ‘kinder day’ with once a week.
Life was so good that my husband and I started thinking about a dream that I had had ever since I was seven and my parents’ Africa venture had never come to pass: to work overseas in a developing country. It had contributed to my choice of agricultural science as a ‘career’ and had also come up from time to time in our conversations since before we were married. In Australia we have so much and so many opportunities and we wanted to share some of that with others. After some discussion, we settled on Sri Lanka. My father had been born there and it seemed like a place in which we could serve/give.
It wasn’t a straightforward path, and various temporary medical issues/complications meant that after pursuing it from mid 2008 through 2009, we decided to temporarily shelve that dream, and instead to follow another one: for my husband to study theology. To facilitate this, we moved to Melbourne at the beginning of 2011.
We had barely been in Melbourne for a month when, through a mutual friend at a party, I was made aware of a group of homeschooling parents that met on a monthly basis in ‘our area’. They came from a variety of homeschooling circles and used all different sorts of curriculum, and were happy to bring parts of it to the monthly meetings for others to look at. It was thanks to this eclectic group of wonderful people that I found a curriculum that worked for our family. They were also responsible for us joining a little homeschooling ballet class, swimming classes, basketball and taking up music lessons. We also made friends, some that are very dear to us and still keep in contact despite the distance.
Our son was born in 2012 and my husband finished his Master of Divinity at the end of 2013. We decided to try again for Sri Lanka. We moved to my parents’ farm in Benalla at the end of 2014 and thus followed two years of delightful country life while we applied/waited/wondered/prayed … and were finally accepted to work at the Colombo Theological Seminary, Sri Lanka, in the Autumn of 2016.
We arrived in Sri Lanka in October, 2016, on our eldest daughter’s 11th birthday. We were fortunate to meet a few expatriate homeschoolers after we’d only been here a few months. I had hardly dared to hope we’d find any homeschoolers here at all! We have yet to meet any local Sri Lankan homeschoolers, but I do believe a few exist. Unfortunately, most of these ‘expats’ are only here short term, so we have had our share of sad goodbyes as friends have moved on to other things/adventurers elsewhere. However, we have enjoyed the moral support/friendship, excursions/field trips and laughter/tears together along the way for which we are very grateful.
For me personally, homeschooling in Sri Lanka has been harder than homeschooling in Australia. I didn’t realise how much I relied on opportunities outside the home to supplement our schooling until I came here and didn’t have them. We have managed (more-or-less) to continue music lessons over the last four plus years, but sports have been more challenging to find. We purchased a vehicle at the beginning of 2020 in order to facilitate more field trips and adventures. But, similarly to most people around the world, 2020 did not go exactly according to plan and we actually found ourselves stuck at home even more than in our previous years here.
In terms of curriculum, we have pretty much continued with the material I found worked for us when the kids were younger (Singapore Math, Apologia Science, grammar and other things from the Critical Thinking Company, Evan-Moor spelling, geography and science, etc) and I think we have done ok. For our first two and a half years we were in a large three-story house with no garden – that was not a good fit. For the last 18 months we have had a garden, and that has made a huge difference! We have a massive mango tree that the kids love to climb, and some small garden beds in which to attempt to grow veggies and flowers, and a carport that provides gymnastic opportunities (thanks to the strong metal poles that hold it up) and a concrete base for down ball (with chalk to draw the court), and a small lawn area that is just a precious bit of green (and is currently babysitting two tortoises for a fortnight).
So there you go. That is my homeschooling journey to date!
What’s the next step you may ask? To be honest, I don’t know. It looks like our eldest daughter will want to go to university, so we’ll be heading back to Australia at some point soon(ish) to accommodate that, but we may start some online Open University subjects while we are here.
As I look back, one thing stands out really strongly for me: God’s provision for our family. He has provided what we needed at each step as well as fellow homeschoolers to journey with us along the way. Without their encouragement and wisdom (and curriculum suggestions) I am not sure we would have survived this far. So here is a thank you to all our homeschooling friends that we have made over the years – and a thank you to God for watching over us.
Interviewing the kids: apparently they all like homeschooling and they all like living in Sri Lanka. I asked them what they like about each of them, and these are their answers:
Lachlan (8 years): Sri Lanka is a fun place to be. We go to music lessons every Wednesday and we have exercise every Tuesday and Thursday. At the end of December, we went to a villa and it had a pool and a tree house and curtains on the beds and a great view. We all really enjoyed it. We have an Ambarella tree in our garden – we pick the fruit and leaves to eat – but I only like the leaves. I also enjoy ice-cream (from the little supermarket two minutes walk from our house) and boxes from Australia (from my grandparents). I like lots of food. My favourites are kottu, paratha, patties and samosas, rice and curry and baked beans. I am glad I don’t have to go to a proper, actual, big school. I don’t think I would have as nice a time if I was going to a school every school day. I enjoy doing school independently.
Xanthia (10 years): I enjoy homeschooling because I can take my own time in learning and asking questions if I need to. I have enough school, but I also have plenty of time to play. When you are homeschooled, your schedule can be flexible in case you have someone coming over or somewhere to go (like the bike park) in the morning – you can do your school work in the afternoon instead.
I like living in Sri Lanka because I can see the different ways that people live. I have also experienced babysitting a tortoise which would not be possible in Australia. I have flown in many aeroplanes, made new friends, travelled in lots of tuktuks (three wheeled vehicles with no seatbelts), watched street parades with fire twirling and dancers, ridden on an elephant and tried surfing. I will always remember my great adventure of living in Sri Lanka.
Shyanna (13 years): I am really glad that I homeschool because I get to learn the way that suits me best. For example, in my general science I can read through the information as many times as I want and draw pictures to help me remember. I can start my school as early as I would like (5:30am) and the earlier I start, the more free time I have. I also like that during school time I can pat our cats as they go past or if they jump on my desk.
Sri Lanka is the kind of place where funny stuff can happen. For example, one time at the bike park, I saw two guys taking an elephant for a walk down the road. Cows live near the city wherever there is a bit of grass (near the canals or rubbish dumps) and sometimes they walk right out into the centre of the road and stop – or they cross to the other side and then turn around and walk back across again. This makes me laugh because all the cars either have to put on their brakes or drive into oncoming traffic to get around them. One time out in the country we got in a tuktuk and half way through the journey we realised there was a chicken trying to lay an egg in the back – it didn’t like us looking at it! I have also seen goats on the roof of a house eating the leaves off a tall tree. Animals are allowed to roam around and do basically what they like, which makes Sri Lanka an interesting and fun place to live.
Indi (15 years): Sometimes people ask me, What is homeschooling like? And I answer, ‘I don’t know, what is schooling like?’ I’ve been homeschooled from the very start, but from what I’ve heard, I think I prefer homeschooling because of the flexibility and because of the wonderful people I have met throughout the years from all different backgrounds. I enjoy being able to listen to music as I study, have a cup of tea early in the morning while I do maths, and do school while sitting on the floor, under the table, or even occasionally outside. Homeschooling has given me opportunities to go on adventures, holidays and visits back to Australia to see precious friends and family which I would not have been able to do if I was locked into a school system.
I love Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is a very colourful city, with green trees/plants, yellow sand, blue sky, red roofs and red betel juice stains from people spitting on the ground, brown street dogs sleeping here and there and bright clothing with different patterns and designs.It’s also a busy and noisy place: red, green and blue tuktuks darting into every available space, missing other vehicles by millimetres, reckless buses that charge along with blaring horns, sellers yelling their wares at the prices that they are – fish, fruit, brooms and mops – the bread van with its loud music. It’s hot and humid and I love it all! Over time it has become more and more my home, until now both Australia and Sri Lanka have prominent places in my heart.
Otherways 167 (Feb 2021)Last updated on