Blog: the pros and cons of homeschool

The land is proving to be a natural classroom in more ways than one for Polly and her family.

When James and I embarked on our Great Land Adventure, it was as an experiment. Feeling a lot like children at play in the woods, we ambled about our 15 hectares of Far North native forest, learning through trial and error where to put a road, how to build a ford across the stream, achieve running water, rig up a solar panel and begin building a home.

Zen and Vita explore the countryside.

Six-and-a-half years later, the experimentation continues. It’s a liberating, light-hearted approach, providing us with an attitude of kindness towards ourselves when we fail at endeavours, as well as offering a psychological exit during moments of grim comparison when it feels like city living is way easier than going off-grid on a shoestring.

“We don’t have to stay,” we murmur consolingly over candle-lit powwows. “We’re just testing this lifestyle to see if it’s for us.”
Life in the forest might be a research project in progress but hard yards aside, the results so far indicate self-sufficiency, a deeper connection to the natural world, good health, authenticity and creativity. It’s a compelling case for pressing onwards.

When life’s undertaken with an attitude of investigation, our failures are lessons well learnt. Chop the firewood at the end of winter so it can dry out all spring and summer. Find out a seedling’s preferences before planting it. Living on the land is an ongoing practice of refinement. Our children, Vita and Zen, are masters at exploration.

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In their eyes there’s no right or wrong; just a focused curiosity on cause and effect. If water is mixed with a tub of concrete oxide and spread across the house site, how far will it go? If a tray of eggs is crushed into the dirt, will the dog lick the mess? If all the unripe plums are picked off a tree and left in a bucket of water, will it make a nice drink?

Observing this desire to learn in five-year-old Vita has given us the confidence to select homeschooling for her education. With the land as a classroom, we’re hoping her passions, creativity and curiosity take us all down some interesting paths.
“Is that wise?” queried my mother, concerned about socialization and the time commitment required to be Vita’s teachers.
I think so but as with most things around here, we won’t know until we’ve tried it. Experimentation is an active life science.

So far our homeschooling research has seen us touch base with several different communities of parents and children and illustrated just how many different approaches there are. We’ve met kids who speak four languages, daughters receiving their education through equestrian training, free-spirited un-schoolers hurtling past in DIY go-carts, rebellious teenagers demanding to attend their local college and home-taught young adults excelling at various arts.

Cast iron stove.

Just because James and I are now kitchen-table teachers, it doesn’t mean we aren’t still learning too. We were recently forced to solve a rather hefty conundrum with some hasty reviewing of physics when our new cast-iron wood stove arrived on the land. Weighing 400 kilogrames, it had been forklifted onto our trailer in a matter of minutes. Getting it into our new room wasn’t so simple.

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With no team of weightlifters on standby, brain was required to do the job of brawn. After some chin scratching and a foray down to the stream, James reappeared with harvested bamboo poles that he cut to uniform lengths. Using a chain-block hung from a roof bearer to crank the stove off the trailer, we lowered it onto seven bamboo rollers and began the painstaking process of inching it forward to the doorstep.

It took us five hours of rolling and levering to get the oven into its final resting place but I’m still marveling that we managed to budge it at all. Despite our new room being currently door-less, we departed on a camping holiday soon after with peaceful minds, relaxed in the knowledge no light-fingered thief would be making a quick getaway with the latest addition to our home.


Polly’s blog is published every second Wednesday.

Blog: traveling with kids

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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