Freya Dawson has been homeschooling her two teenage boys since they were toddlers. She is an author of “Joyful Parenting”, and runs parenting courses and workshops helping parents make peaceful and joyful connections with their children. She kindly agreed to share her story with us.
This post is part of our Real Australian Homeschools series. You can view the series here.
Could you tell us a little about your family?
Andrew and I met while we were both working as lecturers in the Law School at the University of Wollongong. Once our relationship started we were both very keen to start a family. Jeremy, our eldest son, was born at home in North Wollongong shortly after the fireworks ended at 1.01am on 01/01/01. Quite the dramatic entrance!
We are now a family of four, with Lindsay arriving four years later, also born at home, although without the fireworks. Jeremy and Lindsay are now 16 and 12 years old and we still live in the same house that Lindsay was born in. Apart from some months spent overseas in NZ and the UK we have been living, learning and growing here together. I quit my job at UOW when we decided to homeschool about 12 years ago. Andrew kept teaching law and will retire next year.
How did you begin homeschooling?
We began homeschooling when Jeremy was 4 years old and we were spending 6 months in Dunedin, NZ. Jeremy decided that he didn’t want go to preschool and in the same week we happened to meet a lovely homeschool family in a local park. They invited us to join their weekly homeschool group that met in one of Dunedin’s wonderful parent-run playcentres. I had a strong sense that Jeremy wasn’t going to enjoy school, so the opportunity to join this group gave me a chance to research the home education alternative. I could see right away how happy and creative the homeschooled children were and Jeremy enjoyed the experience immensely. He was also very happy to be spending most of his time at home with his little brother and I where he was free to explore his many interests in depth.
I used that time in Dunedin to ask many questions of the other homeschooling parents. I also read everything I could get my hands on. Luckily there was a brilliant public library nearby. From my research I figured out that “unschooling” was the style of home education that would probably suit us best. I had a tough job convincing my husband of the plan, but by the time we came back to Australia and Jeremy turned 5 I knew that home education was something I wanted to continue. We returned to Wollongong to discover that there was a weekly homeschool group that met in a church hall about 1 km from where we lived. We haven’t looked back since.
How would you describe your homeschool style?
Our homeschool style is “unschooling”. In Australia it used to be called “natural learning” but the American name seems to have stuck, despite its lack of popularity with some.
Unschooling means that it is my job to be the support for my sons’ learning rather than the director of it. I provide resources of all kinds, make suggestions, answer questions, organise outings, trips and social activities and play a lot. My sons decide what, when and how they want to learn. That might mean that they want to read a book that I’ve just found at the library, or do a few pages of a workbook that I left out on the couch or it may mean that they would rather play games, watch Youtube or build Lego. From an unschooler’s perspective all of those things involves learning; play is a crucial ingredient for learning and is always encouraged.
Our home education style is very free-range. Nobody is made to do anything they don’t want to do. Natural curiosity and desire to learn have always provided all the motivation that is needed. The internal motivation of my children has taken them through most of the skills and topics covered in the school curriculum (but not all learned in the order or at the age that schools require). It has also branched out into a few areas that are beyond what most learn in school. For example, we talk a lot about international economics, political systems and how large companies and governments operate.
What does a typical day look like for your family?
Being an unschooling family doesn’t mean that we don’t have a routine, but it’s a rather unconventional one at the moment. Some days there are group activities like trampolining to go to or music lessons to attend. When we are at home my sons’ day usually starts at about midday. They often spend the afternoon playing video games, watching Youtube, hanging out in the back garden, chatting and playing with me and eating. Lindsay and I usually go out for a walk in a local park where we talk about a wide range of topics, play in the playgrounds, throw balls and exercise. Jeremy often goes for a bike ride.
After dinner there is music practice, reading and sometimes some pages of a workbook. The boys will often play an online game with each other, with friends or on their own. We might watch a documentary or comedy program together on TV. After Andrew and I go to bed at about 11pm the boys stay up playing online games, watching Youtube, listening to music and audiobooks and talking to friends.
What has been a favourite book that you have shared together?
We’ve had the joy of reading many books out loud to Jeremy and Lindsay but not that many have been shared together as they have rather different tastes and interests. Listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks narrated by Stephen Fry was a favourite with all of us.
What has been a particularly enjoyable learning moment for your family?
We have had some amazing learning experiences while travelling. One that leaps to mind is visiting the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City while on a 5 week trip to the US in 2013. All three male members of the family were excited to learn about just about everything in the museum, which is on a retired aircraft carrier. The chance to see and learn about the Space Shuttle Enterprise up close was a thrill for all of us.
What has been your biggest homeschooling struggle? What did you learn from it?
My home education journey has involved quite a lot of struggle. In the first few years my focus was very much on our relationships and well being rather than school-type learning. During that time one of my sons experienced bursts of very intense emotion on a regular basis. Learning how to best support him through these outbursts and how to gradually ease their frequency and intensity took a great deal of my attention. I learned a great deal from that experience. In fact, it was profoundly life-changing for me. I reached out to a small group of other homeschool mums and together we embarked on a journey of learning new skills to support us in living peacefully and harmoniously with our families. The learning that came out of this group as well as my own research and personal growth formed the basis of a book that I wrote over a period of about 5 years called “Joyful Parenting: Five Skills to take your Family from Conflict to Connection.” That intense early period of home education eventually passed and my son calmed down dramatically but from an educational perspective our biggest challenge was yet to come.
My biggest home education struggle has been with “late” learning to read. When I first started home education I heard that learning to read at around the age of 12 was not unusual for home educated boys. At that stage I was horrified by that prospect and was convinced that this couldn’t possibly happen in my family. And yet it did. Twice.
My struggle was internal and involved facing up to my own fears; “Would they ever learn to read?”, “Was I a negligent parent in allowing them freedom to learn in their own way and time?”, “Would we fail to get reregistered to continue homeschooling?” I learned how to notice my fears and how to question them so they don’t run my life. Fearful thoughts are still a part of my life today but I’m much less likely to believe them. If I do get caught up in fear I now have the tools to return to a natural state of calm without projecting those fears onto my children.
What I also gained from this aspect of our home education journey was a much greater level of trust in my children. I’ve learned to trust their learning process and I’ve also seen how different it looks for each child.
If you could give one piece of advice to families just starting their homeschool journey, what would it be?
Children learn best when they are relaxed and happy. The less stressed you are the more available you are to support their learning and their happiness. The key to dealing with stress about home education is a willingness to question and unlearn everything you have ever been taught about education. If you are believing that you should be doing more for your children’s education or that you should be teaching them differently or that they should be achieving more than they already are, then question that. Talk to other parents. Do some more research. Drop into your own heart energy. You may find that those stressful thoughts simply aren’t true.
Could you tell us a little about your “Joyful Parenting” book and courses and how they came about?
I knew right from the start of my parenting journey that I wanted to do things differently from traditional methods. I didn’t want to use any kind of punishment, discipline or rewards to control my children. I also knew that if I threw out the conventional parenting “tool box” that I’d have to replace it with something else. It took a lot of research, experimentation and the support of my husband and friends to find and learn the skills I needed to live in a respectful and harmonious relationship with my children.
At some point, after facing many challenges with my children, I became confident that I had the skills to handle any family conflict or problem and to find solutions that everyone was happy with or could at least accept. It was a natural next step for me to start sharing this information with other parents. I started developing and teaching my Joyful Parenting Course and I also turned the material into a book. Through this process I’ve continued to learn much, much more about myself and about finding peace in all of my relationships. It’s been an amazing journey.
What do you hope people take away from them?
I hope that people find inspiration and confidence to follow their heart. We all desire more peace, joy and harmony in our families and yet it sometimes takes courage to step out of old habits and to try new ways of being and communicating with our children. I hope that those who read my book or do my course find new ideas that lead them into more relaxed and happy relationships.
You can find out more about these courses on Freya’s page www.freyadawson.com.au
The lovely Freya has an AMAZING giveaway for December 2017:
HUGE CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY!
As you know, I’m passionate about removing the stress and struggle from parenting and supporting Home educating parents who wish to live joyfully with their children.
I want to spread the word far and wide; it’s possible to live joyfully with your children without any form of discipline, punishments or control. I’m doing it right now with my two sons who are now 16 and 12. We’ve been living this way for over a decade now. We still encounter occasional problems and we know that we can find solutions to ALL OF THEM that everyone is happy with. I have a deep trust that I have the skills to invite solutions into our lives – solutions that are based in love and that encourage us all to grow. I’ve learned new skills to replace the old ways that I didn’t want to use any more. I want to share what I have learned with all of you that are interested.
Starting today and for the whole month of December I’m GIVING AWAY my PRINT BOOK ………..
“Joyful Parenting: the Five Skills to take your Family from Conflict to Connection.”
Yes! That’s right! I’m giving it away.
I’m only asking that you pay the postage.
Postage is a flat rate of $5 within Australia.
If you already own a copy this is your chance to order some to give away to friends. Don’t hold back.
NOTE: If you are ordering more than one copy, please put them through as separate orders and pay the postage on each.
Order your copy here