A mother who is ‘anti-school’ takes her kids to the beach for picnics and hunting for possums instead of sending them to a mainstream classroom to learn traditionally.
Lucy Aitkenread’s two daughters, Ramona, nine, and Juno, seven, are encouraged to wake up when they want and pass their days surfing, hiking, kayaking and exploring the countryside surrounding their 25-acre farm in Waikato, New Zealand.
Lucy, 37, and her husband, ex-teacher, Tim Aitkenread, 40, first stumbled upon the ‘self-directed learning’ phenomenon while visiting a kindergarten in Germany in 2013, having recently left their home London after becoming ‘disillusioned’ with life there.
The kindergarten allowed children to choose what they wanted to study and after seeing that structure, the couple made the decision to never put their daughters through mainstream schooling.
Lucy Aitkenread’s (right) two daughters, Ramona, nine (centre), and Juno, seven (left), are encouraged to wake up when they want and pass their days surfing, hiking, kayaking and exploring the countryside surrounding their 25-acre farm in Waikato, New Zealand
Lucy, 37, and her partner, ex-teacher, Tim Aitkenread (pictured), 40, first stumbled upon the ‘self-directed learning’ phenomenon while visiting a kindergarten in Germany in 2013
Now living in a yurt in the New Zealand countryside, the couple let their daughters ‘learn as they wish’, whether that means doing calculations on the bathroom wall or modelling sculptures out of clay.
Their chosen lifestyle is legal in New Zealand, with Lucy submitting two successful applications to the Ministry of Education to have her kids exempt from enrolling in a registered school.
They also have no family rules, other than not hurting each other, and the kids are encouraged to feed the chickens and cook breakfast on their own.
‘We have really slow mornings and we don’t get up until we’ve had a few mugs of tea. Then we might go surfing or do a big hike, go kayaking or do a trip to a museum or art gallery,’ Lucy, who makes a living from her lifestyle blog, said.
How do the children learn without a curriculum to follow? Is it legal?
HOW DO YOU LEARN WITHOUT A CURRICULUM?
Lucy says she has adopted a creative approach to schooling, teaching her daughters not through sit down lessons, but letting them follow their own interests.
Instead of having dedicated time for reading or maths, she believes these issues come up naturally as the girls go about their day – for example, one of them asking how to write a card.
‘In my own experience, all these topics permeate everyday life, so in just an hour of our day, we’d basically cover all of those topics,’ Lucy said.
She covered how each child covers each traditional subject in day to day life in detail in the below application forms.
IS IT LEGAL TO ‘UNSCHOOL’ IN NEW ZEALAND?
The Ministry of Education in New Zealand can issue a Certificate of Exemption from enrollment at a registered school when it is satisfied that parents are willing and able to be responsible for an appropriate programme of education for their child.
The application form asks parents to provide full details about how they intend to home educate their child
Lucy submitted successful applications to the Ministry of Education to ‘unschool’ her children which can be read here (for Ramona) and here (for Juno).
Now living in a yurt in the New Zealand countryside, the couple let their daughters ‘learn as they wish’
‘Yesterday, we forested for mushrooms and at night we played cards and went possum hunting and late at night we skinned the possums.’
Lucy says that children are more likely to succeed later in life if they are given ‘lots of time to follow their interests’.
‘If I sent them to school, they wouldn’t get the same freedom,’ she said.
‘Most mainstream education can be very punitive. It can use shame to coerce kids to learn things they’re not interested in and that’s really paralysing.
‘My eldest daughter has finished writing her first book and she has a natural love of maths. She does long calculations on our bathroom wall.’
Lucy says that children are more likely to succeed later in life if they are given ‘lots of time to follow their interests’
‘If I sent them to school, they wouldn’t get the same freedom,’ Lucy said
Tim, who once taught at a secondary school in London, was happy to swap the blackboard for the great outdoors now spends his time farming the land around their yurt and attending to the family’s chickens and cows.
The couple say teachers make up a large percentage of parents who are part of the ‘unschooling’ world.
And Lucy, who now teaches other parents how to unschool their kids online, says there has been a surge in interest in the trend since lockdown, with parents noticing their children having become less stressed since schools closed their doors.
‘They get into [teaching] because they’re passionate about learning, but they feel the opportunities to learn are stifled by the way school is structured,’ Lucy said.
”It’s mad how we test children when they’re seven, eight or nine and make them experience shame and stress on a mass scale. Future generations will think: “what were we doing?”.’
‘I’m not worried my daughters will be disadvantaged in the future as we know parents of kids who never went to school and got into university on the strength of their interviews,’ she said
Despite the growing interest, Lucy admits that many people still doubt her unique approach to education, with people online accusing her of ‘neglecting’ her children
Lucy said there has also been a surge in interest about unschooling since coronavirus lockdown started.
‘Lots of parents have noted that during quarantine their children transformed and went from being stressed, anxious and controlling to being really playful and connected with their siblings,’ she said, adding that there was a surge in enrollments to her online unschooling course.
But despite the growing interest, Lucy admits that many people still doubt her unique approach to education, with people online accusing her of ‘neglecting’ her children.
‘There have been people telling me I’m neglecting my children and that they will hate me when they’re older,’ she said.
‘Partly these people don’t know what they’re looking at when they see our lives and partly they’ve internalised the oppression of school.
‘They batten down the hatches and say it was worth the bullying and lack of consent, that it was worth studying those things they didn’t care about.
‘I’m not worried my daughters will be disadvantaged in the future as we know parents of kids who never went to school and got into university on the strength of their interviews.’