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Unschooling the right choice for the Nevilles on the road

Parents Dave and Amy Neville can’t believe the difference they’re seeing in their children after deciding to go down the “unschooling” route while travelling on the road.

The Neville family – Dave, Amy and their children Blake, 11, Spencer, 9 and six-year-old twins Fletcher and Alexa, have been living in their Network RV caravan full-time for the last two years. Dave’s son Austin, 16, who is working as an apprentice boilermaker back home in Perth, also comes to spend time with the family during the year.

They’ve travelled to many places around Australia – but it’s not just been about visiting pretty places, they’ve learnt important lessons everywhere they’ve been.

When the Nevilles made the decision to pull the kids out of their traditional school in their hometown of Perth, they were faced with a difficult conundrum – how were they going to educate them now?

There are a few different options in Australia that aren’t traditional schooling and the couple looked at Distance Education and homeschooling before settling on “unschooling”, an informal learning method that prioritises learner-chosen activities as a means for learning.

They enrolled the kids in Queensland Home Education, as the sunshine state was the only one they could find that lets you legally homeschool kids while travelling.

“So, we come up with our own curriculum and send through a report every month that they (Queensland Home Education) have to sign off on, agreeing that you are providing a high quality education. If they believe that you’re not, they say you have to do better,” she said.

Amy said the curriculum she designed for Blake, Spencer, Fletcher and Alexa didn’t have set school work. The only thing she made them do everyday was write in their journal about what they’d done that day.

Travelling to places like the Gemfields (different geological landscapes), Winton, the dinosaur capital of the country and the Daintree rainforest (with different flora and fauna), she said their education plan was based around what they saw.

“What works for us is the kids are very intrigued and they ask a lot of questions like ‘Why does that look like that’ or ‘How does that work’ and that always turns into a very unstructured lesson for all of us. They ask us questions thinking Mum and Dad know all the answers but we don’t, so we say let’s find that out together,” Dave said.

“If something random comes up we can delve into it. I’m from a cropping and sheep farm and we visited a friend’s sugar cane farm up north during the harvest and it was a learning experience. It was something physical they were experiencing and not just reading about, they were immersing themselves in it.”

Amy said their oldest, Blake, didn’t enjoy school when they were living in Perth, but now he was really thriving with unschooling.

“He just loves doing this. You know he said he wanted to learn sign language and the next minute he just hops on his phone and Google and YouTube and starts teaching himself,” she said.

Speaking about what their favourite memories had been so far, both parents said they’d loved watching their children grow during the experience.

“The kids all have their favourite memories, Spencer loved finding his birthstones (sapphires) at the Gemfields and making a fish friend on the Great Barrier Reef, Blake was scared by dolphins when we were snorkelling in Barkers Rock, Alexa liked Sovereign Hill in Victoria and Fletcher, he’s the wild one, likes riding his bike around,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s a destination, it’s the everyday, seeing them achieve things they never thought were possible. Spencer used to be afraid of the ocean and now he’s got a boogie board and Blake’s got a spear he likes to fish with. Seeing them achieve their own little goals is amazing.”

She said her children were good and learning independently as well as learning from others.

“We’ve met so many people who have taught them different things, someone taught Blake how to crochet and make a whip and he got a flint at Christmas and another camper showed him how to light a fire better,” she said.

Amy said it was great to see their kids enjoy learning. She said in the beginning, one of her boys would get angry and shut down at the mention of textbooks or maths, and while they still needed to learn the basics, they backed off and didn’t force it, instead reintroducing it later on.

“They’ve been so much more open to learning now – but not necessarily if you say we’ll do some school work – if we stay we’ll be learning about this today, they’ll be excited.”