Homeschool Gathering in Sicily April 2017

Children's circle

In April in Sicily me, Roberto and Willow attended the spring gathering of Italian home school families.
Since I heard about home schooling and that you don't actually HAVE to go to SCHOOL, as a child, it attracted my attention! But I've never really been sure or convinced if it was a thing I wanted to practice myself.
Observing, though, how the public schools in Denmark and in most parts of the world it seems, apart from Finland and some other places, are getting more and more strict, with longer hours for the children, less preparation time for the teachers, less money and time and space for creativity, I am getting more and more attracted to an alternative.

lunchtime at excursion to Etna

I had a lot of doubts about home schooling though. Like, do I have enough knowledge and energy to be responsible for my child's learning all the time? Will he get out of the house enough, get friends? Will his life experience be too narrow with too few influences? Will he learn what he "needs" to learn? Can I even be a teacher and will be just be fed up by being around each other all the time? Will I ever have time for myself? How does it even work??

Meeting other families with various experiences on the matter, answered a lot of the questions. And seeing the children who are the product of home schooling was very inspiring.

The gathering was a very open gathering. Almost similar to a rainbow gathering, meaning that there is no curriculum or set schedule before the meeting started, Everything is made up by the people attending and together creating the workshops, the cooking and everything else going on at the gathering. All the costs for food and other things are shared equally.


We decided together to make an open board where people could fill in who wanted to cook when, clean when and who wanted to make a workshop or excursion when. The board got filled in slowly and continuously during the week the gathering lasted. There were activities both for children and grown ups and also the children could propose workshops.
Every morning at 9 we would meet and have a morning circle, discussing whatever would be to discuss.

Since the meeting was a meeting of Italian home school families, of course the whole thing went on in Italian, and unfortunately I couldn't always follow the long discussions, but I'll try to convey the main points as I understood them and what I got out of the gathering myself!

The discussion circles were mainly about people's questions, personal experiences, successes and difficulties. There were a lot of families with younger children, like us, who hadn't reached the school age yet, but came mostly to see what it was all about, to ask questions and attain understanding and clarity and meet people.

The biggest successes of the experienced families seemed to be that no one had really had any difficulties with the kids' learning, meaning that all the children really wanted to learn and were very excited learners, rather than having to be pushed and forced. It seems true that all children have a strong natural curiosity about the world and really wants to learn, and as long as they are happy and have the resources, nothing is really going to stop them!

strawberry ice cream workshop!

A comment that really sat with me was that of an earlier teacher in a free community school, who said something like "just look at yourself. When I am happy I can do amazing things. I am full of inspiration and creativity and wonderful ideas. When I am sad or not feeling well on the other hand, I am uninspired and everything I do, goes wrong. What we need to do is cultivate happiness for our children, and then everything will come by itself. Life is about being happy!"

Cultivate happiness. This is not really what happens in the schools at the moment I thought.

"Look at those kids playing and having fun." another said, "They are happy and they are learning valuable skills about life, human relations and creative thinking by playing. Why disturb them in their natural learning to put them indoors to sit down and "learn" something they don't want to? As soon as they are ready and inspired to know about a certain subject, they'll sit themselves down and learn it at the rate it'll take months to put into an uninspired mind, which will anyway forget it as soon as the exam is over "

The general opinion was simply that the kids will learn what they need to learn when the interest is there. It may be after or even before the time that the general school introduces it. It will come, don't worry.

But what if they never show interest for a specific subject, like math or reading and writing?, was one of the questions, don't they need these skills in society?

None of the families had experienced lack of such interests, but of course the possibility is there. Generally there wasn't actually a deep concern for this. There was amongst people, a general trust in all individuals having interests and skills of their own and diversity in individuality as a positive thing.
There were stories told about a child that all his childhood was just drawing the same drawings of fishtales, over and over again, and instead of punishing him or forcing him to do the same as the other kids, he was let doing his drawings, in spite of great concerns. He ended up being a very skilled and extremely well doing artist. Meaning that if someone develops a certain interest in a small niche, and are let to dive completely into it, they will certainly develop amazing and very useful skills, which might be more beneficial for them, than if they had spend their whole childhood, trying to learn the same as everyone else.

But in spite of these stories and any opinion you may have, there are still the exams that the children have to pass. It was reassuring to know that even the exams the kids had passed quite smoothly, and any well functioning kid should be able to learn the things they ask for at the exams. Even if a certain interest has been lacking, they are able to understand the need to learn these things, if not for anything else, then at least for the exams. Kids are not stupid or rebellious just to be rebellious. They are able to understand and accept how things work, and interested to take part.

Some of the difficulties expressed were similar to the ones I had imagined. The time for yourself, of being responsible for your child all the time, also when you don't have the energy and just really want to do your own things and your own work.
The answer for me was mostly in those families that were lucky to be a part of a bigger network of families that had made their own school, run by the different parents, taking turns to be "teachers" and even also sometimes hiring teachers from outside for bigger input. This answered a lot of my questions about personal responsibility, friends, social life and wider input for the children.
This starts to become closer to a "normal school" but the difference is the freedom to learn. The kids just goes when they want to, and they have more personal attention from people who knows and loves them. They might be of different ages and have different levels of learning, but there will be a lot of space and time for each individual to get the help and challenge they each personally need.

There were also families that had done the whole thing by themselves with success, but others that had had to give up because they felt it was too big a job to take on their own shoulders alone.

And then there were of course the children! The children were all the time around, playing and having fun. There were newborn babies, toddlers and kids up to 12 years old. And they were all taking care of each other.
It was beautiful to feel the spirit of community both amongst adults and children, and parents with small kids were expressing their feelings of safely being able to let their toddlers or even babies around playing freely, knowing there were always the eyes and care of the whole community of children and parents all around.
Some of the older kids arranged a theater workshop and they later showed their piece, which curiously was about going to school!

children listening at the theater workshop
Since it was Easter, a treasure-egg-hunt was arranged. There were tasks to be solved together and hidden chocolate eggs in the forest. The kids decided among themselves to collect all the eggs in a bowl together and count them to be sure they found them all (they were told there was 119 small eggs!), and then divide them equally in the end. The parents were also given their share! And do I have to mention that no wrappings were left on the floor? There was one boy though who ran and took another egg from the bowl before all were given out. The kids got furious and chased him away, and I guess he actually ended up getting less than everyone else, since there were still a lot of eggs to handle out! The justice acts itself out between children.

counting the eggs

egg hunt

There were also lots of games and excursions to the beach, the big trees of Etna, and the vulcano Etna herself.

huge chestnut tree

3rd big tree

Excursion to Etna

making mandala

Inspired by the vulcano, the kids made their own mini vulcanoes

Etna-ice pops were made!

It was reassuring to see how good the kids were. They were very good towards each other and happy and harmonious. And when they had issues they were always extremely skillfully working it out among themselves.
Maybe most kids are like this and I am not saying that normally schooled children are generally spoiled. But there were certainly nothing wrong with any of these kids. They were all wonderful, strong and helpful individuals.

All in all it made me get a lot more courage and inspiration to do homeschooling myself! We are certainly going to look more into the matter and our next mission will probably be to visit more "home schools" and families and places using alternative teaching methods. This was just an introduction!

The next gathering of the group is gonna be in Griciliana in July. To know about future meetings, you can visit and apply for membership in the googlegroup (all in Italian though and is mainly meant to be a group of Italian families). We got involved in the whole thing by luckily meeting some of the families on our trip, and decided to extend our stay in Sicily to be a part <3

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