Interview with Lisa from UnschoolZA

Lisa doesn’t write all that often on her blog, however when she does, she always says something that provokes some thought – not to mention that her writing style is highly engaging.  South Africa is also one the places that I have most enjoyed working in around the world, so I love that she is based there.

Although Lisa does not currently have children being homeschooled, she is a huge advocate and has some really positive things to say about self-directed learning (the photo that she kindly shared is of her son learning to rock-climb by doing it) and integrating learning into our kids lives, whatever their primary mode of education.  Well worth listening to.

How many children do you have? What ages?  Are they all homeschooled?
I have a son, Kolya, age 6, and a daughter, Molly-Rose, 9 months old. They’re not homeschooled, actually. The interest in homeschooling is mine – something that started when Kolya was a baby in the UK and I was looking at schooling options there. I thought home ed was the best option. 

Why did you decide to start homeschooling?
My own experience of school was unpleasant; I was academically ahead, but found the social pressures distressing. I wish I had known about the home ed option for myself. So I’m quite clear that my own kids need to know they have options. But I also know I can’t project my own experience onto them. 
I’ve discussed it with Kolya (enthusiastically), and he has been very clear in wanting to remain at school. He’s at a small Montessori, so the emphasis is very much on self-directed learning. For now, that works for him. 
We’ll see what happens with Molly. Living with an infant is so interesting: you can’t kid yourself that you’re teaching anything. They learn everything utterly naturally, and completely at their own pace. It’s a great reminder that learning is innate. 
How would you describe your approach to schooling at home?
In principle,I love the unschooling approach – radical unschooling, some call it – where kids are really left to explore and discover on their own terms, in their own time. 
That said, I think that if my kids end up ditching school in favour of home ed, we’d probably do a combination of some more subject-based material (specifically maths and science) as well as the self-directed learning. 
What is the single best thing you have found about homeschooling?
Learning that learning is on a continuum. It happens at home, and out; it may happen at school or elsewhere; it may not. There are no lines in real life between work and play, learning and not learning. This morning Kolya was asking at breakfast about sap from trees, and we ended up discussing maple syrup (“delicious sap”) and trees with poisonous sap (“not delicious sap”!) . It wasn’t a lesson; it was just … breakfast. But a teacher might have taught the same stuff via textbook and worksheets. 
I’ve been massively inspired by coming across the “unschooling” schools in the US – Sudbury Valley School and others modelled after it, for one, and North Star for Teens. I would love to see those models available where I live.  
What is the single worst thing you have found about homeschooling?
In South Africa, where I live, the home ed community is heavily religion-dominated. I think we are where the USA was 20 years ago. Anyway, as a result, there is a lot of stigma around home ed – it’s regarded as something loony fundamentalists do to shield their kids against “the real world” (or just against the realities of science). On the flip side, the religious home ed community can be a bit cliquey, so if you’re coming at it from a more rationalist or atheist background, you can feel like there’s not much community out there. 
What words of advice do you have for someone just starting out, or thinking about starting out?
Don’t panic or worry. Trust yourself and take one day at a time. I have a mantra at home: “The children are alive and fed. Everything else is jam.”
What do you enjoy doing to create a bit of ‘me time’ in your day or week?
It varies. Til recently I used to perform with an improv troupe, but since having a baby it’s been almost impossible to keep that up. Twice a week I force myself to train with a personal trainer to keep my body feeling strong and to let off steam. At the moment it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and my daily pleasure is lighting the fire in the afternoon. Late at night, I sometimes play online scrabble ( to zone out. (Actually I’ve sometimes end up playing against home ed kids in other time zones!)
Do you blog?  If you do, what is the address for that?
I have a personal blog at and a blog I started about home education at I’m fairly irregular at blogging!
What would you like people to know about you?
Well, I like to remind people that they’re not alone. I love sensing the community that exists – whether we know it or not – on any journey. I have a hope that in the future, education will be available in many more varied and tailored forms than it is now. 
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
Just that I have really enjoyed reading about your own homeschooling journey with Connor. It constantly inspires me to know that there are so many possibilities out there, and different families tailoring their lives and their learning in non-traditional ways. 

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