Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives. The Accidental Home Schooler by Norah Colvin

The second post in the series by educator Norah Colvin and this week Norah shares a concept that she had to offer an alternative to the government run schooling on offer in her area.

The Accidental Home Schooler by Norah Colvin

In a previous post “To school or not to school” I discussed thoughts I had pondered and issues I had considered when deciding the future education of my daughter.

Although the main focus of that article was whether to school or not, home education was not only not my first choice, but not even a consideration.

The merest hint of an idea of starting my own school had niggled away in the back of my thoughts for a long time. More than ten years before that article was written, I was in college studying the teaching of literacy when the idea popped into conscious thought. In response to an assigned task, which required that I explain how I would implement a literacy program in a school, I surprised my lecturer (and myself) by explaining how I would do so in a school that I established. Although I was never afraid of placing my own spin upon a set task, I never really expected the idea of establishing a school of my own to be anything more than just that.

In the ensuing years prior to the birth of my daughter, my son completed his primary schooling and I taught in a variety of roles, some of which were the most rewarding of my career. During those years I met many other teachers with a similar dream of starting their own school. They were mostly creative and innovative teachers, passionate about their own learning as well as the learning of their students. They inspired their students with an energy that at times seemed infinite. But they felt stymied by the formality and top-down approach of traditional schooling which they, like me, believed to be detrimental to children’s learning and personal growth.

Many of these teachers left the profession, unable to conquer the battle between philosophy and practice waging within. Others continue teaching, constantly trying to balance their beliefs about learning and the needs of their students within the confines of the expected formal and didactic approach to teaching. Others have become burnt out, feeling isolated and unsupported, succumbing to the pressure to conform.

Few teachers take action to make their dream a reality. Whatever one’s beliefs, it takes a great deal of courage to step outside the norm of accepted practices. To establish an alternative school, in addition to this courage, requirements include a bottomless well of financial resources, an infinite ability to persist under the onslaught of unremitting obstacles, and a firm commitment to ideals and philosophies.

When Bec was born the nagging of this idea was so insistent that I was compelled to bring it out from where it was hiding and give it some serious consideration. Without any real understanding of the magnitude of the task ahead, without a well of financial resources, but with a firmly-held belief in what I was undertaking, I set upon the road to turn the dream to reality.

Me with a group of “my” children, including Bec in the middle.

When Bec was about 2, I established a small home-based (but not profitable) business providing educational care for other 2-3 year olds and educational play sessions for parents and children.

For the children in care, I provided a stimulating learning environment with lots of talk, books and hands-on exploratory activities. I provided support as they learned to have a go and developed confidence in their abilities.

In the play sessions I guided parents’ engagement with their children in play, explained how they could develop vocabulary and concepts, and provided suggestions for them to continue at home. Even after 20 years, parents still tell me how valuable those session were to their children’s education.

At the same time I investigated and explored alternatives to traditionally schooling available in my area but was disappointed that none exactly met my criteria. Some were too laissez faire, others followed pedagogical approaches I believed to be unsupportive of children’s learning, and others were based on philosophies I didn’t agree with.

I began constructing a vision of what my ideal school would be. I invited other like-minded teachers to join me and we got to work on building a team, enlisting families, and seeking out a facility.

Composing the vision statement.

Approval by the education department was easily achieved and interest of parents was forthcoming. In the end, the greatest stumbling block and final inhibitor of the project was town planning.

Throughout those establishment years Bec was not enrolled in a school. She was educated at home while we waited for my alternative school to open. We participated in some home schooling group activities, and I continued to conduct home-based educational sessions for Bec and other children. After about 5 years and two aborted starts, the project was terminated and Bec’s home education came to an end. Well, it really didn’t come to an end. She continued to do a lot of learning at home, but as she was enrolled in the local government school, it was her official education provider.

I often wonder what our lives would be like now if my dream of opening an alternative school had been achieved.

It was difficult making the decision to let it go. I was torn between two equally compelling but conflicting pieces of advice which vied for my attention:

I do believe I gave the dream my best shot, but after a long time and many false starts, I decided that perhaps I should listen to the messages. With most families, like ourselves, more interested in an alternative school than in home schooling, it was time to let it go. Other families, like me, were not enamoured with the local offerings, but then, also like me, had to decide the future of their children’s education.

I no longer felt comfortable asking families to stay committed to the goal with no tangible start date in sight, and after a final search for a suitable property hit another dead end, the idea was abandoned. I was not committed to home education as a long-term alternative for Bec’s education, and so finally, in year 4, she started school.

©Norah Colvin

Having been to 8 schools eventually overseas and the UK I do believe that I received a sometimes confusing but certainly enlightening education. Different curriculums, varied history and geography subjects and versions of English Language and Literature.  Because of the age differences – for example schooling in South Africa at the time began at 7 and secondary school at 13, I was always being put in the class that related to my age not my abilities. That required a lot of catch up usually after school in a one to one situation. I made it through in the end but I have a feeling that Norah’s concept would have been very beneficial for the children who participated.  Thanks to Norah for her post.. Sally

Your feedback would be gratefully received.

About Norah Colvin

I am an experienced and passionate educator. I teach. I write. I create.

I have spent almost all my life thinking and learning about thinking and learning.

I have been involved in many educational roles, both in and out of formal schooling situations, always combining my love of teaching and writing by creating original materials to support children’s learning.

Now as I step away from the classroom again, I embark upon my latest iteration: sharing my thoughts about education by challenging what exists while asking what could be; and inviting early childhood educators to support children’s learning through use of my original teaching materials which are now available on my website

Connect to Norah via her websites


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I am now looking for assorted Festive posts for December, recollections of Christmas past, family, humour, short stories, poems, recipes etc.. Have a delve through your previous December posts and if you are not planning on re-using.. pop them over to me at

Next week Norah will be showing us how to make a 3D Christmas tree poster..

66 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives. The Accidental Home Schooler by Norah Colvin

  1. Hi, Sally. Thank you so much for sharing my post on your wonderful blog. Reading it here gives me a different perspective on the events some how. I feel a little more removed, able to view the situation from the outside, rather than just the inside, and release it to the world, so to speak. It does me good to consider it that way, giving a sense of detachment. I hadn’t expected that, so am especially grateful.
    Of course the dream for better ways of educating our children lives on and inspires the teaching resources I continue to make and share on readilearn.
    What an education you had – eight schools, in different countries, on different continents. Many would say it’s enviable, that travelling broadens the mind and that you would learn so much about the world and its people. I think so too. But I also know constant change can be difficult for children: getting to know different routines and expectations, establishing new friendships, understanding new languages, even if it’s only another version of English. We seem to not only have different accents but localised colloquialisms and ways of saying things. I’d love for you to write a guest post about your schooling experience, if you are interested. I think sharing experiences of school would make a great series. What a variety of stories there’d be. Thanks for giving me the idea – something for me to consider for 2018. If you’re interested, I’d love you to be the first. 🙂


  2. Such an interesting post, Norah. I was public school raised in one town, and my exposure to home schools and alternative schooling was zilch. Where I live now, home-schooling is common, particularly within some religious groups. I’ve seen both wonderful and less than wonderful situations. Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience. And thanks to Sally for sharing your story. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • All but ten months of my schooling was at the same school, too, Diana. I was aware of little else. When, as a young teacher, I became very frustrated with the school system, I did a lot of reading about alternatives and “fell in love” with John Dewey’s philosophy. In my experience, many homeschoolers are far more rigid in their thinking than public school teachers. Others are more liberal. I never referred, or refer, to myself as a homeschooler. I chose to be a home educator. For me there is a big difference between schooling and education. There is wonderful and less than wonderful in all aspects of life, isn’t there. Thank you so much for your wonderfully reflective comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks for sharing your experiences with schooling/homeschooling, Norah. In our community, many parents are opting for homeschooling or private schools. My fear is that our public education and those who cannot afford the associated costs of the alternatives–the ones who most need access to quality education–are suffering. I am a retired public school teacher, but also taught in Christian school in the 1980s when my daughters were attending a Christian school by their own choice. It seems that the world is in a muddle when it comes to education at all levels these days… xo

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your comment Bette.. far too many children in the UK are leaving school without the basic skills let alone languages or sciences.. And they are barely able to fend for themselves as far as life skills are concerned. We lost most of our apprenticeships several years ago which were a huge benefit to both boys and girls who did not want to follow an academic path. I was one of them. Most of the technical colleges that I attended are now ‘Universities’ and offering many degrees that will not lead to employment. Now you have got me started….hugsx

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for sharing the insight and outlook from your side of the POND, Sally. Sadly, the outlook appears much the same over here…and here I go again about inadequacy and inequity in our public education system. Horace Mann must be up in heaven shaking his head at the limited prospects of the poorest. Let’s hope and pray that the pendulum swings back the other way… I was on the college track in high school. Since I hated study halls and was not able to participate in physical education due to knee problems, I took business courses in addition to college prep through my last three years. What a blessing that was–when it came time for college, Dad was diagnosed with cancer and the world changed for our family. We lost him within the year and I embarked on a business career, taking college courses over the years and eventually obtaining a BS in education, fulfilling my teen dream of teaching. If not for that business education, heaven only knows where I might be today. Thanks for letting me spout… Hugs! xo

        Liked by 2 people

      • Oh dear! It’s easy to get started when it comes to education, isn’t it? The same thing happened with tech colleges over here too. They are all universities now. There just doesn’t seem to be enough jobs to go around, does there?

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your comment, Bette. It is indeed a tragedy that so many are missing out on a good education. The battle for education dollars is rife here in Australia too. Too much money goes to private schools and creates a situation that is far from equitable. I wish all schools were funded publicly, or that more funds were given where needed to make the situation more equitable. Private schools, attended by children from advantaged homes, are overflowing with resources and opportunities. Public schools are under-resourced and teachers struggle to motivate disengaged children of families who haven’t yet realised the benefits of education. Those are the extremes. There is every conceivable configuration on a continuum. I agree – The way education is delivered is in a muddle.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This was a fascinating article Norah. It is funny how life has a way of leading us where it wants us to go (Destiny? Kismet? I don’t know), despite us knowing in our hearts where we want to be and what we want to do… I wonder in what ways your life would have been different if you had fulfilled your dream of becoming that educator with your own school?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I often wonder that myself, Paul. Some say that it is better to have tried and failed than to never have tried at all. I’m still not sure about that, and still not sure if I listened to the right messages. So much was in conflict. I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m happy where I’m at now. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    I’m so delighted to share this post on Sally Cronin’s lovely Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life blog. It allowed me to see my thoughts from a completely different angle. Please pop over to read and let me know what you think.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was a delight to read Norah – I don’t see it as a failure at all – I see all those children who benefitted from time with you in your home groups, I see you would have learnt so much from that effort and from the intention and that will have influenced your further work. It was a step on your road. It also made me smile when I realised it is another thing we share. I also tried to start my own school when my eldest daughter was about four – I knew her tender soul would suffer in our education system and I wanted to protect her. Through my struggle and searching I discovered Steiner Education and that is where my girls eventually ended up and were educated until they were 18 and I also received an education and ended up there too, as a teacher. For us it was the right place to be. The ‘one size fits all’ model of education is proving more and more it is failing. Somewhere I recently read that people of 40 years of age are having life crisis of huge proportions due to the fact that they have never learnt to fail and recover. I wonder who in the world of education is surprised at that discovery!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. You may never know how things would have turned out Norah. But you never stopped believing in finding great methods to teach, and you now with your unbelievably amazing Redilearn projects. You have so much to give of yourself and it shouldn’t be wasted. 🙂 xx

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I love your posts about following your dream, Norah. It takes guts to take our ambitions seriously, but equally – or even more – it takes guts to step aside from them and admit the universe isn’t going to deliver. And, as you do, to spread your message in a different way.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you for sharing this Sally. I’m sorry I come by so infrequently to your lovely posts. Norah’s post is (also) lovely! Thanks for sharing your journey with us Norah. Do you have Montessori schools in Australia? We have them here and it was something I considered but we went with my husband’s prep school. Home schooling is an alternative that many take on here in SA. We’re waking up to the appalling education system here and are saying no more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Susan. Thank you for your lovely comment. We do have Montessori Schools in Australia. There aren’t many but their numbers are increasing. There is actually one close to where I live and, in fact, some of the children who started with me and my attempt went to Montessori. I think it is great for parents and their children to have choice in education. There were many things I liked about Montessori and some that I didn’t – not enough that I liked to choose it over the free public system when we finally decided that Bec would go to “real” school. I guess nothing for me was perfect, which is why I attempted to establish my own alternative. I have mixed feelings about homeschooling too. Some do it well, and some do it appallingly. One of the families that was involved with my school attempt home educated their children all the way through. The eldest daughter, now a mother herself, is choosing the home education path too. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  10. A lovely post, Norah. I have been entertaining the idea of homeschooling Michael recently if I stop working [which is on hold now until June 2018 as I need to see some big transactions through]. Initially Michael said “no ways, I don’t want you to home school me as I will get no time off”. Recently, he has changed his mind and has asked if I will home school him. Interesting, isn’t it? There are some more unique and interesting ideas for schools in South Africa too. Some of them are lovely and I would investigate them further if Greg wasn’t a boy who loves the structure and discipline of a traditional religious school.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round up – Christmas Fairs, ABBA, Stuff and Apricots | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  12. Pingback: That’s what friends are for | Norah Colvin

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