Homeschooling – an experience of a mother

This blog post is brought to you by our guest writer, Nadja Mijatovic-Sekicki. Thank You Nadja for being part of our musical story.

Nadja is a professional musician and a mother of two homeschooled children. Her life and work took her from Serbia to Switzerland, then back to Serbia for a few years until she finally moved to America ten years ago. Since last year she lives in New Zealand with her husband and children.

Nadja has worked as a vocal coach at Universities in both Serbia and USA, an opera coach and rehearsal pianist, performer and teacher. She is currently on a “professional sabbatical leave” as she likes to say, while establishing her family’s homeschooling lifestyle in a new country.

You have decided to homeschool your children. What was the reason?

The reasons were manifold. It all started with our thirst for traveling a couple of years ago, while we were still living in America and were on a camping trip in New Zealand at that moment. It was such a positive, bonding experience for our family that we wanted more of it, and we recognized the limitations that the school year calendar brings.

At that time, we were already disillusioned by educational system in America (both public and private) and school systems in general. The idea of homeschooling was tempting. We wanted for our children to have the (relative) freedom of choice when it comes to their education; we wanted to be close enough to see their true passions and to support those the best we can.

Art classes within home schooling

Moreover, we wanted for them to stay children for as long as they can, to provide them with plenty of unstructured, free playtime and to shield them from early academics/intellectualization that unfortunately happens in most schools worldwide.

Which advantages would you emphasize and are there any drawbacks with homeschooling?

I can naturally speak for my family only and the advantages by far outweigh the disadvantages.

As I mentioned previously, homeschooling for us is a lifestyle; it is first and foremost about the family. Homeschooling made our family into a tight community:

  • we see and hear our children whenever they need to be seen and heard;
  • we built mutual trust;
  • our relationships grow daily as we all learn how to be with each other, with respect and love.
  • The intensity of this lifestyle made us more mindful of our words and actions.

My husband and I are our children’s biggest authorities and that put a new spin on our responsibilities: we are being watched, analyzed and copied 24/7. We no longer believe that learning only happens in schools; it happens everywhere.

Flexible learning and free time schedules are the main advantages of homeschooling

It is easy to learn math and writing, but to learn integrity, resourcefulness and independent thinking takes a different type of learning environment.

I have noticed an increased self-confidence in my children, alongside with out-of-box thinking. Among other things, they now happily enter discussions with teenagers, adults and senior citizens as they no longer have interactions mostly limited to their same-aged peers in their class. We were able to create our priorities the way we wanted them.

Having said all this, I think that most things that I see as advantages can be seen as drawbacks by other parents. 😊 It is up to parents to really deeply look into themselves and be straight about certain things.

How does your day look like?

My day can look anyway we want it to look like, which is the amazing advantage of homeschooling.

But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And I take that responsibility seriously.

On a typical day, my husband and I get up around 5am to do our meditation/yoga practices. The children usually get up by 7am, do their morning chores (making beds, feeding the dog, etc.). We eat breakfast together and see my husband off to work. Then it’s time for our morning walk with our dog. Upon coming back home, we start our learning that usually ends by 3pm, but it is flexible.

Homeschooling saves time and energy

Another fantastic thing about homeschooling is that it saves time and energy: when learning is tailored to child’s needs, we get more covered in less time as they practically have one-on-one instruction. It can include anything from math practice to cooking to French language.

I make a point to make housekeeping an integral part of learning. As well as art or swimming. Or knitting. All those things count as learning.

Housekeeping as an integral part of homeschooling

One thing that happens daily is music practice, be it piano or violin (or both) or watching performances of world-class musicians. Later in the afternoon they have group activities such as judo, swimming practice or archery; on some days we just go to the skatepark, bike or hang out in our backyard.

Family time

When my husband comes home we have family time, evening walk, cooking and eating dinner together, stories and bedtime. Since we limit screen time to one movie every two weeks or so, all the computer/phone activity for us adults happens after the children go to bed.

There are always exceptions to these days (more often than not!) such as nature gatherings of the local homeschooling community (forest walks, swimming in the river, lighting fires and cooking, whittling, etc.) or our weekly travels to Wellington for kids’ violin lessons and museum visits.

Visit to the museum

On other days if we feel like we worked hard and the weather is inspiring, we will cut the day short and go to the river or mountains, which we are lucky to have access withing minutes from our house. Sometimes we take our learning out there and observe the wildlife and plants while kids work on their nature journals. We practically do anything that works for us, but we constantly monitor everyone’s wellbeing.

How does it make you feel now that the whole planet is in the same situation as You when it comes to homeschooling?

I don’t think that’s a completely accurate statement. I must point out that following the school’s instructions online and homeschooling are just seemingly similar things. The only common denominator is the learning that’s happening at home.

The most important point of distinction is that the whole planet is in a situation they never wanted to find themselves in to begin with, while I chose my reality. I went through a lot of contrasting feelings, that spanned from being happy for those families, especially in the countries where homeschooling is still illegal, to being utterly worried for the children that may experience abuse at home and parents under a lot of stress.

Finally, I think that I settled at being at unease with the idea that most children will now learn via screens and that families are stuck with that unhealthy option. I also think that I am in a lot better situation than the majority of people forced into following “school at home” because they usually have to juggle their jobs at the same time.

The silver lining is that the issue of bullying and peer pressure will be less rampant, and there is always the hope that the parents will now have more insight into what and how their children are learning, get more involved and hopefully question some practices and contents.

What age were your children when they started to play an instrument and which one(s)? How old are they now?

My daughter started playing the violin when she was 5. My son started when he was 3, which was comical, but he wanted to imitate his older sister, I guess. Of course, that didn’t last long, so he actually started to play the violin when he was 5.

Home schooling – violin practice

They are now 9 and 7, and just recently they started to play the piano as well.

Are you their instructor or do they have their own teacher?

I teach them piano. Their main instrument is violin, though, and they have their teacher.

What musical method/program did you choose and why?

We are using the Suzuki method. After researching it, I fell deeply in love with the philosophy and the results. It resonated deeply with my own thoughts about natural learning, and I apply it to some extent to every learning in our house.

My daughter has a repertoire of at least 30 pieces that she can play at any given time, and it is exclusively thanks to the Suzuki method.

Parents are present at all Suzuki method classes

Parents are considered “home teachers” in the Suzuki method (yes, even the non-musician parents!), they are present and active for every lesson and pledge to apply the teacher’s instructions in daily practices at home with their children. What’s there not to like? 😊

I am not a trained Suzuki teacher, but I use similar principles in teaching the piano, combined with my own experience, of course.

What primary school program did you choose for homeschooling and why?

We are very lucky here in New Zealand to be able to choose whatever we see fit for our children’s learning.

Once parents get approved by the Ministry of Education, they have the freedom to follow any curriculum, or none. This may sound extreme to people who believe that the only way to get an education is by going to school, but the truth is – it is not.

Learning in nature

I once heard someone say that if nurseries started to teach toddlers to walk, within a few generations people would believe that the only way for a human being to learn to walk is to go to the nursery. 😊

We are using a Steiner/Waldorf curriculum, with some added elements. We homeschool bilingually so I naturally adjust many things.

Why Waldorf curriculum for homeschooling?

We found out about it some years ago while researching school options for our older child and we were blown away by the beauty, wisdom and deeply humane approach. We added some unschooling elements, but Steiner stays at the core of our educational approach as well as our understanding of the spiritual and physical development of our children.

Do the children take tests/exams even if they are homeschooling and where?

No. There are no tests and I see it as a true blessing. This way we can move away from external approval into the more holistic internal estimate of our own progress, willingness and abilities. Naturally, we as parents observe them and clearly know where they are progressing well and where they need help.

When it comes to music education, they also have group classes in which children learn to work together, listen, follow the leader, etc.

Playing together and performing in public are part of the Suzuki method

The Suzuki Institute organizes various workshops and winter/summer camps where children have masterclasses, ensembles, chamber music, orchestra and plenty of performance opportunities. The music, rather than achievement, is at the center of everyone’s attention and these events always bring tears to my eyes. So, no music exams either.

Have you thought about enrolling them in a regular school and to stop with homeschooling at some point in time?

My daughter attended both public and private schools in America before we decided to homeschool. We are always open for different options. Yes, the possibility of them going back to a Waldorf school is there, but at this point it is just one of many paths we might decide to walk together.

What is your profession/vocation? Your partner’s?

I am a professional musician, pianist. My husband is a physician.

I am currently focused on making this lifestyle work for our family and I don’t take on any (significant) amount of work in my field. That might change soon, though.

I vividly remember the time when I was unschooling my children, freelancing as a pianist and intensely working on my doctoral thesis. It was certainly not easy, but it was doable and worth every effort.