I met Hayley many years back. She waltzed into Jordy (my son on the right who is now off doing his master’s degree) and my life, as his tutor, and left us as a friend. We’ve stayed connected ever since.
With her passion for writing and teaching, I’ve watched her grow her new business like a boss. For those of you who know me, I don’t do things quietly, so here we are - I want to know what this unplugged micro-schooling thing is all about!
I walk in and she has no shoes on (the Hayley I know well), and she’s sitting on a chair with her legs crossed wearing a relaxed smile. She welcomes me to her one room classroom just outside Nerang in Mount Nathan on the Gold Coast. The space is right next to a quiet country cafe and a yoga class. The walls are covered in art and there’s a diffuser burning lemon (I'm delighted by this, and offer her some of my own doTERRA - certified pure therapeutic grade. Only the best for you and your protegees. Plug. Plug.)
I can see why she calls it a micro-school. While the room isn’t small, I can see about ten desks, a blackboard (no whiteboard … a real blackboard), storage units, sink, games and toys, and a comfortable teaching chair in front of a rug.
She offers me a seat and a cuppa. We get to talking about Jordy for a bit before I get to my questions. And here they are!
So, this is your micro-school.
The one and only.
I know you started out doing school readiness, do you still do that?
No, actually. There are some great school readiness classes on the Gold Coast and it was hard to compete. I do something very different now. Fate had something else in store for me.
You work with homeschoolers?
Yes! It’s awesome. I had a parent whose daughter I taught about 8 years ago (she’s in year nine now) come to me and ask if I’d be interested in working with the two siblings who were homeschool children. I jumped at the chance, and now here we are.
What do you do exactly?
Well, homeschoolers come to get lessons to enhance their learning experiences. We have Prep-Year 3 and Year 4-10 at the moment. The students come to us anywhere from 1-4 days per week (soon to be 5), for three hours.
How do you get much done in 3 hours?
You get plenty of work done in 3 hours, and that includes a half hour for lunch! We do main lesson (which over the course of a year includes all key learning areas from the curriculum) English, Mathematics, social skills. You name it.
But, how do you get it all done it 3 hours!
Homeschoolers are constantly learning, just not ALWAYS in a way that might ‘look’ like it to the outside world. There’s more formal homeschooling, distance education, less formal homeschooling which is about learning through life skill and osmosis. No child learns the same way. Parents and guardians are great at knowing what their children need, as you would know being a mamma. We’re really just here to do a little more. It also gives the homeschoolers a great opportunity to make friends.
And don’t forget, the Finnish do 3-4 hours of schooling a day and their education is number one in the world … just thought I’d add that.
You’re growing quickly, Hayley. Why do you think that is?
Homeschooling is way bigger than I thought. I had no idea. More and more people are turning to it as a viable option for their education. You can register online by sending in planning, work samples, and giving reports.
Is is hard to register for homeschool?
There are plenty of websites and even facebook groups to help you out. Skye, my Prep-Year 3 teacher, and I, also help with writing plans and giving work samples.
Once again, there are other people out there doing this, so why is Sunshine Bridge doing so well?
There are others doing well.
But I guess we are too ... for a few reasons.
One would be that we’re ‘relationship first.’ We believe that the relationship with the student needs to come before the learning, even if it just comes down to respect.
Secondly, I’d say it’s the Steiner element.
What is the Steiner element?
Well, *laughs* Sunshine Bridge is Steiner or Waldorf inspired. It’s about getting to know the students, letting them imagine and create, and teaching to the whole child - intellectual, practical, artistic, emotionally. It’s about teaching to the student’s’ needs based on the world around them and beyond (future wise, I mean). I think people sometimes forget that Steiner also believed in teaching the intellectual content, it’s a common misconception. My year sevens still know what a surd is.
What is a surd?
It’s a mathematical concept. Want to learn it?
So, you still teach subjects like in a mainstream school.
Yes, a good one, I like to think. There are great teachers everywhere. The ones who look at the students and give them learning opportunities to extend themselves at the right level in all subject areas - that’s what it’s about. A good teacher will ask the student how they learn best, what their interests are, and they will plan and cater to this. A truly great teacher will aim to eventually have the kids do their own planning.
Do their own planning!
Yes. You’d be surprised. I once had a year 10 student plan her own English unit. We backward-mapped it to the curriculum. It was excellent.
I don't see any computers in here.
Is that a question?
*My turn to laugh* Yes?
We don't have computers.
We don't need them. The teachers deliver the content. Sometimes I’ll look things up on my phone if need be, or show an image that I’ve forgotten to print or don't have time to draw up on the board. I think it’s great. Homeschool parents and guardians can monitor screen time at home. It should be up to the parents how much they get.
The real world uses computers. Won’t they fall behind?
Smart, able, problem-solving people don't fall behind.
Touche! Will you ever bring in computers.
I think when we look into opening up year 11 and 12 we’ll need to - simply because they’ll all have different pathways which might include portfolio for University.
So, you’re wanting to do year 11 and 12. What else?
Well, the next step will be to buy a place we can call our forever home. That should come within a year or two … just putting it out there! After that, who knows. I’d love to open SBE micro-schools all over the place, or even inspire teachers to do so. It’s been amazing choosing my own hours and my workload. I’d love to help teachers, and very secretly, I love the marketing side. It’s fun. I’m very blessed.
So are your children.
Last question. I see you can fit about ten students at a time, will you ever expand, and how do you do the multi-age thing? That was two questions.
No, I never want to go over ten students. We are a ‘micro-school’ and aim to stay that way. We’re relationship first, and not to say that teachers in the classrooms aren’t magicians (there are!) it’s just that I personally can’t spread myself that far and wide.
The multi-age thing is great. There are so many benefits for them, the older ones intuitively act as role models and go and help even without me asking. The younger ones look up to them as well. It’s very cool.
My planning has to be exemplary, though. We use a variety of methods such as rotations, but the curriculum is wonderful in that it’s a continuum. Students can learn at the pace they need to, not always the ‘year level’ they are in.
That sounds amazing.
Thank you, Hayley.
Done. And all I can say is, I felt refreshed walking out of that room. Education has a new face, people, and it’s looking great.
Imagine a school where the students choose their own activities based on interests, where they learn through natural, real-life experiences, responsible household management, and work experience.
It doesn’t sound so terrible, does it?
Enter ‘Unschooling,’ a not-so-new movement where students learn at home and from members of the community in a student-led way. The term 'Unschooling' makes it sound as if students are being taught to forget all they know about everything, when it actual fact, it’s just about forgetting to sit at a desk and copy from a white board.
Unschooling has been closely linked to relaxed Homeschooling and has been a thing since the beginning of time, whereby parents, family and community members took it upon themselves to educate the children and young people of the community.
In fact, the idea is so good, even larger schools are taking the concepts on and have revamped the idea of student-driven, community-based learning into something called Big Picture Education (a great direction for many students). You’ve got to love this stuff!
Students are given the opportunity to drive their learning based on interest, then can speak to trades and business people, do short courses or activities, and launch into massive projects with their 'mentors' as a guide. Families can even opt to have a teacher backward map the curriculum or help develop projects.
If the idea of Unschooling (or even Homeschooling) sounds daunting, it can be! It's important to talk to people and check that undertaking the task of your child's education is in everyone's best interest - including yours.
For those who have the time, money and bravery to homeschool/unschool or both, it’s a great option to weave into other more structured programs. Who's to say you can't do it all?
It's important to know these options are legal in Australia:
“Unschoolers are as accountable to the government as homeschoolers, and can show “educational progress” (as defined by the state) just like children who learn by textbooks at home.” - http://whyunschool.info/
One particular study on the challenges and benefits of Unschooling stated that the positives can well outweigh the challenges.
Homeschooling and Unschooling seem like difficult concepts to grasp for those who have not experienced what an effectively run Unschool household can look like, but if you're ever curious, ask around - it’s more common than you think, and people are open to talking about their experiences.
(Teacher and Mum of 2)
Sunshine Bridge Education, Gold Coast, is starting a You Tube channel.