Individualised approach

Often those children who are part of a non traditional approach to education thrive on their ability to learn on an individual basis.

They are able to develop strong interests in specific areas of learning and then continue to develop their skills and knowledge over a long period of time.

They are not a restricted by the need to move from one classroom to another or to stop their learning because a bell rings.

Instead, individualised learning in a non traditional setting such as a family home is able to continue unchecked, with a parent or learning facilitator acting as a guide for the learning. 

The learning which happens during and after an excursion does not need to be the same for each child.

Sometimes, the focus for one child might be related to specific literacy and numeracy skills while another might be taking a STEM or art based approach to the excursion.

For example, an excursion to participate in a bushwalk through the mountains can lead to further individual learning to investigate the changes in temperature which occur with increasing altitude for one child, while another collects seed samples or takes photographs of species of fungus for later identification.

All the learning which occurs following an excursion might not be planned in advance, and this is one of the true benefits of a non traditional learning approach.

Home and non traditional educators give themselves permission to take inspiration from the interactions which occur between a child and the environment during an excursion, and then facilitate learning in response to this interaction.

Extending the learning

In a mainstream setting, it can sometimes be challenging to extend learning from an excursion in a way which meets the needs of all students and also the demands of the timetable.

In a home based environment, however, there is not the same need to stick rigorously to timetables and have all students working on a similar project or task post excursion.

One unique extension concept is to build a miniature world based on an excursion to a setting such as the zoo, a restaurant or the beach, and then encourage younger family members to use the world for play based learning while older children develop stop motion animation.

Others have used journaling, art and musical experiences as a way of building on learning which occurs during an excursion.

For example, a visit to the dinosaur dig site and rock pools on the Gippsland coast with the Bunarong Environment Centre could lead to the development of a dinosaur diary, a rock pool marine life science inquiry project or a musical performance which reflects the oceanic environment of the area.

An interest in astronomy could lead to visits over an extended period to the planetarium, Mount Stromlow Observatory, the Brairs astronomy nights or the Deep Space Communication Centre.

This extended learning approach means that activities can be designed and encouraged which are relevant and appealing for different age groups and also allow for specific learning outcomes to be achieved.

Time to learn

Often excursions from a mainstream school involve a single session, with students and teachers attending activities at a site or series of locations away from the school on one day.

In a homeschool or non traditional setting, it is possible to link in with various service providers to develop a sequence of activities which can meet specific learning goals over an extended time period.

At the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Sydney, a successful 2016 homeschool program led to the continuation of a series of learning experiences designed specifically for home schooling families.

The activities are delivered across age groupings so that children have the opportunity to mix with others who are of a similar age in small classes.

Programs include a five week exploration of Shakespeare led by a theatre professional and culminating in a performance by the students of the play ‘A comedy of errors’ and an art based learning series where students explore various mediums and techniques, learn about contemporary artists and works and participate in round table discussions.

Back on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, the Natured Kids program works with small groups of home schooling children to build environmental awareness skills and knowledge, with activities such as making damper over a wood fire, creating nesting boxes for possums and birds, planting pollinator gardens, growing and hatching silkworms and making bee hotels to encourage native bees.

Sue Wight, Co ordinator of the Home Education Network in Vctoria, suggests that ‘the logistics of moving a family around as opposed to a whole classful of children, means that home educators can take advantage of more frequent and spontaneous excursion opportunities.

If one particular aspect fires the children’s interest, the day can quickly be rescheduled to accommodate extra time there.’

She recalls that history was brought to life for her children during long, imaginative games at places such as the Maritime Museum in Warnambool, Kryal Castle, Glenrowan and Porcupine Village. 

Play based, spontaneous  learning

For many children, play based learning experiences offer a great deal of scope for building skills and knowledge in a natural, appropriate way.

Play based learning links well with excursions to various settings in the community, both formal and informal.

For example, a visit to the post office and the bank can offer the chance to use role play to develop communication skills or experiment with logo design or to write a letter and post it in an envelope with a stamp.

A visit to the Chinese Museum in Melbourne can offer the opportunity to dress up in costumes or design a performance based on Chinese music or artworks, whilst also linking to learning outcomes related to history and geography for older children.

The opportunities for learning through play continues for many years, far beyond the reaches of the early years sector, and it can be a vital and powerful way for encouraging learning across many areas.

Home educator Belinda Cowie finds that play based learning works well as a tool for building on learning which begins with an excursion.

A recent visit to the city to look at graffiti art led to a playful exploration of art works and techniques at home, while other excursions have developed into play based learning activities including designing rescue drones and hover cars and using Lego Mindstorms robotics to build projects based on things observed during excursions, such as a robot that sketches geometric designs.

Sue Wight also considers spontaneity to be one of the key elements that make excursions relevant to learning for home educated children.

She recalls that a regular shopping trip one day turned into an extended learning activity when they found they were walking past an archeological dig.

‘We stood and watched for a long time, talked about the gold era, archaeology, building work revealing unexpected finds,  town planning and so on.

We then did a side trip to the library to pick up some books on the gold rush before doing the grocery shopping which had been the original mission. The day turned out a lot longer than planned but the learning was invaluable!’