Inaugural NSW Unschoolers’ Camp

It can be a lonely path at times, this unschooling life. It is certainly the road less travelled, and it can be hard to find like-minded souls to share the journey with. Let’s face it, the majority of parents send their children to school (which is totally cool – to each their own!). And of the minority that choose homeschooling, a smaller minority deschool themselves to the extent that they can let go of schoolish thoughts, practices and expectations, actively embracing the freedom of unschooling. This isn’t to say that unschoolers are superior. We all do what we believe is best for our own families. But the reality is: unschoolers are a rare breed!!

In the past couple of years the online connections between Australian unschoolers have been growing, including a Facebook group for NSW Unschoolers, out of which grew a desire for a casual camp. S0 in April, I had the privilege of being part of  what I think is the first ever Unschoolers’ Camp in our State! There may have been one in the past that I’m not aware of, and if so, please enlighten me, but as far as I know, this is the first one. And it rocked! It really did. For me, it was a dream come true.

The two Australian Unschooling Conferences I went to were great. A big marquee, keynote speakers from faraway places, organised activities, and LOTS of miles to get there. All good! But some of us also wanted a more low-key gathering. Organic. Down to earth and relaxed. A celebration of our connectedness to each other as a community of unschoolers. Sharing and learning from one another.

And so the NSW Unschoolers’ Camp was born. Much kerfuffle went on trying to work out the details, but eventually we were off and running. Excitement built up online (we love you Facebook), and eventually we packed up our camping gear, knitting needles (yes – truly), cameras, sporting supplies, a huge assortment of food, the all-important laptop (yes – that too) and headed off to beautiful Port Stephens.

We all revelled in the opportunity to hang out, in real life, with other unschooling families. There was never a shortage of conversations or cups of tea on offer. The only structure we had was a daily “circle time”, for anyone who wanted to gather together for some shared conversation. It was a good way to move beyond the natural connections that were happening in smaller groups, and to include those that might be too shy to turn up at someone’s tent for a casual cuppa. A couple of times we managed to have one person talking at a time, but inevitably it would turn into a raucous, roudy rabble of simultaneous, exciting conversations, so we quickly worked out that the multitude of words begging to be spoken over-ruled any possibility of decorum! 🙂 Don’t ya just love it when a group of women get together? Especially women with much in common and much to say, and infrequent opportunities to talk together!

More Circle Time
Circle time was definitely a highlight of each day. And yes, there really is a real live man in this photo! Only a couple of dads were able to come to the camp, but it was SO great to have them there, even if only for some of the time.

It was so lovely being able to linger over conversations, and get to know these wonderful women in real life. Initially we had laughingly entertained the idea of wearing name tags with our Facebook profile picture on them, so we could work out who we all were! It was lovely having some of the mums share their interests and skills with others, from crochet, knitting and chai tea, to belly dancing!

Crochet seemed to be a popular hobby. I did actually take a crochet hook and wool, hoping to learn this great skill, but it stayed packed in my bag for another time. :)
Crochet seemed to be a popular hobby. I did actually take a crochet hook and wool, hoping to learn this great skill, but it stayed packed in my bag for another time. 🙂
One of the mums is a passionate belly dancer, having found it to be a vehicle for deep healing and joy in her own life. She ran a casual workshop for anyone who was interested, and even a couple of the little girls joined in! Later on she performed for us and it was really quite spectacular! Not that I can see myself taking it up anytime soon! :)
One of the mums is a passionate belly dancer, having found it to be a vehicle for deep healing and joy in her own life. She ran a casual workshop for anyone who was interested, and even a couple of the little girls joined in! Later on she performed for us and it was really quite spectacular! Not that I can see myself taking it up anytime soon! 🙂

Typical of home ed events, it was lovely watching the children play with a varied mix of ages. It didn’t matter what “grade” someone was in (because grading is not even on the unschooling radar). They were just a bunch of kids and teens having fun, and getting to know each other.

Helping a younger child with a helmet for a shared ride on one of the buggies
Helping a younger child with a helmet for a shared ride on one of the buggies
There were plenty of activities on offer including swimming, volleyball, pedal karts and so on, but sometimes the kids preferred to make their own fun.
There were plenty of activities on offer including swimming, volleyball, pedal karts and so on, but sometimes the kids preferred to make their own fun.
The majority of teens enjoyed the opportunity to hang out in a group, although some chose to play with just one child or spend time alone and that’s good too!
The majority of teens enjoyed the opportunity to hang out in a group, although some chose to play with just one child or spend time alone and that’s good too!
It really was a beautiful place to catch up with beautiful people. This was our final sunset.
It really was a beautiful place to catch up with beautiful people. This was our final sunset.
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After a week of sunny days, the heavens decided to open on the morning we packed up. What’s camping without rain, huh?
We had just put the very last thing in the car when it turned torrential, and then it was a case of quickly retrieving my child from her friend’s cabin, and huddling in the car with the heater full blast for the trip home!
We had just put the very last thing in the car when it turned torrential, and then it was a case of quickly retrieving my child from her friend’s cabin, and huddling in the car with the heater full blast for the trip home!

We came home on a high, and are eagerly looking forward to the next camp, knowing that it will be another chance to deepen these friendships and get to know new people. A few years ago I only knew one other unschooling family, and now here I am in this privileged place of being able to camp with about 20 other families, all either practising unschooling, or at least open to the idea. Feeling very blessed….

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Karen Lee

FAMILY: Married since 1989 (does that make me old?), a full-time Mum since 1993, and unschooling my kids since 2005. On a journey of learning to live free and fully loved as God intended, following Jesus rather than an institution or "religion". Caring for the world and its people as best as I can.

11 thoughts on “Inaugural NSW Unschoolers’ Camp”

    1. I’m sure the next one will be just as good! It was funny how you had to stop reading everyone’s Facebook posts during camp lol. There was such a great sense of camaraderie amongst everyone there. 🙂

  1. So lovely, Karen. Would’ve been so wonderful to be tere. A privelege indeed! Here, here for unschooling!! Yah!!! xx Hope feeling you’re Ok at the moment. Thinking of you xx

  2. It really was an awesome time. Sorry about the crochet lessons. 🙁 We did end up getting around to it while stuck indoors that last day.

  3. We love, love, loved it…still talking about it…and looking forward to the next one. I only wish I remembered to take photos but I was too busy having a great time.

  4. Here in Texas they do an unschooling conference but it is set in a city hotel which is too expensive. Your idea of a camping trip sounds absolutely wonderful. Will have to search around and see if there is anything like it a bit further afield.

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