'Anti-school' NZ mum takes her kids to the beach instead of sending them to class

An anti-school mum takes her kids to the beach for picnics instead of sending them to class to study timetables.

Lucy Aitkenread’s two daughters, nine-year-old Ramona and seven-year-old Juno, get to wake-up when they want and pass their days surfing, hiking, kayaking and going on picnics in the countryside surrounding their home in Waikato, New Zealand.

Lucy Aitkenread lets her children wake up when they want and they spend their days mostly outdoors. Photo: Caters

“We have really slow mornings and we don’t get up until we’ve had a few mugs of tea,” Lucy said. 

“Then we might go surfing or do a big hike, go kayaking or do a trip to a museum or art gallery.

“We go rock climbing often too.

“Yesterday, we forested for mushrooms and at night we played cards and went possum hunting and late at night we skinned the possums.”

Lucy, 37, and her partner, ex-teacher, Tim Aitkenread, 40, first stumbled upon the 'self-directed learning' phenomenon while visiting a kindergarten in Germany’s Black Forest in 2013, having recently left London after becoming disillusioned with life in the capital.

Now living in a yurt in the New Zealand countryside, the couple let their daughters learn as they wish, whether that means doing calculations on the bathroom wall or modelling sculptures out of clay.

“I feel that giving children lots of time to follow their interests is a foundation for success later in life.

“If I sent them to school, they wouldn’t get the same freedom.

“Most mainstream education can be very punitive. It can use shame to coerce kids to learn things they’re not interested in and that’s really paralysing.

“My eldest daughter has finished writing her first book and she has a natural love of maths. She does long calculations on our bathroom wall.”

Lucy's two daughters, nine-year-old Ramona and seven-year-old Juno, love spending time at the beach. Photo: Caters

Like most parents, Lucy and Tim, always thought they’d send their daughters to school, but started doubting mainstream education after Tim became disillusioned with his job teaching at a London secondary school.

And after being wowed by a visit to a German kindergarten which let children choose to study what they want back in 2013, they made the decision to never put their daughters through mainstream schooling.

Tim has swapped the blackboard for the great outdoors and now spends his time farming the land around their yurt and attending to the family’s chickens and cows, in between going on family outings.

“Teachers are the number one profession represented in the unschooling world,” Lucy said. 

“They get into it because they’re passionate about learning, but they feel the opportunities to learn are stifled by the way school is structured.

“It’s mad how we test children when they’re seven, eight or nine and make them experience shame and stress on a mass scale.

“Future generations will think: ‘what were we doing?’

Lucy, who now teaches other parents how to unschool their kids online, says there has been a surge in interest in the trend since lockdown, with parents noticing their children having become less stressed since schools closed their doors.

“Lots of parents have noted that during quarantine their children transformed and went from being stressed, anxious and controlling to being really playful and connected with their siblings,” she said.

Lucy teaches other parents how to unschool their kids online. Photo: Caters

Lucy says that almost two thirds of people currently enrolled on her online unschooling course have come to the phenomenon since lockdown.

And despite the growing interest in unschooling, Lucy admits that many people still doubt her unique approach to education, with people online accusing her of ‘neglecting’ her children.

“There have been people telling me I’m neglecting my children and that they will hate me when they’re older,” she said. 

“Partly these people don’t know what they’re looking at when they see our lives and partly they’ve internalised the oppression of school.

“They batten down the hatches and say it was worth the bullying and lack of consent, that it was worth studying those things they didn’t care about.

“I’m not worried my daughters will be disadvantaged in the future as we know parents of kids who never went to school and got into university on the strength of their interviews.

“I never imagined that I’d not send my children to school, but I have no regrets.”

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