“As I watch my young kids grow up, I think, how can I help them find what they want to do with themselves in the world?”
Sheila and her husband decided to enrol their son Dominic with SelfDesign in grade 1. They wanted to provide their children the opportunity to have the freedom to explore their learning interests and passions without the social pressures of traditional schooling.
“When he was young I didn’t like him to be much in front of the computer, so he built Lego all of the time” Sheila explains. Lego quickly became a primary means of exploration and learning for Dominic.
By the time he was around 7 or 8, he started working with Lego Technic, a more advanced type of Lego for creating complex models with moveable parts. Instead of using Lego sets for specific structures, her sons would construct unique creations that they would like to see designed – like retro campers, drills, golf carts and caterpillars that can actually walk.
Now at age 13, Dominic has begun tackling engineering concepts to build remotes, engines and motors, clamps, gears and differentials with Lego.
His mom describes, “My husband and I are academics so we have a formal learning environment here in our home. I like that SelfDesign supports our choices. I like having the freedom. I like how it is left up to the families. It has really worked well for Dominic.”
The Tomlins are one of SelfDesign’s travelling families, spending part of the year in BC and the rest on travel adventures. With their seven-year-old daughter, Avery, and five-year-old son, Jackson, they have been with SelfDesign for three years, and the whole family finds it an ideal fit for their lifestyle.
When traveling, they are continuously learning together—reading about the culture, language, food, and people, exploring maps and geography, and deciding as a family what to see and do. When they return to BC, the love of learning continues.
As their mom explains, “Whether travelling or in BC, I don’t feel like I am teaching them. They tell me what they are interested in, and we explore it together. They also do a lot of their learning through playing together and reading to each other. I think that as parents it is important to know what our options are for education. So many parents doubt whether they can help their children learn, and they should know that they can do it!”
“When my friends see him they say, ‘He isn’t anxious anymore.’” Meet Laura, Mom of K-9 SelfDesigner Saul. He used to attend a local arts school, but never quite found his fit.
Laura, hoping for a more positive school experience, explored alternatives and thought she would give SelfDesign a try. With SelfDesign she watched Saul quickly rediscover his confidence and independence.
Laura explains that now, when her friends see him and notice the difference, “I say to them, ‘”He was not anxious. He was a highly sensitive child responding to an ill fitting system. Now we have our authentic child back!”
Today, Saul loves cooking, drawing, reading, and being outdoors. He has met a lot of local kids through the SelfDesign Minecraft group and maintains other relationships through SelfDesign’s online community.
Saul’s Mom shares this wisdom: “If you are a new family to SelfDesign, you need to trust yourself—trust your choice, put faith in your child, and let go. If you can feel that trust, you will find your groove.”
Meet Ashae and Maelle, two high school learners who met during their time with SelfDesign. Maelle shares: “We met through our pod [learning group hosted by their mentor] in SelfDesign’s CoDesign program at the beginning of our year. The first meeting we really hung out, I had stayed behind by accident without wanting to socialize with anybody. I had just wanted to copy and paste something into a Google doc, but Ashae had stayed behind (too) and we talked and discovered that we were quite similar and had so much in common. We hit it off and started planning to visit each other.”
Ashae has been with SelfDesign since kindergarten. In grade 7, she decided to try the local public school to connect with her friends. Continuing to the high school in grade 8 was a challenge due to her remote location, so she switched to a local distributed learning program. However, Ashae says, “I didn’t feel like there were people I connected with.”
Before SelfDesign, Maelle had been in an independent school in her community. Her two brothers enrolled in SelfDesign first. Seeing the way they learned, Maelle asked her family if she could enrol as well. She shares her experience watching her brothers change after they enrolled: “It was different watching my brothers evolve. I felt myself changing, but watching others change was awesome.”
Ashae met many of her friends on the expeditions and camps hosted by her learning consultant and SelfDesign, including trips to Quadra Island and Bowron Lakes. As Ashae’s mom Andrea describes, “As a parent it was really amazing. She was only 14 and it was her first time going away without us but we’d known our learning consultant for so long, it made me feel more comfortable. Even though it was pulling her out of her comfort zone, it was in her comfort zone.” She says that with SelfDesign, “Life is your curriculum.”
As for the future, Maelle plans to graduate from SelfDesign early, backpack across Europe for a year, and get a PhD in molecular genetics to find a cure for multiple sclerosis.
Ashae plans to continue with CoDesign and grow her business, “Tread Lightly“, where she makes jewelry from recycled bike tires.
On their SelfDesign experience, these learners share:
“It gives you such an opportunity to grow in every way you want to grow. Learning by life. We always have options, no matter what you’re doing you can make it your own.” – Ashae
“Your own way is the best way, and that is why SelfDesign is unique. It focuses on you and your differences as a person and learner that make up your personality and how you learn, as well as everything in between.” – Maelle
“I know that for Devon, he is calm and comfortable at home,” Sandy explains. At the age of two, Devon was diagnosed with autism. Upon recommendation from a friend, his family chose SelfDesign when it came time for school. They have since worked with a SelfDesign special education consultant to create a world of learning that feels right for their son.
“Your child won’t learn in an environment where they are stressed. SelfDesign is the easiest distance learning option out there. There are always people there to help—not only the child, but also the parent.”
For Devon, it’s all about Dora the Explorer, and so Dora is at the centre of his learning plan—guiding him through toilet training, eating more vegetables, washing his own hair, and getting more exercise. His music therapy, speech pathologist, and special education assistant are all covered by government funding received through SelfDesign.
As his mother, Sandy, explains: “ . . . he is making such amazing leaps and bounds. I love that I am able to find amazing people and bring them to him. I also have support in exploring my own beliefs, so that I can feel relaxed and ready when I engage with him.”
Sandy shares her experiences with Devon through her blog sonrisedevon.com.
Erika began her journey with SelfDesign in grade 8. Her experience at public school left her anxious, so she persuaded her mother to let her try distributed learning through SelfDesign.
“Seeing that my mother works full-time, at first she was somewhat uncertain SelfDesign would be suitable for our situation. But after some research, together we found out that learning on my own would pose no problem. Looking back now, I think discovering and learning on my own gave me the opportunity to discover what I am ultimately passionate for in life”.
Recently Erika was tasked with creating a mind map for one of her SelfDesign CoDesign 10 assignments. She procrastinated for a few days, thinking that if she didn’t do something creative with it, she would just end up discarding it later. She says, “Every time I do something online it seems like I never see it again.”
The idea came to her to create the mind map in 3D as a lotus flower. As a follower of Buddhism, the lotus flower is a symbol of enlightenment to Erika. It was a perfect fit.
Erika regularly adds creative touches to her projects. She loves working in 3D with dioramas, scale models, and even stop motion animation. Learning by using her creativity helps Erika to enjoy her learning with SelfDesign even more.
“Once coming from a forced learning experience where I linked learning to being imprisoned, unschooling gave me the environment to reflect on life’s purpose, and the greater values it serves. One of the main aspects that shapes my learning today, is being aware of the fact that learning has no beginning and no end, true learning cannot be evaluated, and no one can graduate from it.”
“ . . . within one activity there are always layers and layers of learning waiting to be noticed.” This is Jade, once a fairly typical suburban youth, until her family moved to a farm in the BC Interior far from any schools. This is where her love for music got to take centre stage.
Jade chose SelfDesign for the flexibility to design her own learning. Jade is a passionate musician, who plays the viola as a soloist as well as in the Okanagan Symphony Youth Orchestra. With SelfDesign, music could become the primary vehicle for her learning.
As Jade describes: “Through playing music, I learn about history, math, creativity, and more. This has helped me become more aware of how I learn . . .”
Jade also loves the outdoors and the opportunity through SelfDesign to build long-term relationships with people of different ages. “I want to dedicate myself to being a community leader, promoting arts and culture, and spending time in the outdoors. Following my passion and finding my path is not always easy, and I worry about other children who might struggle. I think it is really important to support each other in being authentic.”
Emily began her educational journey as a homeschooler, however felt the program didn’t allow her the flexibility and support she craved. Her mom’s research into other homeschooling options led to homelearning with SelfDesign, whose philosophy was a better fit for Emily.
She elaborates on her experiences, “[My time with SelfDesign] encouraged me to create my own experiences with schooling, and gave me a good work ethic and a sense of independence when it comes to my education. The independence I have developed in creating my own education and motivating myself to finish it on my own will be something that will be invaluable to me for the rest of my life.”
As a recent high school graduate of SelfDesign, Emily feels like this is a significant time in her life. Emily travelled from Falkland to Nelson, BC for the Graduation Celebration, honouring grads from across the province: “Being home schooled I didn’t think I would even get a graduation, so when I found out that there would be a grad ceremony for the people graduating this year, I was so excited, so of course I had to go! For me it is the end of one part of my life, the only part I have known so far, and the beginning of a new one. I feel like it is another step in growing up.”
Her advice to youth considering SelfDesign as a highschool option? “I would say do it, but be prepared to put in the effort to get it done. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but it helped me to be more efficient and gave me a good work ethic. And also approach your learning with an open mind, you have no idea what little lessons are waiting for you along the way so enjoy every moment.”