Raglan is first and foremost a surf destination, one made famous in the classic 1960s surf documentary, Endless Summer. But even if your not a surfer, it's a sweet little place to live where you get to know people quickly and aren't ever far away from a stunning beach, fabulous bush walk or jaw-dropping views. Our first rental here left a lot to be desired, an unappealing mess of gross old furniture, half-assed construction, mold and rats. The good part was that it inspired (required) us to be outside a lot. The kids and I spent a lot of time wandering nearby bush trails and walking to and from the town centre and beach. We became regulars at the local library and had the skate park all to ourselves while everyone else was in school. Even under less-than-ideal living conditions we had a great time with learning at home and fell for this town quickly. The idea of moving yet again to another cramped, dark house in an anonymous mid-sized city was losing its appeal.
It's one of those wonderful consequences of extended travel - decisions that would feel so onerous in everyday life are so much easier when you are transient; if the current situation isn't feeling right, you change the plan. So we bailed on Hamilton (sorry, Hams, no offense to you), struck it lucky with a cozy rental home near the water and enrolled the kids in the tiny rural school of Te Uku. Jake commutes 45 min to the Uni in Hamilton several days a week but has a good carpool group so he only needs to actually drive 1 or 2 days. On days when the kids ride the school bus in, we walk a hilly kilometer to get to our stop. Almost every day after school, I've walked the trail behind our house down to the bay with at least one kid, to play or swim or collect shells and rocks and sea glass; it's like a ritual reconnection to the outside world. Our seaside life will not last long, I hate missing even a day of sticking toes in the salt water. Our course correction feels exactly right.
In May, the new school term started here and the kids headed back to school. Enrolling them was a shockingly simple process; their dad's work visa allows them to attend any school as a resident for up to three months for free. Schools here group their classrooms by age in the calendar year so kids will sometimes change grades and classrooms mid-year. Flexibility is built in to the structure so starting anew in second term wasn't such a huge deal. Because of his age, Milo was placed into Grade 4 and Kyra was placed in Grade 1 (though grades are combined so Milo is in a 4/5 classroom and Kyra is in a K/1 classroom). While there are broad standards that children are expected to meet for a given year, the learning environment is set up to accommodate each child's level (and there is no standardized testing until intermediate school). The class is rarely together as a whole; rather there are lots of small group breakouts, individual time and peer learning between grades. In Kyra's grade, kids are transitioning from play-based to more traditional academic learning so they still spend half their day in play-based learning, which is awesome.
The biggest difference, though, is the length and schedule of the school day. School starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 2:45. The kids get a 20 minute morning tea (recess and snack) and 50 minutes for lunch. There is physical exercise almost every day in the afternoon. Work periods are never more than 1.5 hours between physical breaks. It's easy to love this. I really hadn't thought about it before but this is a much more humane amount of time for kids to be in school. Mornings at home have a wonderful rhythm since everyone has lots of time to do their thing before school starts. There's no coercion and anxiety about dragging people out of bed and shoving them out the door in time. It's lovely and perfect when you are the parent of a later riser who needs lots of time to himself in the morning. Meanwhile, I get some great time to read and play with Kyra, who is up and ready a lot earlier.
Along with school, we have seen the start of soccer season. Milo is so excited to be playing football in NZ and Kyra, always looking for more opportunities to meet new friends, decided to give it a go. It turns out that girl has some moves. She played her very first game last weekend and was 100% INTO THE GAME: focused, driven, relentless, a veritable 6-yr-old machine of soccer. It was downright weird and all three of us were a little dumbfounded just watching her. I didn't even think she would know what to do on the field! I love being surprised by the people I live with.
I am glad they are enjoying school and some sports on the side. But I would be lying if I didn't admit that I miss our days learning together and having a completely open schedule. Unschooling for four months has been pretty terrific, and we have all internalized how learning can be so much broader than what we have been conditioned to. I can already see them both take so much more initiative to figure stuff out, look up how to do something that interests them, pursue a train of thought a little farther. Kyra was so worried that she hadn't been "learning" while not in a classroom and two weeks in to school, she's realized how far from the truth that really is. Driven by her own interest, she's picked up so much, both traditional and broader knowledge. Even Jake and I have been rejuvenated in our own motivation to learn new things. I've realized that if our family were ever to have a family motto, it would be this: keep trying new things that scare or intimidate you. Keep trying. That's why the surfing, even though I've fallen a hundred times. I am taking an aerial silk class too, another humbling reminder of gravity. Teaching myself to make kombucha. Jake cleared the space in his life to teach himself a new statistical computing code; it's been on his to-do list for years. He's been rewarding himself by going surfing. We have had so many good conversations around the dinner table about failing and falling and forging ahead with no guarantee of when (or even if) success will come. We now have so many examples of new things they've accomplished to illustrate that it pays off. They understand the difference between being students and really being learners. If that was the only thing we took home from this sabbatical, it alone would make the trip worthwhile.
Also, bare feet. A lot of bare feet. I echo my dear friend Jessica in being a champion of bare feet early and often. It keeps you so well-grounded and engages one more sense in your connection to the world around you. So take your shoes off more, let your toes remember that they should move independently of each other, feel the ground under your soles more often. And keep a bucket of water by the door to rinse the mud off before you go back inside.