Being teenaged and homeschooled

by Zoe Anderson. Originally published in Stepping Stones 2012.

It’s such an important stage of life, being a teenager. I look back on those years, all the choices I was free to make, all the understanding and support I had from my family in figuring myself out. Trying highschool, trying my first job, having adventures and friendships and constantly dying my hair. Even now, when I talk with others about that time, it’s hard to articulate the amazing opportunities and challenges that came from not being tied to institutions or expectations. There’s the inevitable social question. I understand why they’re asking, friendships are everything. After all, my brief career as a high school student was undertaken in the hope that I’d make more friends. When that didn’t work out, I made my own social space with my friends, after school, or on the weekends, or before work. We made our world, we accepted each others choices: homeschooler, apprentice, waitress, student, and we got on with our friendships and our lives.

But, living as a teenaged homeschooler means accepting that there are possibilities other than and around and beyond highschool. As homeschoolers, we were open to the possibility of adventure. Of new friendships, new learning, new kinds of fun. When Janine Banks and her amazing family ran the first Camp With Wings in 2005, I was 14, shy, and not at all sure what I was going to get out of camp. But adventures are always uncertain like that, so with flight itineraries and train timetables, arm in arm with a friend, we went to find out.

Camp with Wings is like being put into a glasshouse. Take a few dozen homeschoolers, like beautiful seedlings, growing and blooming on their own. Put them in a loving, happy, safe space with each other, and in a week, instead of having seedlings, there’ll be a jungle! Every year, camp begins as a collection of individuals, but ends as a community. A big crazy family that’s busy encouraging each person to shine as themselves. The idea is very simple – each person at camp is recognised as having the potential to share their amazing self, through leading activities, and participating in activities lead by others. Everyone is encouraged to lead a workshop. What will you learn about yourself from trying unicycling for the first time? Or you might discover that you have a penchant for organising the best games of capture the flag. Is sitting around and discussing poetry more your style? You might learn that someone you haven’t spoken to much likes all the same books as you. Art projects can be very different when it becomes a collaboration between fifteen people. Or maybe it’s time for a debate, and to discover that it’s so easy to articulate your ideas when you’re speaking in front of supportive, caring people, who are interested in what you say. No one has to run a workshop, and no one has to attend, but there’s always more activities on that it’s possible to go to, and there’s always someone who wants to try what you’re offering.

And then there’s all the best things about a camp. Delicious food, and group activities. We have small group sessions, for playing games, getting to know eachother, and checking in that we’re all having a good time. We have talent shows, circus skills, jam sessions, games nights, and even a ball! We sing, we dance, we stare at the stars. We look into the eyes of our dozens of new friends, and grow, a little bit, together. We go home, not quite the same, because we know who we are, and what it is to be young and free, and surrounded by friends who also know this gift.

Camp was a huge part of my teenage years, it made me who I am, and it continues to challenge me to learn and grow.

It’s for anyone between the ages of 14-18, homeschooled, unschooled, sort-of-schooled, at highschool, TAFE or University. We would be honored and ecstatic if you joined us.

Zoe started homeschooling at when she was ten. She’s now studying Interdisciplinary Sustainability at ANU, is a poet, a chicken-owner and a gardener. After attending several sessions of Camp With Wings as a camper, she became staff, helping at camps as a group leader and a cook.