Home educated teens spread their wings

by Amy Bradney-George

We sat in the circle together, holding hands and sharing affirmations for the new year that stretched before us.

After seven days with my friends, most of whom I had only met for the first time that week, I wanted to share my hopes and dreams.

In the circle, my turn to speak got closer. But I wasn’t quite sure what to say, how to express my gratitude to these people.

Every January a group of diverse young people gather together and spend one week as a community at Camp With Wings (CWW). Some of them know each other, many of them don’t.

The common thread – home education – links people studying at home with people who have since moved on to formal study, be it high school, TAFE or university. CWW reminds everyone that there is something special, unique, about the experience.

What first struck me about the camp was the overwhelming acceptance from peers and staff alike.

I had left my home schooling days behind seven years ago, opting to attend high school, and at first I was concerned that this experience would separate me from the others.

From the moment I walked into camp I was greeted by friendly strangers and suddenly I knew I would be ok. People come from all walks of life, and that was not only something accepted and encouraged at CWW, but also something we could talk about with each other.

It didn’t matter that my home education experiences were years behind me – what mattered was that I was there and so were supportive, interesting and friendly peers I may never have otherwise met.

Camp With Wings founder Janine Banks-Watson describes the camp as a place to “open your wings and grow from a different opportunity”.

“I really want everyone to go away with a greater understanding of their own potential and feel loved and supported by others going through that same experience,” she says.

Inspired by America’s Not Back to School Camp, founded by Grace Llewellyn, Janine says it’s important for Australia to have their own camp for home educated teenagers. “Home education communities can be far flung and often we don’t have many chances to connect.”

Unlike the home education camps of my childhood, which were family-based, CWW is focused on engaging home educated teenagers, connecting them with each other in a unique environment.

“I think it’s essential for teenagers to be able to see themselves from a different perspective… to have their visions broadened,” Janine says.

She has structured the camp so that we not only feel comfortable and supported, but also have the opportunity to share our interests with other people. Among the 30 or so people at camp, I found myself in a group of eight people, led by an amazing girl from America who was in her early 20s.

Most of the other group leaders were a similar age, and I liked that they were given the opportunity to develop greater leadership skills in such a supportive environment, while also helping us develop those same skills.

Everyone was encouraged to sign up to run a workshop on something that interested them.

That week I was taught how to spin poi’s, bellydance, and some of the basics of reiki. Sometimes the people teaching me were older, and sometimes they were younger, but at CWW it didn’t matter.

What did matter was that I spent a week away from my familiar friends and family, learning things about other people and about myself.

When the affirmation circle came around to me, I knew exactly what to say:

“I intend to keep in touch with all the friends I’ve made here.”