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I'm a nomadic mama with four lovely daughters. We're travelling Australia in a small housebus — meeting inspiring people, learning lots and re-thinking everything. I feel passionately about travel, good design, alternative education and conscious parenting.

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17 August 2014, 22:54

What does unschooling really look like? How does a homeschooling family run smoothly without schedules, learning structures and curriculum? Join our family — for just one day.

Introduction

For the past several years, I’ve documented the details of a whole day in the life of our family as part of a homeschooling link-up. (I don’t believe the link-up is running this year, so I’m doing it alone.) A couple years on, I find it fascinating to look back at a typical day at home in our house in 2010, on the road in New Zealand in 2011, while based in the shed in Queensland and visiting friends in Australia’s Red Centre to see how things have changed for us!

I’m an Australian single mama, living fulltime on the road in a housebus with four daughters and unschooling quite intentionally. Aisha is nine years old, Brioni turns eight soon, Calista is six and a half. Delaney (who also goes by the name of “Lana”) will be five at the end of the year.

This weekend, we’re free-camping at the natural reserve of Tooloom Falls after spending several days with another unschooling family in the northern NSW area of Australia. I appreciate the time for us to be alone again as a family, and we experience an average kind of day in our unschooling, nomadic, housebus-based life — camping off-grid in a beautiful location, exploring wilderness and appreciating the creatures that inhabit it, sleeping and eating to our individual needs and learning through play in an organic, natural fashion.

Lauren Bissett Fisher, Delaney, Brioni, Calista, and Aisha, a family portrait, August 2014
Here we are with our little housebus and pop-up tent. This is our home — wherever we're parked!

Pre-dawn

I wake and debate whether to get up out of bed and make myself a cup of tea. The time before the girls get up is when I usually blog and check social media sites. However, I know that we’ve driven so thoroughly out of range of any internet access that it’s not even worth opening the laptop. The rain that was falling for most of yesterday and last night appears to have stopped, so I know that I can take the kettle outside the bus and sit in the rising sun for a bit of warmth. We’re experiencing early spring, which means that although we may wear long sleeves when the sun goes down, the day-time temperatures are in the early 20s. Living in a bus means that we’re very adapted to the outside temperatures and can live comfortably within a wider variation of temperatures. In the end, I doze lightly, waiting for someone else to stir before I get up.

7ish

Aisha wakes and we talk in whispers about snatched remembrances of dreams. She’s been lying next to me all night. I always sleep with Lana on my left at the edge of the bed, and the other three girls take turns to be at my right side. Delaney still needs help to toilet herself in the middle of the night, so that’s why she doesn’t rotate with the others. Aisha asks me to check on a sore that’s just on the top of her ear. We removed a tick from that location two days ago, and it’s still a bit sore. I can reach our tea-tree oil and so Aisha dabs a drop onto the scab to prevent an infection. Our discussion about the tick — and the scary possibility that it could have crawled all the way into Aisha’s ear — leads naturally into questions about the anatomy of the ear.

Aisha browsing the kipi, August 2014
Lana’s kipi (our family’s generic name for an electronic tablet) is laying nearby on the bed, so I grab it, and Aisha browses through DK’s Human Body app which provides detailed cross-sections of the ear’s construction.

Our whispered conversation continues through many different parts of the body — the nervous system (and the effects on our friend Johnny whose spinal cord was damaged), the skeletal system (and our friends who have recently broken their bones), the eye (and how it’s possible to wear glasses that flip the image upside down until your brain switches and flips it back the right way around) and, of course, the reproductive system. Aisha’s been following the progression of my current pregnancy periodically with a manual given to her by a friend. That, in conjunction with numerous episodes of Call the Midwife, means she’s quite informed regarding pregnancy and childbirth.

Together we climb out of bed, reposition ourselves outside with the whistling kettle and start looking through her manual together. I notice that in browsing through the book, Aisha very carefully holds two pages together. When I ask her about that, she explains that she’s not really comfortable looking at the childbirth photographs on the previous pages. So she skips them! Clever girl. We drink cups of tea and I start playing with Aisha’s hair. First, I’m just intent on looking for evidence of lice, but upon Aisha’s request I start braiding it. I love these special one-on-one times with my daughters, and today’s early-morning interactions with Aisha feel really special.

Aisha reading a manual, August 2014
We make tea in the morning sun and continue our reading and discussion.

9ish

Lana looking out the bus window after waking up, August 2014
Lana is the next to wake up. She calls a greeting through the open door and I go inside for a cuddle and kiss.

Lana playing on her kipi, August 2014
In deference to her two still-sleeping sisters, Lana automatically puts on her earphones before she turns on her kipi. One of the benefits of living together in such a small space is seeing how children naturally adopt consistently-modelled considerate behaviour that keeps our family-life peaceful.

It’s another half hour before Calista and Brioni wake up. Brioni’s first order of business is always rat runaway time. Calista moves down to the animals’ cage at the back to open the door so the two rats can run free. The girls lay on the bed and play with them for a while. The individual rats will be brought out of the cage several more times today for small interactions with the girls.

Delaney playing lego in the tent, August 2014
Delaney soon announces that she wants to play with Lego. Her location options are in the bus, on the concrete of the picnic area or inside our pop-up tent. When I make those offers, she chooses the tent. It’s easy to pull out the tent and set it up in the sun.

Lauren looking for nits in Calista's hair, August 2014
While I have the comb out, I invite each of the girls to come and sit on my lap while I comb their hair for nits or lice. We all enjoy this — I like picking through their hair and talking with them, and they enjoy the individual attention and head massage. Today I discover that Brioni’s favourite colour has changed (again) and is now simply black.

As the girls have long become accustomed to grazing when they’re hungry, my main responsibility with meals is to make sure that I keep our fridge and pantry stocked with healthy choices. I’m the only one today who has breakfast cereal. Aisha and Calista each choose a cheese and bacon bun, Lana has already eaten a bread roll and Brioni says she’s happy with an apple.

10.30ish

With everyone out of bed, it’s time for me to pack it away. I use an electric pump to suck the air out of the inflatable mattresses and then roll up the canvas above one side of the front seats. With my main chore completed, I want to have another look around our camping ground. Calista and Lana accompany me to the waterfall. Brioni’s already run to check if the overnight rain raised the level significantly — the report is negative — and so we head down to the waterway to explore for ourselves.

Looking at Tooloom Falls, August 2014
The shallow waterfall slips over the flat rocks to the pond below.

Girls playing at Tooloom Falls, Tooloom Creek, NSW, August 2014
The girls skip on the flat rocks that line the upper creek.

Girls playing at Tooloom Falls, Tooloom Creek, NSW, August 2014
A plank leads us across the broken causeway. This must have once been a road, and together we speculate on its construction and demise.

Delaney looking at green and white balls on the ground, August 2014
On the other side, Delaney examines some small green and white spheres that are spilled in a small pile on the ground. Perhaps they were fertiliser granules — we couldn't be sure.

Mica sparkling in the sun, August 2014
Mica sparkles in the sun and offers the girls dreams of finding gold.

Girls playing at Tooloom Falls, Tooloom Creek, NSW, August 2014
The water is very shallow and Lana enjoys splashing in the sun as we make our way back over to our own side.

A fairy glade on the downstream side of the waterfall catches our eyes, and so we resolve to find a path down to the water’s edge. The first obvious path is assessed as too steep and slippery for our family to tackle, so we walk around a bit more until a trodden grass pathway becomes obvious and we make our winding way down the steep bank. There’s a beach and still water and grassy knolls — it’s a perfect playground for the girls’ toys, and so we return to the bus to invite the two older girls to come play with us.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
From below, the view of waterfall is beautiful.

Girls playing at Tooloom Falls, Tooloom Creek, NSW, August 2014
A sandy beach is easily accessible with a plank bridge.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
This grassy glade would be perfect for picnics in the summer.

11.30ish

Everyone chooses a toy and we return to the base of the waterfall. The water’s still too cold to encourage swimming, and I’m thankful the girls stay out of it. My girls aren’t inclined to take risks beyond their perceived levels of comfort. They won’t try climbing down (or up) the cliff face, they aren’t inclined to jump off tree-branches into the murky water, and they’ll only wander as far as they feel comfortable. Their own vast range of experiences in the outdoors has fostered knowledge and sensibilities, and that — as well as their usual habit of exploring with at least one other sibling — means that I feel comfortable with letting them explore the natural playground. When they split up in different directions, I stay close to Delaney who hasn’t yet grown out of needing my close presence.

Girls playing at Tooloom Falls, Tooloom Creek, NSW, August 2014
Delaney has buried her platypus toy, (“She asked me bury her!”) and — despite all the help from her sisters and me — for a while I think it may be forever lost to the sand.

When we explore, I take our bird book as well as the camera.

Looking at our bird book, August 2014
I stalk the shrubs with my lens on the ready, and when I capture a photo of a bird we can’t name, we use the photo’s display on the back of the camera as a reference while we look through the book.

Using the bird manual takes an understanding of indices (are we looking up the Latin or common name?), sequential numbers (pages and bird-reference-codes), legends and glyphs (male, female), cartography (does the bird’s habitat match our current location?), reading (including commonly-used abbreviations) and comprehension (scarlet? — a synonym for red). We’ve been referencing our bird book for years so the girls already know a range of birds. This location — especially as it’s close to water — has so many different types of birds on offer, Aisha calls it “a bird paradise”.

Blue superb fairy-wren, Urbenville, August 2014
A chattering blue superb fairy-wren is one of the first birds to catch my eye.

Welcome swallow on nest, Urbenville, NSW, August 2014
At the picnic shelter, a swallow’s nest captures our attention, and it takes several stealthy, long-armed phone-photos before we can determine that there are no eggs in the nest.

Brioni reading a bird manual, August 2014
Brioni reads through the bird descriptions.

Calista choosing a piece of watermelon, August 2014
I cut up a watermelon and we all snack on the sweet pieces throughout the morning.

Aisha reading a graphic novel, August 2014
When Aisha next comes outside from playing in the bus, I ask her if she would like to read with me. She enjoys doing the emotive voices in graphic novels, and I provide the voice of the narrator. This continues for about an hour until she loses interest, and I let her go easily.

Brioni has made her own little movie. Using Hungry Shark, she’s narrated the shark’s voice with subtle humour as it tears through schools of fish and the occasional swimmer. We record it carefully to share with others later on, especially our good friend Ben who originally created the fish graphics on the app. It joins the files of her elaborate cartoons and plays. I may not have a pile of paperwork to demonstrate the girls’ learning progress, but by default I’m keeping a thorough digital record!

1.30ish

Girls playing with Lego, August 2014
The girls start sorting the Lego by colours and with a self-restricted number of pieces, their creations become more ingenious.

With the Lego games, I’m close enough to hear them discussing the items they’re making from their imaginations. An inherent understanding of mathematics is naturally demonstrated as one girl choose two 2x pieces as a symmetrical solution to one 4x piece. Although I don’t ask the girls to fill in math worksheets, I know they can read and answer mathematical equations because they’ve each progressed through multiple levels on their kipi apps such as Springbird Maths.

Brioni making a snack, August 2014
Brioni goes into the bus and makes herself a wrap — flat spinach bread spread with refried beans, lettuce, cucumber and tomato.

As soon as she takes her plate into the tent, Calista is reminded she’s hungry and upon request I end up making us all similar wraps. Each girl has their particular preferences and so I take individual orders — one at a time — and serve each one before starting to make another.

Girls playing at Tooloom Falls, Tooloom Creek, NSW, August 2014
About forty-five minutes after eating, the new energy has kicked in and all the girls spill out of the tent in a raucous game of chase, tickle and cuddle.

They run around in the sunshine, and if we hadn’t already done our exploring earlier this morning, I would deliberately try to entice them on a walk. However, the older two soon return to the tent to continue with their constructions and interactions while the younger two continue with an energetic game of “egg” which entails covering their knees with their shirts and hopping or waddling around the campsite while waiting to “hatch”.

I use this time to sit at the computer and start typing down the day’s events. Soon the washing up beckons — this means collecting water from the river. We have water on-board but while we’re parked at a natural water source, I’ll keep our tank water for drinking. While cleaning up the bus’ little kitchen bench, I can also asses what else has been eaten during the day — the girls can prepare food for themselves but rarely clean up thoroughly. I use this knowledge — along with my personal understanding of healthy eating — to make suggestions for something to eat later in the day. I cut up strawberries and put them out on the picnic table for the girls to discover and snack on when they’re hungry.

Lana watching a movie while Calista looks over her shoulder, August 2014
The girls have unrestricted access to electronic devices and can choose to interact with them whenever they want. Calista perches above Lana’s seat so she can watch the movie with her.

3ish

The mood has shifted and the girls have gone their separate ways. Brioni is still playing with Lego in the tent, voicing different characters as they interact with each other. Delaney is playing on her kipi. Calista is still hopping around the grounds with her knees tucked under her shirt and Aisha has wrapped herself in a blanket while she sits and eats yoghurt. Now that I’ve cleaned up the kitchen, the bus remains mostly tidy — everything has a place of belonging and we all know where that is — and if I had gotten up earlier to blog and was more tired, I know I could take a nap. It’s enough for me today to go down to the river’s edge and watch the water slip by. I’m within sight and sound of the bus, and I let each girl know individually where I’m headed. There’s only one other camping vehicle here today, and they’ve parked at the far edge of the reserve, behind bushes and trees, so it still feels like we’re the only inhabitants on Earth.

It only takes a couple of minutes before the girls follow me, with Calista eagerly leading Aisha all the way across the river on the path we discovered this morning. I watch them play on the flat rocks adjacent to the waterfall until I feel nervous about their proximity to the edge and invite them to come with me and explore the wooded areas instead. We find a felled paperbark tree and I tear off a wide strip of bark for Aisha to write on. At some point Delaney scratches her toe on a stick and requests a band-aid. As the sun drops behind the trees, the day cools and I think about shutting the bus door so our bus interior retains its warmth.

Aisha writing on paperbark, August 2014
Aisha writes notes on the scraps of paperbark.

5ish

Back in the bus, when I offer to prepare a burger for Brioni, she gladly accepts. The other girls place their orders and I cook the veggie patties and arrange the toppings on the buns. Three girls are watching a movie together, one is playing on her sister’s kipi. The bus is closed up and the cooker’s small flame warms the air. We’re all winding down in anticipation of crawling into bed.

Homemade vegie burgers, August 2014
Vegie-burgers are a favourite meal when we have the opportunity to stock up on the ingredients. During our travels, our diet varies according to what is available in each region.

6.30ish

We’ve all finished eating and the plates are in the sink. I’ve made the bed and three of us are already on it. Aisha is lying down at the back — she likes to spend some time alone each day, and because she and I spent our early morning together, she’s needing to take the time now. Four of us have brushed our teeth, with three separate toothpastes to suit our palates. The girls have started talking about the diary of Anne Frank and have asked me for a chapter or two. I’ve already told them we can visit Anne Frank’s house when we drive through Europe next month, so they’re particularly interested in her account.

8ish

We’ve collectively tired of Anne Frank’s story, and I put on the Japanese animated science-fiction film Origin: Spirits of the Past. Throughout the movie, the girls discuss aspects of asteroid formation, physics of water motion, plot subtleties and anatomical anomalies.

9.30ish

The movie has finished — including the karaoke at the end — Brioni appears to be already asleep with Aisha not far behind. Lana is finishing a snack while Calista plays on her kipi. The bus is dark and quiet — those who talk do so in whispers, and as I prepare to sleep I start thinking about everything I want to do tomorrow. These thoughts aren’t conducive to resting, so I switch to listening to music through my earphones. It’s easier to fall asleep that way. I curl up around Lana’s little body with Brioni pressed up against my back. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

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16 August 2014, 14:25

The picturesque location at Tooloom Falls is often touted as one of the best free-camps within an easy drive of the southeast Queensland metropolis. It’s quietly set at the end of a no-through-road and designated fireplaces, picnic tables, a shelter and a clean, long-drop toilet complement the natural beauty of the peaceful waterway.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
From the vantage of the pool below, the waterfall looks more spectacular, but it's really little more than a creek.

Tooloom Falls definitely isn’t a grand waterfall — especially in this part of the world! — as it starts under a causeway and down a ten-metre rocky cliff. It’s surrounded by flat granite rocks that stair-step down to the water below, and I’m sure more adventurous souls have climbed up the face of it before jumping back into the pool below.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
The roadway that once traversed Tooloom Creek is closed to traffic and only one plank is left of the short bridge-section that covers over the shallow ditch which allows water to keep flowing downstream.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
The top of the waterfall is shallow with flat rocks on either side. The creek is directed into a shallow ditch (under the old causeway) before it drops over the rock bed to the pool below.

While we’re here, we see numerous day-visitors — some vehicles drive in, look at the water and quickly drive off. A canoeist brings his craft on the roof of his little car and paddles around in the top river for several hours. Others take the time to pick their way over the falls to explore the other side. We discover numerous tracks that take us to the pool below, where we find evidence that this is a favourite swimming hole for locals in summertime.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
From the far side of Tooloom Creek, the view is much more beautiful.

We like being here at Tooloom Falls. There is plenty of room for many different campsites — some are more secluded than others, and rather than parking directly next to the water, I choose a spot near the picnic shelter. The girls can run freely, the waterway is sluggish and even the waterfall is fully accessible, the surrounding rocks are flat enough, making a moderately safe playspace for older, daring children. We don’t see any native mammals or reptiles, but the birdlife is abundant and interesting.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
With acres of camping spaces to choose from, we opt to park next to a picnic table and close to the long-drop toilet.

Tooloom Falls free-camping reserve, south of Urbanville, NSW, August 2014
Another beautiful camping spot is directly adjacent to the slow-moving creek, with improvised steps leading into the water.

Located 5 km south of Urbenville, NSW (the Tooloom Falls Road turn-off is on the way to Tenterfield), the only downside for us is that the location is completely devoid of any mobile network signal. Still, that could mean the perfect getaway from city life for another visitor! As a free-camp with water views, swimming, small bush-walks and lots of room to play, Tooloom Falls gets our approval!

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13 August 2014, 22:16

We’re only travelling with our pet rats, but it’s fun to encounter a composite menagerie of animals at the different homes we visit. The girls learn new facts about the animals and quietly store up ideas about what kind of pets they would like in the future. Friends of ours have new kittens — rabbit kits, and the girls squealed with delight at the cuteness of the little creatures.

Delaney looking at a rabbit, August 2014
Delaney greets Mama Bunny before we carefully open the hutch door to spy on the kits from a distance.

Rabbit kittens, August 2014
We avoid touching the kits — there’s no need to handle them at this age, and it may be detrimental to their health — and so this is one clear case of look-but-don’t-touch.

Rabbit kittens, August 2014
Two weeks after they were born, they still have their eyes closed.

Rabbit kittens, August 2014
Today, only one is adventurous enough to explore away from its warm siblings.

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