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Self-Education Comes Full Circle

Full Circle
By Lara Kehler

How a self-educated young woman learned to read, retain her creativity, get a college education, and start her own home-based business.

I grew up on a mountain outside of Abbotsford, a town in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. I was educated alternatively until the age of seventeen, when I decided to get my high school credits at our local college. Influenced greatly by John Holt’s writing and the personal desire for something better than the norm, my parents were pioneers on more fronts than education. This has definitely rubbed off on me, but that could be a whole different story.

In retrospect, my experiences as a self-educated kid were amazing and motivational, and have allowed me the passion to pursue the things I do today. Yet, there was definitely an internal struggle for my parents in knowing how to facilitate my brother and I in developing our own learning processes, to trust that how it looked from the outside was not always representing the value of what was going on inside. Their trust allowed me the freedom to: a) sleep in all the time, b) play computer games all day, c) be bored. And most importantly, d) be intensely creative and spontaneous on my own initiative.

Until the age of eight, I spent most of my days exploring and creating elaborate “dwellings” throughout the dense forest and rocky cliffs of my mountain. Many of the neighbor kids were home educated as well. Since I was the oldest by four years, I enjoyed taking the “creative” leadership role and dictating many of the daily routines like: collecting firewood, arrows (spearhead ferns), ingredients for soup (not actually edible, although I think some of us tried) and whatever else our clan needed for survival during the “fierce” storm that was always about to rip through our make-believe camp. As the enjoyment of role playing survivalist wore off, I moved into more civilized role models like “The Scientist.” With no coaxing from parents, I set off collecting and documenting the size, shape, possible sex, and location of snakes, snails, frogs, and anything else that wandered into our well scrutinized radius. Looking back at these early experiences of learning, I realize I was exploring the “exterior world,” gathering and analyzing what I needed “out there” through sight, smell, touch, and space.

Despite many attempts by my parents to have me read, the most advanced book I had finished by the age of ten was See Spot Run. Since up to this point my imagination was much more colorful than anything I thought a book could offer me, the thought of gluing my face to pages filled with codes taking the places of pictures held no interest for me.

As a child I was blessed with the experience of owning a beautiful white, Welsh/Arab pony. She came with the name Misty, and although I liked the name, it had no particular relevance to me until that magical day when I discovered the book Misty of Chincoteague, a story about a boy and his pony.

The realization that there were words locked away behind this book cover, which described a magical adventure about a child and his wild island pony named Misty, was more than I could bear! So, after much drooling over the cover and mulling over how exactly I was to unlock the secrets of this book, I went to my room, locked the door, and literally attacked the first word of the first chapter of the first page in the first book I ever read. Probably an hour later, and with much excitement, I had understood about thirty percent of the words on the first page, and the mental picture the author was building for me was beginning to take shape. I used all previous knowledge of my children’s readers and vowel pronunciation to decipher this entangled code we call the English language. I also used all the hunting, stalking, and analytical skills I had developed catching snakes. With the patience created from starting fires out of wet wood and leaves, I hunted the remaining seventy percent of these devious codes called words. The mystery of the Misty of Chincoteague was mine! Of course there were many occasions in which I burst out of my laboratory for assistance from my learned colleagues (parents) who were happy to answer any questions I had during my discovery of the English language, until the battle was won and the victory was all mine.

Since my father ran a computer business, we always had the latest and greatest computers to use as we grew up. My brother and I took full advantage of this and played hours and hours of computer games. It was here that I started taking an early interest in graphic design, animation and game design. At around twelve years of age, I found a fun program for the Mac called Hyper Card. With the same passion that drove me to unlock the coding of the English language, I created a simple yet extremely detailed adventure game including a plot, and a cast of characters, sprinkled with puzzles to detour the adventurer from the final goal of rescuing the Teddy Bear Princess.

Many of my interests during my early teens revolved around computers and graphic design. I had the opportunity to work for my uncle, who was a graphic artist and desktop publisher. I learned how to use the latest programs and gained much knowledge in regards to layout, logo design, and publishing. I discovered my love of working with talented artists and writers. I enjoyed brainstorming sessions over logo designs and concepts. I really liked how one could use different talents and pull them all together to create an outstanding product. It was after this that I started a newspaper with a group of homeschool friends. We had weekly meetings about different articles we could research, and personal stories we wanted to share. I did the layout on the computer and we printed it after-hours at my father’s business. We distributed it to family and friends all over Canada for about eight months. It was a great experience that was rewarding and taught us how to work together as a group.

Around the ages of fourteen and fifteen, most of my friends decided to try high school. I had taken a few correspondence courses just to prove to myself that I was competent in English and Math, but I did not have the interest in going to school on a full time basis and was probably a little afraid of the idea as well. So I choose to stay out of high school. This time of my life was emotionally challenging, to say the least. Not only was I growing up and wanting an identity of my own, but I was also dealing with the fact that I was choosing a different life from my peers.

Insecurity about their bodies, loneliness and lack of self-direction and purpose are things that most young people go through. I was not excluded from this, regardless of how excluded I felt from my peers. Being considered a “homeschooler” – when the last thing I wanted is to be associated with was home – was not easy. Yet, I’m inclined to believe that it’s worth coming to terms with your personal identity without the added complications of simply throwing yourself into the mesh of pop culture known as high school.

After the freedom provided by learning to drive allowed me to find work, attend part-time courses at college, and develop a social life, I gained enough confidence to travel to Europe when I was nineteen and then move half way across the country to Winnipeg with some friends and go to college.

After four years in Winnipeg, a diploma in Structural Civil Engineering, and some good work experience as an Engineering Technologist, I moved to Vancouver thinking I was now headed for the full time job, nice apartment, settling down type of life that all newly graduated people want. Right? Wrong. Boring! Skipping a few years ahead, I’m now a self-employed, self-taught, web programmer with my own company.

My dream? To produce a well-designed magazine with its entire content dedicated to art and ideas of alternative learners around the world! Anything from theories on quantum physics to pencil sketches of unicorns. I’m calling it My Art & Mind.

With this dream, I’ve come full circle, back to the creative processes I loved as a child, the same processes that allowed me to spend hours chasing snakes, cracking codes, rescuing princesses, drawing horses, and building miniature worlds out of balsa wood and modeling clay. I had no idea where this process would lead me, and it’s probably good I still don’t. But if it’s half as good as where I’ve been, I’m willing to find out!

Lara Kehler is a self-described “grown up Homeschooler.” Her EZine featuring the work (poetry, stories, ideas, art and more) of self-directed learners was launched just as this article was being published in Life Learning Magazine's first issue in early 2002. She is now a mother as well as a designer, artist, and independent game developer based in Vancouver B.C.

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