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Irene Genelin

This Family Sold Their Farm to Travel the World and Homeschool Their Child


Introduce yourself.

Hello! My name is Irene Genelin. My husband, Andy Cotter, and I have one daughter, Ani, age 8. We are from Minnesota in the USA.

Andy is a computer programmer, who works in the IT world. I studied French and taught students for a few years in a Montessori School in Minnesota right after I graduated from college.

We lived on Andy's family's farm together for 12 years. We started our own business there, growing organic fruits.

I learned so many different things from being a farmer - a few being: how to sand hardwood floors in our old farmhouse, how to keep bees, how to graft fruit trees, how to market, sell, deliver, how to do taxes for employees, how to run an AirBNB, how to host large events.

In 2019 when our farm was really starting to come into fruit production and Andy continued his full time job, and we had a young child, we decided to make a big change and sell the farm and most of the things we owned and start our slow travel, worldschooling adventure. This would allow our focus to come back on our family, instead of on the farm and all of the different ventures we had going on.

We continue our slow travels today, having been on the road now over four years. We aren't sure yet when we will settle down.

Can you share the reasons behind your decision to homeschool your daughter from the start? What factors influenced your choice to deviate from traditional schooling methods?

We knew we wanted to homeschool before we started trying to conceive her. Andy found traditional school to be a waste of time (he grew up in the country and had to take the school bus one hour each way to and from school, despite living only 3 miles (5km) from the school).

Ani did attend school in Portugal for two months with a program called Boundless, which bases their school on the Finnish Educational system. We joined up with other traveling families through Boundless for two months. While Ani enjoyed her time there, she said that she is happy to continue homeschooling with me.

Ani's experience in a classroom with Boundless helped her realize that she does enjoy homeschooling, because when she has a question she can ask me. There aren't other children in our family that she has to compete with for the teacher's attention.

We also believe that traditional school has a lot of filler time during the day for children, and we didn't want that for our daughter.

What are some of the key differences between homeschooling and traditional schooling?

Homeschooling offers children the ability to discover the joy of learning, and the ability to focus in on one subject at a time, for however long they want to. We have also noticed that Ani will see adults as a resource, instead of an authority figure, and is comfortable speaking to them when she needs help.

What are some misconceptions or myths about homeschooling that you would like to debunk?

The socialization piece. So many people ask, "What do you do for socialization?" yet when children are sent to school they are often told, "School is a place for learning, not for socializing."

Homeschoolers are around people of all ages and can make friends with people that are interested in being their friends, no matter the age.

For Ani, I find that having the ability to be together during the day will allow her to more fully engage with others in the afternoon/evening while we are out and about at a park or if she is signed up for some extra activity.

She needs time to recharge and our current lifestyle fits that need.

As digital nomads, how do you balance your work responsibilities with homeschooling?

I am fortunate that Andy has a full-time remote job. With budgeting and living minimally, we have been able to have his income cover the cost of our three-person family.

I have a few side interests and even had a part-time weekend-only job for one month this summer, which was interesting to see how my absence impacted our family.

Could you please explain how your absence impacted your family?

When I was working on the weekends it meant we didn't have any time to be together as a family without one of the adults working. It felt like it was a drain on our family life. I feel like my role as a stay at home mom is to be a benevolent presence, helping our family function in a healthy way (helping guide our daughter's learning, making healthy meals to eat together).

When I was working I was also learning to be a benevolent presence at the farmer's market stand, talking with customers and forming relationships with them and the other farmer's market vendors. It was fulfilling to help out the company I worked for, but it took a lot of my energy and made me less present with my family when I was done with work for the day.

It really gave me perspective into what it may be like to work full time and then interact with your children only at night. I'm grateful that I can be a stay at home mother and be around Ani as much as I am.

How did you choose the right curriculum for your homeschooling approach and your daughter's learning style?

Knowing that we wanted to homeschool Ani from the start, I reached out to other homeschooling parents in Minnesota when Ani was just a baby.

I was able to discover that each family is unique in their approach to homeschooling. Each family had their own set up of a classroom, and sometimes their own curriculum. No two ways were the same.

I have since started connecting with unschoolers and listening to unschooling podcasts and reading books about unschooling. I'm learning I have a lot of deschooling to do as I was raised by going to a traditional public school in the US and have a lot of ingrained thoughts on how education 'should' be. I am always amazed at how we can learn so many subjects from one thing when we really focus on the thing at hand.

For example, our daughter Ani is really into playing the game Minecraft. At first, I was quite hesitant as I don't know much about the game. My husband, Andy, decided he would learn how to play so that they could do this activity together.

Ani has an interest in building and Andy showed her how to use Google SketchUp to make a 3-dimensional design of her future room that she hopes to build someday. She is incorporating Minecraft-themed tables and lamps into her Google sketch up.

Andy has also found a Minecraft Educational Option where she is learning about basic coding that she can then use in the game.

Lately, Ani has been using Minecraft to learn how to teach others. She has two friends who are new to the game that she is trying to educate. It is interesting to hear how she navigates this and how she explains it.

Right now we are using RightStart Mathematics by Activities for Learning. This is a curriculum that is written by Andy's mother, Dr. Joan Cotter, who has her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education. Not only because of the family connection do we use this curriculum, It teaches math for understanding, not rote memorization. It has a minimal number of worksheets, just enough for the child to grasp the concept being taught. It also uses math card games to make learning fun.

We have been using Logic of English to learn the phonograms, how to read, and grammar.

I'm learning the phonograms alongside Ani, having not mastered them in my youth. For example, do you know that 'ough' has six different phonogram sounds?

How has learning phonograms alongside your daughter been for you, and how do you support her learning while building your own knowledge in areas where you feel less confident?

I was reflecting on this just this morning. It is really what mindset you have around education.

I have an acquaintance who would wake early every morning to study an algebra lesson before then teaching her daughter. When she explained this to me at a homeschooling mom's meeting, I sensed that she was ashamed that she had never taken Algebra in the past, and this was how she prepared herself to feel confident enough to teach it.

For me, if Ani wants to learn something that I don't know, I would approach it with her, and learn alongside her, showing her how I go about the learning process. To me that will make more of a lasting impression and lead to a deeper understanding of the subject at hand.

Do you set specific goals or benchmarks for your daughter's progress in order to address concerns about her educational development?

In the state of Minnesota, I am required to administer a yearly test and keep the records on hand. It is suggested that if my daughter is more than one year off of a certain subject I get her a tutor. So far she hasn't been that far behind her age group.

Honestly, it doesn't make me reassured, it makes me feel stressed. Then I approach our homeschooling together with a stressed "I need to teach you" approach which makes Ani shut down and not want to learn. When I am able to incorporate our schooling session with things she enjoys it always goes so much smoother.

Do you ever doubt or compare yourself as a homeschooling parent, especially when you see other children progressing differently in traditional schools?

Yes, there are times when I can't help but compare. I find what helps me is to listen to podcasts of people that are leading a life outside of school or read books by unschoolers / homeschoolers to make me feel reassured in my chosen path.

It also helps me to think about all the things she does know and is more advanced in than her peers her age.

Have you faced negative opinions or judgments about homeschooling your daughter? How did you handle those situations and address criticism?

At times people don't understand homeschooling. Once we were on a pleasant group boat ride in Montenegro and a woman started asking me about how I homeschooled Ani. I shared with her what I do, but her questions came to me in an attacking manner, making me feel unsure and uncomfortable about sharing what I did.

After some reflection, I realized that we have very different ideas about Education, and both can be right. Hers is the right path for her, and mine is the right path for me (and so far, Ani as well).

Who are three (or more) homeschoolers or education experts that you recommend people follow and learn from, and why do you find their work valuable?

Lucy AitkenRead: Great resource for unschooling and thinking about traditional school in a different way.

Issy, aka Stark Raving Dad: Great podcasts, resources, and an online community for those in the unschooling world that want to get connected with others from around the world.

Esther Jones:
Great podcasts, information on Mindful Parenting, and coaching

Who are three (or more) homeschoolers you would recommend as potential interview subjects, and why?

Stacey Yates Sellar, she is a mom of two boys who has been world-schooling for the past few years. She is a conscious parenting coach and overall a great person.

Could you provide some advice or tips for parents who may be considering homeschooling their children? What are some essential factors they should take into account?

Find other homeschooling / unschooling parents. Create your own community, whether it is in person or online. We are surrounded by conventional education so if you ask someone in that world about homeschooling it can be frustrating. Start finding new people to lift you up on your new journey.

Where can we find you?

I have a personal FB page that I use to document our slow travels. If you write me personally and ask to follow on our adventures I'd happily add you as my friend. Profile Link.

Instagram is updated a few times a month: @irenegenelin

The Worldschooling Space Podcast: I've been interviewing other people who travel around the world to world school and created this podcast.

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