I quit my normal life to live in a van & ‘un-school’ my kids – people say I’m setting them up to fail but they’re wrong | The Sun


WHEN Birdie Wood ditched normal life to live in a van and 'wild school' her two young kids, plenty criticised her and accused her of "setting her kids up to fail".

But the plucky single mum, 28, has no regrets, and insists she's doing the right thing for daughters Fifer, four, and Mavie, two.

The trio travel the country in their £5K campervan, while Birdie lets them study "whatever they want" – with no set curriculum.

Having worked previously as a teacher, Birdie says she saw first-hand how formal schooling could leave children "burnt out" – which is why she decided to 'un-school' her own.

Birdie, who is currently living in Eureka, California says: "A lot of cases of anxiety and depression in adults are linked to the traditional school system, and I went to public school and I was bullied.

"I was looking for alternative education for my own children and I decided on unschooling, or wild schooling – letting my children follow their own interests.


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"It could be anything – nature, crafts, reading, languages – and we learn things like maths and spelling around those interests.

"My eldest daughter loves space at the moment, while my youngest currently loves animals – so we do maths and science based on that.

"They love it and they're so happy – I think part of the reason depression and anxiety are so high is that we are so disconnected from nature.

"People often have very black and white thinking and say my children will struggle but they'll have just as many opportunities in life."

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Birdie first started looking into 'wild schooling' when her eldest daughter Fifer was one, while living on a farm in Newport, Oregon, with her then-husband.

Worried about Fifer becoming overworked and 'burning out' in mainstream school, Birdie began to research the alternative technique – a method of child-led, interest-based home schooling.

She says: "I learnt that lots of people working in education were choosing not to send their children to public education.

"I had already started Fifer on play-based education right from birth and let her follow her interests, and I made this permanent when she was one."

Hitting the road

When her second daughter Mavie, now two, was born, Birdie continued with this approach.

A year ago in September 2021 they took to the road after Birdie and her husband separated.

She bought a Chevrolet G20 van and spent just over £4,000 ($5,000) doing it up before she and the girls set off travelling around the country.

Birdie says: "We parked at national parks so we had space to go exploring around a forest or lake, and at mealtimes I cooked in the kitchen but we'd always eat outside.

"We had a pull-out bed above the cab in the van, which me and my youngest slept in, and my eldest was on the couch bed.

"The only time space was hard was having two toddlers and trying to co-ordinate and navigate their sleeping schedules so they didn't wake each other up constantly."

No curriculum

As well as living in an unusual home, Birdie's approach to education is considered by some as unconventional.

She creates her own curriculum, explaining: "We do lots of nature outings and crafts like painting.

"My youngest daughter loves snails so we count them and use them to do maths and science.

"Using activity books and games, I could teach a whole unit on botany by going on a nature walk and identifying plants and insects."

Birdie admits a lot of people do question her methods, but she insists she still teaches them essential skills like maths, science and languages using educational videos and games, without the extreme academic pressures many schoolchildren face.

She says: "I went to public school and was bullied a lot – I was academic and suffered with a lot of anxiety.

I went to public school and was bullied a lot – I was academic and suffered with a lot of anxiety

"I felt my whole life was to be productive and get As, and it was very damaging for me – why would I want to teach my children that way?

"A lot of people make wrong assumptions and think we don't do anything – but that's educational neglect.

"I do child-led education – it's not an excuse to just not educate my children."

When the time comes, Birdie is confident her children will still be able to go to college if they want to – because they are still able to get a high school diploma through home schooling.

She now hopes to buy a farm to call home, and has recently sold her van with the aim of buying a new vehicle to travel around Europe.

"My youngest loves nature and science. She might want to go into something like farming," Birdie says.

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"I don't plan anything, but I definitely think my oldest has artistic tendencies.

"Whatever they want to do, my teaching will give them just as many opportunities as others, along with good mental health and coping skills."

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