It's a beautiful summer day in the Hokianga and Haley Lowe and her daughter Mereana Wairua decide to take a walk to the dairy.
A local kaumātua pulls his car over and asks where they are going.
"What are you guys up to? Get in, there's a beached whale nearby that's died."
At a little bay in the harbour, Lowe and Mereana watch the dead whale being lifted from the mangroves onto a digger then carried across the sand to a waiting trailer.
They follow it to the marae and listen to the karakia, then hear Department of Conservation staff explain the process of the necropsy, where the creature will be examined to find the cause of death.
Back at their Kohukohu home, the pair watched Whale Rider and looked up poems and songs with whale themes.
Then they researched how whale bones could be used for carving, and Mereana tried it for herself, which led to a discussion about tikanga, Māori customary practices.
Welcome to The Skool of Mama, whose attendees are a curious 8-year-old and her mum with a boundless ocean of life lessons to explore.
Lowe has been homeschooling her daughter since the family moved to the Hokianga from Auckland two years ago.
Her three sons, now aged 21, 18 and 16, went through mainstream schooling and Mereana had one year at Papakura Normal School before the family headed north.
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Lowe's husband Cory, the local community constable of Ngāpuhi descent, helps with the homeschooling on his days off.
"When we moved, I was like 'right let's do this'," she said.
"Had Mereana been in the classroom she never would have had that [whale] experience.
"But now we can venture into other aspects from that core topic area. Bub loves the arts and the outdoors so we try and find ways to link it back to that so learning is fun."
In New Zealand, all children aged between 6 and 16 must attend a registered school.
If a parent wants to homeschool, they must apply through the Ministry of Education and prove their child will be taught as regularly and as well as they would be in a registered school.
Lowe, a qualified teacher, has always wanted to homeschool her children.
She admits it wouldn't have been possible in the city, with its fast pace and demands, but living in a small rural town made it possible.
Lowe's application to the ministry highlights the importance of balancing Mereana's Māori culture and heritage with her education.
Self-awareness, identity and belonging are key.
Mereana learns te reo, guardianship, co-operation and concern for all forms of life in the community and wider environment.
"Visiting marae and hearing te reo Māori spoken by her elders is the biggest gift she can be given and the flexibility of homeschooling enables such experiences," Lowe said in her application.
"To sit at the feet of kuia and hear their stories as we learn raranga; to hear the karanga and feel the wairua; to connect with Tanemahuta and learn of his healing properties through rongoā – these are all aspects of learning that are important to the balanced, healthy and holistic development of our tamariki."
Lowe prefers the term "learning through life" over homeschooling, which conjures up images of lonely children stuck at home with no friends.
She is now constantly on the lookout for "teachable moments" for Mereana.
Having a loose plan for the day allows lessons to come from her daughter's endless curiosities and interests.
Home-cooked recipes become part of a geography lesson; an empty packet of gnocchi is pinned to Italy on a world map on the wall.
Yes, there are conventional subjects like literacy and numeracy but there's also chess, poi, origami, kayaking and aerial yoga.
"It all just happens authentically and through life," Lowe said.
"It's not just bub's learning, it's also us learning.
"We have a very creative family. I have watched their creativity be suppressed through the system.
"I like that Mereana has the opportunity to be who she is in all her entirety. There's no restrictions put on her and there's no pressure for time.
"There's so much pressure on teachers from the Government that obviously then follows onto the children. When they've got 25 children in a classroom and they've got to prove they're meeting all these requirements ... there's no aroha in it.
"With homeschooling, I can teach how I dreamt I would have taught every child in my classroom had there not been all the extra pressure and paperwork."
Mereana clearly loves her home learning environment.
She gets to hang out with her best friend, who is also homeschooled, and spend more time outdoors.
She has grand plans to be a billionaire with a Lamborghini, or a champion cheerleader or, more seriously, a businesswoman like her mum.
Homeschooling kick-started Lowe's thriving jewellery business.
O Te Motu Creations was born nine months ago as a result of a homeschooling project which looked into rubbish and recycling in the area.
Mereana's broken bike was dismantled to see which parts could be reused. Lowe started tinkering with the bike tyres and created feather-shaped earrings out of the inner tubes.
In summer, Lowe plans to expand the business from being solely online and move into a shop in town.
About 6500 students are homeschooled in New Zealand.
Ministry of Education figures show a steady rise in homeschooling in Northland over the last five years, from 349 students in 2015 to 492 students in 2019 - up 40 per cent.
It seems more parents are turning to homeschooling because of Covid-19, having had it forced upon them during the alert level 4 lockdown.
From January 1 to May 31 this year, there were 82 new applications in the region, an increase from 54 applications over the same period last year.
Lowe knows of two other families in Kohukohu who homeschool, and one family in Waimamaku.
Her friend in Auckland liked it so much during lockdown she is now applying to homeschool her child.
"Lockdown enabled her to see that she actually had the skills," Lowe said.
"She's like, 'I'm going to apply for an exemption and keep doing it'."
Home Schooling New Zealand is a Northland-based charitable trust that offers advice and support to around 1000 homeschooled students around the country.
Principal Todd Roughton said he's had queries from parents "four or five times more than normal" because of Covid-19.
They came from several groups, he said, including from parents who "finally discovered what it's like being a family and that they'd like to spend more time with their children".
Others had long thought about homeschooling but never got round to it until prompted by the pandemic, he said.
"Covid brought people back into the home.
"They've gone back into the situation which is home and family-based rather than one which is individually based. It's caused people to really rethink their lives in a different way."
Roughton - who was a school principal before giving it up to homeschool his own four children – said society had changed from when mum used to stay at home with the kids.
Now many mums and dads headed off to work every day, he said.
"We've become used to the cultural norm of sending our kids off to school. They [parents] haven't discovered homeschooling, they've discovered their kids and getting to know their children.
"Many families have discovered that is a really nice thing."
The Ministry of Education's deputy secretary for sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said though the homeschooling application forms don't ask the reasons parents are applying, "it is possible the experience parents had during the Covid lockdown period has led them to think about homeschooling as an option".
"It isn't the same, of course, and there is considerably more involved with it than was the case during lockdown, but it's understandable that some parents may want to explore it," Casey said.
The Far North Homeschoolers group has weekly support meetings for about 30 families who are members.
Coordinator Jessica White said five new families had joined the group as a direct result of Covid.
"The lockdown allowed them to go at the child's pace. They noticed how happy the kids were and how connected they were as a family.
"A friend who's been considering it for a while watched her children over lockdown and was so impressed how they took control of their own learning. It's their own natural curiosity of the world. That was the final decider for her."
White, who lives in Ahipara, homeschools her two daughters, Inca, 6, and Pearl, 3.
"I always knew I wanted to homeschool, right from when I was pregnant.
"I feel like there are so many limitations with the schooling system; all the learning is put into one box.
"I want my kids to be in the world. Children want to learn, and I was aware of my own schooling, which crushed my passion for learning. As a teen that resulted in my not even knowing what I was interested in."
Like Lowe, White doesn't use the term homeschooling, preferring to call it "unschooling" which is self-directed education.
"It means we give the children space and time and freedom to explore the world at their own pace and find their own interests. And we as parents support their interests and provide resources and help explore topics.
"Unschooling is a way of life, it's totally child-led. The resources are in the house, at the beach, in the forest, the community and further afield ... it's giving them that time to explore. You're keeping that spark alive."
For Lowe, homeschooling has lived up to her expectations.
"It's been absolutely incredible," Lowe said.
"It's given her the freedom to learn her whakapapa authentically. Visiting her maunga [mountain] and awa [river] and marae up north is important to her sense of identity.
"That's the foundation, she has that first and the academic curriculum sits on top of that.
"We want her to know who she is and where she's from, and her place in the community is also really important.
"It teaches her how to be confident in who she is and how to be a kind human being."