It is probably fair to say that the three basic aims of education in New Zealand are to train young people in academic and practical knowledge and skills, in values, and in the skills of citizenship (socialisation).
From where we sit, as we speak daily with families around the nation, the motivations for choosing to homeschool are chiefly to be found in these three areas.
Knowledge and skills
Changes to pedagogy (and hence to the content of teacher training) have resulted in enormous changes in the delivery of education, which are not universally agreed upon or accepted.
Beyond this, even with the best of intentions and the dedication and commitment of most teachers, there is no guarantee that while quality teaching may take place, quality learning will.
In response to these things, parents who homeschool have the opportunity to research good teaching methods and use what most suits their children’s personal needs, and can give their children one-on-one attention. They also have ready access to professional advice and support where needed.
Legislative efforts to remove all traces of a Judeo-Christian belief system may have succeeded politically, but they have not changed the core moral values of many New Zealanders.
Parents who disagree with this change of values can teach the values that they believe are of primary importance. They can also be available to support their children as they learn to think for themselves and develop their own convictions.
In response to the oft-asked question “Aren’t you worried about socialisation?” many parents will tell you that this is actually the chief reason for the decision to homeschool. In fact, it is the single most common factor we encounter in dealing with daily enquiries. Parents who feel strongly that bad company corrupts good character welcome the opportunity that homeschooling provides, to promote positive relationships in their children’s lives.
Underlying the above question is the assumption that homeschooled children will somehow develop into socially inept citizens, but this is far from the truth, as homeschooled children learn to socialise in natural ways within their families and communities with people of all walks in life, and of all ages.
In reality, many homeschoolers would argue that socialisation that involves being constantly surrounded by a large group of just one’s peers, is not natural (as it happens nowhere in real life apart from our schools), and its inherent weaknesses provide fertile grounds for a range of social problems, including bullying. Peer pressure is a sociological term, defined as “the influence exerted by a peer group or an individual, encouraging other individuals to change their attitudes, values, or behaviours in order to conform to group norms”. It is rare to hear the term used positively, because negative peer pressure, the logical consequence of too much rigid, age-banded ’socialisation’ (and the subsequent over-influence of the all-powerful but very immature peer group), pushes so many young people towards undesirable behaviour.
Home education approaches
The National Council of Home Educators New Zealand (NCHENZ) website states that about 7,000 children are currently being home educated in New Zealand, and every family will have their own unique style. Some of the more common approaches to home education are outlined below, although most families blend a number of different methods.
School At Home: Some people literally do ’school at home’ with a fixed curriculum, workspace, and schooling hours – a highly structured approach that mirrors the traditional classroom method.
Unit Studies: Particular subjects are linked to the child’s own areas of interest while integrating literacy, numeracy, science, arts and other subjects.
Unschooling: This term is much misunderstood and some people avoid using it, preferring terms such as natural, child-led, or free-range learning. This is an unstructured, integrated approach based on the child’s interests and passions. John Holt, the author of Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, has written a lot about natural learning.
Waldorf: This is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner who was an Austrian philosopher and teacher. Steiner took a holistic approach to education and stressed the importance of the ‘whole child’ by focusing on body, mind, and spirit. Care is taken to develop subject content in a way that is truly relevant to the inner life of the child. There is an emphasis on natural play materials, storytelling, art and craft, music and movement, nature, and the rhythms of life.
Montessori: This educational approach was developed by Dr Maria Montessori in about 1897. The focus is on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. Rather than use formal teaching methods, the Montessori approach involves developing natural interests and activities. It is important that a child is free to investigate and make choices about the things they want to do.
Charlotte Mason: Charlotte Mason was a British educator who dedicated her life to improving the quality of education in England at the turn of the twentieth century. Probably the best known of her methods is her use of living books instead of dry, factual textbooks or books that are condescending to children. Living books are usually written by one person with a passion for the topic and a broad command of the language, making the subject alive and engaging.
Classical: Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words (written and spoken) rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television). The early schooling years are spent in absorbing facts, in the middle grades students learn to think through arguments, and in the high school years they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called ‘The Trivium’. This approach is quite rigorous and systematic.
Eclectic Approach: The term ’eclectic’ refers to a mixed approach to home education – gathering bits and pieces from various philosophies and sources. Many home educators take an eclectic approach because homeschooling gives them the flexibility to adapt their programme to fit in with the family’s goals, commitments and lifestyle. For example, they might generally use unit studies, follow a curriculum for maths, attend some set activities at specific times during the week, and keep afternoons free for child-led learning opportunities.
Meet the O’Brien family
CAROLYN O’BRIEN shares her experience of homeschooling her six children.
We are a homeschooling family who live on a small orchard in Central Otago. I homeschool the children and Alister is an orchard manager. Our children are John (26), Eve (25), Oliver (23), Elza (22), Jude (15), and Timothy (10).
We have homeschooled all our children from school age right through primary and secondary levels (Jude and Tim still working through it). As young parents we had friends who homeschooled their children using the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) system. We went to an ACE conference to learn more about it and decided we wanted to educate our children at home. We liked the idea of this lifestyle as a family.
We wanted our children’s learning to be from a foundation of the personal values and beliefs we have as a family. Homeschooling has catered for this. We also wanted to avoid the negatives of peer pressure.
Academically we have managed well because we had good support from Home Schooling NZ.
Having grown up together with the bulk of their learning and play at home, the siblings have a strong bond, which remains now that the older children are adults and spread around New Zealand and abroad.
One of the main challenges is that we only have one income. This means we have had to settle for a less affluent lifestyle which at times has been challenging, but at the end of the day the rich sense of community we share outweighs this drawback for us.
Another challenge was when the children’s best friends moved away which left a lonely space for a time. It was maybe harder on them as they did not have such a large pool of friends to fall back on. In the end their friendships with their siblings carried them through until they developed new friendships.
Where are they now?
John, who developed good leadership skills being the eldest of six homeschooled children, has been in the New Zealand Army for six years and enjoys this career and its challenges.
Eve graduated from Bethlehem Tertiary Institute in 2013 as a Primary Teacher. She has done a lot of volunteer work overseas during her schooling and adult years, visiting Tanzania, Rarotonga, America, and Myanmar. She hopes to teach in Myanmar this year.
Oliver graduated from Otago Polytech in 2013 trained in Outdoor Leadership and Management. He is employed seasonally running outdoor adventure camps for children and youth.
Elza graduated from MAINZ Tai Poutini Polytech in 2013 as a Sound Engineer. She is very musical. She is presently doing volunteer work in an orphanage in Uganda.
Jude plays rugby for the local under-15 high school team. He wants to join the Air Force.
Timothy is still enjoying a life of learning and adventure.
Homeschooling has given us a special opportunity to look closely at each of our children’s personal make-up, to encourage them in the things they are good at, and give them plenty of opportunity to develop their gifts and abilities. This, combined with the strong sense of community we have as a family, has given them a good foundation as they stepped out into adulthood. It has been a great lifestyle for us.