What and how homeschoolers are taught by their parents varies greatly and so are the reasons why families choose to homeschool. There are faith-based homeschoolers, parents who always knew they would, parents whose children were excluded from school and have run out of options, the ones that don’t believe in the system at all (unschoolers), a mix of the above or in our case never had any intention on homeschooling EVER, but became so disillusioned by modern learning that it felt like the quickest and only way at the time to get some common sense back into their education. The variety and freedom that comes with homeschooling can make this lifestyle highly appealing and the ease with which you are granted the approval to Teach Your Own has made this education option a reality for approximately 6000 Kiwi kids.
What many people don’t realise is that once your home education application has been approved by the Ministry of Education (in our case this took four weeks), you are quite literally left to your own devices — or in our case pens and paper. Unless you are eligible for correspondence due to your family’s physical distance to a school, you are not provided with learning material or check-ups. A letter twice a year asking if you would like to receive the home education supervision allowance is the only communication you have with the Ministry. What they will be relying on is that the vast majority of homeschooling parents are passionate about their children’s education and wellbeing and that these children tend to do well academically (or so I’ve been told) in comparison to those educated in the state system. The Ministry is bound to be pleased in seeing pressure taken off the system and it must save them a significant amount of money not having to educate thousands of children. They know that parents don’t do it for the money (just under $1400 a year for two children), these parents don’t ask for anything or go on strike and are generally easy to please (maybe not me though).
Here is an excerpt from our home education application which obviously satisfied the Ministry into believing we would be good home educators:
‘Our education philosophy is love and research-based. Committing knowledge to long-term memory is essential for children to think and problem solve. We have taken them out of their local school because they encourage self-management and online learning BEFORE the basics such as reading, writing and math are covered properly. While homeschooling our children we are spending time perfecting handwriting, spelling, reading and math. Once we have guided them to become experts in a subject we are giving them more independence to explore their interests in this subject. We are teaching them basic skills such as finding books in the bookcase, teaching them to look up words in the dictionary, looking at the world map to find the geographic locations of countries and their capitals. Using their fingers to hold a pen every day wherever possible. IT is only to teach them to touch type and learn Te Reo and possibly the Dutch language if time permits. We will provide them with a chair and table to do so.’
I have kept to my declaration in my application and have focused heavily on my sons’ handwriting and writing skills since we took them out of school seven months ago. Old habits die hard and it took some time to remind our oldest (now nine) to use punctuation and to sit properly on a chair while learning. But practice does make perfect and he has started to remember his capitals and full stops and now understands the importance of protecting his posture. Our oldest is also becoming more confident in relying on his numeracy skills due to a lot of one-on-one math lessons with me. These newfound skills are used daily to solve common calculations and I strongly believe that these basics will add to improving my children’s general confidence in life. Excellent literacy and numeracy are the first steps in aiding students to be confident life-long learners and unfortunately, modern learning in New Zealand has in some cases resulted in kids becoming experts at uploading and downloading and looking things up on Google in groups, but not be able to write or add up properly. Our son is not a ‘digital native that is connected anytime, anywhere’. He is a young child who needs plenty of human interaction and guidance to thrive academically.
I have been highly critical about the shallow technology use that is being pushed in some state schools and after my experience of Teach Your Own, I find it even more incomprehensible that schools deem Bring Your Own Devices necessary from sometimes as young as 7 years old. We have practised some coding principles (without a computer) and will look things up on the laptop if we can’t find the answer in our library, but other than that we only use a screen when the oldest is practising touch typing. We have studied the regions of New Zealand and the continents of the world in an Atlas which makes it much easier to study than on the tiny screen of a Chromebook. We are covering some of New Zealand’s fascinating history and use the Start Right books to ensure we are at least aware of what the New Zealand Curriculum expects from us. We revisit basic facts so that I know some of it is sinking in and I intend to build on these facts when we delve deeper into various subjects.
This learning only takes an hour or two a day. The rest of the day is free for other — often physical — activities which occur outside of the home. The term HOMEschooling is deceptive as most of us are not home much; some even wish that they could be home more! The boys thoroughly enjoyed Fundamentals (with 88 other homeschoolers!) and Swimweek and even their first ever camp at the gorgeous Pine Valley Outdoor Centre. We collected money for orphans, took part in a bush survival skills day, joined a filmmaking workshop, visited museums and attended stream studies. We go bowling regularly and walk up the Wither Hills, enjoy boat trips and some lazy kayaking out in the Sounds – and all of this during school hours. Often the highlight of the week is meeting other homeschoolers at the beach on a Wednesday where the children are healthy, energetic and noticeably more innocent than many children in registered schools. They ‘go bush’ for hours with their pocketknives, bring in their chickens to show off or play board games. There is more time now to visit the library, cook, practise guitar, go bike riding and other activities that were previously reserved for the weekend.
It sounds like bliss, but it’s not all a glorious adventure. Despite being time rich we haven’t got round to learning Te Reo or Dutch and I still cringe a little when art and crafts come out. They miss out on some healthy competition that comes with Sports Day or Cross Country and we don’t do assessments so they are rarely under pressure. Is this good enough? Will they cope when going back to school with being one of many and having to prove themselves on a regular basis again? I felt crippled with doubt a few months into TYO wondering if I was doing enough and I now also experience teachers’ guilt when I know I haven’t really done my best. My class size is two after all and they are my own so no excuses to slack. I know that they are having a blast though as they often remind me how they wish they could homeschool forever. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that I can front up the energy long-term to teach my children all the way through. I must be one of the few (or only!) homeschooling parents in Marlborough who takes one of their children to preschool and this gives me the luxury of teaching the older children undisturbed three mornings a week. I have the luxury that trained teachers guided my older children when they started reading and writing at five and the thought of having to eventually teach our youngest child terrifies me.
Needless to say, keeping your children home adds a lot of housework too; food prep, crafts (arghhh!). We were told by many homeschoolers that it takes time to ‘unschool’ and that the boys’ bond would strengthen, but our kids still fight A LOT, possibly more than before. They could use some space from each other once in a while. There has been a bit of yelling leading up to the holidays…. and it wasn’t all them. But thankfully we also have the luxury of returning to school. Unlike many other homeschoolers, my husband and I do see the value of an education out of the home. I loved school as a child and I’m sure they will enjoy it again when the times comes. They are really easy going boys and (believe it or not) I am going to be an easy-going school parent. The local school we are hoping our boys will attend have tables and chairs, meaningful technology use and music lessons during school hours. They have relatively small classrooms and a co-ed college in the making! This school ticks a lot of boxes for many families so the waiting list is long, but in the meantime, I will count myself lucky for being given the opportunity to teach my boys, especially at the wonderful ages they are at; still so curious and sweet and eager to please which makes them easy to teach.
Paid teachers will already know that teaching is a love language interpreted by children as positive attention. I am now the fortunate recipient of the regular showers of gratitude that my children previously reserved for their school teachers. The hardest part of rejoining ‘the system’ will be losing the time you get with your children in what are the best hours of the day (9 am to 3 pm) and of course no longer being part of the fascinatingly eclectic homeschooling community.
This article is republished with permission of the author and was originally published here.