Advice for New Home Educators

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Advice for New Home Educators

Annie Regan

Choosing to home educate can be a daunting decision. Whether you are doing it for philosophical or lifestyle reasons, or as a result of the school environment not working out, it is a choice that is outside the norm. You may have lots of home educating contacts already, or you may not know anyone who does it. Either way, you will be surrounded by school culture and references, most of which don’t really fit your family anymore. Other people – family, friends, health professionals, strangers – will comment on and question your choice. It can be hard at times not to doubt your decision and it can feel overwhelming to suddenly be in charge of your child’s education. Here are some thoughts on common concerns, and ideas for navigating the early part of your home education journey (and beyond). 

There will be panicky days – days when you wonder if you’ve done the right thing, whether you are ruining your children by home educating them, whether you are up for the responsibility. Tiredness, spending time with people who question your decision, or a few days at home where everyone seems to be arguing and your household looks and sounds nothing like the way you imagined it would, can compound the doubts. It’s easy to blame bad days on home education In reality, all families have days that don’t work out as well as others regardless of education choices and a tough day doesn’t mean yours was a bad choice. 

On those days, it helps to do something fun and take advantage of some of the benefits of home education. Have a pyjama day, go to the movies, watch DVDs, visit friends, go to the park or zoo or museum, or play a game that you all enjoy. You have the freedom to spend your time in a way that benefits your family – so even if you have a structure for the children’s learning, take a break when needed, relax and enjoy the process. Everyone will feel more connected and happy, and the doubts will ease. 

It can also help to look at what is causing doubt and see if there is anything you can do to change things. If you worry that you are not offering enough activities, try offering more – either family outings or joining organised activities. If you feel too busy, try some home days (many kids need a rest day or two after an outing). If you are worried that your children aren’t learning enough, take a few days to talk to and listen to them and take note of what new things they are discovering. It may not look like school learning or be easily classified into the curriculum learning areas, but seeing that they are learning new skills and information in their own way can restore faith that learning will occur in other areas as well. 

Often, waiting a few days can make a huge difference and the doubts settle down until next time. It is a process to go through as you and your kids learn about this new way of life. These panicky days tend to happen more frequently in the beginning and become less common as you gain experience and confidence. 

There will be comments from others. Some of these come from genuine curiosity. For example, ‘How does that work?’, ‘Does the school send you the work you need to cover?’ Other questions might be misunderstandings about home education: ‘What about socialisation?’, ‘How will they get into Uni?’ And others can be from relatives or close friends who genuinely worry about the children. 

In the early days many home educators tend to answer questions apologetically, which usually leads to more questions. It can feel like an interrogation and that you need to convince the other person you’ve made a good choice. If you respond to comments confidently, the questions will stop or come more from curiosity than judgment. Having some prepared answers can help and they’ll vary depending on whether you are talking to a family member or a stranger. For example, responses such as, ‘We’re trying this for now’, ‘It’s going well’, ‘We did a great activity the other day, do you want to see some photos?’, and ‘We’re loving the lifestyle’ reassure others that you know what you are doing and they might be inspired to learn more. Some families keep a blog or post regularly on Facebook. This shows family and friends that the children are continually learning and prevents some of the questions. 

Some people will see your choice as an attack on their own educational choices and many people won’t easily change their mind about the importance of traditional schooling. You don’t need to go into detail or convince anyone that home education is the right decision. You can mention some of the positive things that you are experiencing and then change the subject. Many doubting family members slowly become more supportive as they see how happy and well adjusted the children are. 

Establishing a social network 

Parents and children alike benefit from spending time with other home-educating families. Knowing that other families have made the same choice can help you feel less alone and more confident. Children who have been to school sometimes worry that they are different to everyone else but meeting other home- educated children alleviates some of that worry. Other parents can help with activities and lessons, or offer advice. Park days, activities like trampolining or roller-skating, and home education camps are a great way to get to know other families in a relaxed social setting. The friends that the children make at these activities are then available to play with on other days as well. An advantage of home education is that you can get to know the whole family rather than being segregated by age. Similarly, even if there are no children at an activity the same age (and/or gender) as yours, it’s often still worth going as home educated children tend to make friends based on shared interests rather than age. At many activities it’s common to see a large group, from toddlers to teens, playing together,

If you go to a group and it doesn’t feel like a good fit, try it again – sometimes it takes a few visits to get the feel of it – or try another group. There are options available every day of the week, especially if you are able to travel, so there’s bound to be somewhere that works for your child. There are also activities based on particular topics or learning areas, co-ops that cover a range of subjects, trips to the museum or zoo etc. These can be a great way to be exposed to topics while also interacting with other home educating families. 

There are many resources available and it’s tempting to rush out and buy a curriculum, piles of books or activities. But this can be expensive and not all families take to the same type of learning material. If it’s possible to borrow a curriculum, use online resources, or buy resources cheaply, then you can figure out what works and invest your time and money accordingly. Op shops are great for finding games, books and resources cheaper than educational stores. Although, once you know what you want, it can be nice to have a few good, new materials. 

Learning isn’t always going to look like you think it should. It won’t look like school. Many new home educators picture their children sitting at the table for a certain number of hours each day. This may work for your children. Or, they may grasp things quickly and then want to go and play. Or, they may work better in the afternoon or evening. They may earn better without structure. It’s important to find the method that works for your family. Look at how the children are learning – what makes them happy and motivated – rather than watching the clock or the calendar. And it may change over time; one of the beauties of home education is that you can adapt so that your children always have an education that is working for them. This may be different for each child in the same family. 

Whether you are doing structured bookwork, natural learning, or something in between, your children’s learning doesn’t have to follow a traditional school timeline. In a class setting, there is less individual attention, it can take longer to introduce concepts, and everyone is expected to move at the same pace. You may be able to whiz through things quicker, or spend months on a particularly strong interest. Children may focus on one area for a while and then move onto something else; they don’t necessarily need to be working on all subject at once.

If you have pulled your child out of school, they may initially be resistant to doing anything that feels school-like. There’s no need to force it – some parents worry that if they don’t begin structured work immediately, their child won’t want to learn. This usually isn’t true. A period of deschooling is generally necessary so that the child can regain confidence and feel good about learning again.
Making those early weeks/months fun and relaxing can help your child redevelop a love of learning, improve confidence and reduce stress. Most families find that after a while, their child starts to explore those areas that they have been avoiding – reading, writing, maths, asking questions, being interested in learning. Some can then begin to do more structured lessons, while other families choose a natural
learning approach. Either way, the children continue to learn and once they’ve deschooled it becomes an enjoyable process for the whole family. 

If you home educate from the start, you don’t need to change much, if anything. It’s not necessary to sit down on the first day of ‘school’ and start to work through lessons, although some might like that. You can introduce structure if you want to and increase it gradually, as your child is ready. But again, it doesn’t need to be on the same time scale as school. Many families find that they can just keep doing what they were doing when their child was three and four and the learning continues to happen. 

Games are great. Learning doesn’t come only from books, worksheets or set activities. Many board, card, outdoor or video games include reading, speaking, mathematics, history, science, health, problem solving, relationships, finance, art and more. Children (and adults) learn easily and happily when they are having fun so games are a wonderful resource for all home educators. 

Comparison 

You might see stories about children learning things well beyond their expected age, or starting businesses or university courses at a young age. These stories can be great in one sense, as they show that home education doesn’t prevent children
from achieving these things. However, most children learn at their own pace and work towards their interests in a less extraordinary way. Part of the benefit of home education is the absence of rankings, grades and pressure to compete. Some
children do many activities each week. Some stay home most days. Some read a lot, some build things or create art or play musical instruments. Some dabble in a variety of subject areas. Some delve into one area of interest to the exclusion of almost everything else. Your children will know different things than other kids their age, because their education is tailored to them. They may be advanced in some areas and still be developing in others. Each child is different, and helping your child find what works best for them is the most useful thing you can do.

You don’t have to do all the teaching. As a home educating parent, your main role is facilitating your child’s learning. You will probably be the main person involved with their education but you can outsource topics that you are unsure of to people who have skills that you don’t. Your partner, other family members, local people in the community, other home educating parents, older home educated kids, can all be involved in sharing knowledge and helping to develop your child’s skills.

There are many benefits to home education – including obvious ones like a tailored education and freedom to work at your own pace. But for those kids who have had social issues at school, there are also advantages like reduced anxiety and freedom from bullying. Then there are less obvious benefits, such as a deeper relationship with your children. Home educated children form strong friendships with other people of all ages, look after younger children and talk easily with older children and adults. They respect others’ opinions and develop their own thoughts on a range of topics. They tend to have a love of learning ,a willingness to try new things, know what they want and will speak up if something is bothering them. It can be a daunting decision to make, but the benefits to the whole family are far-reaching and worthwhile. 

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