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DIY Education

By Susan Wight

You’ve made the decision not to send the children to school this year and the relatives are recovering from the shock…Now, where to start?

Having made the decision to leave the school system, you now have the freedom to choose your own education. Spend some time thinking about what education is.

What would the ideal education look like? What would you like your children to get from their education? Is education a matter of teaching the basics? Is it about opening up minds? Encouraging thinking? Creativity?

These questions are important because you don’t have to reproduce school at home. Think about how school operates, what you think works and what you know doesn’t work.

I believe that education is more about teaching children to question and think than it is about teaching them an accepted set of facts. What do you think? Take your thoughts and your experience to design your own education.

Designing your own education may be a scary thought to begin with. Don’t panic.

Many people begin by sticking to the state or national curriculum; if you’re in Victoria an easy starting point for that method is the old Distance Education materials available for free here. Some follow the national curriculum for the whole course of their home education and do so very successfully. If you choose to do that, home education gives you the flexibility to move away from  school hours or school days – you have 365 days to home educate in and you can spread your lessons over that time. Don’t stress about ticking off every item, you have the freedom to substitute other materials, go deeper in areas of interest and skip things kids already know.

Another option is to pick up some textbooks for Maths and English and cover the rest of the curriculum by treating the world as your classroom – using the books on your shelf, your library, the internet; visiting museums and festivals; attending home ed activities, joining community groups and so on.

As you find your feet and begin to see that home education is working, you may begin to tailor the curriculum to meet your children’s individual needs. This is fine – the curriculum is written for the mass market and you are delivering it to a small number of children. Immediately, the dynamics are different and many of the crowd control aspects of the school won’t be necessary.

In fact, you aren’t obliged to stick to the curriculum at all. You can cover all the Learning Areas without a curriculum. The world is an interesting place to live – you now have the freedom to get out and explore it. Again, as you gain confidence, keep those thoughts you had on what education could be and think about how your own brand of home education might evolve to meet your ideals. Reassess as you go. Let your children be your guides. If something isn’t working, admit it and change. You can adjust your method, resources and philosophy as you go along and most of us do so. This is both a reflection of our experience, and also the fact that, as our children change and grow, their needs change. Also, sometimes we just find that a resource, no matter how highly recommended, is all wrong for our children. In this respect, a word of warning: it is harder to walk away from a $1000 mistake than a $10 one, so be wary of signing up to expensive programmes. If you’re considering a big ticket item, see if you can do a trial first or ask another home educator if you can try their copy.

The home education community is a hugely diverse one. You can picture it as a Venn diagram. What we all have in common is that we educate our children out of school, but there are huge differences in the way we go about it. You will hear and read a lot about different styles of home education and may start to worry about which is the ‘right way’. At home ed groups, online and within the pages of Otherways you will hear from natural learning proponents (including myself), eclectic home educators, Steiner home educators, unschoolers and so on. Some of them will openly claim their method of home education is the ‘right way’. The truth is there is no ‘one true way’. We are all home educating different children. How could one size fit all?

If we extend our Venn diagram into 3D, even within each home education style, home educators live vastly different lives. There are vegetarians, attachment parents, world travellers, environmentalists, vaccinationists, people with strong religious beliefs, those who eat only organic foods, those with no TV, alternative therapy devotees… I could go on for the rest of the page. There are also home educators opposed to each of those things. Your life will be enriched by the diversity of the community, but don’t let it confuse you. Evaluate everything you hear and read and decide whether it is for you. Choose what fits your family and your lifestyle.

Dr John Barratt-Peacock, author of the first PhD on Australian home education, interviewed 205 home educating families as part of his research back in the ’90s. After all those interviews, John came to the conclusion that home education was positive, regardless of the style chosen, and that perhaps it was the relationships it promoted that were the strongest aspect.

Your home education will be yours, take bits and pieces that look good and put together your very own education model. Don’t let anyone tell you are doing home education ‘wrong’. If it feels right for you and your children, go for it. You aren’t educating their children; you are educating your own.

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