What is home education?

Home education is the education of a child outside of the traditional school system. Families who choose to home educate assume full responsibility for their child’s education, using their own home as a base. Home education routinely incorporates excursions and other activities which take place outside of the home, and it is not unusual for people other than parents (such as other family members, friends, people in the wider community, tutors, coaches, instructors, etc.) to play a role in the education process. Home education is not to be confused with Distance Education where the government delivers education via the internet or correspondence.

With home education, the family accepts full responsibility for the educational programme, chooses their own educational philosophy, and finds their own curricula materials. A decision to home educate is a decision to do things differently. Flexibility, patience, and openness to other ways of doing things are intrinsic components of home education. Reading and researching what other home educators do can help parents get started.

There are many ways to home educate, and which way will be suitable for you and your children is a very individual decision. The available information and resources can be a bit daunting to start with but it helps to read up about various methods and find one you think is a good fit for you and your family. Just as there is no one true way to parent children, there is no one right way to home educate either – different approaches suit the circumstances and dynamics of different families. This decision as to home education method is not irreversible – you can adjust your approach, resources and philosophy as you go along, and most of us do so.

Further reading:

Is it legal?

Home education is legal in every state of Australia; however, regulations do differ from state to state. For details on the legal requirements for your state, see our legal section for details.

Why do people home educate?

Reasons vary but here are some common ones:

  • A desire to continue the learning partnership begun at birth;
  • Learning differences not dealt with effectively at school;
  • Seeking an approach better suited to the child’s learning style and needs;
  • A mismatch between ability and work presented in school;
  • Emotional well-being compromised by school (e.g. anxiety, bullying, self-harm);
  • Allows the family to deal with an illness more effectively together;
  • Special needs, including physical needs, ADD/ADHD, ASD, giftedness, an illness or severe allergy;
  • School environment considered unsafe;
  • School curricula considered inappropriate.

Whatever the reasons for originally choosing to home educate, many families discover that this educational approach works for their children and for the family as a whole. Learning in a nurturing environment, together with positive socialisation, leads to bright, interested, and emotionally healthy kids.

What kinds of people home educate?

All kinds. Home educators come from all walks of life. They live in the city, in the suburbs, in the country; they come from every socio-economic group and have various lifestyles, differing political and religious views, and varied interests. They are a very diverse group but the one thing they have in common is that they have all decided that their children will be better off educated outside of the traditional school system.

What does home education look like?

There are many ways to home educate. Some families start with a purchased curriculum and structure their days much like school. Some families decide to support their children’s natural drive to learn, as they did through the preschool years. Children learn at home through reading, conversation, play, outside classes, the internet, TV, volunteer work and everyday experiences in the community. Typically, children will have some time during their day to explore/work/play on their own, some time with their parents, and some time in community activities such as scouts, organised sport, art class, home education groups, or excursions. Each family structures its own schedule as children grow and needs change.

How do home education families operate?

Home educating families have often been portrayed as dad going to work and mum at home teaching the children during school hours. Some home educating families do operate that way. However, dads also home educate, as do single parents and grandparents. Some parents each work part-time and share the care of the children. Some parents work from home. Other families who home educate one child may also have other children who attend school. Others combine periods of conventional school with periods of home education. One of the many benefits of home education is that it need not be confined to school hours and this gives many families the opportunity to find flexible solutions in order to home educate in line with their own circumstances.

Do we have to do school hours?

You have 365 days a year to home educate. Subject to your state’s legal requirements, you can spread your education throughout the year and are not confined to school hours, school days or school terms. Many home education families include after-school sports or activities as part of their home education programme. Some take their holidays in off-peak season and work during the ‘school holidays’. Why not?

Will my children have friends?

Home educated children form friendships with both home educated children and non-home educated children. Home educators have the time and freedom to get to know people of many ages and backgrounds, instead of spending their days with only those of the same age.

Most home educators find or create groups to meet with at parks, camps, or on excursions. They build deep and meaningful friendships, with more time and space to talk to and learn from each other than would be possible at school. They also belong to scouts and church groups, take swimming and dance lessons, play on soccer teams and perform in theatre groups; and, along the way, they form friendships.

There is absolutely no reason for home educated kids to be isolated. There are loads of other home educators around and HEN can help you connect with them. Events, activities, excursions and camps are advertised through our magazine; Otherways, our weekly email list and on our website. Local groups also have weekly, fortnightly or monthly activities which you can hook into. There are also various internet discussion groups available – general home education, natural learning/unschooling, special needs groups and an events group, in addition to the HEN forum and social network. Also, your children can maintain friendships with schooled children and meet others through various sport and hobby groups.

How will I find other home educators?

Join HEN to be in the ‘home education loop’. This will give you access to a thriving home education community through regular activities, events, camps and excursions as well as our forum and online network.

See also:

But what about socialisation?

Concerns about socialisation usually go beyond whether children will find friends. Parents want to know whether children educated outside school learn socially acceptable behaviour and become responsible members of society. Rest easy, they do. Actually, as home educators watch their children develop, they come to regard the positive socialisation of home education to be one of its greatest advantages. With more individual attention, and more say in their own education, home educated children seem to become more self-reliant and self-confident, and less dependent on peer approval, than most school children. The first generation of home educated kids has grown up. The research shows they get into university, they get jobs, they form relationships and they are active in their communities.

See also:

Where do I get the books?

HEN is a support group, not an educational supplier but our members have access to a range of discounted educational programs and we maintain a list of various suppliers as a starting point.

HEN members utilise a variety of methods and resources. The Victorian Regulations and Qualifications Authority’s (VRQA) support materials include some suggestions on curriculum resources, our own resources page has contact details for a variety of suppliers, and Otherways magazine also carries resource ideas and reviews.

Many families use the books they have on their own shelves – general interest books, reference books and so on – plus their local library, the internet and community resources. They treat the whole world as their classroom and learn from life. Some continue with some or all of the books their children have had from school. Others purchase a curriculum from a supplier, or purchase supplies from a variety of suppliers – for example, maths from one, and English from another – in order to pick and choose from the materials available. This approach allows families to tailor their home education to meet the needs and abilities of their child. They can choose a higher or lower grade level for individual subjects if they wish, and choose books with a style which appeals. Some people choose to follow a particular philosophy – Montessori, Steiner, Charlotte Mason etc.; others choose an eclectic mix of philosophies. Some choose to use a distance education course.

Finding curricula resources is less of a problem than choosing from the smorgasbord available. We recommend families think carefully before spending hundreds of dollars on resources. Home education is an individual and changing entity. A programme may sound great but turn out to be totally unsuitable for your children (even if loads of other home educators recommend it). There are so many available free resources, and cheap mistakes are easier to walk away from than expensive ones.

What can HEN do for me?

HEN is a non-profit support group offering information, support and activities to home educating families and families enquiring into home education. It is worth joining the network in order to be ‘in the loop’ about news, activities, events and resources via our weekly emails. We run activities and camps throughout the year to support parents and promote socialisation between home educated children. Our quarterly magazine, Otherways, has been going for over 30 years, and a subscription is included in our membership. Members are also entitled to discounts on various educational programs, such as Mathletics, Reading Eggs, Skwirk, Maths Online and Rosetta Stone. HEN members are also able to enter the Australian Mathematics Competition and the Australian Informatics Competition with HEN as their ‘school’. Members receive weekly news emails and also have access to the social network section of our website as well as the forum.

Join HEN today.

Is HEN membership for 12 months from the day I join?

Yes, membership runs for 12 months from your joining date.

How do I get started?

Download our Getting Started Guide and you’ll be on your way. The blog articles in this section will also help.

Are there any special issues to be aware of for children coming out of school?

Yes, children of all ages coming out of school do need an adjustment period. It is not uncommon for families, especially those who have had particularly traumatic school experiences, to have an initial ‘let out of jail’ feeling, followed by a period of behavioural issues. Be patient, it takes time to work through the emotional baggage from school. Be kind to yourself during this phase, and include pleasurable, age-appropriate activities for your child, such as trips to the playground for younger children. Generally allow one month school recovery time for each year the child was in school. This can be a particularly tough time for teenagers – see the article on Decompression.

Is it expensive?

The cost can be as little as a library card or as much as you wish. An internet connection is highly beneficial but not essential. There is no special funding provided to home educators. See our financial page for further information.

What does the research say?

Home education has been around long enough for the first generation of home educated children to have grown up, and there is a large body of research now available demonstrating that home education does work both academically and socially.

See Research

How will I know my children are keeping up?

There are various ways to ensure that you are on track with the state curriculum if you wish. Not all home educators do this, as many of us believe that learning doesn’t necessarily happen to a pre-set curriculum or timetable. The Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority (VCAA) website has the AUSVELS (The Victorian/National Curriculum hybrid) which cover all year levels and outline what would be learnt in each year at school, including samples of the levels of work expected. We don’t recommend you follow the VELS rigidly as home education allows you the flexibility to tailor your children’s education to their particular needs, abilities and interests. The VELS are rather wordy but, if you cut through the jargon, they can provide you with a useful guide. The National Curriculum is also online.

Can I home educate part-time?

Depending on your state regulations this is a possibility. See Legal section

Is it possible to home educate one child while my others attend school?

Again, this is a possibility and, although it can be tricky, it is the best solution for some families in order to best meet the individual needs of each child.

See: the article “A Foot in Both Camps” in Otherways August 2010 issue.

Do we have to do the NAPLAN?

In most states the NAPLAN is available to, but not compulsory for, home educators. Check with your state home education registration organisation. In Victoria, home educated children are not permitted to sit the NAPLAN unless they attend school on a part-time basis. Many home educators find that testing is unnecessary because the daily one on one contact with their children means the parent is well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Others find testing a useful tool to reassure themselves and concerned relatives that they are ‘on track’. There are sample tests that can be used at home if you wish, and many educational suppliers stock preparation materials.

Do I have to have a home education label?

As home education has grown in popularity, many different styles have evolved. These include: school-at-home, eclectic home education, secular home education, Christian home education, natural learning, life learning, and unschooling. These are terms created to help home educators find common ground in discussions and networking. No home educating family is required to adhere to any particular style. Each family decides and defines what learning looks like for each of their children, and that can change as needs and circumstances change. You don’t have to have a label at all – you can just home educate your own way. This article will help you work out what home educators are talking about in regards to styles – A matter of style.

What is unschooling/natural learning?

Unschooling is getting more attention in the media, and is not easily understood, because most people believe that education equals school. It doesn’t have to be that way; it is just that most of us are used to that style of education.

Unschooling, a term coined by John Holt, refers to a style of home education where the family lives as if school did not exist, and each family member embraces learning as it occurs naturally, in day-to-day living. The world becomes the classroom and child-led learning is facilitated by the parents, who provide learning opportunities and a rich learning environment. Unschooling works as a mindset, or way of thinking, in which life is viewed as intrinsically educational.

The terms unschooling, life learning, informal learning and natural learning are often used interchangeably, although some proponents define differences. All these methods are at the less structured end of the home education spectrum.

Because home education is so individual, not all unschoolers or natural learners educate or parent in the same way. Some ‘radical unschoolers’ have no restrictions on things such meals or bed-times.

To learn more about unschooling see:

How can parents teach hard subjects?

The simple answer is, they don’t have to. Home educated children may be interested in a subject, or involved in an activity, that their parents don’t know much about, and that’s fine. Home educators soon learn to say, ‘I don’t know, but we can find out’. There is a world of resources available and family, friends, and even tutors and external classes, can all be used to round out a child’s education.

The parents are facilitators. Just as they helped their children to learn to walk and talk by providing models and guidance, parents of home educated children help their older children by providing tools and resources. For example, there are many online higher maths and science programmes. If parents can use a search engine, they can find a resource for what a teenager wishes to learn. Teenagers also become very efficient at finding their own resources.

The best teachers for all children are people who love and care about them, and who respect their particular way of learning—people who have the time and the patience to provide one-on-one attention.

Do you use the internet?

Absolutely! Access to the internet opens up a world of resources. The internet is one of the reasons why home education is becoming more common – with a search engine, you can find resources to teach just about anything. However, if you don’t have internet access, this does not preclude you from home educating. Your local library is a fantastic resource in itself and it will also probably offer free internet access.

What if you have children of all different ages?

Most of us do. People home educate with anything from one to ten children without a problem. See Multi-aged Learning at Home.

Can children get into school after home educating?

Sure thing; children go in and out of school at every level. It is simply a matter of turning up at a school and saying you’d like to enrol in grade or year x. There may be an interview, and they may ask you to provide evidence of the child’s current level.

What if my children don’t want to be home educated?

Sometimes children are reluctant to home educate because it sounds strange and/or they may fear they’ll have no friends. Take your children along to a group or activity to demonstrate that this is not the case. If they are still reluctant, think very seriously about whether home education is going to work for you. It may be best to back off on the idea – let your children know it is an option that you are very open to and then leave it with them for a while.

How does home education work for teenagers?

There is an increasing number of teenagers being home educated. They enjoy the independence of home learning and the time to discover what they really love to do. They may combine their home education with part-time employment. They may pick up online courses, undertake Massive Online Open Courses (free university level courses undertaken without credit) and move onto TAFE colleges and universities.

See Older Students

What about VCE/HSC?

For those who wish to acquire the VCE/HSC, there are a number of options.

  • Some teenagers enter school at year 10 or 11 to complete the last years of their education in the system; others use the AYCE program;
  • those who have been home educated for at least one year in Victoria are eligible to do year 10 and VCE via Distance Education
  • OTEN in NSW accept HSC candidates for from all over Australia if they have completed year 10;
  • still others may do VCE at a TAFE college or other adult learning institution, such as the Centre for Adult Education (CAE)
  • even some neighbourhood learning centres offer VCE.
  • It is also possible to move onto TAFE, university or careers without year 12.

For more details, see Older Students.

Can home educated young people get into university?

Yes. There are many pathways to university for home educated people. Some home-ed students go early (and can have their degree by 18), some go ‘on time’, and others go as mature-age students. Issue 128 of Otherways had a feature on the pathways available and stories from various former home educated children who have moved on. There is an increasing number of young adults in Australia who were home educated and subsequently went on to university.

Also, not everyone wants to go to university – some home educated young people elect to do so, while others go straight into the workforce or start their own businesses.

Surely it can’t all be smooth sailing?

You may be thinking, ‘There must be a downside that they aren’t telling me about’. Of course home education brings its own problems – but doesn’t parenting in general? We are not promising you a bed of roses! Home education will neither solve all your problems nor mean you never have to worry about your children again. There will be problems, and there may be difficult times. A decision to home educate should be an informed one – you need to be aware of the possible pitfalls. You then have to weigh up the problems you currently have with your children in school (or the potential problems you foresee were you to send them to school), against the problems you might encounter with home education.

See the Concerns section for more information.

Is there something in between school and home education?

Not everyone is in a position to home educate. There are some options to consider:

Primary and Secondary options:

  • Part-time home education is legal in some states – see the legal section for details
  • An alternative school – ask around your neighbourhood
  • Distance Education (eligibility criteria applies)

Secondary options:

see VCE and alternatives for details