Home ed done properly: what does that mean?


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You might have had someone say to you that home education can be okay, as long as it’s done ‘properly’. But who defines what ‘properly’ means? Who gets to determine what a ‘proper’ education looks like for individual children? Why is one person’s ‘proper’ better than another, when children are unique?

Home ed advocates will likely say that an ideal education is tailored to a child’s learning needs, interests, and abilities, with plenty of fun thrown in. In Victoria, home educators must cover the eight key learning areas, but how that is done is personal choice. Some parents may choose a hands-on maths program using manipulatives, others may hire a tutor once or twice a week, while others may have their child learn maths concepts through activities such as cooking or playing board games. Is one child getting more of a ‘proper’ education than the other two?

If one child loves learning about ancient civilisations while another prefers to focus on the 20th century, is one child receiving a ‘proper’ education in history more so than the other? Under the Victorian regulations, home educators are not told what they have to study for history, and one era is not considered a better education than another. Both topics come under the Humanities and Social Sciences umbrella, thereby meeting the requirements of homeschooling registration.

I have two children aged 14 and 17. Both have completely different learning styles. My eldest has always been the more academic type, and started a tertiary education pathway much earlier than school peers. People unfamiliar with home education would see his many successes, such as good competition results, and say that we gave him a ‘proper’ education. These people often assume he had a structured school-at-home approach– sometimes other home educators assume this. The reality is that my son was largely self directed and as well as spending a lot of time on STEM interests, he also spent a lot of time playing computer games or tinkered in the shed. He did not focus much on the arts at all– no learning to play musical instruments as he just wasn’t interested and as a younger child, music was challenging due to sensory issues. He has now explored arts in his own way such as learning about architectural styles, but does this mean we did not give him a ‘proper’ or ‘well rounded’ education? He and I say of course not. Would forcing him to sit down, with much frustration, and learn music or art have given him a better education, or would it just have created an aversion to covering arts in his own way? As he himself says, if he wants to learn to play the guitar he’ll just go off and do that and his age is irrelevant. His future will not be ruined because he was never interested in playing the piano or learning how to use watercolours.

My fourteen year old is more arts and humanities focused and prefers a more unstructured, natural learning approach. She plays a lot of computer games and chats online with friends. We use a sit-down purchased maths curriculum some of the time but other times she’ll calculate things in her head such as when we play games, or she is working out how to use her savings to purchase something. Every now and then we’ll sign up to some online classes based on a topic she may be interested in, but she doesn’t always do the homework tasks. She is very interested in social issues and human rights, and in some areas possesses far more knowledge than most adults I know. She has acquired this knowledge through her own self directed learning, or having conversations with people where she has then gone off to do her own research. While she may not be as interested in science or geography, she is happy to spend time drawing or reading, and some of the books she likes to read include autobiographies or historical events. She’s also teaching herself Spanish and violin but doesn’t show much interest in using our microscope or chemistry equipment. Is this considered less of a ‘proper’ education than my son’s, even though she is miles ahead of him, so to speak, in her areas of strength?

For home educators whose children have diverse needs, having someone determine what constitutes a proper education for them, as a one size fits all approach, can be deeply problematic. We are an autistic-ADHD family and as I’ve outlined, both children have completely different learning styles, interests and needs. In terms of personality, they are also opposites. The approach used for my eldest would be disastrous for my youngest (believe me, we experienced why this was a disaster!). Yet this still does not mean one child has had a better education than the other.

Just as secondary school students choose their electives and narrow their areas of study with a view to what they want to do in the future, home ed students can focus their interests but not be restricted to doing that for the senior secondary years. Both my children displayed aptitude in different areas, and home ed allowed them to explore their interests as much as they needed to, in their own time. Many home educated students enter higher education settings years earlier than school peers, and these aren’t just one kind of home ed kid or one type of home ed approach that got them there. Their home education approaches would be quite different, with one not being more ‘proper’ than others.

As I write this, and I describe above how my youngest isn’t really as interested in science as my eldest always was, I can hear the conversation the kids are having with their dad. My daughter has piped up with “I read articles that…” and has proceeded to talk about a number of science related topics I had no idea she had read about. So while it might not be learning taking place from a science textbook or online class, it’s still learning regardless of the source, and knowledge that is far more likely to be retained in memory.

[Image description: teenager with their back to the camera, being shown how to use carpentry tools to build a fence]

Written by a long term home educating parent in Melbourne

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