By Sue Wight
Rachel Brady gave up on home education after two weeks and sent her children back to school.
Her home education experience is not representational. Around 20,000 Australian kids are currently being home educated, thousands more already have been. For some families, home education provides a valuable short-term solution to an immediate problem, but many educate for a substantial time. The average period in Victoria is two years, and some continue through to university entry. I was one of the all-the-way group, home educating three children over fifteen years.
So, how viable is home education over the longer term?
While reasons for home education are myriad, they fall into two broad categories – a decision taken as an alternative to school, or in response to school problems. Those in the first group may see it as a joyful extension of parenting or be pursuing a matter of philosophical or religious conviction. In the second category, reasons include specific learning needs and unresolvable school problems such as bullying.
Home education is seldom a decision undertaken lightly. Even when it is a matter of desperation, people research quickly, weigh up their options and make a conscious choice.
A HEN survey indicated that for almost 40% of home educators, it was an educational choice made without trying school. For such families the transition is barely noticeable – home education is a joyful extension of their parenting. Parents are natural educators who nurture and teach their children from birth. As the children reach “school age”, a home educator’s lifestyle remains much like any parent at home with preschoolers – except that the kids’ interests and abilities evolve over time and the parent provides for them at the appropriate level. For reading, writing and maths, parents facilitate learning much as they assisted their children to acquire the skills of talking and walking – the parent provides opportunities, assistance and joyful feedback as the children experiment and master each task. This holds true regardless of the home education style chosen.
The remaining 60% of families come to home education after at least one child has spent a period in school. Some such families simply decide home education is a better fit for them. For others, home education is a response to school problems or even a crisis. Either way, it takes time to adjust to a new routine. In addition, where home education is a response to problems, those problems don’t disappear overnight, if at all. If they were intrinsic, they have now been brought home i.e. with specific learning needs or kids who have trouble fitting the school mould, home education won’t eliminate such issues. What it does allow is for tailored responses to be developed away from the competing needs of a full class and school timetable. Parents can also respond quickly to changing needs rather than having to schedule another school meeting to advocate for changes that may not eventuate.
When there have been school problems, the emotional baggage takes time to work through and this transition period can be rocky. Here I speak from hard experience. I vividly recall sitting on the front step crying at the end of a very torrid day. I’d done my research, I’d spent months making the decision to home educate and the transition was tough. The bad behaviour that had developed in school and spilled over into our home life now expanded into all day, every day. As I sat on the step and cried that night, we were about a month into this carefully-considered but totally radical and hard-made decision. I was convinced home education was the right choice for us; I just didn’t think I was up to it.
A good sleep and some soul-searching saw me reassess and dig in to survive the transition stage. We needed time to de-stress and learn to firstly tolerate and then like each other again. If you are in that stage now, be kind to yourselves and get through one day at time. Don’t rush to sign up for home education activities. The kids need time to recover from their negative school experiences and you need time to regroup as a family. Spend as much time as you can in family activities you enjoy – out doors if possible – and lower your expectations on both bookwork and socialising. There will be time enough for those later.
After the recovery phase, it is helpful to connect with other home educators, but recognise you may need to try more than one group for a good fit. Home education is multi-faceted – think of it as a complicated Venn diagram of local, interest and specific needs groups along with home education styles and beliefs. You will do well to mix and match activities that look attractive, try them out and discard those that don’t work for you just now. You don’t need to cover the gamut of home education experiences in the initial phase.
Even when you’ve worked through the emotional baggage, your home education routine will take time to emerge, so be patient with yourselves and be willing to adjust your carefully-laid plans as you go. There are many educational styles and resources to choose from, but none is a recipe you must follow. Add your own ingredients, and drop those that don’t agree with you. Over time you’ll develop your own unique style: the beauty of home education is that you can tailor it to your family and your lifestyle. Realise that you aren’t limited to school terms, school days or school hours.
As you move into the home education world, you’ll meet people you gel with, you’ll meet people you can’t abide. You’ll find the community much more diverse than the average classroom or even school where, chances are, most families are a close match to your socio-economic group. The diversity of home education will enrich your life, but you don’t have to replicate anyone – do what works for you.
Although the state curriculum is not compulsory across all states, many newbies find it provides a good starting point, providing reassurance that you are “covering everything”. Wherever you choose to start, give some thought to what education is and how you (and your children) would like it to look. Don’t assume that just because something is on the curriculum, you must cover it. Curriculum is designed by committees for delivery to large groups of children; you are educating specific individuals. Keep in mind that curriculum varies across states and countries and – even if one curriculum were ideal – it would only cover a fraction of human knowledge. Do your own thinking:
- What is important to learn?
- What are your children interested in?
- How do they like to learn?
- If school had never existed, how would children learn everything they need?
Keep in mind home education is not a magic pill. You’ll have bad days, you’ll have hard times. We all get grumpy and tired sometimes – both kids and adults. It’s called being human.
So, does home education work? Yes! The first generation of home educated kids are now adults taking their place in society. Their careers range from lawyers to artists, IT experts to motor mechanics. Check out our Alumni Handbook for more details.
Despite my rocky start to home education, I’ve gone on to enjoy the privilege of watching three children learn, and sharing their achievements and struggles. They’ve all grown up now and are making their way in the world.
Rachel Brady sent her children back to school for the sake of her marriage, her sanity and her children. I haven’t found home education caused damage to any of those things. Rachel worried she’d never have time for her self or even to organise her book club. I’ve found that home education has allowed me time for myself – sure there was juggling to be done, but I’ve kept up my yoga, my book club and coffee with friends. It is not as though I gave up my life to home educate the kids, I’ve just had a different life to the one I thought I would – and the rewards have been tremendous.
Home education is not for everyone and maybe Rachel Brady made the right decision for her family. But two weeks is a very short time in which to give up on an educational choice.
Photo credit: Emilia Tjernström
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