I Will Never Homeschool

Mairi Girgis.

I was never going to “homeschool” my kids myself. I didn’t research home education before I started. When I started I had a lot of misconceptions, I didn’t think I’d have the patience to teach my children, and I was looking forward to having all my children in school and going back to study and work. 

I distinctly remember attending a school-parent information night the day before I pulled my grade 5 student out of school and thinking that these parents who knew every detail of their child’s homework were just a little over the top. Personally, I sent my kids to a good private school so that I didn’t have to worry too much about their education! 

So how on earth did I end up home educating a grade 5 student and almost grade 7 student in one year… and a prep student the next? 

You might have already guessed that my path to home education was perhaps not the standard route, if there even is a standard route. I removed my child from school one Friday… and realised I was a home educator the following Monday! What on earth had I done? 

My decision that day was the abrupt culmination of a couple of years of low-level but constant bullying for my son. I had tried to work with the school to resolve the issue for two years and been fobbed off repeatedly. That year I had hopes that his teacher would be able to help him, but that particular Friday I discovered that she didn’t believe me, or him. Some primal instinct kicked in and I knew I had to get him out of there before further damage was done. It really was a very definite but instant decision. It has made me realise that while there can be value in getting advice and weighing things up, sometimes there are times when you need to be guided by instincts. 

The first thing that I noticed was that after just a week (I am not exaggerating I promise!) I had a different kid in the house! He was suddenly more outgoing (for an introvert), he was empathetic, he was helpful about the place, and he was far more relaxed. It was like the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. No longer did I have a boy who I worried might become suicidal in his teens, a boy who often cried on his way home from school, who struggled with friendship dynamics. And to this day, five and half years later, he is still going from strength to strength as he navigates life. I often wonder how many other kids would be similarly benefitted by a crazy impulse to pull them out of school! 

I won’t sugar coat it! Despite all this, I cried most of the first month. As I said, I was adamantly opposed to home education. I was almost ready to go back to work. I felt totally out of my depth. But I love my kids and my mother instinct kicked in. I could see very quickly that home education was really helping my son. Despite what I feared about taking an introvert out of a social school environment, the result has been the opposite to what I expected. Ironically, he is far less isolated than when he was at school. At 15, he started an arts degree through Open Uni, and he’s just finished the first four units with flying colours. He reads voraciously on a wide variety of topics, navigates social situations with more confidence, and is still very happy to help out around the home. In many ways home education has been a perfect fit for him. 

My daughter was finishing grade six and seemed to enjoy school as well as have good friends. When she asked to try home education, I was reluctant. I was worried we’d clash, and I couldn’t really understand why she even wanted to try it. But she had seen a little taste of what discovery outside the confines of a rigid school curriculum might look like. It took me a whole term to agree to let her stay at home for a month, and after that she chose to leave school. Starting in high school was a challenge. It really took us a solid two years to get a good balance. For her, learning equalled ‘boring’, and as soon as I tried to make learning more interesting, she didn’t consider it learning and wouldn’t do it. There were issues of expectations and boundaries to navigate, not to mention journeying through all the usual teenage changes in close proximity. To be honest, there were times I almost gave up! 

At 14 and 15 she did two Certificate III courses, which meant she was out of the house one day a week, and responsible to someone else, while getting some qualifications. A year ago she started working at a bookshop, which has given her solid skills and life experience, as well as confidence in an area of interest. Currently she’s doing a Certificate IV in Science with a view to doing a Bachelor in Science or another field. She also teaches highland dancing, is involved in local drama, and volunteers in various settings, to mention a few things. 

It’s funny, for many years people would say ‘But what are you going to do with high school?’ To which I’d invariably reply, ‘Well, I basically started homeschooling with high school!’ 

These were the most helpful decisions I made for MY kids (yes, this is not going to be for everyone!) 

1) I trusted my instincts on what was best for my kids. Pretty much everyone around me thought I was a little crazy at first, including my husband. I had lots of opinions offered about socialisation, academics, further education, job opportunities, etc. All very well meaning. There were times I admit I wondered if I was doing the right thing (who am I kidding, I still do sometimes!), but I believed the experienced home educators who said, ‘Trust the process!’ and I’m glad I did. Over the past five and a half years, I have seen the process working out really well, despite bumps along the way, and all the doubters have now been silenced. I look at my kids’ peers who are struggling through the anxiety of upper high school and don’t for a minute regret sparing mine that level of stress. 

2) I never set out to teach my two older kids. Right from the start I tried to resource them really well… offer them curriculum they negotiated with me and engaged with, bought them any books they wanted (yes, we have a huge library of second-hand books!), encouraged them to problem-solve their own solutions (‘Well, YOU tell me how such and such works…’), encouraged them to pursue their interests with online courses and hands on activities. I’ve found that this has helped them to take responsibility for their own learning, and become passionate because they are interested, not because I am. 

3) I asked loads and loads of questions of other home educators. They are generally very giving of their time and willing to share what they’ve learned along the way. Some of the biggest resources were home educators whose kids were at uni or in jobs and who had navigated the system of getting into further study. They were incredibly reassuring, and I have learned so much from them for which I am really grateful. 

4) I wasn’t afraid to try different things and ditch them if they weren’t working. Contrary to what people often assume, home education is not made difficult by lack of resources, but instead by the huge volume of available resources. Thanks to the internet there is a vast array of options to navigate and it can be quite overwhelming. Sometimes things I thought would be interesting to my kids weren’t really their cup of tea. 

5) I’ve tried to give my kids a broad exposure to as many academic interests as possible, not just the ones they are naturally interested in. My very anti maths/science daughter is now studying a Cert IV in Science. As they got older, their interests changed and varied. Although it can seem restrictive to follow the 8 KLAs, it does give kids exposure to different types of learning and skills. We’re not really a technological family but my kids have learned to code; I’m not musically inclined, but they’ve learned more about music than they did at school; and so on. I’ve seen this give them an ability to try things that they might otherwise consider too difficult. They’ve learned to problem-solve and enquire.

6) Although I’m probably slightly mad, I’ve tried to tailor curriculum to the learning styles and interests of each child. My son is very much a classics scholar who loves to read original sources, learn ancient languages, and engage with history and philosophy. It’s no surprise he wants to be an academic. My daughter is much more of a modern girl who enjoys engaging with popular culture, literature, art and loves to study with others. 

7) I have never tried to be a type of home educator I’m not. I have some dear friends who are very outdoorsy and love Charlotte Mason, others who are unschoolers, some who use very strict curriculum, and some who spend hours of time each day engaging with their kids in ways I could only dream of! Yes, I have home ed envy like the rest of us! My style is more book-heavy, eclectic, haphazard, and as little hands-on as I can make it (I do hands-on with my youngest far more because of her learning style, but that’s a whole other article!). I love to know what my kids are learning, and I find being passionately supportive and interested in what they’re doing makes learning a family pursuit. My own study helps this too! 

8) They’ve got to help out about the place, that’s non-negotiable. Home education is a lot of work, and if they want me to continue to give up other opportunities then it has to be a team effort. So, we all pitch in about the place and take turns cooking, housecleaning, looking after pets, and so on. In the process this has also given them life-skills that they might not have had a chance to gain if they were round-the-clock exhausted from school life. I’m also useless at keeping up with newsletters and forms, so they’ve had to take responsibility for their own activities to a large degree. 

9) From day one I tried to enlist others to help out. 

Their grandfather, a retired professor, has embraced teaching them a couple of hours a week each and they love his input into their lives. Their grandma has willingly come on excursions and enjoys engaging with them every week. My brother, a builder and philosopher, quickly offered to teach woodwork and taught my son the basics of design, carpentry, and building. The amazing Hobbit Hole in the backyard is testament to his input. At times I’ve engaged the services of maths tutors and others who have helped them navigate things I don’t have expertise in. 

10) I would not change this life for anything. It is tough some days, amazing others. I am so proud of what we’ve all achieved together so far. I believe our family has grown closer in ways we could not have imagined when we were all in school zone. I love to see my kids pursuing their passions now that they are at the end of high school, trying and failing at times, getting back up and finding better ways to do things, knowing that they can stretch their wings without being so overstretched they collapse in a heap. Home ed in high school is an amazing experience!

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