Welcome to all of those new families considering home education, or who have joined the community during the pandemic and have had little chance to see home education at its best. Normally when we join a new community, we have time to observe from the sidelines. It’s a chance to work out the dynamics and behavior expectations of the group.
Many of you have not had the opportunity to do that with home ed, and a few posts I’ve seen on Facebook made me want to put the record straight. I’ve seen people posting innocuous questions anonymously, or saying ‘Be kind’ – presumably because in other groups there are people who will criticise or judge. Luckily the home ed community is not like that, people just want to help.
Traditionally the strength of the home ed community has been demonstrated best when we came together. We put aside our politics and personal opinions (twice) to unite as a community and protest unfair regulation, ensuring that home education remains a viable option for the future.
There is no typical home educator, we span every demographic: age, race, faith, orientation, income and education style. One of the joys of home education is the chance to mix with a wide range of people, and to see how despite our different viewpoints we focus on what we have in common, not what makes us different.
This has been one of the best things about home education. It’s exposed me and my children to all kinds of beliefs, approaches and personality types. It’s given our family plenty to talk about and research, and means my kids are tolerant and open to all kinds of people which will be a huge asset as they find their way in the world.
I see my adult kids at uni, at work, with friends, and I’m proud to have been a part of their education, but I’m also aware how much the home-ed community helped to shape them. When my children were little they saw the local families we were close to as cousins, they spent hours at their houses and hanging out together at parks. Even though interests have diverged, and some have moved interstate, fifteen years later they are always happy to catch up and share news. These families, and the others we met on our home ed journey gave more than friendship, the parents gave their time and expertise, mostly for free or at cost.
Over the years, as individuals, they have taught my children sewing, recorder, flute, robotics, art, how to create a business plan, papercraft, advanced chemistry and history. Along with other families who have joined together in activity groups and co-ops we have had hundreds of unusual and interesting experiences: glass blowing, wood turning, dissection, leadlighting, book art, history simulations, life size board games, acrobatics, self defence, horse studies, Auslan and so much more. Fellow parents have shared more than time, they have lent musical instruments, games and resources, joined on bulk purchases to save us all money, and passed on resources they no longer needed. When people ask, “How do parents teach the hard stuff?”, my answer is that often they have help.
As a family of four, many of my kids’ activities would have been impossible without the parents who shared the driving when I had two kids who had to be in different places at the same time. I’ll never forget three families working together to get my daughter from our home to Ballarat so she could attend a camp. Wonderful home-ed parents have cared for my kids when I was sick, when a storm damaged my house, and when I was having a bad day. They have helped my teens find work experience, given them mock interviews, careers advice and regularly provided a spare bed or couch.
I know that I’ve been lucky. Lucky to have other families nearby (and not so nearby), lucky that our kids got along, and that we did too. But my story is not unusual, all of the parents with whom I intersect share some of my other friendships, but they have other connections too. It’s like a giant Venn diagram of families spread across the state.
This is one of the reasons it makes me sad when people see home educators as a target market. I’m not talking about the experienced home educators making a little money on the side, but the businesses who don’t understand that home education is already innovative, social, challenging and engaging. The ones who think that we are an easy source of income, and who try to win customers by suggesting that ordinary parents can’t manage by themselves. They don’t know, or perhaps just don’t care, about the support networks and opportunities that are out there. And because they use fear and misinformation to suggest that without professional help, kids will ‘‘fall behind’, ‘lack opportunities’ and ‘be unprepared for uni’ some new home educators will feel that perhaps they aren’t good enough, or might fail their children. If people want to pay for a tutor, or a program, that’s their prerogative. There are some great options out there, created by home educators with years of experience, not people who started to home educate five minutes ago (or who have never done so), but think they know it all, and who are happy to take your money for things that others will help you do for yourself.
Whatever you think of Facebook, the site has been a boon for home educators. It’s allowed us to connect more easily, to share our knowledge, and to direct people towards support. We are all busy individuals, but the chances are that if someone posts a question there will be someone around who can answer it, or if not, suggest where to look.
So as we look forward to next year when, hopefully, home ed activities will be more frequent and connections more easily made, I hope that all of you newer home ed families have the chance to start creating your own support networks, to gain strength from others you meet along the way, to share your time, resources and knowledge, and to enjoy the journey.
And remember that in addition to all those wonderful individuals, the Home Education Network is here too, providing up to date information and in person support – for free.
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