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Starting out

By Pavlina McMaster

Home education is a foreign concept to most of us – it is outside our own, personal educational experience, and many people considering it do not know anyone who home educates their children.

In Victoria, approximately 60% of home educators have come to it after withdrawing a child from school, often under traumatic or highly stressful circumstances. This cohort often make for very passionate home education converts, but some can find the transition difficult to navigate. The other 40% come to home education as a natural extension of attachment and joyful parenting or religious conviction. While this group is more likely to be well connected and more aware of the possibilities, there can still be misconceptions and assumptions that affect their journey. This article’s aim is to provide suggestions to ease that transition.

Community

The home education community is diverse, connected, and largely very welcoming. It is recommended that people become part of the Home Education Network (HEN) in Victoria, as this provides advocacy and discounts on subscriptions, but also (and more importantly) connection with the wider home education community in Victoria through our magazine, weekly emails, HEN events, and online groups that are for HEN members. HEN will support any home educator in Victoria (and often beyond), but the organisation does provide special benefits to members.

At the very least, it is recommended that you join some online groups. Facebook (FB) can be helpful with this, and for people who struggle with face-to-face interactions (or kids who need school-recovery time before joining in), this can be a valuable way of forming friendships and connections at the start of your journey. Groups generally have a healthy balance of experienced and new home educators, and you can gather opinions, resources, and information from a wide range of people by posting questions and searching through discussion pages online.

Local groups that have weekly, fortnightly or monthly face-to-face meetups can also provide a fantastic source of friendship, community and support for parents and children alike. Many of these local groups are listed, but can also be found by joining the larger Victorian home ed FB group, Australian groups, and of course the HEN members-only FB group.

Sometimes it can take a few visits to feel comfortable and make connections in a new group. We have all been the new kids, and while most groups are very welcoming, the people in them have often been together for some time, and will have their own bonds and friendships that can take some time to integrate with. However, if connection and a sense of belonging does not happen for some time, do not be discouraged – look elsewhere, and you will find your tribe. The home ed community is bigger and more diverse than you would expect, and your tribe is out there.

Deschooling

Deschooling is the process of letting go of our (and our children’s) preconceived ideas about how we “get” an education, through a period in which parents consciously do not impose curriculum or structured learning. Deschooling is a process for parents and children alike. It can make the difference between a successful versus a bumpy transition into home ed.

There are many excellent articles that can be had with a quick Google search, but in summary deschooling is a vital process for children to decompress after leaving school, even if they did not have obvious challenges in the school system. It is a time to reconnect with parents and siblings, to rediscover natural curiosity, to reestablish personal interests, to regain self esteem and confidence, and to rethink what it means to learn and be educated.

Generally, children and parents will need one month of deschooling for every year of school attended. This can be longer or shorter, depending on the trajectory, but many people find that their ideas and philosophies about education, child development and learning gradually shift for many years after commencing this journey.

So, what does it look like?

Home education looks different for every family. We encourage you not to rush into buying resources and curriculum until you have deschooled and more fully understand how the child you are helping to educate likes to learn, explore and absorb information. There are many home ed styles, along with resources that match these styles. They range from highly structured to more child-led and natural learning that is based on conversational and incidental learning. And remember, if what you are doing isn’t working, you just change it until it is.

Most home educators become less structured as they become more experienced and confident that their children will learn no matter what they do. Most people find that they let go of the “sage on the stage” view (where the teacher or adult feeds information into children) and move more towards becoming facilitators who support their children’s learning through following their interests and finding them mentors to guide and support their education.

How to register

In Victoria, you need to write a learning plan to accompany your application for registration, and send them in with a birth certificate to the Victorian Registrations and Qualifications Authority (VRQA). This is not onerous, and does not need to be daunting. There are many sample learning plans to guide you. HEN members can also send their learning plans to HEN for feedback before submitting them to VRQA.

So, when you are starting out…. fill in an application form, write your learning plan, find your tribe, and deschool your way into finding the home ed style that will suit you and your family.

See also: Getting Started Guide

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