How do I know if Home Education is right for my family?
Home ‘schooling’ is a more commonly used term but I prefer to use home ‘education’ because school is a building and educating is what we actually do.
I remember the leap of faith it took to actually make the final move to home educate, after thinking about it for a long time. It feels massive. It really is massive. You are going against what you have experienced yourself and what you have known for your entire life. I’m not helping yet am I!
Have you ever taken a leap in another part of your life? Got married? Quit your job? Got pregnant? Bought a house? Told someone you love them? How’d it go? I can guess, it took guts and a fair bit of soul searching, but once you had taken the leap it felt good. Beginning this journey can feel similar.
If you are standing on the edge and wondering how it feels, read on, and I’ll give you my best insight into what it’s like on the other side. There will be some practical tips too, some overall philosophy and changes that you are likely to experience.
How it began
People come to home education for their own reasons. For us, it was when our first child was at school and there were some serious alarm bells ringing. To be honest, I never actually loved the idea of separating my little family (at the time I had a 5, 3 and 8 month old) but went with it, as you do, thinking that I would get used to the idea. Rushing a baby around to drop offs was exhausting and I could never escape the feeling that this massive interruption to our previously quiet, home based life, wasn’t exactly how I wanted to live. The thing was, I just didn’t really know about the options. I can safely say, If I had known then what I know now, we would never have entered ‘the system’ and in the coming pages I will happily tell you why.
Long ago before becoming a parent I had the idea that it would be fun (yes fun) to travel and take ‘the kids’ (imaginary beings then) out of school for a term.
I’m not sure how this seed was planted but I’m glad it was. My one term idea has expanded to over ten years and still going. That five year old is in her first year of university aged 17, then there is 15, 12 and 8. Yes, we added one more along the way. I started our journey with my one term idea, though there was no travel involved, there was a lot of reading in bed for my oldest and plenty of playing for the other two. I figured we would give home education a term and see how it went. If we weren’t happy, we could always try another school. And here we are.
A wise person who I spoke to at the time of questioning told me to look at it in manageable chunks. That was good advice, because at the time I was somewhat overwhelmed at the expanse of many years ahead of being with my children 24/7. We’ll get to that, because life changes as they grow.
Why do you want to home educate?
I’ve met families who knew they wanted to home educate, some before they even had children. Others of us make the decision somewhere along the way. I felt my child’s needs were not being met by the school and I think many parents fall into that category. People are becoming more concerned about political agendas creeping into school curriculum and would prefer to instil their own values and beliefs. Along with this, there is the issue of vaccination, where in some states of Australia, children who are not up to date with vaccinations or on a catch up schedule are excluded from preschool.
If you believe that the structure and function of institutionalised education is just, well, not the optimum place for learning, then you could be feeling like a home edder.
Here are some more possibilities:
If you watched your children learn to speak, to walk and to play little games and you can’t see why that shouldn’t just continue.
If your child is stressed, unhappy, ostracised and not learning anything.
If you think you could do a better job.
If you don’t have the money for expensive private schools but you think you could replicate a lot of what they offer.
If you think children need time to play and explore.
If you think children learn when they are interested.
If you believe in the natural curiosity of a child and how that will lead to discovery at any age.
If you just want your child to get a break from what’s stressing them.
If you want to instil your own values, discover the world WITH THEM and not send them off to an institution each day.
If you just don’t feel right about how it is now.
If you want more time for them to create.
If you want more time for them to learn by doing and experiencing the world.
If you want more time for music.
Then home education could be for you.
I came to home education almost as a last resort and now realise it would have been a way better option at many points in my oldest daughter’s time at school.
I arrived at the decision with a sore head from banging it against brick walls (figuratively) created by her school. I see now that opting out much sooner would have been better for all of us.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the time I thought her school was the problem, now I see it was school in general. The one size fits all attitude to education, the robotic rules and regulations, the lack of inspiration and the lack of ability to treat my child as an individual were all contributing factors. It’s easy to look back now and see that the environment was not going to change. If you could zoom forward five years, and look back, would that make the decision easier?
Questioning the narrative of institutionalized education and creating your own family culture is a huge motivating factor for many.
Families want more time in nature, more play time, more reading time, les structured time, time to focus on what they value like health and food preparation, time to travel and simply, time to be together.
For teens or older kids, families want more time to explore hobbies, volunteering, activities, interests or paid work with less ‘busy work’ or pointless academic work.
How do you think life would be better for your child/ren and for you if you decided to home educate?
Passing on your values.
When you home educate, you pass on the information and the values that YOU choose, not the school, or the government.
Parents are choosing home education as a way to share their knowledge and values. For example, families who value self-sufficiency are LIVING those values, not just teaching them.
Home education provides a safe and nurturing environment to simply pick up on things that are going on around you. If people are gardening, the child may be interested to go and see what they are doing. As opposed to a forced program of planting seeds, drawing diagrams, writing words etc. this is what we call ‘child led learning’
Our family has had at least some form of vegetable garden for as long as I can remember. At times it wasn’t huge, but a black tub full of potting mix with some lettuce seeds thrown in is a garden. We have watered and pulled weeds (or I have at least!) as a part of everyday life for ever. We have treasure hunted for potatoes, had babies sitting in the strawberry patch helping themselves, and taken pics of little chubby hands holding giant tomatoes.
We have played with snails. Watched slaters curl up, chased penny moths (white moths, if you catch one you get a penny according to my mum) and planted seeds and seedlings. We have watched plants go to seed and collected them for planting again.
Growing at least some of our own food has always been important to me. At the least, tomatoes and basil in summer. In living that, my children have learnt so much at times when they were ready to take on the information. Funnily, my almost 18-year-old has been helping in the garden lately, asking lots of questions and wanting to plant things. Amazing how the circle continues.
Health and wellbeing
Putting health and wellness back into our own hands is another value we have lived as a family. Birthing all 4 of the children at home has been, among many things, a gentle learning and growing experience for the older children. Through midwifery visits at home to the actual birthing and care of a newborn, I expect my kids have learnt more than you could from a book, by simply being there. From not separating our family in those times, they have had the opportunity to be part of this incredible everyday miracle. Lessons in that?
Your body is strong and powerful
You deserve respectful medical care
You deserve support and nurturing when you have a baby
Birth is a normal, not a medical event to be managed
Babies take a long time to grow
Breastfeeding is a normal part of having a baby
Babies breastfeed a lot!
You get the picture. Without standing up at a whiteboard and showing baby development pictures they have learnt about birth, breastfeeding, pregnancy care, nutrition in pregnancy, complications or issues, just by being there.
Taking responsibility for our own health has progressed beyond birthing and tiny baby care. The more I have learnt about herbs, supplements, nutrition and homeopathy, the more they have learnt too. Seeing my older kids reach for the vitamin c and zinc when they feel a cold or sore throat coming on is all the assessment I need to know the information has been passed on.
Knowing the value of rest and sleep and the benefits of taking a ‘watch and wait’ attitude to illness has been instilled from a young age. Giving space and time to heal or recover has enabled the building of a strong immune system, without using pharmaceutical drugs. Sometimes the slower way to healing is the more beneficial, and choosing the slow life has given us that option. My kids know to rest or stay home from activities if they feel unwell. They know basic herbalism and how to care for minor illnesses at home. I feel it is helping them to make good choices about their own health as they grow and live these values.
But what about academics?
I hear you say. Well that’s all well and good, but what does it have to do with school work and learning?
I guess that depends on what you want the end result to be. The very wise Sir Ken Robinson in his TED talk entitled ‘Do schools kill creativity’ (Youtube it) talks about schools as an environment for creating academics. He says, what they are not creating is dancers, artists, musicians, painters, carpenters, chefs, gymnasts etc. School learning is geared towards academic learning. Of course we want our children to read and write and be able to do maths, but we have not been slaves to test results, and all for what?
School learning is learning for the sake of passing tests, getting good marks, getting into university, getting a good job. If you look at the end, this is what children are basically working towards from the day they start. There is a lot more you can read into it too like learning to conform, learning to fit in and being indoctrinated with whatever the school and the government choose. Home learning for us has been allowing the individual to become who they are, while instilling our own values, without outside pressure on them to BE a certain way. (pretty, smart, good at sport, popular, funny)
Yes, they have learnt to read, write and do maths (some still are) but the main goal has been to allow them to develop their own interests, ideas, ways they enjoy spending time, and to see where that goes. When people ask me do I ‘teach’ my own kids, I always say, ‘no, I facilitate their learning.’ My job is to get out of the way so they can learn it themselves.
It may surprise you to read that academics are the easy part. Learning to read, form letters, grammar and maths, can all be learnt. Benefits of being at home include working at your own pace with these things and never feeling dumb that you are behind or frustrated that you want to move on and are being held back. Sometimes the hardest part is knowing when to back off and trust that they will get it, they will work it out, and there are so many things they are learning every day that do not fit into the ‘school’ model of learning.
Caring for pets
Being in nature
Here is where you need to do some de-schooling.
Think of the battery hen who is liberated. At first she is unsure about the open space, nervous even. She might wonder what she is actually meant to do out there. Gradually, as she begins to explore the yard, she starts to look around, to scratch around and find her way in this new environment without walls. This is you. This is your child.
Be kind, be gentle, it takes time. Most of us went to school ourselves and we need to unlearn what we were taught about learning and education. Children who have been at school need time to go back to following their interests. Actually THEIR interests, not the ones they had because everyone else did. Taking however long you need to ‘de-school’ is really important at the beginning. Taking on too much or trying to replicate school will have you both crying in your cereal before too long. Yes, some kids enjoy structure that’s true. If they ENJOY it then go for it. If they don’t, then take some deep breaths and trust in the process.
Is it time for a paradigm shift?
Most of us who are embarking on home education were educated at school ourselves. Deep down some where we believe that school is where learning happens. In home ed circles we call the process of changing this belief de-schooling. De-schooling also refers to the process your child undertakes when they leave the system and begin to unwind, back into their true self. Understanding has it that, the longer they have been at school, the longer it takes. That also says something about us eh.
If you thought you had to stand in front of a whiteboard with your children from 9 until 3:30 each day, and give them set play and lunch times, would that be a barrier to you wanting to home educate? If you said yes, good, because that’s not how it is at all.
Having a ‘strict’ schedule has never worked for our family. Having a rhythm definitely has. Also, back to the whiteboard, it’s not school. That’s why I call it ‘home education’ not ‘home school.’.
Learning happens anywhere, any time and not in any particular building or while sitting in front of a white board. For a child learning to read, car trips spent spotting familiar signs or words could be a much more comfortable, fun experience than sitting at a desk doing book work. That said, some kids like book work, but plenty don’t. Without the strict ‘sit down and sit still’ policy of school, freedom to move, eat, go outside and get things done at your own pace, can make a huge difference to what the child actually learns.
HOW the learning happens is one of the biggest shifts we need to make. Buying an expensive curriculum or paying big dollars for online programs can be a huge waste of money, and usually, falls under the ‘trying to replicate school’ category. Home learning can be way more creative. That does not mean that you are under pressure to come up with amazing activities every single day. Creative in the sense that having a pyjama day could lead to reading the last few chapters of Harry Potter and watching the movie.
When my children were little, two of them loved to flood one of our raised garden beds with the hose and play with their plastic animals in there. They would create mountains and pools, and have elaborate plots to their games. There was so much learning happening. Sometimes creative is standing back and letting go! Particularly of your own idea of how ‘learning’ should look.
Life on the other side
Once you’re there you will see that the grass really is greener. No really, the benefits are many. A few that I have personally observed:
A quiet working environment
A self-paced environment (I’ve had some children learn faster, some slower)
A slower pace of life
More time together as a family
Closer sibling bonds
Children exploring areas of particular interest to them (Roman History, origami, painting, music, care of animals, cooking)
Time for reading books
Time for creativity
Time for music
Time to develop relationships with all age groups
Time to travel
For the older ones:
Maturing sooner than school aged peers
Beginning to pursue their own careers earlier
Earning money earlier
Having time to develop into who they really are, rather than what society or peers expect them to be.
Less ‘partying’ and early drinking
More meaningful relationships with their peers
Decision making skills
It takes a village.
You’ll be stepping away from a lot of the social connections you have built. Some will remain, but others will drop away. It’s important for both you and your children to create some new connections within your home educating community. Lots of communities run Facebook groups and a quick search will turn up what may be happening where you live.
The Home Education Network in Australia is your best resource for further questions, as well as groups and contacts in your area who can help to put you in touch with any groups or people. There is a permanent link on the MENU area of my website (top left of the page).
You will meet some amazing families! Some new people like you and some who have been doing this forever with 9 kids. It’s comforting when you start to find your network and set up some social interactions for all of you. I have made lifelong friends from those early years of home educating and we have loved watching each others children grow and develop. Give it time. It can feel like you are floating out in a big old lonely ocean at first, but soon enough there will be things on your calendar and new friends.
Start as you mean to finish
How would it look for you to have your children educated well? Does it mean that they would be going to university to study law or medicine? For me it has multiple layers. Well educated for me means an understanding of their own language both written and verbal, an ability to understand mathematics especially interest, percentages, loans, credit, taxation, an understanding of their rights and responsibilities in the community, kindness and compassion, physical strength and endurance, mental strength and endurance, an understanding of their own health and wellbeing, an understanding of the world geographically and knowledge of cultures other than their own, an ability to cook, clean and use public transport confidently, an ability to play music, an ability to tap into their own creativity and lastly, the ability to find out things they need to know and put them into practise.
If they wanted to go to university to study law or medicine, or whatever, they could find out what they needed to do to get in to a course and do it. The traditional school path to university is advertised as the only option. The truth is, there are many paths to tertiary study, you just have to ask the questions. There are also many paths to becoming an educated person, and plenty of them don’t end with tertiary study, so it helps at the beginning to stop looking at this as the be all and end all. Choosing a trade or to work is not an alternate pathway, it’s a pathway.
What does an educated person look like to you?
If this was a survey
If this was a survey now we would tally up your ticks to the questions and give you a score. The score would tell you if you scored 1-5 leave your children in school, if you scored 6-10 home education is for you. But this is real life.
The truth remains that you need to make a choice. Some good things to remember are that school will always be there (you can go back should you want to) and you are doing what you believe to be best at the time after weighing up the information. If it helps, don’t think of it as forever, think of it as for now, and work your way through that as you go. Forever feels like a really long time. Home educated children can become very self-directed and independent at a much younger age than school age kids (think more 16 than 18). If you have older kids, I have a more specific post coming on that front.
If I had my time again we wouldn’t have entered the system, and home educated from the start
It’s with that confidence I urge you to give it a go if you feel inclined. The benefits are real and you only get one go at this life. If it’s in your mind to try it, then do.
With love and gratitude I thank you for reading.
I am happy to receive feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org