The answers to those questions
1. How do you know what to teach them? You purchase a set curriculum, write your own – there’s a stack of information and resources available – or ‘unschool’, which means allowing your children to pursue their interests and looking for opportunities to maximize the learning experiences which those interests provide. (Or a combination thereof.)
Home education, and particularly unschooling, can be a challenging journey for parents who have themselves been schooled, so I highly recommend joining a support group, subscribing to newsletters and reading plenty of books before and as you leap into this adventure.
Tutors and independent programs are available for subjects that lie outside a parent’s ability, and the internet is fast proving to be an excellent resource for kids who are seeking information, skill-building, tests and guidance.
Speaking of tests, it can be nail-bitingly unsettling to plant a seed and then wait for months/years before it emerges from the soil. Schools promote a strategy of pulling up the seedling at regular intervals to test and measure; those who follow a natural learning approach wait and trust… and it is our patience and confidence that are often tested the most! However I’ve discovered that children who are loved and encouraged, do eventually find their interests, and children who have observed adults dedicating themselves to what they love, throw themselves into those valued activities with equal fervour. Our three children demonstrate an excellent work ethic in the areas of their interest, and a highly sophisticated set of avoidance strategies when it comes to those things that are not interesting to them. We can relate!
It’s quite true that a single household doesn’t have all the resources and experiences that a school provides, such as participating in a theatre production or advanced chemistry experiments, and while some of the larger home ed. families might have enough children for their own soccer team, they’re not always all of the right age! However the community provides almost all of the experiences children are seeking – whether drama classes, music classes, choirs, science hobby groups, sporting groups, etc.
Dedicated home educating parents actively seek out the experiences their children would value – necessity is the mother of invention, as they say! There is no lack of home education camps, and it’s always fun to be lounging by a river and chatting to friends while other families are making school lunches and caught up in traffic and sitting in classrooms… Even overseas trips are possible for parents who want to provide that experience, and it’s all the more enriching when shared with one’s own children. I took my daughters to Europe for a month in September 2010 and it was one of the highlights of all of our lives.
As for tertiary education, there are many options that don’t require secondary schooling. Friends of ours who home educate have seamlessly transitioned into tertiary education via Open University and TAFE; my own son has taken up an apprenticeship and many students join ‘the system’ at some point during the secondary years, perhaps Year 7, 10 or at VCE. Various bridging courses are available and, if interviews are required, home educated students often impress with their initiative and commitment. As the old saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher (or appropriate program/course/next step) appears!
2. How will they get socialised? There are many home education support groups – we availed ourselves of several during our years as home schoolers – and our children had access to camps, excursions, plays, sport, gymnastics, art classes, etc. We also took advantage of the courses offered by local community houses and various parents offered their skills. I taught French and Creative Writing and wrote and directed a short play.
Are our children over-protected? That depends. When we consider the exploding bullying issues one wonders if the flip side of the question also needs to be asked: ‘Are schooled children under-protected?’ The fact of the matter is that life provides all of us with a balance of support and challenge, and dealing with uncomfortable experiences is part of the package – no-one escapes! So it’s entirely possible that one’s own children will create a microcosm of the playground in one’s own living room or backyard, with a bully and a sneak and all the other roles to boot. (Speaking of which, as parents we will find ourselves alternately the favoured teacher and the annoying, disliked teacher and the teacher who is completely ignored by her students…)
I refer (below) to the fact that children who are home educated tend to develop a strong sense of self. They are subsequently less likely to succumb to peer pressure or bullying – they just don’t tend to attract those experiences.
It’s true that some families home school very ‘insularly’, and may even strike others as being ‘out of timing with the modern world’ – see my points below re Diversity and Character and Confidence.
Home schooling results and studies
Most of the official studies into home schooling have been performed by ex-home schoolers – probably because they are the ones who are interested in this educational choice, and because they want to validate it for others. I gather that there aren’t enough studies to demonstrate the effectiveness or not of home education but what I’ve heard is that students come out as well or better than their schooled counterparts, and that universities increasingly seek and appreciate home educated students as they tend to be self-motivated, work hard and achieve good results.
Objections to home education
Governments object because they want to be able to control everyone. They say they want to provide a minimum standard for all, which is admirable, but when one’s only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In other words, when we view every child through the same lens, we want to make every child homogenous. My response to this position is coming!
Schools object because students that are flourishing outside of school challenge the prevailing belief that kids don’t learn unless they’re in school. If kids can learn outside of the school system, then how necessary are schools?? Good question…
Benefits of school
If the number of adults who declared, in horrified tones, ‘I could never do that!’ when they heard I was home educating my children is any indicator, then there is no doubt that schools provide a valuable and much-needed service.
I know, too, that there are many utterly devoted teachers and administrators who genuinely care about the children and young adults in their charge, so I have no intention of undermining schools, teachers or the current system. It’s a valid choice for those who want it. What I do want to communicate is that there is value in making an alternative available for those who are up for a different journey.