Home schooling – what is it all about?

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A Collection of
Exemption Tips and Ideas

by Craig Smith


Seriously considering the option to educate your own children at home, rescuing them from the state’s schooling institutions, is one of the best moves you will ever
make. Teaching your own children is taking the government of your children back away from the state. The state never had any Biblically valid claim to educationally govern your children anyway. Your family’s cohesion and integrity as a functional unit is set to be greatly and very profitably enhanced. All the studies that have been done in this area show that your children are about to excel beyond their peers in both academics and social skills. Instead of the politically correct curriculum of the current Ministry of Education, with all the special interest group add-ons, you are about to step outside the box and discover the whole entire universe of skills and knowledge that is available for you to pursue…and most of it is absolutely free of charge!
Be assured that most of the people in the Ministry who will be reading and assessing your application are fairly positive about home education: they’ve seen the results and they like what they see. They are professionals and do their best to eliminate any personal or even professional bias they may have toward or against any particular educational approach. Consequently, this exemption application is virtually a blank cheque being handed to you by the Ministry of Education! Yes!! You have before you an incredible degree of freedom and flexibility to hand-craft a curriculum tailor made to your child’s ability, maturity, interests, passions, aspirations, inclinations, aptitudes, his or her favourite/most efficient ways to learn and assimilates knowledge, as well as your own family culture and expectations.
What I mean is this: no one on this earth is more motivated for your child’s success than you. No one is more willing to spend the blood, sweat, toil and tears that may be required to see your child mature to full potential. No one knows your child better than you. No one has already done more for your child than you have. I mean, you couldn’t pay anyone to do what you have already done for your child. It is quite probable that no one else except your spouse is as close to him/her, has his/her trust as much, is the one with whom s/he feels most secure. No one else can see as clearly as you do when s/he understands, and when s/he is struggling. No one else is willing to be with him/her 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, which means no one else will ever be able to observe him/her as closely as you do. As I say, even the best teachers in classrooms can only dream about such advantages which you already possess by default.

You Can Do It!

First-time home educators usually want to have a look at someone else’s exemption, so they know what to do. It is usually best not to look at another’s exemption until after you’ve had a go at doing your own first. Otherwise all you can think to write is what you’ve seen in the other person’s example. Have a go at writing your own original after reading the material in this booklet and then have someone experienced with exemption applications to look it over and give you some advice on how to improve it if needed. After that is a good time to look at another person’s exemption application.
Some readers will find this material frustrating at first because I will not be telling you exactly what to do. “Please, just give me the recipe, Step 1, Step 2, etc….I can do that.” But the fact is, education is far more complex than that. But it is not complex in a confusing or hard-to-understand sort of way. It is complex in the same way that life itself is complex…it has many aspects to it, and all of these aspects relate to one another in various ways. To put it another way, to provide an education for your children is to follow and to concentrate on, for a sustained period of time, the road of common sense.
That is to say, you already instinctively know much of what you need to do. You know what things your children truly need to learn and what things they can drop. In ten minutes, and most likely a lot less than that, you could easily come up with a basic syllabus of subjects that need to be covered and skills that need to be mastered.
In fact, why don’t you stop right now and do just that.
So there is your content. The depth to which you will go in each of the content areas is pretty much up to you. Our family has been at this since 1985. We plan to continue to home educate until our current youngest is at least 16, which will be in 2021. That is a span of 36 years, and we saw some time ago that we needed to streamline this whole process of home education for the simple reason that we two parents need to survive and not burn out too early.
Here’s what we’ve done: all the academics (I’m not talking at this point about spiritual, social, moral, character, sport or work ethic education and training in this
example…only the academics) we divided into two baskets. In the first basket are the skills they must master. And you already know what they are: the 3 Rs: Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. These three are non-negotiable, and the children must master them completely. Some folks would like to add a 4th R: Research skills. Go for it. In the second basket is everything else: history, science, art, P.E., geography, language skills, music, etc.
Now, do keep in mind, that what you write in the exemption application will hardly begin to cover the vast extent of educational subjects and experiences that you will have in your home education journey. There will be dozens of other things you will want to cover that you haven’t thought of yet or that don’t need to be mentioned in your exemption application. As an illustration, all our family ever put down on our applications were the subject areas: Maths, English, History, Science and Geography.
That’s it. No “Social Studies” or “Technology” which the Ministry of Education routinely ask prospective home educators to include. We have never included these because, in my personal opinion, they are non-subjects. And besides, there is no legal requirement to include any subject in particular, so the Ministry cannot require you to include it. More on that later.
You can easily come up with your curriculum content (subject areas), and you will determine the depth of coverage as you go along and gain more knowledge and
insight about what you’re doing. Next is your methodology…how will you actually teach these subjects; what will you do on a daily basis? Again, this will be
determined largely by trial and experimentation as you go along. And feel free to experiment. It is all part of the learning process. One thing that beginners to home
education really struggle with is the feeling they are not “doing enough” or not “producing enough” papers to pin on the wall and stick to the fridge. Forget about all that…you are first of all honing down your routines by trialling this and that and by experimenting with different ideas. Once you find one that really suits you all, the progress you will make will shoot you even further ahead. The fact is, because you are engaged in more of a tutoring or mentoring situation with home education (one-on-one for the most part) rather than the one teacher and 25 students scenario of a classroom, you already have tremendous logistical advantages that put you way ahead of even gifted teachers in expensively-equipped classrooms. Added to that, because you are operating with your children 24/7, and know them better than anyone else, and are more committed to their success that anyone else will ever be, and because your powers of observation, diagnosis and assessment are more intimate and are motivated by that superior power of parental love, you will also have relationship advantages that leave school teachers in the dust.

Getting the Big Picture

Education and schooling are two very different things. Schooling is what you and I and perhaps some of your children have experienced in a classroom of one sort or another. If you bring your children home and teach them yourself, you can give them a true education. We are talking of a lot more than just a certain body of head knowledge and a few skills. We are talking about the ability to use that knowledge and those skills in the proper way, for the proper purposes, in the context of the real world of the home, the market place, the community and the workplace. That is, you can pass on to your children what you know, what you know they really need to learn, as well as all those lessons in life (the most important ones of all) which I’m certain you will agree you did not learn in the classroom. You can pass on the attitudes, values, standards, concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, wise and unwise, that you are personally convinced about, rather than the ones that your children just soak up by being immersed in what they call the “hidden curriculum” at schools. You can train their character and build in the character qualities you know their future employers, their future spouses, their future children will want to see and need to see in them and that they will definitely need to possess. You can help them to see how the knowledge they gain fits into the “big picture”.
The most important and useful thing you can do for your children is both motivate them to learn and at the same time give them a vision for taking upon their own
shoulders, as appropriate, more and more of the responsibility for their own education. Once they see that the whole world is their oyster, you may have trouble
holding them back, not that you’d want to do that necessarily; but you will not have trouble filling in your day, wondering what to study and investigate next: your
problem will be that there are not enough hours in the day to follow up all the leads you want to follow.
Believe it or not, the law, the Education Act, does not require even schools to teach anything in particular: they have to be open for so many hours, and they must teach from a “secular” perspective (“with no religious instruction or observance”), and there is an expectation that they will be getting sex education, but that is as far as the Act itself goes. It does say the schools must teach according to the syllabus handed down from the Minister of Education (a career politician, please allow me to point out, as opposed to a career educationalist) in the Gazette from time to time.1
The original Education Act of 1877 did list exactly which subjects were to be taught in state schools: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, English Grammar and Composition, Geography, History, Elementary Science, Drawing, Object Lessons, and Vocal Music. Most of these subjects have dropped off entirely from the Ministry of Education’s list of “Learning Areas” in its 2007 National Curriculum statement. In addition, “reading” has been downgraded to the same level as “viewing”, and “writing” has been downgraded to the same level as “presenting”.2 (And did you know that parents back in 1877, when faced with the above list of school subjects, could withdraw their children from one of those subjects? Can you guess which one?
History: it was not considered acceptable for children to be forced to sit through a version of the Reformation that would be contrary to the views of their own
denomination.3 Today parents sometimes have the right to withdraw their children from certain aspects of sex and sexuality education. Isn’t it interesting to compare what things were important to parents then and now?)
There is no recognised body of knowledge that young people need to know in order to succeed in the New Zealand of the 21st century. What the MoE pushes through the schools is merely their current (politically determined) guess. You, on the other hand, are not politically motivated, but have a much better grasp on the realities of everyday life in the real world. Run with that. There are many local home education support groups out there, many email discussion groups just in NZ, many networks for swapping ideas and curriculum materials. There are many educational philosophies out there, and various learning styles and various teaching styles. Yes, these things require a bit of investigation, but again, you have other advantages in a home education situation that mean you can relax a fair bit about the passage of time as you and your children together investigate these things. Actually the investigation itself is a very useful and practical educational project! These extra advantages I mean here, in addition to the ones I already enumerated, are those of the tutoring or mentoring situation you will have with just you as teacher/guide/mentor and your child(ren) as the student(s). One-on-one instruction coupled with a vigorously interactive format is the most efficient form of learning, full stop. Classroom instruction is the least efficient, but it is a logistical necessity if you are going to have one teacher to 25 children.
As I say, for simplicity, we normally think of all the academic objectives as sitting in two baskets. The first are the basic skills that must be mastered: the 3 Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. These do take a fair bit of intensive tuition in order to master, not just become passable at.
Reading, being a form of information intake, includes listening. One must be an accurate reader and listener, comprehending as much as possible, and discerning the difference between reasoned debate and sheer propaganda, between an honest critique and a sales pitch, between fact and opinion, etc.
Writing is not just penmanship, spelling and grammar, but also composition of tightly reasoned, logical and well-constructed essays. Being a form of information output, writing also includes public speaking, the ability to face an audience of one or a thousand and deliver with confidence a prepared or an extemporaneous talk on a subject chosen out of interest or assigned by a professor.
Arithmetic would be to master all the maths that you as an adult use and need on a day-to-day basis: it probably doesn’t include trigonometry or calculus and may only include some very basic concepts from geometry and algebra.
I could add a fourth R: research skills. The child who has mastered these basic skills in this first basket can then teach himself virtually anything after than, with a bit of guidance from you.
The second basket contains everything else – science, history, art, PE, geography, physics, chemistry – and can be covered most effectively by simply reading good
books together, watching good videos and educational CDs, doing projects together and field trips and discussing them. This second basket can also be done with a family of several different age groups at the same time: simply expect more from the older ones, less from the younger ones.
Most of what we expect to be doing and producing as a “Home School” is counter productive: desks, blackboards, textbooks, lectures, assignments, home work,
marking, standardised tests. These are all logistical developments to cope with the school setting of one teacher and 25 children. None of these things are needed – or useful – to the tutoring / mentoring situation that you can have at home. Because of the distractions, interruptions, strict timetables, necessity to change subjects at every 45 minute interval, the necessity to move at a pace too fast for some and too slow for others and totally irrelevant to still others, the politicised nature of the subjects taught, the enforced recess breaks and lunch times, the length of time it takes to get 25 children sitting in the same room, focused and turned to the same page in the same text book, the boring nature of text books, the mixed abilities and mixed backgrounds and mixed worldviews of the 25 students, plus many other factors….because of all these, you can do at home in two hours what could easily take two weeks to accomplish in the typical school classroom.
The implication is, don’t even try to copy the conventional school approach to schooling in the classroom, but instead go for real-life education in the real world.
Yes, this takes a bit of climbing up a steep learning curve at first, but doing it together becomes a very profitable exercise in real-world education.
Education and Learning Is All Around Us There is formal learning: when parents directly teach, instruct or explain with or without text books or work books. This may more accurately be called formal teaching, for one is not too sure about the learning going on, especially if the children are not allowed to ask questions. If only the teacher asks questions, it is a good bet that little learning is going on.
There is informal learning: when you are discussing a book you are reading together or to them or interacting over the things seen along the way as you drive from A to B.
This is the heart of mentoring: reading and discussing and interacting together over all the issues of life as they come your way. Remember the three year old’s incessant “Why?” questions? You never want them to stop asking those questions, but instead you want to encourage and build upon and exploit that natural curiosity wired into every child. In free discussions, encourage questions, all questions, any questions.
They will not come at you in a logical fashion, starting with the alphabet and going step by logical step through all there is to know about English, and then changing to maths and taking it step by incremental step as one would find in a conventional school’s scope and sequence.4 I personally prefer this approach and have tried to force my children to follow a rigidly defined and logically progressive sequence of lessons. But your children are probably like my children: they would come at me with questions from all over the place. You will struggle with the relevance of many questions and may be tempted to disregard them and ignore them and even forbid them. But stop and think a moment: while you may not see any relevance, your child has made some kind of a connection between whatever you were previously talking about and the new question the child just asked. The children are making and will make their own connections and will naturally follow those links in their own minds with a lot more gusto. You can do the same thing, with some practise perhaps, and make links back to what you wanted to talk about or to other important topics that their questions have brought to your mind.
The fact is, while your ideal of progressing sequentially from step 1 to 10 in subjects A through E gets sidetracked by all these weird questions, the children are actually jumping around to other steps that are still on your curriculum, some further down the track and some you’ve already covered, but their questions also jump around to other subjects not on your curriculum. This is a real bonus! And because the children are asking the questions, they are learning, they are taking something in. It is particularly effective because they are making connections. Knowledge and learning experts tell us that it is the making of connections that really advances both rote memorisation and learning with understanding. The children have their own scope and sequence built into each of those “How?” and “Why?” questions.
One of the first things children in the classroom learn is that the teacher is the one who asks the questions, not the students. Nothing kills the spontaneous curiosity all children are born with quite as quickly as that. But you can encourage the questions, the more the better. If you don’t know the answer, fine, go look it up. That research is in itself a great educational pursuit. Listen, you want to organise things so that your children see you as the authority. Why? Because you are the authority, you are the authority, you are the authority in your children’s lives, under God, just as it should be, just as they need. You will either know the answer or how to find the answer, as well as explain how the answer fits into the big picture.
There is incidental learning: when your children just pick things up as you go about your daily business, things that are caught rather than taught. This includes much in the area of character training, which may be far more important and valuable to your children, when it’s all said and done, than their academic accomplishments.
There is self-learning: self-instruction that takes place when the children have free play, pursue hobbies, experiment on their own, are set tasks and put in charge or made responsible for regular chores, or when they just sit down and start reading for their own enjoyment and edification.
Then there is learning that takes place when you aren’t even there: when they join clubs, go to scouts, church groups, camps, sports teams, visit Uncle Ted up the valley and help milk the cows, etc. As long as they are awake, they are learning something.
The curriculum is all waking hours. Fairly flexible that, not necessarily organised to the last detail. In fact, most home educators who start off really formally soon
become rather informal. And those who start off really informally soon become even more informal, and may appear to outsiders to be goofing off all day. It is just that they are pursuing knowledge in a more effective method of reading, discussion, exploration and experimentation. There may be precious little “work” produced as in schools, but that is because “school work” is another one of those logistical requirements of schools to ensure the children are in fact doing “something”, for the teacher cannot possibly know where each child is up to.

To read the rest of this book go to: https://hef.org.nz/exemptions/applying-for-an-exemption-to-educate-at-home/

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Craig talks about this book less than a month before he died of stage 4 Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). He wrote this book 6 months before he was diagnosed with the tumour in his brain which caused him to go completely numb down his left side.

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From the Smiths:


Updated 30 January 2012: Life for Those Left Behind (Craig Smith’s Health) page 6 click here