Home Schooling: Practical Considerations
by Craig S. Smith
There are a hundred and one questions that come to mind as one contemplates the concept of homeschooling their own children. A few of the more common questions are only briefly dealt with below. Other TEACH brochures in the Homeschooling series will shed much light on these and other questions. The best source of in-depth knowledge is to talk to a homeschool veteran. See the TEACH Publications article “Homeschooling Support Agencies” for possible contacts.
Question: Are parents qualified? Could I actually teach my own children?
Answer: Loving and genuinely concerned parents are the best qualified of all to teach their own children. Who else is more motivated to invest the time, the money, the blood, sweat, toil and tears required for the child’s best interests than the parents? Who knows and understands the child better than the parents?
A homeschooling parent has the vast advantage of a tutoring situation: one parent/teacher to one or two pupils, recognised worldwide as the most effective teaching method. Today’s parents have been intimidated by the teaching profession into thinking that only the experts can be entrusted to teach properly. Today’s student results often cause you to stop and wonder.
The unfortunate fact is that teacher training and certification are not indications of teacher competence. Parents only need a shot of confidence to realise that they are qualified to teach, and in most cases will actually do a superior job. Whatever they may lack in the area of formal educational qualifications they will usually more than compensate for in motivation and the advantages of one-to-one teaching.
Q: What kind of time and work are involved?
A: Every homeschooling family would answer this one differently. It depends on how many children you are teaching, are there any preschoolers there too, what level are the students, what lessons and degree of mastery you are committed to, what kind of curriculum you are using.
Generally, homeshoolers find that education becomes a 24-hour-a-day lifestyle. This only makes sense when you perceive education as a total preparation for life. Everything you do becomes an educational experience or opportunity. It seems that 1 1/2 to 2 hours of formal instruction per day plus lots of interaction as you go about your regular routine and do projects together is a common formula.
Teaching reading and basic math principles often require concentrated one-to-one tuition. Subjects such as science, history, geography, and all the arts can be taught at once to a whole range of ages, expecting more from the older ones, and parenthetically explaining parts to the younger ones. Regular preparation and evaluation time for the parent is also essential. And it must be stressed that both parents must be committed to the whole exercise and totally supportive of one another.
Most homeschoolers find the lifestyle of homeschooling rather fun, as they are flexible enough to have field trips, holidays, special projects, extended time on one subject whenever they want. Because the formal instruction per child need only be 2 hours or so, preschoolers can be napping at that time, or other pupils can look after them in turn.
There will be a need to organise your materials and your time, so having a well-ordered house and housekeeping routine as well as a well-organised programme of instruction is a definite necessity. This does not mean you have to be SuperParent. Often it does mean that you re-organise your priorities. For instance, we run our business from home and have one preschooler and homeschool our other three children plus one foster child. Because of this we have had to place “general tidiness” a bit lower on our priority list.
Homeschooling requires a fair amount of self discipline plus the will and ability to discipline the children to help carry out their programme, as you are all a part of your family corporation. Helping the children to see their indispensible place within your family and the way they are depended upon for certain jobs gives them a real sense of self-worth and of contributing.
The biggest job of all is the one you need to do first and which will in fact be an on-going one. And that is to work out your own personal philosophy answering the question, “Why am I homeschooling?” You must be able to articulate this as clearly as you can, and be committed to it, or else the smallest obstacle or the least criticism will be enough to stop you cold.
Q: Where do I get materials and what does it all cost?
A: There are excellent materials, resources and curricula available from a great variety of sources. Some national and local support groups keep a range of resources for the use of their members. Many homeschool veterans are happy to lend items not currently being used. The public libraries are excellent. Secondhand book sales, flea markets, garage sales can all yield very useful material. Once you take a higher profile and display confidence and commitment, friends and relatives may come up with some surprises. Take your time when shopping around and do not buy the first thing that strikes your fancy nor buy something for use many months down the track. There is a lot of high-gloss junk for sale, too, plus it is easy to spend a lot on resources that you later find to be unsuitable. Check things out as much as you can first.
Comprehensive package curricula are available at varying costs, and correspondence programmes are offered from a variety of schools in NZ and overseas. Older children can attend night schools and polytechs. Many public schools are now open to the idea of allowing a student to attend only one or two specific classes, chemistry for example. You may have a close friend or relative who would be thrilled to offer tutoring in a subject area in which they are particularly good. In short, there is a vast range of material helps available, and you can spend as much or as little as you like.
Take a moment to reflect on the fact that if you only passed on all the important lessons that you have learned during your own life, you will have done your child an invaluable service. TEACH Publications article “Homeschooling Support Agencies in NZ” provides a few leads in this area.
Q: What about the social training? How can a child schooled at home all the time “fit in” with the rest of society?
A: This question is often uppermost in people’s minds. Parents and professional educators alike seem more concerned about children’s social development than their academic achievements. In short, it is simply a myth that children need large amounts of time with other children in order to be socially well adjusted, secure and self-confident. This question is dealt with at length in the two TEACH Publications articles titled, “The Socialisation Issue” and “Homeschooling: The Christian Imperative”.
Q: What about sports, drama and other group activities?
A: Often local schools will be happy to accept homeschoolers onto sports teams, or to be part of a drama production. It always pays to develop a good rapport with local school personnel for many reasons. There are also plenty of out-of- school sports and social clubs looking for members. Local homeschooling support groups often provide these kinds of activities, too.
Q: Do I have to provide a desk, blackboard and lots of wall space to display work?
A: Only if you intend to run your homeschool as if it were a classroom. Children do like a measure of regularity and routine, so having an area set aside specifically for formal instruction is a good idea. The kitchen table will do. A favourite easy chair with the child sitting on your lap will amaze you at how it tends to lengthen the attention span. And remember that a walk in the garden or sitting out under a tree or going fishing together can create an ideal environment for passing on some of the most important lessons a parent could ever pass on to his child.
Q: How about homeschooling to secondary level and beyond? And what do you do about assessment, gaining certificates, transferring back into a school, and being accepted to university or polytech?
A: Package curricula offer assessment and certificates and help with having their studies accepted by all other institutions.
At present one needs to be a pushy parent to get things to happen, but things will become more straightforward as more homeschoolers seek out higher education. As far as the writer has been able to ascertain, all homeschooled New Zealanders who have sought admission to NZ universities or polytechs have gained admission one way or another.
Leslie F. Barnebey’s Education Doctoral dissertation, “American University Admission Requirements for Home Schooled Applicants, in 1984,” which was completed at Brigham Young University, Utah, in 1986, indicated that 21% of American universities had accepted home schooled applicants. Commenting on her research, Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, Salem, Oregon, said, “It emerges that (home schooled) children should be prepared to take some standard tests, and very likely one will be the SAT. (Available in NZ–ed.) If their scores are high, not many universities will question their potential for academic success. If their scores are average or low, the admissions officer will probably be more interested in other verifications of potential for success such as interviews, references, and a sample of the individual applicant’s essay writing abilities.” There do not appear to be any insurmountable hurdles.
The NZ Education Act, 1990, set up the NZ Qualifications Authority. This body has been given the task of developing a framework consisting of many units of learning. The idea is that a student leaving secondary levels could choose a pathway through these many units of learning which would ultimately give him a nationally and internationally recognised qualification in the area of his choice, be it academic or vocational. The Qualifications Authority is specifically endeavouring to formally recognise training, education, skills, abilities and any kind of learning which has been gained outside the public school system. This is clearly good news for homeschoolers. Universities will accept first-year students on a provisional basis. If they are successful the first year, they are usually then accepted for the rest of the course, depending on prerequisites. It seems that affording the tertiary fees may be more of an issue than having the entrance qualifications.