The Ward Family

The Ward Family of Tangiteroria, Northland
by Christine Ward

For the last twenty-seven years, I have spent my time tucked away in relative obscurity on an eleven-hundred acre sheep and beef farm in Tangiteroria, home schooling our three children. Commitments on the farm and in the community have meant that my husband’s involvement in this process has been limited. For me, just knowing that someone’s there to confer with when the going gets tough has been invaluable.

We began in the days when homeschooling was literally unheard of and considered a radical departure from the norm; the sort of lifestyle that hippies rather than conservative, run-of-the-mill folk like us might get involved in. Getting an exemption was no easy task. Application to teach at home had to be made via a headmaster, after which inspection by inspectors took place. In order to be approved we had to produce a term’s objectives, a thematic work unit, have visits with inspectors and answer innumerable questions. It certainly wasn’t all plain sailing! Our initial exemption was cancelled — not because there was anything the matter with our programme — but because it had been granted by a headmaster outside our educational district. Undaunted, we continued to bang on the appropriate doors and eventually gained approval to teach our two children, Natalie and Ryan, then aged six and four, at home. Four years after our commencement we had a third child, Allison, who at fourteen, continues to be home educated.

In the early years of our venture, having no homeschooling families or support groups to call upon, we were fortunate to have the advice of Maggie Pierson (now deceased), a Christian teacher who was a strong advocate in the development of Christian schools in New Zealand. We began by mimicking the state schools — teaching the basic subjects, but from a Christian perspective. As Christian teaching materials were scarce, I developed the total programme, a task which took up most of my spare time. The children advanced in leaps and bounds and enjoyed gaining knowledge even “outside school hours”.

At no time did we ever seriously consider sending them off to school, not even when we reached secondary level. As neither of the older children had any idea of what he/she wanted to do in the future, Wayne and I decided it was necessary to keep their subjects broad and at the same time aim for a qualification that would gain them entry to university. Natalie was placed on the Christian Liberty Academy Programme, an American-based programme providing plenty of variety in course options. Ryan chose to move on to NZ Correspondence which he commenced at sixth form level, sitting bursary the following year. Both did well and had no difficulty gaining entry to Auckland University via the usual channels. Three years later Natalie completed a BA degree majoring in English and Art History. She went on to successfully complete an MA degree (Honours) in English. Ryan gained a BA majoring in Political Science and English.

Since then both have gone on to secure good jobs in Auckland. Natalie works for the Institute for International Affairs and Ryan works in Customs House. As mentioned earlier, Alli continues to be taught at home. I arrange her basic programme allowing her greater input as she matures. She will more than likely move onto NZ Correspondence at either sixth or seventh form level. To date she has not decided what she’d like to do in the long term, though farming has always featured foremost in her mind. On occasions she’s mentioned the possibility of a career in the Army or Air Force. The thought of women flying planes seems quite appealing to her!

Natalie had a passion for art. As it was an area in which I had little knowledge, I began taking her along to monthly meetings held by a local art group. Here she learned all sorts of skills she wouldn’t otherwise have learnt. She eventualy began entering work in exhibitions, and at the age of fourteen became the youngest person to be accepted as a working member of the NZ Fellowship of Artists. She won a couple of art awards — one in Auckland and another in Whangarei — and completed a number of commissioned works. By the time she was fifteen, she was fetching up to $400 a painting.

Thrashing it out — The Day to Day Running
Our children have always worked to a schedule, though it has grown far more flexible as the years have progressed. It is my personal belief that in order to teach the basic academic skills well, it’s necessary to have a schedule in place, structure in learning and a goal in mind. In other words, there needs to be an on-going, deliberate and purposeful process in action, one which allows room to embrace the unexpected which Providence brings our way, the latter being either opportunity or trial.

Most home educating families will pass through trials of varying degrees. One of our greatest trials was looking after an elderly eighty-year-old grandparent whose wife could no longer care for him. He was very ill and in need of constant attention. It was physically and emotionally draining — a real character-building experience. While this was not “formal learning”, the children learned first-hand about a stage in life through which we must all pass. More than anything else, it taught us of our own human limitations and our need of a God on Whom we can depend at all times.

This has never really been an issue in our household. We have always contended that socialisation is learned first and foremost within the family. The “principles of good conduct” learned here are then continued and developed as the children are integrated into the wider community. Though we have always lived in what many consider an isolated area, the transition from homeschool to university, country to city, was very smooth. There were no socialisation difficulties and our (by then) teenagers made friends with relative ease.

One of the more fortunate aspects of home schooling is that children live free of the constant pressure to be like their peers. Allowing them to develop and mature at their own pace and according to their own relational styles is extremely important. This is particularly true in the area of socialisation. To force or pressure children into situations that they themselves feel hesitant to move into can create a whole new set of problems. If you know your children’s personalities well, you’ll soon sense when they’re ready for experiences a little more challenging than they are used to. Take your cues from your kids! Each has his own unique style of relating to his environment and other people. Discovering those different styles and establishing how best to bring them to maturity is a weighty responsibility; one which none of us can ever do perfectly, least of all me!