Class of their own: Home-schooling a ‘path of discovery’

Seven per cent of New Zealand’s school population are taught at home. Last year, 5558 children from nearly 3000 families were home-schooled.Education reporter Jody O’Callaghan meets a North Canterbury home-educating family.

Scargill mother Lennie Harrison has been home-schooling her four children for 27 years.

As 10-year-old James is head down studying, the smell of pancakes wafts from the griddle nearby.

Lennie Harrison, home schooling James, 10, and Jasmine,18.

John Kirk-Anderson

Lennie Harrison, home schooling James, 10, and Jasmine,18.

A floor to ceiling shelf packed with books covers one side of the living room, and two wooden desks are lined up along the window.

“Learning at its best is a lifestyle,” Lennie Harrison said.

Canterbury has the third largest home-school community of 764, after Auckland’s 1214, and Waikato’s 818. Home-school parents need approval and regular checks from the Ministry of Education, and must educate their children to the standard they would receive at a registered school.

Harrison said home-schooling mothers often joked they did not get holidays, using every opportunity for learning as a family.

“Take the child by the hand and walk the educational path with them. It’s a path of discovery.”

Harrison designed her own curriculum to suit each child, but it was much easier to gather resources now with the internet than 30 years ago.

“There’s just so much around you just can’t go short.”

“We already have a modern learning environment, we have our house, and outside the house, which is the rest of the world.”

If the family lacked equipment needed for a lesson, she cast the net among friends. If her skills did not extend to a certain subject, she could “swap children” with other home-schoolers needing her specific skills.

Many home-schooled their children through desperation – a child bullied, or their special needs not met in a normal school setting.

For her, “cockiness helps” in making the decision she could educate her children better than mainstream schooling.

“I think I’m made to swim against the tide.”

Christianity played a part too.

She was often asked, ‘What about socialisation?’ and ‘What about qualifications?”

They frequently met with about 10 home-educating families in North Canterbury – about 50 children.

At 14, the Harrison children should be able to plan out their day, and start doing voluntary community work to build up their curriculum vitae.

Daughter Jasmine volunteered at a school and a rest home, both for six months.

By 16 they should be full-time – either studying, working, or part-time in each.

Now at 18, “life costs” for Jasmine.

“There’s no more mucking around,” she said.

Jasmine completed level 2 when she was 16, and was now doing NCEA level 3 in classics via correspondence, while doing legal papers through Open Polytechnic. She was also still volunteering.

The ministry paid Harrison $740 to teach a child annually. When their home schooling ended, her children paid a bit of rent and food money, course costs, and car or hobby costs.

Harrison tried being the anxious mother with son Jake, now 32, “waving flags and whistles”, using rewards and punishments, “but you can’t work against a personality”. He needed more space.

He eventually found his feet in electrical engineering, gaining a degree at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) after completing an electrician apprenticeship.

Going to polytechnic at 21 was the first time he stepped foot in a classroom.

“I didn’t feel like I was handicapped or anything.”

His two children would also be home-schooled.

For daughter Sargia, now 28, joining the workforce as a librarian in Wellington was a “really smooth transition”.

“It was mostly a breeze. I think [home-schooling] really allowed me to discover who I was without outside pressure.”

 – Stuff


Needing help for your home schooling journey:


Here are a couple of links to get you started home schooling:

Information on getting started


Information on getting an exemption

This link is motivational:

Exemption Form online:

Coming Events: