Currently, 6,000 New Zealand kids are getting homeschooled, not including those enrolled at the correspondence school Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu.
Educating a child at home can allow a parent to “light a fire in their hearts and minds” without pressure or competition, says Siobhan Porter, who has homeschooled all five of her kids.
Siobhan is the director of Auckland Home Educators – a support and advocacy group for homeschoolers.
She and education consultant Natalie Donaldson – who has also homeschooled five kids – talk to Kathryn Ryan about their experience.
Siobhan Porter had a private school education herself and every advantage, she says.
She hadn’t been exposed to home education at all when she became a mother. (Her children now range in age from 6 to 19.)
“When my oldest was nearly five, I thought ‘actually I don’t really want school to interrupt this lovely thing we’ve got happening here’.”
Siobhan met with some other people who were homeschooling and decided to give it a go.
“I thought ‘surely it can’t be too hard to teach a child to read. I can read myself, I’m not trained to do this but I think I could find out.”
Every child learns differently and as a parent, you have a lot of intuition about what is best for your own child, she says.
“When you can sit alongside your child and connect with them, it’s a wonderful process of them learning and you learning alongside them.
“You’re really lighting a fire in their hearts and minds and helping them to follow their passions.
“You can do that in a really thorough and unhurried way when you’re homeschooling without all that pressure and competition.
“They do this great learning but they still have heaps of time to play, explore, create and imagine.”
Natalie, whose kids now range in age between 11 and 19, also had no intention of educating her kids at home until it became clear her 5-year-old son was going to find school a big challenge.
She and her partner gave it a try for educational reasons, but didn’t realise it would also be “a great family thing it was to do”, she says.
“We didn’t realise it would give us the opportunity to be together as a family, to grow to know each other and to actually quite like each other in a way I didn’t realise you could do as a family.”
In New Zealand, homeschoolers don’t have to follow the New Zealand school curriculum and people take many different approaches to their kids’ education, Natalie says.
“Learning isn’t about reaching a particular milestone at a particular age. It’s about progressing along a continuum and gaining those skills as you are able and interested.
“If a child is illiterate at age 10 or 11 it does not mean they will have a poor education outcome long-term if a family is committed to [their education].
“If you take the institution out of learning, children just have this wonderful freedom and curiosity to learn.”
Homeschooled kids don’t have to miss out socially, she says.
“Children don’t have to be around 20 or 30 other children to be well-socialised. They do need a few good friends and they need to see those friends regularly.”
Auckland Home Educators hosts an event every term where kids can experience the wider community of homeschoolers, she says.
But people educating their kids at home also have to use initiative and create their own community, she says.
“You have to be proactive about seeking out those families at the same age and stage in your area that you can meet with regularly.”
When they’re reading for formal schooling, home-schooled children are generally well-grounded, she says.
“They really know who they are, they know their family, they know their family culture and values.”
One of the biggest challenges of home-schooling is living on one income, she says.
“There’s a lot of families who are on quite humble incomes who find creative ways to make homeschooling work for them.”
As a parent, more mess and clutter in the house and fewer breaks from your kids can be challenging, too, she says.
Natalie concedes homeschooling isn’t the right option for everyone, but sometimes the positive outcomes can take time to be revealed.
“It can look like [the child is] doing nothing in the early years, but inevitably, in the long run, these familes do extremely well.”
You can get more information about home education at the Ministry of Education website.
Radio New Zealand:
Needing help for your home schooling journey: https://hef.org.nz/2011/
Here are a couple of links to get you started home schooling:
Information on getting started: https://hef.org.nz/
Information on getting an exemption: https://hef.org.nz/
This link is motivational: http://hef.org.
Exemption Form online: https://hef.org.nz/