BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO HOME EDUCATION

THE WONDERFUL LIFESTYLE OF
HOME EDUCATION
A talk for Home Education Awareness Week 2016
Debbie Ball



The following are my own thoughts, but I'd also like to thank the National Council of Home Educators NZ for some of their information shared here.

Please visit this page for the NCHENZ website


WHAT IS HOME EDUCATION/HOMESCHOOLING?
Home education or sometimes called homeschooling is an alternative to sending children to a registered school. One parent (usually, but not always, the mother) teaches, or facilitates learning for the children.
Home education is different to correspondence school. If anyone is interested in information on Te Kura – the New Zealand correspondence school let me know, and I can talk to you afterwards.

IS HOME EDUCATION LEGAL IN NEW ZEALAND? DO I NEED PERMISSION?
Home education is legal.

However, in New Zealand a child must be registered in a school from age six so if a family wishes to home educate they should go to the Ministry of Education website here  

Then you'll have to print out and complete the Home Education Application form found at the bottom of this page.

 When completed the form and accompanying information can be scanned and sent, or sent in the mail.   When the Ministry have approved your application then you'
There are many who think the parent should naturally have the right to educate their own child, but the law of this country says differently. And we appreciate the fact that we are legally allowed to home educate in New Zealand as there are many places in the world where home ed is illegal.
You can apply for an exemption any time after your child’s fifth birthday – but you must have the exemption before they turn six.
You will also need to provide a copy of your child’s birth certificate, and proof of guardianship if you are not the birth parent. Until you have an exemption from the Ministry of Education, legally your child must be enrolled in school if aged between six and 16 years. Only one parent or guardian needs to sign the form.
Would anyone like more information on the exemption process?
If your child has been enrolled in a school previously, but isn’t six yet then you just unenrol them from school and begin the process of applying for an exemption. You don’t need anyone’s permission to withdraw them from school.
If your child is enrolled in a school, and is over six, you must notify the school principal of your intention to home educate. But once again you don’t need permission from the school. The Ministry of Education will contact the school to discuss your child’s educational progress to-date, so that the exemption application can be accurately assessed. You can ask for the record of progress as well and the school must provide it to you under the Privacy Act

Your exemption application should have sufficient information to show the MOE that you are able to educate your child “as regularly and as well” as a registered school. However you are not obliged to follow the national curriculum or create a mini-school at home. This is why the term “home education” is preferred to “home schooling”.
One of the biggest advantages to home education is the flexibility. You can tailor learning programs to suit you, your child, your family and your lifestyle. This also means each family ends up doing things a little differently.
The Ministry of Education recognises this and, in considering your application, will want to know:
  • that you’ve considered your child’s needs and abilities; and
  • that you’ve done some research, set goals and have a reasonable idea of what you are doing.
It isn’t unusual for parents to feel overwhelmed when they begin the task of writing a child’s exemption. This is where it’s important to seek support – either in a facebook group, other online group, via email or in person. A local home education group may have someone who can help.

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WHY HOME EDUCATE?

Families home educate for many reasons including –

desire to keep the family together
children with special gifts and talents that can easily be extended with home education
a child with health issues, or other special needs
wanting the freedom to travel or spend large amounts of time outdoors,
desire to teach morals and character traits according to family goals
freedom to pursue intense interests, then quickly change gears to another interest
giving the child confidence in becoming themselves free from negative peer pressure
the school system letting the child down
a child who experiences stress or anxiety at school
a child who has a different learning style
those who have been suspended or expelled from school
bullying at school

The children we have been given are so precious, and careful parents will endeavour to make wise decisions for them. Rather than take what other people say as being true, a parent must weigh up many things when going through a decision-making process.

In relation to education I suggest that you start at the end, and work backwards. What goals do you have for your children? Would those goals lay heavy, unhealthy expectation on your children? How can those goals be achieved little by little in a way that is personal to your child or children, and allows them to grow into the person they were designed to be?

So, by starting your thought process at the end you may get a clear picture of how your small day-to-day decisions or really big decisions will either help or hinder getting to those goals.

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WHO CAN HOME EDUCATE?

Anyone who has the desire to educate their children themselves, for whatever reason is entitled to do so. No qualifications are needed. There are home educating parents who are trained teachers, but they are not necessarily better qualified to home educate, and I have heard that some trained teachers have to work through a bit of an adjustment period, perhaps unlearning some of what they’ve previously thought to be the “right” way to educate a child.
The best qualifications are that you love your children, want to spend time with them, and desire to nurture a love of learning. It can be a real asset for a parent to be learning alongside a child – not just in an academic sense.


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HOW LONG CAN I HOME EDUCATE FOR?
Whatever suits your particular family. What we see happening with many home educated people is that a genuine love for learning and desire to seek more knowledge never ends. Learning naturally continues into adulthood.
When people ask the question “How long are you going to home educate?” it usually means “Do children need to attend school closer to the end to gain qualifications?” Once again, it is entirely up to the family to choose the right path for each particular child. If a family holds academic achievement in a high standing, or if a child is passionate about seeking for example a university degree, there are much more effective and pleasant ways to go about it than enrolling in a school for the last sector of their “formal education years”.

There are several ways in which home schooled students can attain qualifications.
  • One way is to sit what is called Cambridge exams.
  • Another option is to enrol in The Correspondence School.
  • Alternatively a student can return to school at any time. Some homeschooled students return in Year 11 or 12 in order to gain NCEA credits.
  • Some students wait till they’re ready to go to University, and then complete an entrance exam and many, MANY home educated students are admitted into Universites.

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HOW DO I BEGIN?
There are many ways you can go about home education which range from purchasing a curriculum to self-directed learning or unschooling. So, before you apply for your exemption pick a method that you think will suit your child’s learning style and your lifestyle, research that so you have enough information for your exemption, then jump right in!
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DO I HAVE TO FOLLOW THE NZ CURRICULUM OR ANOTHER PARTICULAR PROGRAMME?
You don’t have to follow the NZ curriculum or any other programme. You are not legally bound to include any particular subjects in your home education programme, however it’s unlikely your exemption application will be approved if you don’t at least outline how you will cover the basics (reading, writing, maths).
Begin by thinking about your family goals, and what you’d like life to ‘look’ like for your family. What’s important to you? What’s important to your child? It can also be a good idea to talk to other home educators, either in person or online.
Remember and understand that you don’t have to have all the answers before you start. Pretty much every home educator finds that their approach, philosophy, understanding and motivations change and grow as they continue on their home education journey. Some people find the first year can be the hardest so it is important to have support.
I know of some people who have desperately wanted to get their chid out of an unhealthy situation in school, but the exemption process has daunted them so much, and they’ve worked on it for months and months – sadly things have got very bad for their child in this time. I would counsel that if you’ve decided to home educate then the exemption needs to be done as soon as possible. Get help!


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IS IT OK IF I CHANGE MY PROGRAMME AFTER THE EXEMPTION HAS BEEN APPROVED? 
It sure is. The Ministry of Education expects you to assess things as you go and it is totally ok to make changes.
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WHAT SORT OF FREEDOM DO I HAVE WITH HOME EDUCATION?
One of the major advantages of home education is the family’s freedom in choosing the best way to home educate. There is no need to use a curriculum if it doesn’t suit the teaching style of the parent or the learning style of the children.
Four of the many styles of home education to choose from are:
  • Using a pre-packaged curriculum
  • Working on a Unit Study type approach
  • Eclectic learning
  • Unschooling, or natural learning

I’ll touch on each of these soon.
Many families will use various methods over the years, changing to suit whichever season their lives are going through. They often settle into something that feels comfortable and reaps the most benefits as they all gain confidence in themselves, their learning styles and develop specific goals.

Your home education can be tailored to fit YOUR family It can be really helpful to look at what other families are doing, but the decision on how YOUR family is going to home educate is YOUR decision.
Some families choose to work within the same terms as regular school and have holidays when schools do. For unschooling families like mine each day during the year is much the same, but because Daddy is home on Saturday and Sunday those days are nicer and we get work done around the property or go out with Daddy which makes those two days very special. It is common knowledge that many home educating families prefer to take trips to the playground and the library etc when it isn’t school holidays as those places aren’t so crowded or noisy during term time.

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LOOKING AT FAMILY and or EDUCATIONAL GOALS

I was watching a documentary and reading some information on Democratic Schools and something struck me -the particular democratic school I was studying was a boarding school with no parental participation. One of the reasons given for this lack of parental participation was given as “A child can be free to develop without the parental expectation of who they are supposed to be.” The school does not put expectations on the children, and it seems they thrive and grow naturally and intelligently in their own time. Just like they do with unschooling or natural learning.

For the last 20 years or so I have been careful not to push my academic expectations on the children. I do expect them to work towards be genuinely polite, kind, considerate, have good life-skills, healthy thoughts about themselves etc. But “academically” I have not had expectation. I work hard with my children so they can learn as many hands-on skills as they can during their childhood that will take them into their adult lives, or serve as a base to give them the confidence to learn new skills as adults. I’ve never held a University education as a goal for my children – it is entirely up to each child if they decide they want to pursue higher learning. And if they do want to, I will support and encourage that journey.

Regular schooling can place much expectation on children. Not every child sees a reward chart as something fun. Many children feel a heavy expectation, and this can really backfire badly. There are also detentions, exams, gradings, expectations from parents, peers or teacher, or pressure from parents onto teachers. I know some home educators will use “tools” such as detention, reward charts, exams etc, A wise home educator must make their own decisions and continually assess whether these tools are making things better or worse. It will be different for each child, in each season of their lives.

When a family sits down to write their goals – it can be a totally personal experience, not influenced by anyone or anything.

I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to raise an intelligent child, than a child who is pleasant to be with. Intelligence will take you so far in life. Wisdom will take you much further. And wisdom with a pleasant nature and sound character should bring much happiness and good relationships.

When a child and parent are brought together through home education it is wise to find effective answers to problems that keep coming up, so that it doesn’t wreck your relationship, and then you can fully enjoy each other’s company, and trust each other.

When setting family goals you might include skills such as – household skills, self-care, a certain level of maths that would include consumer or business maths, reading and writing to a proficient level, ability to be discerning, thinking logically, how to care for other people, how to be content with what we have, knowing how to find out what is truly going on in the world – all these skills can be worked on so easily with home education and don’t need to be broken down into tiny little fragments with expiry dates on when they should be learned. This is often why a home educated child may seem to be an “erratic learner” possessing skills to a high degree in one area, but seemingly lacking in another. And this is absolutely nothing to be concerned about.

I’ve seen it time and time again where a family has taken a child, or children, from school and told themselves that it will be “just for a while” that they home educate. Perhaps the child has been stressed at school? Or the family has decided to travel around New Zealand for a year. Potentially this could work. But sadly, when the family puts an expectation on themselves that the child won’t “fall behind” and works hard to complete the same amount of work as if the child was at school, it can totally negate the whole experience. The child ends up just as stressed, the relationship with their parent-teacher is strained to a huge degree, the parent feels isolated and wearied by continually being on the receiving end of their child’s frustration at the work expected to be completed.

Far, far better to throw expectations out the window and just LIVE. NOT pretend to throw expectations out the window, but really do it.

It’s sad when families are handed a beautiful gift of freedom, but they’ve said “No thanks – that feels too uncomfortable. We’ll surely lose our way.” Maybe they need a little support or some confidence in another way – maybe they’ll find freedom in their own structure. There is support out there!

I’ve also seen families stress and fracture when a child is taken out of school and a “de-schooling” period is needed.

Any child, or any parent, who steps out of mainstream, but has been to regular school at some point will require a de-schooling period – whether it be months or years. Many parents are still recognising the need to de-school themselves, many years later as they recall ingrained philosophies from being in the system which were ineffective, but they never recognised them as being ineffective and therefore just continued believing they were right.

If your child has been in school it is wise to take the child’s lead and allow a healthy unlimited de-schooling time for the child to recover their natural love of learning. The results can be wonderful.

Just a side note – I’ve used the term “love of learning” and it’s a term that’s bounced around a bit with regard home education, but I’d like you to REALLY think about what it means. Have you ever started to become really interested in something – perhaps a new craft or hobby, or type of exercise, researching a holiday or collecting something. Did you feel excited about spending time on this new interest? Did you love going deeper into the subject and learning more? Then you will understand the feeling that children CAN have in relation to every subject they come across that grabs their interest IF the subject isn’t broken up into teeny compartments, theorized and scrutinized, overdone to the point of killing any interest and then adding insult to injury by BEING TESTED ON WHAT THEY HAVE LEARNED and given a pass or fail grade.
Home education doesn’t have to be that way. If a child is interested in a topic they can dive in to any depth they like, getting really excited about it and being allowed to learn what they like for however long they like, then skipping to another topic.

Another thought to insert here is about “learning”. Learning is like breathing. You do it all the time. You don’t take a break from it. But still I see home educators say things like: “We have a very flexible life – we do learning from 9 till lunchtime, then break for an hour, and then some more learning till 2, then the children have free time.” I’m wondering if the parent REALLY thinks the child doesn’t learn anything in their free time.

This is the same false thinking that would say “I’m not letting my children read or watch that particular book or video – it’s not educational.”
The word “educational” has been hi-jacked by toy companies BIG TIME. By printing “educational” on the side of the unnecessarily extravagant packaging of the junky, environmentally unfriendly, unethically produced toy, often ensures that parents or grandparents will buy the toy.

But – back to learning – it goes on all day, weeks, months, years. On and on. From the time you are born till you die.

Unschoolers all over the world, with tongue in cheek, annually celebrate “Learn Nothing Day” We all fail. It JUST ISN’T POSSIBLE TO LEARN NOTHING ALL DAY!

Yes, this is one of my hobbyhorses. It annoys me when people say “It’s nearly school holidays, time for a break from learning. We’re just going sailing for a few days then back home to get the vege garden ready for planting, then we’ve got some friends coming over …” Do they really think there will be NO LEARNING? Sounds like amazing learning opportunites to me!
People are using the world LEARNING when they should be saying FORCED TEACHING.

Because if it was called FORCED TEACHING it would sound horrible, it actually sounds offensive and abusive.

Well, sometimes it is.

FORCED TEACHING sounds very disrespectful.

RESPECT is something that I try and encourage others to practice whenever I can. And I’m really encouraged see a large number of parents nowadays keen to learn about respect – from the time their babies are very little. It can get harder to show respect when a baby turns into a toddler and starts to challenge their parents, but that’s their way of finding out who they are, how the world is organised, and how solid and reliable their parents can be to help them navigate new waters.


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THE BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS OF HOME EDUCATION

The benefits are many – they include

  • cohesion as a family – healthy relationships with family members
  • fewer teenage problems
  • parents knowing what their children are learning and able to discuss their concerns or point out a different way of thinking
  • ability to choose passtimes and activities that fit in with the family, and suit family values, and help them towards their long-term goals
  • time to grow and blossom naturally
  • home educated children on the whole are very comfortable being with people of all different ages rather than their own peer group
  • flexibility which allows more a spontaneous and exciting education
  • more opportunities to extend their learning and have them participate in the world around them
  • much more time to spend in nature with no expectations to spoil the excursion
Children will learn easily and deeply when they are interested in a topic, and the flexibility of home education allows this to happen regularly.

I’ve heard it said, as a criticism of home education, that a child will receive only the parent’s viewpoint on subjects, and grow up to be very narrow minded. This may happen, but in the overwhelming number of cases I know of it is absolutely not the case.

Any information one takes in – whether it be a documentary, a poem or song, lecture, magazine article – that information will surely be coloured by the worldview of the film-makers, song-writer, author or teacher. Their philosophy will flavour every word of what they say. Just as my philosophy is woven throughout this talk – it can’t be helped! In the old days news reports would give the facts, now they are stuffed with opinion and worldview.

But back to the point – a home educated child who can pick and choose what they read, listen to and watch will receive many different world-views and philosophies and probably want to discuss them with their parent. A wise parent will ensure that they themselves are solid in their beliefs so they can first and foremost pass on their own beliefs to a small child – giving them security and a place to launch from as they grow. Then yes, as the child grows and encounters other thoughts, if they have a respectful relationship with their parent that allows for discussion rather than lectures, they will bounce things off their parent, ask their opinion and then form their own opinion. And the wonderful thing is that many home educated youth DO form their own opinion, rather than feeling the need to follow the masses or to hold onto someone else’s opinion out of fear or rejection, or because they think it’s probably right without judging intelligently for themselves.

Some of the drawbacks to home education may be:
  • reduced income as one parent is at home educating rather than earning an income. Financially it can be difficult for some families, and if they are used to two incomes it might take some hard decisions to drop down to one income. In the early years it usually isn’t a good idea for the home educating parent to try and earn money from home, but definitely as the children get older it is a real possibility.
  • recognising that your house will probably never be completely tidy or clean all at the same time for some years – maybe even having to work around projects the children are passionate about
  • the need to make a greater effort to involve your children in activities
  • the fact that you are ultimately responsible for the education of your child/children.  This task may be daunting for some parents who choose to home school.
  • it can be rather isolating for a parent to have to figure things out for themselves. Teachers have meetings and support from other staff and a higher authority (which can be good, but can also make things more difficult,) but parents need to find their own support systems – people who understand and respect their decision and will allow them to rant when necessary without trying to “fix” things for them. And when things get difficult you might find wisdom in advice from others, but unless they really know and respect your family their advice might be way off.
  • some people do find it exhausting to be with their children all day.
  • some children find it exhausting to be with their parent all day. This can be especially difficult if the child/parent relationship has been fractured from a child being in school and only relating to their peer group.

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CAN I HOME EDUCATE MY CHILD WHO IS HAVING TROUBLE AT SCHOOL
Absolutely, and yes! Most positively you can. Despite the school system having many dedicated and gifted teachers, the system does not work for all children. From the time our children are born we’re told “They’re all different” and “one size does not fit all.” In the light of this wisdom it is not surprising that some children have difficulties at school. A child saved from an unhappy school setting may require more “de-schooling” time to unwind, to regain some confidence in themselves, some joy in the world and a deeper, more trusting relationship with you, their parent. 

I've seen, in a very short time, a child who was struggling and unhappy at school, can bloom and forge ahead with respectful home education.


WHAT ABOUT SUPPORT?
There are many internet support groups, and also local groups that families can join according to their preferences. With the decision to home educate comes the freedom to choose the amount and intensity of time spent with others during visits, trips out, group activities, camps etc. Some people thrive on social contact and others happily keep it to a minimum. Neither is right or wrong – everyone has their own gifts and talents, likes and dislikes and with home education a family can find a healthy balance for everyone. There should never be pressure on families to conform to someone else’s standards.

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HOME EDUCATING SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
Many home educators have children with special needs.
Depending on what the child’s “special need” is, home education can be an absolutely wonderful lifestyle for the family.
A child who requires regular hospital visits can just continue with their regular learning lifestyle – whether they use a curriculum or not. There is no worry about “falling behind” or missing out on things at school.
If a child is on the autism spectrum and or with ADHD life can be exceptionally hard at school for many reasons. I know of parents of children on the spectrum who have seriously considered home education, but feel, for some reason that it is best to keep the child in a regular school environment. I believe that their understanding is that the child needs to be around other people to attain the social skills necessary for furthering their life. Personally I believe that a school environment is NOT the best place to learn social skills, especially for a child on the spectrum. Once again, I would urge parents to look at what a positive end result might look like, and work back from there.
This leads me into the most commonly asked question about home education:

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WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION?”
Socialisation is all about the way a person learns to behave in their community and society in general.
A lot of people question socialization without thinking truly what the word means.
A baby learns social skills very naturally from the time they are born, from everyone around them. Each day is full of opportunities for learning and practicing social skills, and how to effectively relate to society.
For some children, I know, social skills are a struggle to learn – each event has to be mentally picked apart to see what happened and how they should respond, or how they should have responded. These children need guidance and various ways to help like repeated role playing or discussions about body language etc.
But for a neurologically typical child, social skills are absorbed and learned very easily. However, when a child is put into school and has to spend massive chunks of their day in what is actually an unnatural environment – large numbers of children with one adult all day, being told want to do, crowd control, being pointed towards a nationally agreed goal … the opportunity to learn valuable social skills becomes very, very limited.

When thought of in this way, it is surprising that parents of schooled children don’t get asked “Oh – she’s in school? Aren’t you worried about socialization?”

A lot of valuable social contact comes from first – being part of a family, and second being part of a group, club, sports team etc. Home educators get out into the world any time they wish and interact with so many people including librarians, shop keepers, coaches etc.
There is no need for children to feel isolated if they are home educated. There are a number of support groups and activities groups throughout the country designed to ensure home educated students don’t miss out on contact with their peers. This allows them the chance to ‘mingle’ with others in the same situation as them, and maybe pick some friends if they wish.
It’s more effort for a family to be involved in activities if they home educate compared to a family who have their children at school – but every day doesn’t have to be a social event and children don’t need to be out of the home constantly, or be entertained or scheduled every moment of their lives. This is often stressful and damaging to the whole family. A busy life doesn’t necessary equal a successful or happy life. I suggest that home educating families choose carefully what they will attend, what groups they belong to and when those things need to change.
A child who is intensely interested in say photography or art during one season of their life might decide to start learning deeply about music or a particular sport. There is no shame in swapping hobbies and interests. It makes a person more interesting!

Home educated young people, on the whole, ARE different from traditionally educated young people. And I’m grateful they are.
I also know some wonderful young people who have been to school – it has much to do with the child and their family, but to brand all children who are home educated as social misfits is a fallacy.




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HOME EDUCATING CHILDREN OF VARIOUS AGES OR LARGE FAMILIES

One option is to buy a separate grade in a curriculum for everyone. It is up to the parent to go through everyone’s work and figure out what they will be learning for the next week or few months, and plan out the lessons.

When the work is complete it should be marked or looked over by the parent to see if the child is coping with the material, or getting things wrong.

This system has been the answer for some large families, but others have found it to be a stumbling block that has caused much heartache. Once again – your family – your decision.

The easier way is to perhaps have a more eclectic or unit study style of education – using the “Bus Stop” method. The lessons go along with everyone involved until the younger ones “get off the bus” when they start to lose interest. The older ones can work further on the subject, perhaps producing some written work, or experiments, art activity if that is your style
We have seven children, but I’m currently OFFICIALLY home educating four children - and we’ve chosen a Natural Learning lifestyle which sees the children working together on many projects, but then going away and doing their own thing according to their passions, skills and desires. 
 
The hardest thing with children of various ages is usually the toddler. I’ve always been interested in people’s ideas on “how to entertain the toddler whilst you’re busy with other children”. However, it seems over the years, the same things come up that are helpful for a while, but don’t really provide a long-term solution i.e., a box of toys that only comes out during “lesson” time, or boxes of toys and activities that they rotate during “lesson” time. 
 
The best way to keep a little one busy is to have an older child play with or read to the little one. This, of course, fosters beautiful relationships too. Rotate which children spend time together so nobody feels like they’re always “looking after the baby”. There will be times when some children can’t be paired together, but if you are with your children a lot you know figure that out.

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HOME EDUCATION ON A SHOE-STRING BUDGET
The Ministry of Education provides a small amount of assistance in the form of an annual ‘supervisory allowance’ of $743 for the first child, $632 for the second, $521 for the third, and $372 for each one after that. This is paid in two installments each year. So, twice a year every home educator receives a declaration to be signed saying they have home educated for the previous six months, then when this is signed and returned the money is paid into their bank account.

Home education doesn’t need to be expensive, but of course everyone has their own idea of how to spend their money. I just recently saw someone selling a 2nd hand Kindergarten curriculum – a whole year’s curriculum for a 5 year old, and they were asking just half the new price. They only wanted $450. I couldn’t quite believe it! $450 – which means the new price for that year’s curriculum was originally $900.
There is absolutely no need to spend $900 for a child’s education when they are five years old!

I used to pour over other people’s lists of “must have” items for home education – I so wanted to get it “right”. However, over the years I’ve come to realise that everyone’s list will look different according to their family goals.
However, for the sake of this talk, and just in case you were wondering, if I had to start from the ground up with home education I would list my top 12 things (in a kind of order of importance) as:

1. A place to live
2. Household furniture and appliances
3. Food and clothing
4. A vehicle
5. A library card
6. Books of your own – including the Adventures In Natural Learning books – and shelves to store your precious books in.
7. A computer with internet and a printer
8. Pens, pencils and paper and places to store them
9. Local resources like the beach and playground etc
10. A trampoline, bikes and other outdoor tools and equipment including lots of “loose parts” like planks, buckets, tyres, boxes, rope, pots, ladders, trees, bushes and puddles
11. Indoor toys like Lego, wooden blocks, magnetix, jigsaw puzzles – (more
comprehensive list is in the Handbook)
11. A cat, dog or other pet
12. Membership to local clubs, groups or organised activities like gymnastics, karate, dancing, sport

And home education on a shoestring is one of the many reasons I wrote the Adventures In Natural Learning Handbook – so parents would only need to buy the one book to last many years of home educating.


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I’d like to talk specifically about some of the various home education styles that families choose from – remembering that it isn’t unusual for a family to change their style after they’ve been home educating for a while, or if things in their family change (as they do) over time.

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A PRE-PACKAGED CURRICULUM
The word “curriculum” can be defined as the means and materials with which students will interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes
This is an example of edu-speak – something I thought I had to understand and be fluent in to be an effective home educator. However, I’ve subsequently realised that if it isn’t natural to me to speak like this, then it isn’t necessary.

A curriculum by its very nature dictates that each child of a certain age or stage will be taught the same thing, across the board, at the same time. This just does not suit some children.
A curriculum for a home educator can be a box/folder/set of instructions and perhaps workbooks containing pre-prepared lessons. Some include non-fiction and or fiction books or text books, others have book lists for you to source your own books. Buying books isn't as hard as it used to be thanks to the internet and sites such as Book Depository and a fantastic little facebook shop - Homeward Bound – (Michelle’s Book Shoppe).
Some curricula are teacher intensive, others are more self-teaching. Most have extremely attractive websites – often with samples of the curriculum, or overviews of the content for each Grade. If you are an eclectic home educator (which I will talk about in a minute) you might like to glean some ideas from the free samples offered.
I am not overly familiar with pre-packaged curricula as this isn’t our chosen learning style, but I have consulted with other home educators on this topic to bring you some up-to-date information.
A curriculum can be a spring-board for learning: rather than using it in the prescribed way a family may pick and choose topics or certain subjects from within a frame of a certain curriculum. However, because of the structured nature of a curriculum a parent may worry that missing bits out, or changing around the order of things might not give them the guarantee of success they were hoping for. The thought may be that some experts have planned the curriculum carefully, a parent might wonder if they have the “right” to miss bits out. I would encourage curriculum families to never feel “bound” by the curriculum. Use it your way, to work for you.
Another negative about using a pre-packaged curriculum is that you may feel you are short-changing your children as someone else has decided what “educational outcomes” are important. Nobody knows your children like you do. Once again, home education gives you the freedom to make your own decisions based on what works best for you all.
I have a list of companies who supply curriculum materials (either complete curriculum or for certain subjects) at the end of this paper.
Two of the hardest things about using a curriculum can be:
    1. If your child is not enthusiastic about the material or co-operative it can cause a lot of friction between parent/teacher and student.
And number 2. If a curriculum REALLY isn’t working it can be hard to accept the fact that it needs to be dropped. No matter how much a parent may love a particular curriculum/resource (and no matter how much it cost), if it doesn't suit the child's learning style/tastes then the child probably won't be able to absorb and retain the information presented.

But the advantages are:
Being able to give your child sequenced work, at an approximate grade level, and being able to direct your energy into helping them succeed at that work.
If a mummy is unwell and feels the children need continuity or self-teaching materials.

A large family with children at different stages

A parent working part-time and needing educational materials a child can just get on with when someone else is looking after the child
A feeling of satisfaction when a year has been completed happily.
Some children LOVE working through a curriculum.
A pre-packaged curriculum, whether online or actual books is often favoured by people who want to do “school at home”. This is a highly structured approach which mirrors the traditional classroom method. Worksheets, textbooks and tests are used to teach and keep track of progress, and the family may have a dedicated room for lessons along with desks for the children.
Another concern for some is that if they don’t follow a comprehensive curriculum they may fail their child, and the children will have “learning gaps”. The fact is that everyone will have learning gaps – no human knows everything. And if we ever did manage to TEACH everything, there is no guarantee that a child could remember it!
However, we can encourage a child to LEARN, and show them how to fill in the gaps they find in their learning – showing them where to go to find the information or to learn the skills. Home educators on the whole also place a high value on ‘non-academic’ skills such as character development, self motivation, lifeskills, problem solving, lateral thinking, etc.
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CLASSICAL EDUCATION
Classical Education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words (written and spoken) rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television). . This approach is quite rigorous and systematic.
There are two great resources I am familiar with for learning about Classical Education and the Trivium – The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise - and Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.
In Classical Education three stages (also called the Trivium) are recognised:
The Knowledge Level (or Grammar Stage) – before birth to approximately 12 years old. These are the years for receiving and gathering information.
The Understanding Level (or Logic Stage) – approx 13 – 15 years old. This is the age that (typically) the world becomes more arranged and information is connected in a logical order.
The Wisdom Level (or Rhetoric Stage) – approx 16+ where gathered information is put into practical expression.


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UNIT STUDY/NOTEBOOKING/LAPBOOK STUDIES
Basically this involves taking one subject (chosen by the child, or by the parent) such as “pirates”, “trees”, “pond life” or “the undersea world” etc or a book “Little House on the Prairie” or “Viking Adventure” and forming a study around that.
Free online notebooking pages or lapbook pages are enjoyed by some children – if these things are introduced by a parent, then picked up joyfully by a child it can be called “Delight Directed learning”.
Unit Studies is the way I always envisaged we would home educate, and we have indeed , successfully used Unit Studies, notebooking and lapbooks over the years, but in this season of our lives we’ve chosen natural learning.

An example of how unit studies might work could be looking at a praying mantis– so you could investigate insect symmetry, count mantis babies hatching, look at the mantis life cycle, learn the Latin name, do some praying mantis inspired painting or craft, sketch nature notebook entries of the praying mantis or its habitat, discuss where in the world you might find praying mantises. Doing all this would cover the major curriculum areas if that is important to you. It certainly doesn’t need to all be done in one day, week or month. 

There is a danger of ruining a child's interest in something by “beating it to death” - watch for signs of disinterest so you don't ruin a potential interest a child could have at a later time. 

 It is so lovely to revisit a topic that a child has been interested in previously. They seem to delight in recalling all the facts and memories attached to that topic, and then building on it. We have some fun memories – like making “pinwheel” biscuits but calling them “ambulance wheels” when my daughter was deeply interested in medicine, and learning a somewhat useless but melodious phrase in German about losing an umbrella which we always seem to remember when we start learning the German language again.
We only have our children with us for such a short time before they grow up and move on in life - home education allows many, MANY opportunities for building beautiful relationships and lovely memories with your children.
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ECLECTIC LEARNING
Eclectic learners take whatever resources they come across – whether they be workbooks/textbooks/fiction/non-fiction books/videos/audios/community resources (library, parks, museums etc) and use them as learning platforms. There is a lot of freedom in this style of learning. An example: when our then 12 year old was very keen on learning new words – their meaning and correct spelling, I went through Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible (which we already had sitting on the shelf) which is very wordy and rather academic, and I found some amazing words there for her.
If eclectic learning sounds interesting to you, you might want some names to research to get a good start-off.
  • Charlotte Mason education
  • Montessori
  • Pikler
  • Waldorf/Steiner
  • Thomas Jefferson Education
  • Democratic schools
  • Free/liberal schools
  • Enki Education
  • Reggio Emilia
  • NZ Government curriculum or other curriculum outlines
  • Christian Schools
  • Institute For Excellence In Writing
  • Freya Jaffke
  • Mary Griffith
  • Sandra Dodd
  • Ruth Beechick
  • Dr Jay Wile
  • Alan Thomas
Many of these styles/people have a lot to offer – we tend not to agree with everything they say – but that’s the freedom of home education! Chew on what you want and spit out the pips!
A brief introduction to some of the names above:
Charlotte Mason:
Charlotte Mason was a British educator who dedicated her life to improving the quality of education in England at the turn of the twentieth century. Probably the best known of her methods is her use of living books instead of dry, factual textbooks or books that are condescending to children. Living books are usually written by one person with a passion for the topic and a broad command of the language, making the subject alive and engaging. I believe the text books written by Dr Jay Wile are living books also many biographies or autobiographies.
Montessori:
This educational approach was developed by Dr Maria Montessori in about 1897. The focus is on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. Rather than use formal teaching methods, the Montessori approach involves developing natural interests and activities. It is important that a child is free to investigate and make choices about the things they want to do.

Waldorf:
This is based on the work of Rudolf Steiner who was an Austrian philosopher and teacher. Steiner took a holistic approach to education and stressed the importance of the ‘whole child’ by focusing on body, mind, and spirit. Care is taken to develop subject content in a way that is truly relevant to the inner life of the child. There is an emphasis on natural play materials, story telling, art and craft, music and movement, nature, and the rhythms of life. Steiner developed a philosophy or religion called “Anthroposophy” and this is entwined through all the teachings.
Other websites of interest:
Others:

For little ones
Just a note – lots of home education material providers have slick websites with fancy graphics, and a smooth, polished look, with lovely books and other materials. Many of these companies earn mega dollars from sales, but it doesn’t necessarily mean their materials are better than something you can borrow from the library, or make yourself. You can be lulled into a false sense of guaranteed success if you will just use the right books or the right programme.
Please wisdom when choosing ANY materials – especially if you are considering laying out a substantial amount of money for them.
Will they fit with your family flavour and goals? Are you getting the materials because they appeal to YOU rather than the children?
Please don’t feel that your children need flashy, extravaganza, extreme, flashing lights, faddish sort of graphics and trendy, slang-filled, potty mouth text. The world feeds our children this sort of thing through cartoons, games, advertising and most mainstream materials. If we are home educating we can choose a different way – it can still be fun, but it doesn’t have create unhealthy, unnatural appetites in our children.
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UNSCHOOLING/DELIGHT DIRECTED OR NATURAL LEARNING
This means different things to different families, but basically these families do not used a curriculum, and they steer away from workbooks/textbooks, timetables, schedules, forced learning etc. This definitely works for some families, but is hard for those who have not experienced the success of it first hand to actually believe it’s a valid and responsible option.
The term unschooling is much misunderstood and some people avoid using it, preferring terms such as natural, child-led, or free-range learning. Unschoolers believe that learning is living – life and education are considered the same thing and learning is happening all of the time. The author, John Holt, has written a lot about unschooling.
Our family have chosen to call our lifestyle “Natural Learning”. For us, this means mainly unschooling, but if one of our children wants a workbook to go through from time to time then that’s fine with us. We provide many resources to be picked up and put down as appropriate. We “strew the path” (to quote Sandra Dodd) with interesting things and experiences and the children learn from these if they are ready/interested. When they’re interested in a subject they often take their learning far beyond anything I would have imagined.
If we build a relationship of love and respect with our children it’s rewarding to see their love of learning grow deeper all the time.
Something that “traditionally educated” people may find odd is that many unschooling families do not put various subjects into separate “containers” (like maths, geography, history etc.) Sometimes people will ask our children “What’s your favourite subject in your schooling?” - and my children are genuinely perplexed.
Also learning does not only take place between 9am and 3pm – 5 days a week with holidays off. The learning is exciting and constant: the games, reading, figuring out – it goes on all the time, and most home educated children delight in the increase of knowledge. This aligns with how learning takes place naturally in an unobstructed life. They form theories and conclusions and make connections in ways that amaze their parents.
I’ve researched many different education systems, taken from each what I like, put it into a system, based on the seasons, and we work through it in a casual way each year, adding more and more as the children grow older. Now that it is published, the Adventures In Natural Learning Seasonal Journal is going to make life a lot easier and neater for my family, and many others. The Seasonal Journal can be used by a whole family, or each child can have their own, and it can be used alongside any home education option – such as curriculum, unit study, unschooling etc.
If I think the children will be interested in a topic or project, I’ll often jump in myself. The children will see me enjoying it and either come in on it if they’re interested, if not then there’s no pressure. Because of the lack of pressure they often pick up far more information than if they were forced to join in. I learned very early on that each child has their own way of being able to learn and retain information. Some need to bounce or move constantly when thinking or listening, others need to fiddle with things, others ask questions constantly, and some require SILENCE to enable them think with NO DISTRACTIONS!!
It helps for the parent to keep in mind what the children show an interest in, and find more resources and present them to the child in a casual way. But not hi-jacking their interest in something and forcing them to produce “schoolwork” on that topic. Just recently one of our children became interested in knights and castles. I had a couple of fiction books suitable which were read and enjoyed, and then the learning went quite naturally for him into swords, knives and other weapons. We looked at the armour knights wore, watched a BBC documentary series about building a castle, he drew pictures, coloured pictures, played with the Playmobil re-creating parts of the story “Page Boy of Camelot”. We never “left” the subject, it is just dormant for a while and will come back up quite naturally when he’s ready to go further.
High goals and low expectations often create a very healthy learning environment where the children thrive and enjoy life and learning. We have never given the children formal tests, it isn’t necessary. We’ve seen many times over that when home educated children who have been untested as children come across necessary tests (drivers licensing, entry exams for certain courses etc) in the adult world they do very well. I’ve recently seen a quote saying “Thinking that you can make children more intelligent by giving them tests is like thinking that you can make them grow taller by measuring them.”

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DOES THE GOVERNMENT CHECK ON HOME EDUCATORS?
They may do. The Ministry of Education will advise the Education Review Office that you are homeschooling. ERO can potentially undertake occasional reviews for the purpose of ensuring the student is being given an education appropriate to their needs and that he/she is not being disadvantaged by being educated at home.
However, in the last few years only a handful of home educating families – out of the hundreds in New Zealand, have been visited by the ERO.
It isn’t a legal requirement that a family keep records of their home education. Some families choose to, and others are confident that if they had to attend a review they could pull together some information that shows where the children are at, right at that time with their academics. However, some families like to keep a record for the child’s sake, to look back on. There are various ways to do this – keeping a written and photographic record, online resources and of course the Seasonal Journal.
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COPING WITH NEGATIVE ATTITUDES FROM OTHERS
It’s quite common for other people to question your decision to home educate. Some people have a genuine interest in why you’ve taken this path, others may be wanting to cause trouble. The hardest thing is when extended family are negative about your decision.
This is a tough one. It’s a lot easier to handle if the parents/caregivers are united and deal with the issue together as a team. Home educators have found different things work depending on the circumstances. Some people just keep moving forward and trust their extended family members will eventually see the benefits of home education and come on board with the philosophy; others sit down with their extended family and outline in depth why they are choosing the path of home education, and request that their family members accept their decision. It’s a difficult scenario.
It can help to remember that, at the core of the family member’s concerns, is usually love and care for the child. However, at the end of the day you are the parent and it is your decision. If the extended family are genuine in their concern and open to learning you can leave some reading material with them.
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GETTING THROUGH THE FIRST YEAR
Many families find that the first year is the hardest, some families don’t continue after the first year (which is a pity as it gets easier after that!). They may struggle for various reasons – as discussed earlier such as trying to “keep up” with what the child would be learning in school, or struggling with a method that doesn’t suit the child.
Here are some great tips for the first year:
  • Having a like-minded support network is essential, but allow yourself time to develop the right connections.
  • Establish links with your local home education community so that you can attend outings and activities together. If there isn’t a local group, get together with a couple of other home educating families and start your own informal group (that’s pretty much how all the groups started in the first place!).
  • Get online and join home education networks. Talk to others about what they do and why.
  • When things are not going well make sure you talk to a supportive person so that you get empathetic practical advice, not “well you should send them to school then”.
  • If your children have been in school, expect, allow and enjoy a substantial period of deschooling.
  • Allow plenty of time … months even … for a routine to develop. Understand that the routine will change as your children grow and that there will be many periods of adjustment.
  • Avoid diving straight in and purchasing expensive curriculum materials. It can be very difficult to initially see how home education can be conducted differently to a traditional ‘school-at-home’ model – but once you have more experience you may find you would choose quite different education materials or maybe that you don’t have a need for a purchased curriculum at all.
  • Take regular time out for self-care. Learn the art of having time to yourself without being alone.
  • Take a long term view – do not expect your children to progress evenly in all areas, expect bursts of growth and interest.
  • Ignore grade levels – do not put excessive pressure on yourself or your children to meet arbitrary standards.
  • Relax as much as possible. We all have doubts. Reach out to your support community when you are questioning yourself and your methods.
  • Take photos of what you and your children do, make notes about learning experiences if possible – it’s helpful to have something to look back on when you are having doubts so you can see how far everyone has come.
  • Don’t expect to have no ‘bad days’ – these happen whether your kids are at school or at home.
  • Some people find it best if they don’t read too much at the beginning. They need to find their own groove first. But after that, read widely and be open to change.
  • Embrace the flexibility that home educating provides – change what you are doing when it stops working.
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PARTING NOTE
Here are a few comments from various home educators

From my experience at first it was just about our child but then it dawned on us - it’s the whole family that is shifting and needs to develop from whatever standpoint we’re at. This decision will have incredibly far-reaching effects – beyond this generation even. And so we start out reading, listening, learning and observing and taking baby steps in the process.

There can be something very frightening but at the same time hugely satisfying about making BIG decisions, taking an exciting leap and seeing where you land, or running gleefully from a terrible situation. Some families starting home education feel like they have made a big leap, or run away from something - and even though it’s true there might be hard times, confusion or exhaustion, that’s life – but you don’t necessarily need to be waiting for the thud as you hit the bottom.

And my parting thought is: with sound information and the right amount of support, home education can be a wonderful, exciting lifestyle.


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EXTRA INFORMATION

INFORMATION ABOUT TE KURA
If a child is enrolled in a Te Kura (the New Zealand correspondence school) they will follow the National Curriculum and complete work sent to them by their teachers. The teachers check in with them regularly online or by phone. When the work is completed and returned to Te Kura it is marked by the teacher. Your child needs to meet certain eligibility criteria to be admitted to Te Kura for free, or else there are quite large fees to pay. No exemption is required as Te Kura is a public school. Home educated students are able to do papers at Te Kura but sometimes the cost can be prohibitive. When a child reaches 16 they can enrol in courses as a young adult, for free. For more information on this have a look at the NCHENZ website.
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MORE INFORMATION ABOUT COMPLETING AN EXEMPTION
When starting to complete an exemption it is recommended that you start by making an outline of your application and then perhaps look over exemptions other people have had approved. Have an experienced home educator review your exemption application and suggest amendments. Another option is to contact Cynthia Hancox, she is an experienced home educator who has written a comprehensive document to aid those applying for an exemption. NCHENZ can also help if requested.
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WHERE TO FIND SUPPORT
On the websites of the Home Education Foundation and the National Council of Home Educators of New Zealand you will find many lists of support networks all over New Zealand. Facebook has many groups available too – there is sure to be somewhere that a family will find a “fit” amongst likeminded families.

Some families thrive on face-to-face contact with other families, going to regular group outings or meeting with others for activities.

Other families are happier with minimal contact, and prefer their own company.

But it is really important for a home educating family to find respectful support in some form, especially if the road gets bumpy and a family start to question if they’re doing the right thing.

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POTENTIALLY HELPFUL WEBSITES

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IF YOU NEED TO EXPLAIN TO YOUR CHILD …

How to explain to a child who is asking about why they are home educated:
There are lots of options available to us – some parents choose to send their children to school, some parents choose home education. It’s all about what works best for the whole family. For our family home education works best and gives us the freedom to do all the fun things we do, anytime we want to.”




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SOME CURRICULUM COMPANIES

Abeka, Saxon Math, Apologia , Moving beyond the page,
Weaver, KONOS, My Father's World, Math-U -See,
Life Of Fred, Beast Academy, Khan Academy, Christian Light Education,
Alpha Omega, Switched-on-Schoolhouse, Diana Waring, Horizons,
Monarch, Institute For Excellence In Writing, God's Design For Life,
Story Of The World, Lighthouse Christian Curriculum, Oak Meadow,
Sonlight, Live Education, ACE Curriculum, Christopherus,
Apologia, Tapestry of Grace, Rod & Staff, Robinson Curriculum,
Ambleside Online.

WHAT IS NCHENZ?
NCHENZ stands for National Council of Home Educators New Zealand. NCHENZ is the only national body representing all home educators. NCHENZ is an incorporated society run by an elected Executive Committee who are all home educating and volunteer their time for the betterment of home educators in NZ. There is always space on the Committee for passionate home educators who want to volunteer their skills! It doesn’t matter how long you have been home educating or what your approach/philosophy is.



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