A growing education alternative

"Confidence has grown in the home-schooling community ..."
"Confidence has grown in the home-schooling community ..." 

This week (October 23-26) is Home Education Awareness Week. In Australia, there are around 10,000 families registered to home-school their child and the number is set to grow, with figures showing that in some states like NSW, the number of home-schooling families has increased by 54 percent in the past four years.

Lindy Hadges, spokesperson for the Home Education Association (HEA) is not surprised by this and reveals that there is a marked increase in the number of families deciding to home school their children, not just in NSW, but across Australia.

Once considered a primary school alternative, Hadges says that more families are now continuing to home-school their kids through high school. “Confidence has grown in the home-schooling community, numbers have grown and people are able to contact and access each other for ideas and support,” she explains.

Beverley Paine, a pioneer of home education in Australia agrees and says that home-schooling is a lifestyle choice for many families. “These are people who are hands on parents and who like to be involved with their children. They don’t see learning separated from life and their basic value of learning from everyday [experiences],” she says.

Paine, who home-schooled her three children, beginning in 1986 also identifies another group of families for whom home-schooling is appealing – those who have children whose needs are not being met at school. 

Schooling your children is definitely a full-time job ...

“They’ve tried schools and were finding that their children are getting neglected, left behind, they’re bored, they’re just not achieving and as a result you might get a few illnesses and behaviour issues creeping in because of the stress,” she explains.

“This is the sad group,” says Paine. “Particularly over the last 5 years, it’s really become a big thing.”

Regardless of the reason why parents choose to home-school their child, families are required to register with the relevant education board, develop a learning program and monitor their children’s progress.

For example, in NSW, primary school age children need to study the six key learning areas of English, Maths, Science & Technology, Human Society & its Environment, Creative & Practical Arts and Personal Development, Health & Physical Education. The guidelines also state that children should be given adequate opportunities for practical and theory-based learning that develops a range of skills including problem-solving, research and analysis through various methods including computer-based technologies.

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“You need to find the resources to meet your children’s learning needs and styles,” says Paine. Some children respond well to sitting down with a book and understanding concepts that way but others would need lots of physical activities and aides like blocks and counters.

Hadges says that there is now plenty of support for home-schooling families in terms of developing an education program based on the curriculum and selecting resources for teaching that caters to the child’s learning needs. The HEA can direct parents towards these resources and put families in touch with others who educate their children at home for further guidance and to establish a community of home-schoolers.

Holly Cole, Director, Research & Strategy at Folklore was home-schooled during the primary years and part of the high school years. And she believes that having a community of home-schoolers is essential for these families. “If you have a community, if you have other parents who are doing the same thing, then you can share and your child gets to experience group activity, which is very important. They get to have friends and socialize and they get all that emotional development that goes with having [peers].”

Jessica Green, who was also home-schooled throughout primary but opted out during high school, remembers the close-knit group of home-schooling families that she grew up with. “Once a week or even twice a week, we would catch up with them and play or have projects with them,” she recalls. The connection with other children and adults as well as the support they provided for each others’ learning experiences proved to be mutually helpful, she says.

Both Green and Cole are now successful businesswomen and look back at their home-schooling years with nothing but “happy memories”. 

However, as positive as her experience was, Cole cautions that home-schooling is not for everybody. “Schooling your children is definitely a full-time job,” she says. The need for most families to have a double income these days could impact on the ability to home-school, but, Hadges says that most families who home-school make a conscious choice to live on a single income.

However, after 20 years of home-schooling her five kids, Hadges can now call on her older adult children to assist with the education of her younger ones for short periods. This allows her the opportunity to focus on other activities momentarily. While she sets out tasks and takes responsibility for her children’s lessons, Hadges asks her grown up children to supervise for a few hours a week, allowing her to work part-time.

“It is the parent’s or legal guardian’s responsibility to educate the child. Grandparents [and other adult relatives] can support if the parent needs to work, as long as the parent is still providing all the work and the relative is overseeing it for short periods,” she says.

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