A successful homeschooling experience happens when children and parents know the expectations, set targets and enjoy it. In some families, one child can be home schooled while another attends a mainstream school – if those options suit the individual children. Homeschooling should be a deliberate choice.
That said, there are a growing number of so-called "accidental" homeschooled children in Australia. Families of these children feel there is no option other than to homeschool due to a lack of support in mainstream schools. This is particularly so for students with a disability or who have experienced bullying.
To homeschool, the child's parent or guardian is the teacher (and de facto principal), and the home is viewed by authorities as a school. Parents who take on this challenge can be understandably worried if they have the time, patience, skills and money to provide a home school for their child.
1. Do I have the time and patience?
There is no specific amount of time families should be spending on homeschooling their child. Education departments recommend schools spend anywhere between 40 to 300 hours of study per year (per subject) depending on the subject age and stage.
But homeschooling allows the learning experience to be tailored to the individual student. This means an activity that may take 30 minutes in a classroom could be completed in a shorter, or longer, timeframe. Rather than set specific time requirements, it's better to have outcomes or goals based on the curriculum and the abilities of each child.
Children will need to develop an understanding of when a parent is being a parent, and when the parent is being an educator or facilitator. It's important to delineate homeschool time from time simply being a family, even if any activity can become a learning experience. Finding the balance requires patience – be aware of this challenge before you start.
Research into homeschooling is still limited, but there are reports many homeschooling parents are qualified teachers, or have teachers in the family. These parents may already have the same skills as those in school.
Some parents may wish to undertake short courses in education if they wish to improve their skills – although this will require time too. There is no requirement for a homeschool parent to have a teaching degree.
2. Do I have the money?
The government spends on average around A$13,000 a year on every child in a government school. Homeschooled children receive no funding support.
The National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) supports children with disability in a school setting, but there is little to no government support for children who are being homeschooled. This is even if a child is homeschooled due to disability issues. Figures show around one quarter of homeschooled children have special learning needs.
The financial burden is increased if families choose to buy into some of the educational programs available, such as Mathletics, which creates tasks tailored for each child. An annual subscription for one child starts at $100.
Costs will vary depending on the resources bought, and the complexity of the child's needs. Curriculum costs would be expected to increase as a child ages, particularly if textbooks are required.
There are organisations to support homeschooled children, but they sometimes charge for resources such as books or learning programs. One parent must be listed as a full-time homeschool parent for registration, which also means homeschooling families are likely to only have one parent working full-time.
3. What teaching method would I use?
To homeschool, you are required to use the curriculum of the state or territory your child is registered in and meet the age and stage requirements. Accreditation is dependent on this.
There are no prescriptive ways to deliver the curriculum, which is one of the benefits of homeschooling – the freedom to engage with the curriculum in a different, more creative way. Many homeschool families share their methods online, as well as the challenges and failures they have experienced.
Families also have the opportunity to adapt methodologies from across the globe, without systemic restrictions. This can include incorporating aspects from the learning-through-play concepts of Finland (for younger children) before attempting more formal schooling practices.
Some families choose to have a structured learning period throughout the day or week and in many ways are replicating the formal school structures. Other families take what is called an "unschooling" approach – children choose where, what and when to learn with the parent having more of a facilitator role than a specific teacher role. Neither way is better or worse, it is more about what is suitable for a child.
The freedom of unschooling can increase confidence and sense of self in students. But homeschooled children also need peers they can engage with for social development. The internet has allowed many families to make these connections.
A tailored homeschooling learning experience often creates closer family bonds. And studies have shown homeschooled students have similar, and sometimes better, outcomes than their traditionally educated peers.
While homeschooling is a challenging experience, when successful, the rewards make it worth it.
David Roy is a Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle.
This article first appeared on The Conversation.