There’s no doubting Michelle Morrow’s passion for homeschooling. In the 12 years since she began teaching from home, the Hunter Valley mother of four, aged 10 to 16, has created the Homeschooling Downunder website and written an e-book on the subject.
Yet despite this commitment, Michelle and husband Ken’s oldest son has been going to school on and off since he was eight-years-old. Their oldest daughter also attended high school last year, before deciding to rejoin her younger siblings in homeschooling. The couple remain open-minded about their two younger children one day attending school. “It’s always an option,” she says. “I never say never.”
The Morrows aren’t the only family embracing more than one approach to education. And while having a foot in both camps enables families to address individual needs, it raises questions about inevitable comparisons and conflicting philosophies.
“I was never anti-school or anti-teachers, I just thought that for us, homeschooling was a better option,” Michelle says.
“I thought they could learn more and follow their dreams more at home than at school.”
Michelle sent her oldest son to high school after he became somewhat reclusive and reluctant to attend homeschooling functions.
“I felt like he was missing out a bit on stimulation and I was also struggling with his maths,” she says. “I suppose it was always in the wings that he would eventually go back to school. He went when he was young and it wasn’t a negative experience.”
The Morrow’s oldest daughter went to high school last year, eager for a variety of teachers and challenges, but recently returned to homeschooling.
"She really enjoyed last year and even though the social life was fun, came home because of the amount of time school takes,” Michelle explains. “She thought she could get her work done more quickly at home, then have time to pursue her interests.”
Meanwhile, the Carcarello family in Melbourne are also homeschooling advocates. Gary and Tahlia have two daughters (aged five and four), two sons (aged two and one) and their fifth child is due in May. While Tahlia homeschools their daughters, Gary works as an English teacher at a local high school.
“I love schools and classrooms and working with kids” he says. “But for me, it’s a love of learning. The more I’m immersed in home schooling and the philosophies around that, the more I see the flaws in mainstream education, which is set to the clock, rather than following the natural inclinations of the child.”
Gary, who has been teaching for 11 years, says that while his colleagues immediately recognise the benefits of homeschooling, outsiders are often shocked and see the incongruence between being a teacher in a mainstream classroom and homeschooling his children.
“As somebody who’s passionate about education and learning, it makes sense for us to take this approach with our own kids,” Gary says.
Like the Morrows, the Carcarellos haven’t ruled out the possibility of their children one day attending a conventional school.
“The guiding principal for us is what’s right for our children,” Gary says. “At this stage it’s something we’ll take in our stride,” adds Tahlia, acknowledging how the different approaches may complement each other.
“Even now, the home school community is very open to community learning,” she says. “In fact, a lot of home schooling parents are former teachers or married to teachers, who might offer classes in their discipline. That’s another way of meshing two aspects. All different styles of education definitely have a place.”
According to parenting and education expert Kathy Walker, embracing more than one approach allows for personalised education.
“Each sibling is recognising and learning to accept as a matter of course that it’s normal for members of a family to be different and have different opportunities,” she says. “It also provides for children to perhaps have opportunities and years at both homeschooling and school.”
Michelle Morrow thinks this flexible approach is fantastic.
“You’re not locked into a system that’s rigid and doesn’t allow your kids to develop their interests and hobbies,” she says.
That said, she can’t help but compare the two techniques.
“You look at the opportunities offered at school that you’re not really offering, like qualified art teachers, music concerts or sports days,” she says.
“Sometimes you think maybe they’re missing out because they can’t have that. But then there are all things they can do, that they couldn’t at school.”
Kathy Walker acknowledges the challenges in juggling schooling methods, not only for parents, but also for children. She advises parents to be clear and explicit with each child and the family about the reasoning behind each decision.
“Allow children to share their experiences, to see and hear about each other’s work and to ensure that there is no competition about who is learning better, or which learning environment is the better one.”