Is Homeschooling the Future?
By Melanie Dooner
The desire to homeschool one’s own child is appealing for many families, and is an issue that evokes many strong feelings. As someone who is a trained teacher and a supporter of formal schooling, I can see the attraction and benefit of a more natural approach to schooling within the family and community context.
Regardless of the schooling system, parents are recognised as the first and foremost educators of their children as they usually have the earliest and greatest impact and the potential to nurture their children’s natural curiosity and desire for learning. Homeschooling allows parents to maximise this impact by taking full responsibility for their children’s formal education.
Terry Harding, one of the pioneers of homeschooling in Australia and the manager of Australian Christian Home Schooling (ACHS), homeschooled his own children, and says there are three main reasons why people homeschool.
Firstly, it’s for philosophical and religious reasons, where people want their children to learn their own values. Secondly, for educational or academic reasons, such as for “children who may have slipped through the literacy and numeracy cracks of the traditional education system”, or alternatively, just want to give them the best educational foundation from the beginning. And thirdly, for socialisation reasons, with parents wanting to shape their children’s character development, allowing them to develop socially as their own person rather than being pushed by peer pressure and bullying.
Parents also want greater support for children with special needs such as health or psychological reasons, but also for other special needs like being an elite actor or athlete, or because they are travelling.
Kate from South West Sydney homeschooled her two children during their primary years. The reason Kate began homeschooling her son was due to dissatisfaction with his school. She believed she could better respond to his specific needs and personality than the local school. She also wanted to prevent her son from being exposed to foul language on the playground. It was an area, Kate says, where she and the school did not share the same level of concern.
There are three homeschooling modes. Firstly, a structured process like Australian Christian Home Schooling, where they provide resources that address the eight Key Learning Areas covered by the Australian Curriculum. Kate’s method falls under the second mode known as the eclectic method, where parents bring together a range of educational and extracurricular activities often based on their child’s interests, and create their own curriculum.
As well as engaging in various projects and activities, Kate’s children participated daily in drama club, gym, science club and a social meet-up at the park with other homeschooled children of various ages. And lastly, the most unstructured method, also known as “unschooling”, where education happens as children live, converse with others and engage in the world around them.
When homeschooling took off in Australia in the late 1970s, it was a movement largely taken up by Christians. While many Christians still opt to homeschool today, the homeschooling scene has changed dramatically. “Certainly in the last 20 years we’ve seen the broader community starting to embrace homeschooling,” says Terry “and I’ve noticed a lot more uptake and enquiries since the safe schools controversy that emerged across the nation. The non-religious folk are electing homeschooling too for similar reasons, and also the concept of freedom. They want their children to be independent thinkers, as do the religious parents.”
Marina is also the mother of a daughter and son, and for the past five years has been seriously considering homeschooling her children. Living and working on a property outside Christchurch in New Zealand, homeschooling seemed like a great choice. When the kids were very young they were taught about raising animals, and preparing the gardens for spring, and the children spent a lot of time socialising with the many people engaged in a farm-stay experience.
Marina had a particular interest in the Montessori teaching method, so she put a lot of time and effort into researching this mode. However, it was eventually decided to send her eldest daughter to the local primary school because of the increased demands of working from home.
When Kate’s children reached high school, her husband preferred that the children be educated in a more formal school setting, so they enrolled them in a Catholic high school. They have been happy with the children’s education and felt that, with the exception of a couple of areas in specific subjects, the children adapted very well to high school.
Kate fondly remembers those years spent homeschooling. She enjoyed the time they had together, the activities they engaged in and the way she was able to target her children’s specific needs and interests. She also enjoyed watching her son and daughter develop the skills to become independent learners.
The challenges were always present for Kate, that of worrying constantly if she was doing the right thing academically and socially for her children. But Kate believes the positives in regard to the children’s development and happiness far outweighed any concerns.
Asked what advice she would give someone considering homeschooling, Kate says her greatest support came from the other homeschoolers who gave her advice and provided her with useful information. The Home Education Association (HEA) was an invaluable resource for Kate. For those seeking a specifically Christian approach or resources, Australian Christian Home Schooling (ACHS) is a significant source of support, and as the largest provider of homeschooling in Australia, is equipped to give advice, assistance and resources to those interested in learning more.
In a society driven by achievement, success and “getting ahead,” one of the main questions or concerns raised with Terry when people enquire about homeschooling, is whether a homeschooled child has the same ability to attend university or TAFE as that of a traditionally schooled child. Terry says that for a variety of reasons each state and territory allows for children outside traditional schooling to access matriculation through a non-standard methodology.
In university and TAFE applications, says Terry, “there’s an “Other” category. They have to demonstrate that they are tertiary-ready and that’s what our (ACHS) children do; it’s called a STAT test (Special Tertiary Admissions Test).” Terry stresses that families need to be registered homeschoolers in their state or territory, and also mentions that often homeschooled children have a greater level of success in further study, “because they are used to independent study, so they are ready for their own study at university.”
As with anything in life there are extremes, and homeschooling is no exception. There are those who see any form of external societal influence as negative that conflict with family values. But for the vast majority of homeschoolers, there is a homeschooling method that meets the needs of the student and family that allows them to engage in the wider community.