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Making the Decision to Homeschool

As a qualified teacher who has worked in early education for many years I am always curious to talk with parents who have made the decision to homeschool their children, especially in Australia where homeschooling is still relatively uncommon. It is such a big commitment for parents to make and surely cannot be a decision that is made lightly. I recently met Shae of Free Range in Suburbia in person and we talked about this very subject as she recently made the decision to homeschool her three young children. Today she has kindly offered to share her insights her at Childhood 101…

Tell us a little about yourself and your family
I’m Shae. Married to Luke and Mama to our three amazing girls – Tannah who is 6, Willow who is 3 and a half and Harper who is 2. We live on Melbourne’s outskirts on a tiny block with 4 chooks and 3 guinea pigs.

What led you to the decision to homeschool?
It seemed like a natural progression for us. Just as home education is not for every family, the school system was not for ours.  I believe in children having lots of unstructured time and space to learn and explore as well as feeling that it is a lot to ask that children all grasp the same concepts at the same time to meet the schools expectation. Just as my children all walked and talked at different ages without pressure, I wanted their education journey to be the same. I wanted them to have exposure to all kinds of stimulus and to be able to follow their interests rather than learning by rote. I knew a few other families who were home educating at the time so I was able to ask them questions as well as do my own research which supported me in making the decision.

Are you using a particular approach or curriculum?
We unschool which is learning from life and following the lead and interests of your child. The underlining principal is that humans are born learners and learn best with the freedom to be self motivated and learn what, when and how they choose. Unschooling rejects the idea that there is a linear, pre determined body of knowledge that everyone must be taught and tested on and embraces the notion that everything is educational and that you can facilitate your child’s learning and be their guide without putting restrictions and external motivators on it. It is about exposure and freedom rather than the stereotype of sheltering and control.

How can you be sure that your daughters are learning everything that they need to know, that nothing falls through the cracks?
The “teacher to student ratio” is very small which is an immediate advantage to picking up any areas where  problems may arise as well as having more time to suit each child’s learning style.  I believe that what each child “needs” to know is different as they will grow to be different adults. If they want to do maths all day and complete workbooks years ahead of their age they can or they can spend all day building things – both could lead to successful careers as adults. Children are driven to know things – think how many times do you get asked “why?” in a day.  Unschooling is not about limiting information, it is about exposure – the world is our classroom and what they can learn is limitless.

What does a typical day or week look like for you?
It has been tricky for me to answer this because our days are pretty fluid and the learning happens very organically – our “maths class” might be baking a cake or going shopping. I am available to help my children with questions or writing, etc, as they need me. It might be for a really long dedicated time one day and all over the place or not at all the next.

A typical week would see us heading to the library and many visits to the park. We have another unschooling family who we visit every week and we have our regular dance classes and trip to the pool. We go shopping together and the kids come on my errands most days. If there is a local farmers market on we go to that. We go to the museum, zoo, Scienceworks, city and botanic gardens very regularly so a typical week might see us visiting one of those. We make plenty of time for friends and family so we would have a couple of catch ups planned each week. At home we do LOTS of unstructured art. The girls have access to lots of great materials and a dedicated art space so there is much creating on a daily basis. They also love books and we spend a chunk of each day reading together. I do the work of running a household, sometimes they girls join in and help clean or cook. My girls enjoy television and online games and use these daily. If there is a subject that someone is interested in we might spend some time together using Google and You Tube to find out more. I strew lots of interesting things around like new books or other stimulus and see where the kids want to take it. And of course we play! The most important part of my children’s “education” at this point is unhurried and open ended play with and without other children.

How do you manage the needs of three children of different ages and stages of learning?
In some areas this can be tricky. For example we all went as a family to see the Tutankhamen exhibition recently and while my 6 year old thoroughly enjoyed it the younger two were both bored and overwhelmed by the crowd so we rushed through faster than Tannah wanted to. But we are planning a return trip with just Tannah and me.

But because learning happens very organically with unschooling I find that mostly it’s quite easy. To give you an idea of what I mean – Tannah is working on writing letters and often asks me to write words for her to copy. Willow often watches and might chime in and point to a letter that she recognizes “That’s a W!” but has no interest in actually writing it down. Harper is too little to participate at all so she might be off making play dough or trains. If someone wants particular information or help sometimes another child will join in if they are interested too. If I am helping out for a long period of time with one child and the other 2 are bored I will set up another activity or perhaps a DVD to keep them occupied.

Are your daughters involved in an extra curricular activities?
Tannah does Irish Dancing and Willow does ballet. These are activities that the girls have chosen themselves and enjoy. We also go swimming at the local pool regularly and often attend our library’s story time. Tannah is keen to learn an instrument and as soon as she can decide between the trumpet and the piano she will start formal lessons.

What about socialisation?
The myth of the socially stunted homeschooled child has been busted as a misguided stereotype. My girls have many friends who are both home educated and who go to school – and not just in their age group, socio-economic group or postcode. They often have more time for long periods of unhurried play with their friends and they accompany me on my errands which afford them opportunities to chat with new people.  We also go on regular home education family camps and meet ups. My family live interstate and not having school allows us to go and visit them for longer periods as well.

What (if any) are the legal requirements in Australia for families who make the decision to homeschool?
You are required to register as home educators in all states. Each state is different as to how much reporting and planning you are required to submit. Your main obligation is to cover the 8 Key learning Areas (KLAs)-science, maths, English, the arts, studies of society and environment, technology, language other than English and health and physical education. You can choose to cover these KLAs in a way to suit your family and learning styles of the children- you can use part curriculum, full curriculum, NAPLAN testing, a more emergent or natural learning approach and unschooling. Many unschooling families keep folios of what they do to show that they are covering the KLAs.

How have your family and friends responded to your decision?
Initially there was some reservation from our families as they are exposed to the same stereotypes and misinformation as most people, but they have been reassured as they see how well unschooling is working for us all. I know there are some concerns as it is quite a different way to raise children and they only want what is best for the girls. I know they read my blog and I hope they find it reassuring!

Friends have been great. Most see home education as another valid education choice like private or public school-they understand that like all choices home education not for everyone!

Are there any resources you have found to be useful?

  • Home Education Network – a Victorian site with great links
  • Joyfully Rejoycing – specific unschooling information
  • John Holt – any books written by him (particularly “How Children Learn”) as well as the website give fantastic insight
  • The Natural Child Project – articles on learning
  • The books “Dumbing Us Down” by John Taylor Gatto and “Challenging Assumptions In Education” by Wendy Priesnitz are both fantastic.

I would like to thank Shae for her openness in answering these questions, if you have any questions for Shae please feel free to ask them in the comments as I know she would be happy to answer. Alternatively, why not share your experiences in making a decision about how and where to ‘school’ your children.

And be sure to visit Shae’s blog, Free Range in Suburbia, where she shares her story of being a mama to three small people.

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Comments

  1. Thank you both for the inspiring interview – I do love reading about how other homeschoolers go about things. I didn’t realise learning another language was a KLA – maybe not in Qld?? off to check it out now.
    xx

  2. Thank you for the very informative interview.

    We are trialing full time mainstream school again this year but taking it term by term to see how my girls cope. Being able to read about experiences of Shae and other home schoolers reassures me that if things fall to pieces at mainstream school again we do have viable alternatives :)

  3. This is really great information. I have someone in mind who would benefit from it, I’ll send her your way. Thank you so much.

  4. What a fantastic interview!

    I love Shae’s blog and read it regularly, sometimes, I will admit, with slightly misty green eyes – I would *love* to home educate, it would have been my first choice, but my husband wasn’t keen, and I didn’t feel I could or should do it unless it was what we both wanted.

    Also, finances dictate that I will need to work at least part-time for most of our kids’ childhoods, with small planned-for hiatuses only (like the one I’m currently enjoying!) I know plenty of people juggle home educating with part-time work at home, but I felt that for me, that would be too great a challenge and that I’d sell both work and home education short.

  5. Very interesting reading Shae and Christie. Unschooling sounds a bit like life at home with the kids as preschoolers. As natural learners children do learn so much from being with us and being able to follow their interests.

    Half of me would love to take this approach with my kids, and the other half values the collective approach of a nurturing school. Thanks to the blogosphere I’ve discovered that home schooling is a real option in Australia, and if we are ever at a stage where going to school is not working well, I’m glad that I know that unschooling is a real option.

  6. What a terrific interview! As a homeschooling mom, I always find it interesting to read about other homeschoolers’ experiences. Here in the US HS is pretty common and over where I live we have a fantastic HS community. Lack of socialization is never an issue for us :) For now that my son is only 4 we are following the unschooling as well. Not sure if we will stick with this approach though. I think we’re going to end up blending the unschooling principles with a bit more structure where it comes to math and reading. But so far it’s been a blast!

  7. At times I would love to do this, especially since the school environment may not meet my kids needs.

    But the other side of the coin is I feel like I need respite from my kids.

  8. Chrissy says:

    Fabulous interview. I think I may send it on to family that have concerns of our homeschooling dreams. Unschooling is often called “Natural Learning” here in Australia, so thats a very accurate sentence: “Unschooling sounds a bit like life at home with the kids as preschoolers. As natural learners children do learn so much from being with us and being able to follow their interests.” Sarah from oeschanddoots.

    My husband is very very supportive of homeschooling and he believes it is the ‘gold’ standard of education, but I feel unschooling is more my and my children’s style and as it is less intensive he feels I’m not really doing anything. @Shae what do you think preschoolers should learning/doing and how would you record their journey in the year before school so you can convey that they have learnt and done things?

  9. Thanks for all the kind responses!

    @Chrissy At pre school level it’s all about play! Any well run pre school will be encouraging lots of open ended play and also be encouraging pre literacy skills.

    If you are wanting to show what your child is learning I would suggest keeping a diary of all of the things you do in a day-and be open minded about what counts as “school type” learning. It’s all about pre literacy and numeracy at that age in the school system so think repeating parts of a well loved book, knowing when it’s time to turn the page, recognizing some letters and being able to count to ten.

    Remember that pre school age is very young and it’s not a race-some children can read at three and some take many more years. Unschooling is also not linear-my six year old cannot read yet but she knows the difference between a carnivore, herbivore and omnivore and knows what words like monotrene mean. It can be hard to compare curriculum education to unschooling because they work so differently.

  10. Great interview Shae – I really would have liked to try that when my kids were young but it was never an option way back then and of course then I had to go back to work to keep all 4 mouths fed. More power to you for doing what is right for your family. xxx

  11. I looked at the title and the photo beneath it and thought; well, MY answer is right beneath the question :)

  12. There are many reasons to homeschool. We fell upon it due to health reasons but I’m beginning to see many more benefits to homeschooling than better health and well-being. Some of those include:

    * ability to tailor it to individual needs
    * more time for play
    * wider network of friends so more exposure to kids/adults of all ages
    * connection and bonding between parent and child
    * no homework
    * instant feedback and easy assessments
    * flexibility and freedom
    * learning is authentic and relevant
    * no need for coersions
    * better role models
    * quality family time
    * lots of trips, museums, park days, etc.
    * time for specialization
    * time for learning new languages
    * children can self-direction play
    * support love of learning
    * self-educate and learn from primary resources

    I can list more but these are some of the things I’ve learned that was beneficial to our life.

  13. sorry for the typo…I meant to write self-direct play

  14. Thank you so much for this timely post! I’m in the midst of organizing a homeschool cooperative right now and this is just such a beautiful motivator!

  15. Thank you for the wonderful interview, Shay and Christie. I unschool my just-turning-four daughter, and it’s truly a brand new day everyday. Life learning is so natural and fulfilling that I cannot imagine her learning anything by rote just to meet some made-up standard. Mostly we just play together, and neither of us can help learning new things that way!

  16. Great post! I went to public school for part of my education and then was homeschooled for the rest. My husband and I have made the decision to homeschool our daughter for a variety of reasons. I feel like I had a unique opportunity myself, because I was able to experience both the public school system and what it’s like to be homeschooled.

    I think that homeschooling lends a beautiful and priceless opportunity for both parents and children.. one that can allow the child to understand how best they learn and spend time on learning the things that interest them the most, too. We had fun over the weekend, out in nature, learning about different animals and lichen.

    I’ve noticed that my daughter remembers so much of what we learn naturally, that it makes me wonder if children really do absorb more with natural learning rather than “sitting at a desk” learning.

  17. What a beautiful and inspiring interview! And so timely for me as my heart is getting more and more inclined to taking the homeschooling decision for my 5-year old. Here in India, homeschooling is really an alien sort of concept. There are only a few families in this vast country with the second largest population, that have taken the really bold decision to homeschool/unschool. I say “really bold”, because the society is unsparing and even scathing in their judgement of those who take the less trodden path.
    Hence, to be honest, I am a little scared of going this path not because I have doubts about this way of ‘schooling’ but because my child may be treated differently (read – unfair-ly) because she did not get a formal education…
    And yet, I have always followed my heart and my child’s heart and hence trying to figure out the best possible way…

    Thank you for this heartwarming interview, Shae and Christie.. :)

  18. Thanks so much for sharing, v. inspiring + the questions asked were bang on the money for me. We’re kiwi migrants in Oz and Maori medium education for our kids (aside from being by family) is likely to be the main sacrifice we made in moving here. My eldest is turning 5 next year, and homeschooling really calls…

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