Valda lives in Taupo, New Zealand, and she told me about her journey of homeschooling her three children. Valda is an accountant, but stayed home to homeschool the kids while her husband teaches science at a school.
„We started homeschooling with my oldest daughter. By the time, when she turned six, we had to enroll her at school; we went ‘ok, what happens if we start homeschooling?’ My husband was not very keen to go down that way; he said ‘school is fine’.
We both started out considering school is fine, until we hit a hiccup in the Kindergarten system, the kindergarten where she was enrolled suddenly changing its staff, just after our daughter had started to feel it was ok to say goodbye to me at the school gate. Because she had been so reluctant to be left at kindergarten and we knew would be moving town at least once before she turned 6-7, we decided to look a homeschooling, at least until she turned 6 to give her some stability.
And then we thought of the issues that we went through when we went through the school system. Both my husband and I ended up in school being bullied. I was one of those people who would be finished half an hour early and be like ‘ok, what do I do next?’ So we thought we can avoid those issues when we homeschool. So what we ended up doing with the kids is ‘Can we make it warmer? Can we make it happier? Can we make it more interesting?’
To start homeschooling you have to apply to the Ministry of Education and you have to proof that you are going to teach them. You have to proof that you are interested in somehow educating your kids and not use them as a babysitter or an extra hand on the farm. They expect you to do a very solid plan of ‘This is what we are going to do for the next year’ and they come back and make sure that you are covering reading, writing, math, technology, language.
They give you a copy of the curriculum as a guideline what you should do. But they don’t say you have to follow this. But the closer you can get to that the happier you are. Legally we have to educate them as ‘regularly and as well as school’. You may not ever see someone from the ministry again. When I first started they had the right to do reviews of you.
We ended up following the curriculum. But the whole world of possibilities, the whole options you have. There are so many ways of what you can do.
We did a lot of literature, a lot of reading. It’s been a very literature-based approach. In a relaxed stage it would be lots of talking and reading but I had a very solid English program. I was very structured.
We needed the structure. It would be like: Breakfast, dishes, then either read aloud or school work. I was not so laid back; I wanted us to learn and to explore.
But ‘play’ is important. It depends on what they are playing, what they are working on. Even with my structured approach I can still say that my kids are playing and that it’s when they actually learn. Even if they are playing videogames. I don’t know any homeschoolers that has boys who doesn’t think that Legos is the best educational toy. All the stuff that they are putting together and all the variations.
The learning span is so big. And the thoughts ‘What if I screw up? How do I get you where I want you to be at the end?’ Family pressure, friend pressure. Homeschooling is definitely looked as ‘Why would you want to do that? Are you crazy? Do the kids socialize?’
Occasionally I would sit down and be like ‘what are we doing?’ The major challenge was ‘How do I teach this 5 year old how to read? How to write?’ I had to learn a lot but it was fun. You have this long journey from Kindergarten to grade 12.
I have a 15 year old son who is friends with 17, 18 year olds. My daughter was the only girl in about a four year age gap and all her closest friends are guys. There is one or two younger girls which brings an interesting dynamic.
It is an interesting dilemma as a homeschool family. On one hand, whether you are structured or not, often they do end up with the own social network and depending on what community you are in and what it looks like. You have to make sure that there are kids to play with.
Two of my children are like water and oil, they are very different and they clash often. If my son has a problem with his brother he can’t just go and find a different brother. She has to work through it. They have to get along with their siblings.
It’s a different form of socialization. I would say to socialize in a homeschool family means to work through things and situations they don’t like.
And how you will make friends when there is just a small pool of people? Homeschooled children socialize wider, (agewise) they go up and they go down, they are generally more comfortable with any age range. But, yes, they don’t know how to deal with peer pressure.
The future of my homeschooled children
Even if I tested the kids along the way at the end of the day it would mean nothing you, you know who they are and aren’t learning by sitting with them, and marking their work, I am actually confident that my child can make his way into university. I wanted him to have the doors open to higher education so at the end of the day we also finish up by doing the last 1-2 years of their schooling in the NZ School system by correspondence (more information: http://www.education.govt.nz/home/education-in-nz/).
My son will become a history teacher. He reads a lot of ancient literature (because of what we chose to) than he ever would have done in the school system.
My 19 year old daughter is being very good in English, Latin and Greek and will become an outdoor instructor. Without her I would have never jumped off a cliff or gone kayaking.
To sum it up
- I think one of the beauties of homeschooling is that every family is different. Every family picks up a different passion about things.
- You end up knowing your kids a lot better. And your children know themselves very well.
- I love the conversations that I have with my kids!
- There is a lot of fun, a lot of closeness. You get a very settled feeling of family and home.
- A bad day in a homeschool family is a bad day. A good day in a homeschool family is amazing.
- I was never brave enough to look into unschooling. If I did it again, I’d have a lot more relaxed approach.
It’s an amazing journey, you learn so much! As a homeschool mom you get through a lot of stuff that you normally don’t explore! Sometimes it takes you to places you thought you would never go!