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Is home education the right choice for your family?
Thinking of home education? How to get started.
Member Name: broxi3781
Thinking of home education? How to get started.
Date: 01/05/12, updated on 01/05/12 (80 review reads)
Advantages: More family time, more free time, and keeps learning fun.
Disadvantages: Costs, conflict over school work, worrying about getting everything right.
I have read a number of articles entitled "Is Home Education right for you?" These really focus on the costs and time issues from the parents perspective. Many seem to start with the assumption that home education is the best form of education there is, so it is just a matter of a pep talk for Mom. Don't get me wrong, I think home education is wonderful - but it isn't for everyone. If you are considering home education, I feel the most important factor is whether it is right for your child or not. If you have more than one child, you may find that home education is the best choice for one, but not for another. I think the most important aspect is whether home education is best for the child, but the whole family must be considered. Home education requires a lot of time and commitment, and there will be some expenses as well.
WHY HOME EDUCATE?
The reasons to home educate are as varied as the families who choose this path. Our family started with home education simply because I felt the school starting age in Northern Ireland was to low. P1 in Northern Ireland starts when children are only 4 years old, with most children starting nursery at age 3, or even as young as 2. I had only intended to teach my son for the first year or two - but the old saying "If it isn't broke don't fix it" applies here. My son is happy with home education, and does not want to attend the local primary. I believe he is learning much more at home, and still has more free time. I'm afraid there really is no local school - he would need to be bussed - and there are several problems with the school he would attend - the most glaring being the large number of boys who never learn to read, but violence, supervision, and other issues have also been raised.
Many families home educate simply because they feel there child will learn more at home. The flip side of this are families who home educate because they feel children should not be forced to learn academic subjects until they choose to do so. A large number of families began home home educating in rural areas as a result of school closures. Others just like the idea of the family spending more time together, having more free time, and being able to let each child explore and develop their own interests.
I think the most serious reason for home education though is bullying. A large number of home educated children are in home education because the school was unwilling or unable to cope with serious bullying issues. Yes, we all faced bullies growing up. Even with home education, my son is not immune to bullying, it is something children must learn to cope with. But when a child can not get away from it, day after day, and no one seems willing or able to help, it is certainly going to lead to some problems. Some children have their entire childhood blighted by bullying, living every day in dread. If a child is really miserable due to this type of treatment - home education can be a real life saver --- literally in some cases.
IS HOME EDUCATION RIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD?
I think the best person to answer this question is your child. If they are already in school, they will know very well if they are happy and thriving in that environment. If they haven't started school yet, you can still discuss with them the idea, perhaps plan a visit and look at several books on the subject. With a young child it easy to give home education a trial period, and see how it works for everyone. Even with an older child, you can discuss what would be expected and give it a trial period. They can always go back to school if it isn't working.
ARE YOU QUALIFIED TO TEACH YOUR CHILD?
If you are reading this review, then in most cases the answer is yes. Home education does require a literate parent, but if you can read, you can learn anything you need to know as you go along. There are exceptions. I certainly would not be able to teach a teenager studying for their A levels, but if you have time you can take adult classes, get books and learn as you teach if need be. Teaching a younger child is really not complicated. There are several excellent online resources, and plenty of books to help you get started, but it is far easier than most people think. If you spend enough time reading to a child, they can learn almost anything - throw in some maths workbooks and programmes, a few home made books, mad science experiments and plenty of trips out and about and you should do splendidly. In all honesty - I don't teach very much. We just read, explore and experiment together. Sometimes I learn as much as the children do.
The wording of the law varies for different parts of the UK, but in short all of the UK requires that a child shall "receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." It is the otherwise clause that home educators use. The law does state that children must receive an education ( although it is extremely vague on what constitutes a suitable education and I feel they are unlikely to clarify this as a great many schools would fail any realistic standards - such as learning to read). If your child has been previously attending school - you will need to submit a letter of reregistration.
Once we get beyond the basic premise that home education is legal though - it can all get very confusing. Just how much right the local education authority has to intervene is a matter of much debate and I have no intention of offering legal advise where I am clearly not qualified to do so. Personally, I chose to inform the local school board. I have a good relationship with them and welcome yearly visits and advice. Other parents refuse any contact. Many parents are already upset with the school board before pulling their child out of school, but if at all possible, try to stay calm, rational and as silly as this may sound - be nice. I've found most people are much more cooperative if approach them politely and in a friendly manner. I would advise parents very strongly - do not take one persons word for anything on legal issues . They may mean well, but they may also be mistaken. I would suggest contacting Education Otherwise for any clarification of legal issues.
There are several pre packaged curriculums that offer everything you need for each grade level. These are very expensive though. Most UK home educators create their own curriculum. We use a combination of a few educational computer programmes, various maths workbooks, primarily Kumon, a couple of phonics sets, a few reading and writing workbooks, home made books and lots and lots of books on everything else. I feel having a child help make their own books ( an idea stolen from Steiner schools) is very helpful, and we have many books we made ourselves using photo albums or document display folders a wonderful way for children to learn reading, writing and several other skills as well. Some of our home made books include alphabet books, a book on space, dinosaurs, the seasons, and a few fiction titles. We also keep a large variety of fiction and non fiction books, making sure both children always have plenty of reading material to choose from encompassing a wide variety of subjects and formats.
I have read several articles stating that you can home educate for free - all you need is a local library. I expect this is possible, assuming you have a decent library, but I also feel it is very unlikely. I spent £100 when I first started home educating for a lifetime membership to an excellent educational site. This would otherwise have cost me £8 a month. I also subscribe to National Geographic Kids and currently have a 2 year membership on another educational site - but I was able to get these free through Tesco clubcard points. I would also recommend home educators with children who are not reading yet invest in a really good phonics programme. This could easily cost £100, although you might try to make do with much cheaper versions, and some can be purchased a bit at a time. I would suggest a set of levelled readers as well, such as Oxford Reading Tree and this may cost you anywhere from £20 to a few hundred pounds. A few trips are really necessary too, but some, like the seaside, forest or museums can be very low cost. A computer is pretty high on my list of resources, but if you are reading this, I expect you have one. We also have a very good microscope, a telescope and several other gadgets, but you could make do without most of these.
Of course there are many educational items you probabley already own. You may have a good collection of books already. You quite likely have scales, measuring jugs and baking supplies. You may have magnets, magnifying glasses, and all sorts of art materials. A jar of coins can be highly educational, as can a box of cars or lego. I think children can learn a lot from cooking, baking, and even shopping. Nothing teaches maths skills quite so easily as giving them x amount of money to spend! Board games, dominoes, blocks, cards etc.. can all be turned to educational purposes, and there really is a lot of material available free online as well.
That leaves us with art supplies, science kits, building kits and models, paper and pens, folders and most importantly books. I don't even want to think of what I spend on books. Of course I would buy a number of books anyway. I feel like having children without books is like keeping fish without water. But as a home educator, you really do need more books than the average family. You need a large variety of reading books, and preferably a set of graded readers as well. You will need books on history, science and whatever subjects your child takes a fancy too. Then you will need bookshelves too - lots of them :) I would strongly suggest combing car boot sales, charity shops, ebay and Amazon for real bargains on second hand books, but I would also be prepared to spend a very minimum of £15 - £20 a month on books. Of course if you have more than one child, most of the books will do for both. And while I am suggesting a minimum spend of £15 - £20 a month - in all honesty that is nowhere near what I have actually spent. I have a small fortune in books. I am just saying I can't see possibly getting by on less. I would expect either an initial outlay of £100 or more, or to double this amount for a child just learning to read as well.
Finally, when considering costs - one must take lost wages into account. One parent really does need to be at home for home education to be considered. On the plus side though, you will save on a few expenses - the school run, school uniforms, school lunches and such. You'll also be able to take family holidays at off peak times, saving a bundle on this, as well as various activities at discounted times - like early afternoon movies.
This is the biggest issue for non home educators, and a very minor one for any home educator I have spoken too. Of course children need to spend time with other children. But home educated children have more time for hobbies and clubs. My own son participates in karate, Boys Brigade and Sunday School. We spend a lot of time at a family caravan, and he has many friends there, as well as local neighbourhood children to play with. I can remember many teachers telling us we didn't go to school to socialise - yet many people seem to assume that is now the primary function of schools. Certainly some children will not want to leave school and miss seeing their friends everyday. Others are very involved in school activities like football, or other sports. I say if the child wants to go to school - by all means send them. But there are a great many opportunities to socialize without school, and as a parent, I like the fact that my son can choose whom to socialise with, and can avoid children who are excessively violent or disturbed. I do feel home educated children really benefit from having some regular activity away from home though. I feel children need to learn to work with other adults, and participate in some structured activity where things might be run a bit differently than at home.
Many parents worry what to do with younger siblings while busy teaching an older one. Of course there have been times my oldest has had to wait while I took care of his brother - but for the most part - my youngest child joins in. I will try to simplify some things for him - but I think he has learned an incredible amount while his brother is being taught. Also as Montessori taught, there are 3 steps to learning : watching, doing and teaching. Being able to teach a younger sibling a new skill is a wonderful way to cement that skill for the older child as well. One of my great joys in life is watching my oldest read to his little brother now - it's definitely one of the "oohhh" moments.
I'd like to say home education is all sunshine and light. It isn't. There are times when it can cause conflict between my son and I. The biggest issue is if he takes it easy all day and then wants to go out and play as soon his friends are out. Then I have to be the bad guy and insist he finish his work before running out to play, but I expect this happens with ordinary families and home work as well. I could see this becoming enough of an issue with older children though, that it might make home education too difficult. I feel that if we ever reach the point that it is a constant argument over schoolwork, then it will be time to call it quits. Home education is a privilege in my opinion. Children need to hold up their part of the bargain to keep that privilege. But we are human, and at times we can both get frustrated. If I find a subject is really getting on our nerves, I may scrap it for a day or two and try to come at the problem from a different angle, or even just with fresh attitudes.
There are also several issues where my sons ask questions I can not answer. Thank the Good Lord for Google. I often tell him a subject will have to wait while Mommy finds out more about this, selecting appropriate websites and ordering books where needed.
There are also just those days where nothing seems to go right. I do have medical issues, and pf course other things crop up with a family. Some days it is hard to get anything done at all. When we had major work done on the house, I just took a few days off school, but I have resorted to educational videos and computer programmes or just a stack of books on the sofa from time to time. Board games, science kits and various projects can also lighten things up when we feel bogged down with academics.
In spite of the money I spend, and the time it takes, I'm really happy to have been able to teach my son at home, and look forward to doing so as long as he chooses to continue with home ed. I like the fact that we spend so much time as a family. I love reading to my sons, and listening to my son read as well. I really enjoy all of our projects as well, and we have lots of fun memories and keepsakes. I especially like the fact that my son reads well, and reads for pleasure, a rarity where we live. I like that he can pursue his own interests and learn about anything that catches his fancy. I did consider school as a prison sentence when I was young, and I love the fact that my son can look forward to discovery instead of drudgery.
My son says the best things about home education are: Not having to go to school - having more free time - getting to go to the caravan when everyone else is in school, art and science, getting to choose things to learn about, getting to pick lots of good books to read, reading wherever you want ( like in a ball pit, in bed, or in the garden). He especially loves things like museums, working on things with Dad - like fixing a motorbike and science experiments. The absolute top of the list is anything with explosions, with our quest for the perfect stink bomb a close second.
He says the worst thing about home education is having to finish your work before playing video games or with friends, workbooks and writing.
SO - DO YOU WANT TO GIVE A TRY?
If you are considering home education with a child who is not yet school age, I would say, start early. Find a local home ed group, get a few books and learn all you can about it before hand. Then if you want to give it a try - go for it. You'll find it so much easier than you might expect, and much of home education is just spending time doing things together. I don't believe in formal curriculum for very young children, but it is never too early to start reading. Read to your children as often as possible and explore the world around, making learning fun from an early age.
If your child is older, and already at school, they really need to be involved in this decision. Sit down and work out what you both expect from home education, even draw up a contract if you wish. Set a trial period and conditions which will allow for home education to continue - or under which it must be scrapped. Ask your child what they want to do when they grow up ( so what if it changes 100 times before then) and let them choose some subjects too. I think unit studies are a great place to start with older children. Pick there favourite subject and let them learn everything about it. I still like the idea of creating your own books, but an older child might also do a video production, a you tube series, or web page on their favourite subject.
WHAT IF IT DOESN'T WORK - WILL MY CHILD FALL BEHIND?
This was my biggest fear starting out - what if home ed didn't work, and my son ended up far behind his peers starting school? I did my research, including a chat with a local headmaster. When I realised how little would put him ahead of his peers, I had no worries, but in a better area, things might be different. If this is worrying you consider this:
Most of what is taught over 12 years of full time education was once taught in 2 years of part time education - missing a few months - or even a year won't make much difference. The average home educated child starting school with their peers will be 2 years ahead of their friends. For those few starting behind on some subjects - usually with unschooling, where there has been no formal education at all - most will catch up completely within a couple of months. You really have very little to lose other than the costs of books to start out, and a whole world to gain. If you feel able to devote the time and resources to home educating, and your child wishes to try it - I say give it a go.
Summary: Makes learning fun - most of the time :)