There are many roads to homeschooling. Mine started with a conviction that it was a good thing to do. Why had I formed this conviction? Well I had been homeschooled by my mother before she sent me away to boarding school at the grand ol 'age of seven! Yes, I hear you gasp, she had no choice we lived in "woop-woop" so this was a fact of life for me and many of my contemporaries. Actually boarding school was not such a bad place – in many ways it was one of the best schooling experiences I had, and by time I left school I had a lot of those. Three years into my schooling career we moved and I then attended a church-based day school. It was not bad either really but before I moved on to Secondary School, we moved again and I ended my primary schooling and did my Secondary school at government day schools. By the end I had sampled a fair range – three countries, six schools, day and boarding, private and state.
When theoretical merged with practical, the choice became a little blurred. Would I be wise to homeschool my beautiful baby girl or send her to school with all her little friends? I had a few years to think about that I reasoned. When she was about 2 years old, I took her to be examined by a specialist in ADD / ADHD disorders. "Yes" he said, "I've got no trouble diagnosing her ADD". Now was my beautiful girl going to wear a label through her life – NOT if I had anything to do with it. The wavering was over – despite the legislative hurdles at the time homeschooling was in.
To begin with being a law-abiding citizen I had trouble coming to terms with the common understanding in the community that homeschooling was only legal if one was a teacher. Of course this was erroneous – I had every right to educate my children as I provided providing that they were educated, that's why I live in a democracy!
I attended my first homeschooling conference and approached a man who I knew had been homeschooling for quite a number of years, he had a large family and some were even grown up and successful. "I wish to homeschool, how do I start ?" It certainly must be the question everyone asks. He looked me up and down and said: "Just do it." Disappointed at the reaction and lack of purposeful direction I wandered away. What he said makes a great deal of sense now at the end of my journey but made very little at the beginning.
By the time my little darling was five, I decided to start, figuring that I had a year to try homeschooling and if I failed miserably she could always just go to school. So I started schooling at home – now forgive me if I say that there is a world of difference between school at home and homeschool, but let me explain. School is mass education, up to six hours a day, particular subjects taught in a particular way – homeschooling is tailor solution – tailor to the teacher, tailor to the students, flexible and one-on-one. It was a journey from schooling at home to homeschooling and it took me a little while to figure it out.
It was a bit of a struggle finding suitable material – in fact some I just could not find, especially for the early reading, writing and spelling; so I helped write it! So I started as a partner in a business business.
There were days when I thought it was all too hard, that I was not doing my children justice, that they were better going to school, that homeschooling was cramping my style because my children were with me 24/7. As I started finding material I was comfortable with (some of which was out of print – good teaching material is always 'in date' even if it's 'out of print'), and settled into a routine, it became easier. Funny thing was that every time I doubted some little thing would happen to give me determination to continue my path. Something like seeing a contemporary's schoolwork and realizing my children could do better, or teaching school horror stories at the various social group meetings we attended.
Day followed day and year followed year. As my children became high school age, I saved them the choice to continue homeschooling or attend high school. They all chose homeschooling, doing TAFE short courses as well as their schooling. When time came to go onto tertiary education, they had no trouble doing what they wanted to do. The first chose animation, the second hairdressing. The third is looking at real estate as a career and the fourth – well she's got a couple of years yet to think about it. Looking back over the time now – hindsight is 20/20 – homeschooling is one decision I will never regret. It was one thing I did SO right.
What always bemused me was the reaction I got from people when I told them I homeschooled. The most common question was "What about their socialization?" I often surprised if people asking the question really understood the meaning of the word. I surprised if people really thought that we lived like hermits, shut away from the world, and shunning society. The answer I heard which I liked best was that God intended children were mass socialized they'd be born in litters – however that did not suit every audience! Over the twenty years I've been homeschooling the attitude of people has changed from being quite hostile to one of admiration. Now I think I probably am doing what others lack the courage to do.
Another question I got from homeschoolers and others alike was: "What are you going to do when they get to University?" I did endless research on the subject which just confirmed the process we actually went through when my eldest tried to get into her animation course. Having picked a course she lodged her form with the Tertiary admissions center with this course in first place. When the offers came out she was given her fourth place offer. She contacted the TAFE concerned and they asked if she had a student number – she had as she had done short courses! Good they said, you are a continuing student. She also found it bemusing that her teachers and students in her class often commented that she "did so well considering she was being homeschooled" – quite what that meant she did not have a clue! If you want to do something badly enough you will find a way to do that – if getting to university is your goal, I've no doubt you will achieve it.
At the end of the road what was the most important things? Good discipline was certainly one of those – I would never recommend homeschooling to parents who can not keep order and authority at home – that would make for a very unpleasant journey. Communication is important – your children will go through all the teenage angst but always leave the door open, and teach them never to let the sun set on their anger. Children are masters of justice – they are happy to go along with it if it is fair.
Remember that the bedrock of education is literacy. Children (and adults) can educate themselves in anything if they can read, write and spell. It makes life a lot easier if they have basic numeracy – times tables, place value and understanding of the basic arithmetic functions. Recognize learning situations – far from keeping your children insulated from society, let them embrace it as the learning environment it is, challenge them to move out of their comfort zones – their security is to have you along for the experience. Keep it simple; do it well.