As the school year rolls around and images of tidy pupils at their desks come to mind, many people are opting to forgo the school journey and allow their children to learn and play outside of the school system. For our family, the first day of school marks a day to go camping, picnicking, canoeing, or joining with other home educators for outdoor fun. While this lifestyle can be a wonderful choice for some families, there are some factors to take into account when deciding whether or not home educating is a good fit for your family.
One potentially large obstacle is time/parental availability. Is it feasible to have someone there for your child(ren) during the day? In our family, my husband has a full-time job, but he is able to work from his home office most days. I recently started working part-time outside our home as well. I know families who have incorporated home educating with starting their own businesses, single mothers who have been able to work from home with flexible hours, and families who have both parents working and trading shifts. There are many non-traditional ways to make it work, but it does require planning and effort.
Another factor to consider is the legality of home education where you live. I know a family who chose to relocate to be able to provide home-education opportunities for their child when it wasn’t a legal option in their country of origin. Beyond these large factors are many smaller ones that need not be major obstacles. For example, a home-educating parent does not need a high level of formal education. The potential to learn alongside your children is always available. Home education does not have to look like the parent wisely spouting information while the child listens attentively. It can be much more active and engaged (and, yes, probably messy) than that. My 6-year-old has eagerly participated in free online art classes geared towards adults, with beautiful results. My 9-year-old wants to make her own stilts, and we can look up plans and learn how to do it together. My 12-year-old knows much more about quantum physics than I do, thanks to YouTube. Learning is fluid.
For many people, living in an area with a large home-educating population can provide a supportive community. However, living in a rural area away from other home educators does not hinder our lives. Since our children are already living and learning in the real world, there is no need for age-segregated socialisation opportunities. There are also many online forums for connecting with other home-educating parents for support, inspiration and problem-solving.
Learning does not naturally follow a linear, even-paced path. Learning happens best when curiosity is piqued and the mind is engaged but not stressed. For these reasons, an expensive age-based curriculum is not always ideal and can sometimes hinder a child’s natural motivation to learn. What a child does need is access to information (easily provided by a library card and the internet), access to the outdoors and community, and support from one or more caring adults. In general, the younger the child, the more active support from a parent will be needed for access to information, projects and activities. A thriving home education does not have to be expensive. Beyond a basic level of financial stability, home education need not be limited by socio-economic status. Most of the home-educating families that I know do so on a modest budget in order to provide the time to be there for their children.
In addition to acknowledging any limiting factors, there are some traits that you can cultivate that can be very beneficial for home educating. The ability to look at your world with wonder and awe, the willingness to be flexible and creative, and the motivation to question how things are and why they are that way can all help provide your children with a positive role model (and a partner) for their educational journey.
Nikole Verde is a mama to three unschooling daughters. Along with her husband, they live on a small acreage in the middle of Wisconsin with a dog named Carly and various chickens, ducks and geese. She shares photos and stories of their lives at verdemama.blogspot.com. (Accurate at the time this issue went to print).
First published in Issue 45 (Autumn 2016) of JUNO: