Thursday 29 January 2015

Homeschool of thought

Alison O'Riordan speaks to three sets of parents who home-school their children.

Barry and Angelica Grant with their daughters Izabella (nine) and Matilda (six)
Monica O'Connor and Eddie O'Neill with children Darragh (26), Oisin (19), Emmet (18), Oran (12), Elva (9) and Eamonn (5).
Dan and Maureen Arnold with daughters Joy and Sorcha Robyn.

With back-to-class time approaching, Alison O'Riordan speaks to three sets of parents who aren't worrying about uniforms and packed lunches -- because their children won't be going anywhere.

Monica O'Connor (and Eddie O'Neill)

I have six children aged from 26 years to five years who have all been home-educated for their primary years: Darragh (26); Oisin (19); Emmet (18); Oran (12); Elva (nine) and Eamonn (five).

I love homeschooling my children and have done so for the past 20 years. I can't imagine putting a four-year-old in a school uniform – I'd miss them and all their chatter and wonder.

I first came across the idea of home-schooling when I met a family in Kilkenny who were educating their children at home and they loaned me their John Holt books. He ran a magazine in the USA called 'Growing Without Schooling' and it made so much sense.

I loved being with my eldest child Darragh as he grew and learned to walk and talk; it was very organic and natural. I wanted his learning to read, write and count to be like that, too. He loved Lego, artistic things, painting and making figures.

I read Italian educator Maria Montessori's books and did a correspondence course in her methods, in case I couldn't "teach" something. Now I know I don't need to be able to teach: the child is the active one in the process and if you go with their questions and interests, it all comes together by some magical osmosis.

The issue of homeschooling wasn't about the class sizes being too large. Even if the ratio was one-to-one, I still wanted – and loved – to educate at home and share the learning journey.

I am of the opinion that school is a waste of time for children because there are so many young children in each class. They still need individual attention and, no matter how good a teacher is, you can't give a class of 24 four-year-old kids what they need.

Some of my children would have probably had a good learning experience in the local primary school, at various stages, but I was never, ever tempted to send them.

The two older boys did three years of secondary school and sat the Leaving Certificate. Then our third child, 18-year-old Emmet, is finishing the first year of a classical music degree in DIT. He got into university without a Leaving Cert and having never been to primary and secondary school or sat the Leaving Cert. He's just finished first-year college and is very happy.

My husband Eddie is a school teacher, on a career break at the moment. He was taken aback when I suggested homeschooling at the beginning – it was a new concept for him. However, he now believes he's a better teacher because of educating our children at home. He has learned more about how children learn.

I like being with the kids on their learning journey. One child might ask a question "What do turtles eat?" or "What bird is that at the feeding table?" I often have no answer, so we look it up together, borrow a library book, ask a friend or neighbour, or ask Google. We learn together.

There is a lot to be said for kids learning at their own pace. We all only learn at our own pace.

I don't follow a school curriculum as I don't see any need for everyone to learn the same thing at the same age.

Everyone learns to read, maybe between the ages of six-and-a-half and nine. We use magnetic letters and easy early readers, but only when the child wants to learn to read. There's no point deciding when to teach; we wait until they are eager to learn.

We buy lots of books in second-hand shops and regular book shops. The only curriculum books we buy are 'Maths Challenge' workbooks, up to sixth class, just to be sure the basics are covered. I can't see how school life would benefit them really; they are bright, articulate, engaged and rarely bored.

Irish Independent

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