Lifestyle

Monday 28 July 2014

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.

Most of our learning at home is very informal; it's through discussion and questions and thinking about things and listening to news stories or meeting people.

I find when homeschooled children learn something from interest, it stays learned, with no need to revise or repeat.

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.

With a couple of thousand families home-educating in Ireland, I think it's a great option when parents like being with their children and want to learn alongside them.

I never worry about my children making friends and not having as many friends if homeschooled. They're very sociable and have friends of all ages and interests.

Our children are given a lot of life skills: they all learn to cook and do their own laundry, grow vegetables, fill in forms and take care of younger siblings.

Suitability to homeschooling is for other people to decide for themselves. I think it works if you enjoy being with your children. We believe it is one of the greatest gifts we have given our family.

Dan and Maureen Arnold

We have two girls, Joy (16) and SorchaRobyn (14). We live on the outskirts of a tiny village called Bartlemy, about 20 miles north east of Cork city.

As we were raising our two girls, they seemed happy and healthy. So, when it came to 'going to school' (our local primary school, an excellent one, is literally about 150 metres from our front door), we decided to carry on raising our eldest girl as we had been doing, and to do so for another year and to see how things would pan out.

By then, we had heard of home education, and we decided to, again, carry on as before, raising our girls with love and care, irrespective of whether they were aged two, five, 10 or older.

Myself and my wife have loved homeschooling. We both love being with our children and with each other, so home education was a perfect fit for us. We educated ourselves about a whole wide range of topics and school and home education. Class size was one of many considerations.

Just after she turned 14, Joy chose to go to secondary school in first year in June 2011 and she has enjoyed the experience, and continues to attend school. Of course, we do have moments and days when she is over-burdened with homework and school books, and on some of those days we do scratch our heads and wonder what's the point of all that rote-learning and cramming for exams but, to balance that, we do, as do practically all other home-education parents, have similar moments and days with our home-education journey, too.

We do not follow a school curriculum. We have bought, borrowed and used some school workbooks and books. We do not teach, so our girls never got summer holidays. Having said that, there has always been a general feeling that once June comes – if the weather is good – summer is here, so relax and go outside.

A major difference between most home-educated children and (seemingly) most schooled children is that the former love books and rarely view them as a chore or a task or a burden, and, thus, they are always reading; of course, a main facet of schooled children is that their view of books and reading is approaching the opposite.

As home educators we don't teach, we facilitate our children in what interests them, and we offer them guidance, tutelage and support in their learning of the basics: maths, reading, writing.

School life has many benefits. Joy is enjoying many of these benefits. If SorchaRobyn chose to go to school, we have no doubt that she, too, would enjoy many benefits. Choosing to end their home-educating journey would also see them losing many or most of the benefits of being home-educated.

Home education is a wonderful choice, the natural choice, the best choice, the only choice, for some families. Home education would be a brilliant choice for tens of thousands of other families, of this I have no doubt. But home education would be a disaster for many families, for a wide variety of reasons. So, home education is not a panacea, but a good and wonderful way for any family which is loving and nurturing to raise their child or children.

Both our girls will always have the right to choose home education or school; both know they have this choice, with our parental input and guidance.

Barry and Angelica Grant

Our daughters are Izabella (nine) and Matilda (six). We live in Waterford City, where both girls are currently being home-educated. Izabella attended school for Junior and Senior Infants. She was getting increasingly bored in school and regularly expressed a desire to be taken out. Class size was certainly a factor to homeschooling, but not the determining one.

Having experienced both the standard school system and home-educating, we decided early on that we would educate Matilda at home from the start.

We have found homeschooling a very interesting, rewarding and, at times, challenging experience. As we go along, we discover as a family what works and what doesn't.

For us, home-educating is the better option. We feel that our children have the freedom to learn what they want, when they want and that the home environment encourages our children to be auto didactic in their approach.

We tried one of the local schools for our eldest daughter – based on that experience, we feel that we can say quite categorically that the home-education learning experience is a vast improvement on the standard national school, from our perspective.

We're constantly learning with and from our kids, which we find a very enjoyable experience. Rather than us taking on the role as the teacher, this is a co-learning journey that has brought us knowledge in areas we otherwise never would have ventured into.

The advantage of our children having the opportunity to learn at their own pace is that they can take as much time as they want to focus on subjects that interest them. They do not have to switch from subject to subject throughout the day. Instead, they can immerse themselves and go as quickly or as slowly as they want.

One of the many facets of home education that we find beneficial is that our children do not have to be compared to or compete with their peers in terms of educational 'outcomes'.

We do not follow a curriculum, but instead try to provide an environment where autonomous learning can occur, allowing them to explore the areas in which their own innate interests and abilities lie.

And so our days are not defined by structure and enforced studying. Therefore, we do not take holidays as such but rather continue on at the same pace all year round. The children are free to put down and pick up their books and whatever they might be working on as they please.

Our primary focus is on literacy and numeracy skills. We feel that once a person has the ability to read, they can teach themselves pretty much anything. After that, for the most part, the children's learning is self-directed.

They also attend evening and weekend classes in arts and crafts, violin, programming (CoderDojo) and ballet, as well as attending athletics training. We also meet with a family friend, a retired teacher, who helps us with conversational Irish.

We include the children in household chores, such as cooking/baking, cleaning, gardening, taking care of pets, food shopping and menu planning.

Children do not need to be in a room with 29 other children, who are almost exactly the same age, to learn how to socialise. I don't think school life would benefit them. We feel that they are much happier at home and have a greater opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Irish Independent

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