2004 Interview, Beverley and son, Thomas
by Michelle Skeats, is a high school student conducting a major project study on home education in Australia.
1. How long have you homeschooled your children?
Since 1986, or 18 years.
2. Why did you decide to homeschool?
There were several reasons. The most important are that I had an intense interest in education dating back to my early adolescence and both Robin and I were very attached to our daughter and felt we weren't ready to be parted from her for the best part of every day for five days a week.
We had planned a year long trip around Australia, which as it happened never eventuated, and had been looking into correspondence courses when her Kindy teacher suggested that we simply teach her ourselves. On a 'trial' trip we met up with some homeschooling families and discovered it was a legal option anyway.
3. What was the process you had to go through to homeschool?
In South Australia children between the ages of 6 and 16 (then 15) must be enrolled and attending school. We had to apply for exemption from attending school for April, a process which actually took nine months. Our first four letters to the Education Department were ignored.
To obtain exemption we had to submit a learning program and details of how we would review April's educational progress and social development. In addition we were subjected to an interview in our home, which was supposed to be followed up by a review interview six months later but we were never contacted, not even a year later, even though we sent in a thorough ten page report on her progress.
4. Do you have to be registered to homeschool?
It's not called 'registration' in South Australia although I have heard that the Department has a register of homeschooling children's names.
5.a) Do you need to have any qualifications to teach your children?
No. You do need to demonstrate reasonable literacy and numeracy skills. This is necessary anyway in order to prepare a learning program for the children.
b) Do you have any qualifications?
No. I failed Matriculation in 1975 (took the wrong subjects on the advice of the school counsellor!), became a bank clerk and then a mother. In 1990 I did a year of child care studies at the Uni of SA, then the course was switched to Early Childhood Education. I completed another year then quit. I found the child development studies useful but had already gained sufficient knowledge about teaching individual subjects from my home education experience. I am currently studying for an Advanced Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing through Adelaide TAFE. I don't believe qualifications are necessary to home educate children. Statistics tend to show that a large proportion of home educating parents, however, are tertiary educated but not necessarily in the field of education.
>6. a) Who tracks your progress?
Do you mean my progress as a home educator, or my children's progress as students?
I track both. The Education Department requires an annual review, usually including an interview in the home where the previous year's progress is examined and plans for the next year discussed. This process takes between 1-2 hours. Some families chose not to be interviewed in their home for the review session. The Education Department only reviewed me twice in 18 years. I once asked why I wasn't subjected to annual interviews and was told that my file had been marked with a comment saying future reviews were unnecessary.
b) Do you have a home liaison officer and how often do they visit?
I haven't heard of "home liaison officers". The Department of Education offers no resources or help whatsoever. They are simply there to assess the initial application for exemption and to check up to see we aren't abusing our children once a year (if they bother). It is a policing role, not a helpful role.
7. How long do you spend on lessons each day and can you describe a typical
My children were actively learning 24/7. I didn't see a difference in what they learned when they weren't 'studying' in a school type way and what they learned when they were playing or doing chores - it is all relevant learning. Indeed, the learning that occurred - knowledge and skills - when I wasn't overtly 'teaching' was remembered and required a minimum of repetitive practice.
In the early years I modelled our homeschooling practice on April's kindergarten experiences. I found this arrangement of quiet, busy and contemplative sessions, including a variety of play, art and craft activities, combined with outdoor and explorative sessions, worked well. Reading was a regular activity and the children were encouraged to participate in chores. Excursions and social get togethers with other homeschooling families and friends were a regular part of our life.
8. Do you work from textbooks when learning?
We have used workbooks and textbooks but don't limit our learning to this resource.
9. Do you have a program to follow?
I have always found it useful to have a written learning program - one that details goals and objectives and our educational philosophy. It isn't a detailed document - more like an overview of where we're going, why and how. I'd sometimes do a detailed learning program for specific activities, such as a unit study on SA history for example. I often used checklists to ensure that the children were covering what I wanted them to.
The children learned what they needed to in their own time, at their own pace. I also tried to accommodate their individual learning styles and often got together with other families to expose them to small and large group learning experiences.
10. Do you find it easy to follow the syllabus and organise useful resources?
A) In all my time as a home educator I haven't actually seen anything called a syllabus, nor have we been required to follow one. There are zillions of text books available on just about every subject. The Department of Education has only really just got it act together with a curriculum (the third in 13 years!). Although we are required to adhere to the standards we are not provided with a copy. Not all families have easy or regular access to the internet to view the document (it's huge) on line.
B) I have always found it easy to organise resources. There are far more resources available outside of the school system and these are very easy to access.
C) From where do you get most of your information?
I use my brain and my memory - both to brainstorm ideas and problems and solutions and to recall answers. I stay informed by reading a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, listening to the radio and watching documentaries. I regularly read books and articles on education and home education. I use the internet for a variety of purposes, including research on topics that interest me and the family.
I have read curriculum documents from four states of Australia, including the National Curriculum Statements and Goals in it's entirety. I don't think this is necessary but I have a personal interest in education that goes beyond home education. I am interested in school reform and source information about options in education largely from the internet.
I participate in a dozen internet forums on home education and a few more on different subjects.
11. Does your son do any presentations (eg. speeches etc.) for you?
He hasn't done any for me specifically, but he has done some for groups of people, mostly adult audiences, ranging from intimate settings to several dozen at once.
12. a) Do you ever go out on learning excursions?
Not so much in the last couple of years, but up until the age of about 15 excursions were a regular aspect of our family life.
B) What sort of places do you visit?
Places of cultural, historical, environmental or geological interest - local, around SA, and interstate (Parliament House, Museums, Zoological Gardens, National Parks, Camp Coorong, Warrawong, Sovereign Hill, Seppeltsfield, etc).
Workplaces - manufacturing factories, shops, etc (Mitsubishi, Vilis, Advertiser, etc).
Art performances and art and craft exhibitions (Tandarra, Adelaide Festival of Arts, Come Out, Writer's Festival, etc). - also included children performing in festivals, etc
Fun places - for recreation and phsyical activities, as a family and with small and large groups.
1 3. What subjects must be taught?
English (language studies); LOTE; Maths; Science; Technology (and Enterprise); Health, Physical and Personal Studies; Society and Environment; The Arts
We break these down further into more manageable units - eg dance, music, performing arts, visual arts, craft, electronics, living things (biology), earth sciences, astronomy, etc.
14. Does your son have opportunities for physical activity and sports?
a) All my children have had the opportunity to engage in physcial activity and sports - we've encouraged them to partipate in local teams and activities.
b) What sort of activities/sports?
Off the top of my head: dance, competitive table tennis, bushwalking, recreational games with friends and other homeschooling children, bmx bike riding, swimming, indoor rock climbing, motorbike riding (for the last couple of years).
15. Can you tell me about any social activities you and your son are
As a family we've been involved in organising homeschooling activities, but for the last year or so we've been very busy with activities at home and study - my diploma and Thomas' electronics certificate.
In the last decade Thomas has been involved with Come Out activities, Model Solar Car competition, New Year's Eve Pageant, community Summer and Winter Solstice celebrations; Halloween activities; two Homeschooling Expos; several homeschooling camps and seminars; other celebrations; assisting us with giving tours of our permaculture property; LAN gaming; Internet gaming and chatting; emailing; work experience in a retail situation; cross country motorbike riding...
Thomas has friends that have been schooled and homeschooled that he sees regularly.
How often are you involved in each?
We tend to do things as a family, or extended family. He has done things on his own, or with his brother, in more recent years with a group of friends. All of our children appreciate, value and enjoy our company.
16. How do you ensure your son is made aware of different cultures?
We watch documentaries, SBS, listen to the ABC (good coverage, especially with current affairs). We subscribed to National Geographic for several years. We are members of Community Aid Abroad (Oxfam) and get regular newsletters. I've made sure that the children have adequate geographical knowledge and skills. We've visited cultural centres, exhibitions and festivals. Thomas learned Indonesian for several years but didn't chose to continue, and is now interested in German. We regularly discuss multicultural current affairs issues.
17. Why do you think homeschooling is better than government schooling?
The children are more involved in the tailoring of their education to suit their individual personalities, learning styles, needs and interests. With supervision and guidance, they are given the opportunity to set their own learning objectives and goals and work out the best way to achieve them. They can study or pursue an activity for as long as they like and aren't restricted by a time table, end of lesson or end of school day. They can learn 24/7 and have learned that learning is a life long pursuit, not something that is delivered to them - they actively pursue education.
18. Do you cater for developing your son's skill in:
This all comes naturally in the home learning environment. People have remarked at Thomas's level of skill in all these areas.
19. Do you have access to a computer at home?
Yes. And use it. Thomas is skilled in computer repair, troubleshooting and maintenance for our own and other people's computers, plus he has designed several websites. He is skilled at using the internet and regularly plays online with local and overseas friends.
20. What are the advantages of homeschooling?
Happy, well socialised, self-motivated learners with high self-esteem, greater confidence, ability to integrate into the workforce with ease; more time to do what you want to do; time and resources to really get into areas of interest; great friends; well-behaved children with mature attitudes and strong values; ability to withstand peer/group pressure; time, freedom, zillions of resources and choice; lots of opportunities to learn with friends and family.
I get to be with the best people in the world all day.
21. Can you name any disadvantages of homeschooling with your experiences?
a) loss of second income - financial stress can be a problem
b) no assistance/funding at all from the Education Department yet we have to jump through hoops and some families are mercilessly hassled and intimidated (especially if they have special needs children)
c) discrimination - no access to Youth Allowance, can't get student concession for public transport, etc.
Questions - Thomas
1. How old are you and in what grade are you?
17, final year of education I guess.
2. Do you enjoy learning from home? Why/why not?
Yes. I've never been to school. I can learn as much as I want about any subject at any time. I'm in control. At the moment I'm concentrating on electronics because it's an area I might like to work in. I'm also doing up my motor bike and help with repairing my brother's FiatX19. We go riding every other week at a friend's property and plan on joining a car club this year.
The computer takes up a lot of my time. I am the site manager for my mum's websites - she has lots. This takes up a bit of time and means I have to learn about how to manage and promote websites online. I've designed a few sites and muck about with animation and music programs.
Every so often I have to fix someone's computer, but I don't encourage it any more as I don't like tying up my time so much, but I still do it for friends.
I'm also keen on digital photography and manipulating images.
I do a lot of gardening and building - we're forever building something. Plus I look after our geese, guinea pigs, chickens, duck and pigeons and help out with other chores around the house.
If I need to know something, or how to do something, I find out.
3. What do you like about homeschooling?
I get lots of time to do what I want - mum doesn't stop me in the middle of doing anything, unless we have to go out for some reason, or I should be doing something else, like feeding the animals. I like the freedom, not having to get up early, be hassled about what to wear, exams or stuff like that. I like learning at my own pace. I like doing an adult correspondence course because there isn't any deadlines and I will get a certificate when I'm finished that I can use in my resume.
4. Is there anything you don't particularly like?
5. Do you know other students who homeschool? Do you get to see them often?
Yes, when I want to.
6. How do you think you'd feel about spending a day at school?
I'm not interested. My sister went to school so I know a fair bit about it.
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