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18 Years Home Educating our Family

Noose Home Education Conference 2004 Keynote Address
by Beverley Paine

From the outset I'd like to confess that I'm a paranoid, over-protect parent and I'm proud of it!

These are my babies, my darlings, the most precious things in my life. I have an obligation, a duty as a parent, to take care them, nurture them, and prepare them for adult life.

I take this responsibility seriously.

The future of humanity alarms me. It's not a nice world out there. We live in the lucky country, but it won't be lucky forever. Nothing ever is. There are too many greedy people in the world with too little care for each other and all the living creatures we share wonderful planet with.

Nuclear power, dioxin in every living cell, genetically modified organisms, chemical and biological weapons stored in decaying drums, declining rainforests, rising sea-levels, rising temperatures, and non-stop conflicts that kill indiscriminately, are frightening enough, but we have leaders who stick their heads in the sand, pretend we're living 50 years ago and say "she'll be right mate".

We're supposed to be living in the 'clever country', and I believe that this was once the case. In the past we've boasted some of the finest minds the world has seen, great inventors, great humanitarians, sports men and women, amazing people from all walks of life who inspire us. I loved the advert run by BP years ago as it really epitomised the Australian way of life. We were truly a nation of quiet achievers. But we've changed.

We're no longer busy producers of our own ideas and things we need in daily life; we're consumers, passively entertained, happy to be supplied with goods manufactured by people in other countries less well off than ourselves, content to sacrifice a future for our children, for humanity, for the sake of what can get out of life right now. We've lost the essence of who were as a nation, the pioneering spirit.

So, where does this fit in with the topic I'm supposed to be talking about today: the benefits of home education?

How many of you are familiar with the work of John Barratt Peacock? John's a good mate of mine, even though he is a Tasmanian; he's one of my most cherished mentors. A learned fellow, university lecturer and theologian, with more letters after his name than in it, he wrote, some years ago now, "They Why and How of Australian Home Education". John is the father of six home educated young people, most of them university graduates themselves. But the thing that strikes me about John, that I admire and seek to emulate, is his pioneering spirit.

We're not content to stick our heads in the sand, pretend we're living 50 years ago and say "she'll be right mate".

Especially when it comes to giving our children what they need to survive in this less than nurturing world.

When I was thirteen I became increasingly frustrated, as many teenagers do, that I couldn't come up with the solutions to the world's problems. The temptation to give up in despair and become numbed into passivity was great. I should have knuckled under, studied harder, passed Matriculation, gone to University, got a well paid job, worked hard and amassed oodles of superannuation and put my children into a good school, but my inner drive to survive was greater.

I wanted and needed solutions. I wanted my children to live in a better world. It was my responsibility to make this happen, for them and for me, and for every one else.

I was told that education was the solution. Schools would deliver the promised land, the freedom from harm, access to the lucky life.

But even at the age of thirteen I could see that schools hadn't worked. Education, it seemed, wasn't the answer. Religion hadn't delivered either. Too many people had allowed the corruption of consumerism to undermine their faith. Values in the church and schools had declined.

Why did something so noble in intention fail so miserably? I believe it's because schools were never intended to produce a better society in the first place. They were essentially an experiment to control and direct the masses to produce profit. Find a country full of schools and you'll find a nation of consumers, not producers.

Once upon a time Australia was a nation of producers, of quiet achievers. And what was it about those generations of pioneers and producers and great thinkers. They were brought up by their parents, on the farm or in the city, working hard to carve out a living in this new country. Every day life was hard, full of work, not entertainment, full of making things, not buying things. Few went to school beyond learning the basics. Most were auto-didacts, learning what they needed from life itself.

There it is again - the pioneering spirit. This is what we, Robin and I, have learned as parents of our children. This is what we've gained from home educating them. This is probably the most important benefit we've found. Discovering that what we need more of in life, what the world needs more of, is the pioneering spirit.

So we've become pioneers, producers, builders, thinkers and problem solvers. And we want our children to be pioneers too.

I'm a home educating pioneer because I truly believe that education is the only solution to the problems humanity has created. Driven by a need to make sure that my children survive in an increasingly chaotic and hostile world, I knew I had to take the bold step of becoming personally responsible for the education of my children.

There was no way I was going to leave this up to chance.

As a paranoid, over-protective parent, and proudly so, I had to have total control over , why, when, how and what my children learned and from whom they learned it.

Feeling in control, a wonderful illusion, is another satisfying benefit of home educating. Too bad the children undermined this aspect of my life all too regularly!

These are some of the things we have loved most about home education:

•  The freedom to create a distraction free, flexible schedule that fitted our unique learning needs as individuals and as a family.

•  The freedom to change our educational timetable as our needs changed, to suit our children's individual learning styles, or to capitalise on the many unexpected learning opportunities that sprang up. We were able to work around illness or our changing employment situations, take advantage of off-season holidays, and visit places of interest when they were less busy.

•  The freedom to learn at any time of the day. Our children weren't restricted to learning between the hours of 9-4, five days a week, forty weeks of each year with a bit of homework chucked in for good measure. There are no bells every half hour to tell the children to stop learning. We were in charge. We set the time table.

•  We quickly saw that our children were learning all the time - they did their schoolwork while standing on their heads, riding a bicycle, playing with and caring for their pets, building cubbies, riding in the car, jumping on the trampoline, washing the dishes, waiting in the doctor's office. Learning ALL the time. This made our task as teachers and mentors so much easier!

•  We were able to tailor our teaching methods to suit each of children's dominant learning styles, and enjoyed the ability to give our children in-depth, personal attention in any subject with which they struggled or excelled. Schools rave on about, but rarely deliver, individualised learning programs. We delivered one-to-one attention for as long as each child needed it, every day of the year!

•  Instead of focussing on developing a vigorous competitive spirit, so sought after by public education to attract converts, we based our curriculum around cooperative behaviours. Instead of encouraging the children to compete against each other, we encouraged them to work toward specific, individual, and family goals.

•  We were able to continuously tweak our learning children's learning programs, evaluating them on the spot, able to change anything and everything at a moment's notice. It's easy to see how we doing as teachers, and how the children were doing as students. If something - an approach or text book - wasn't working with one child we could chuck it out - straight away - and try something else. Unlike school teachers, we couldn't fail our children. We had to get it right. Unlike schools, we are accountable to our children for the rest of our lives!

•  Our children enjoyed teachers who were there for them, not the pay packet at the end of the week. Our children's education was too important to leave to chance.

•  As parents we knew it was our duty to nurture our children's natural talents, be it musical, artistic, or mathematic. We wanted them to thrive and grow in whatever direction they needed to, and in the directions that we needed them to grow.

•  Character development isn't something that is overtly emphasised in the school curriculum. It is, however, central to our home education program. We wanted our children to know that they can learn anything at any time in their lives. We knew that if we never killed the instinctive ability and joy of learning in those early years our children could tackle anything, given a strong sense of self-esteem, confidence in their own ability, and respect for their environment and others. We made character development, not academic performance, the core of our curriculum. We did this by designing our own curriculum or buying materials that reflect our beliefs; by modelling positive values; and by addressing our children questions and the 'big issues' in life as they came up or at developmentally appropriate stages or ages.

•  We wanted our children to know that learning is a joyous journey, sometimes difficult and hard, sometimes easy and fun, but always exciting and joyous. Like Einstein, we didn't want the holy curiosity of inquiry to be killed dead in its tracks by the messy and inefficient methods so often adopted in the school classroom.

•  We also wanted to give our children the gift of time. The world is experiencing an explosion of information overload. What used to take days or weeks now takes seconds. As time passes faster, the media and cultural expectations erode our sense of grounding. We are encouraged to over-schedule and live life at warp speed. As homeschoolers, we could remind ourselves to "Stop! Slow down." We are continuously learning to simplify our lives by safeguarding our time and family space.

•  Instead of spending precious evening hours pushing our children to finish their homework we played games with them, watched TV together, or read or talked, as a family. We wanted to build strong and lasting friendships: intimate and meaningful relationships with our children. This is especially important for Robin, who spent many hours away from his children at work.

•  We enjoyed quality time with our children when we were each at our individual best, rather than only during evening/morning stressful times. Our children are our friends, even during adolescence! How many parents can say that?

•  We enjoyed being there during the 'milestones', when they caught onto new concepts. We were constantly with them during those irreplaceable growing years. We shared with them the common, everyday joys of life.

•  We included them in our lives. Household and family chores became part of the curriculum. This meant that they took less time - more hands make light work! - and gave us more time for family fun or to follow an educational interest as far as it could go. Through participation in our lives our children learned those essential pioneering skills - organisation, how to prioritise and complete tasks, responsibility, and the development of a strong work ethic, as well as the satisfaction that innately comes from being a creator and producer.

•  We didn't have to contrive, with all the added expense this brings, learning situations. Life presented us with so many, each and every day, it was impossible to do everything we wanted to! We were able to protect our children from the negative influences they would encounter outside the home until we felt they were able to cope on their own. Our children were kept safe from gangs, drugs, violence. We were the people they turned to during the difficult times in their lives. We learned to support each other, to talk openly and honestly about our feelings, to trust each other.

•  Our children became friends with people of all ages. They worked, learned, and played with people of all ages in all kinds of situations. Through tailoring our social life to suit their developmental needs we were able to give them a broad perspective on cultural trends, lets them learn about real life from people with greater and wider wisdom and experience, and to care for and respect those less able than them. They learned to treat people as individuals, not simply as members of groups. Many adults have marvelled at the maturity, articulation, and wisdom of our children. It is a natural benefit of bringing them up in a responsible, supportive, loving, and positive setting.

•  We spared ourselves the tragedy that besets many of our friends and enjoyed a life free of the frustration of trying to prise kids from their beds, yelling at them to turn the TV off, get dressed, have some breakfast, check that they did their homework, making lunches, searching for lost socks, signing consent forms, continually explaining why Johnny can't have the latest whiz bang toy, or to Jane yet again why she can't go to the Blue Light Disco before rushing to catch the school bus, or while waiting in long queues at the traffic light with dozens of other harried mums. Trying to balance the budget as the school asks for yet more money, or finding money for new school uniforms, or having to spend time in fruitless teacher/parent interviews. School can suck the joy from life in many ways!

•  We've avoided many of the recurrent illnesses that beset childhood: multiple colds each year, head-lice, emotional and physical stress related illnesses and so on. Our children have been blessed with excellent health and rarely visit a doctor.

•  As our children grew through adolescence we were able to provide them with the time and resources to investigate different occupations, crafts, and skills. We encouraged them to take courses, volunteer and find part time work to take them to that next stage of life.

It's easy to see from what I've said how our children have benefited from home education. But what about us? Years ago I wrote a list of the ways in which I'd personally benefited from home education - you can read it here: http://theeducatingparent.com/articles/benefits.html . A week ago, in preparation for today, Robin and I went through it again and updated it.

Home educating our children has:

•  Broken down the misconception that learning occurs only from books or courses and must be taught;

•  Made us realise that we are all natural learners, that we learn naturally, all of the time, 24 hours a day;

•  It has given us the ability to continually broaden our personal knowledge;

•  We've become more organised, but at the same time learned to be flexible and open to change;

•  We're more likely to deal with problems straight away and are finally getting a handle on the time wasting habit of procrastinating.

•  It's easier to identify our priorities.

•  We understand the importance of learning how to ask useful questions, and to research topics and potential solutions effectively.

•  We've shared in the excitement of the development of three growing minds, knowing that we've played an intimate part in shaping the character and future of our children.

•  Pride has taken a back seat to unconditional love.

•  We've developing close intellectual and emotional bonds with each of our children.

•  Experienced the joy of watching them grow in friendship and stay close friends throughout childhood and into their adult years.

•  Watched our children develop personal values congruent with our own, but with strong and confident self esteems based on individual and unique temperaments so that they are able to develop their own personal values as well.

•  Celebrated the challenges they bring to us, so that we, too, have the opportunity to grow intellectually, morally and emotionally.

•  Enjoyed being able to confidently and comfortably discuss difficult issues with our children.

•  Enjoy confiding in, and being trusted by our children as someone they can confide in.

•  I've discovered my own unique learning style, whilst helping my children find theirs.

•  Reaching the realisation that learning is a lifelong pursuit - that we are all active learners, and that we don't have to learn everything by age five, or eighteen, or any other arbitrary date.

•  Discovered the secret of motivation - that it's possible to do anything by providing personal meaning to the task, thus overcoming the hesitation to tackle unpleasant or less desirable aspects of our lives.

•  Having the opportunity and ability to pursue areas of interest to us - academic, interest and hobbies - and to invite our children to share our enthusiasm.

•  We've learned how to use and access a wide range of learning media effectively - computers, videos, television, libraries, community institutions, people, materials, and so on.

•  The discovery that we're not indispensable and allowing others to tutor our children; learning how to identify and recognise quality and safe tutors for them; or letting them learn through experience, in their own way, led by their intuition;

•  I've learned to truly trust another human being;

•  We've rediscovered the educational value of play and creativity, and learned to incorporate more of it into our own life, albeit a little too slowly!

•  Applied a handy rule to all learning situations, gleaned from a close friend: "Don't say no - have a go!"

•  We've learned the value of in-depth, interest led studies where the learner gets to negotiate and choose the content and methodology for each educational activity rather than having to follow a rigid, pre-set curriculum.

•  We've enjoyed being valued as parents and experienced increased personal self esteem and self worth;

•  Home educating has empowered us to step outside the square, to think freely, to make choices based on common sense, not on what is 'normal', but what is appropriate, especially for children and families.

•  I've learned that mothering is the most important job I have, that it's unending and a source of constant joy and worry and that both those states are okay;

•  We've enjoyed exposure to a wide range of activities when supporting our children's interests and learning we may not otherwise have been interested in.

•  We've had the pleasure of meeting many people, and have had many quality friends; enjoyed being part of a great group of like- minded, child-friendly parents interested in education.

•  We've learned a lot about education, how learning happens, and now have a better idea of the processes involved in learning.

•  We've learned to value the gift of childhood. Yes, even as adults, we can be kids again. We can be spontaneous and free to learn right along with our children. We have watched our children grow naturally according to their own inner biological schedule; we can gave them, and continue to give them, room to explore their true selves. Our children know that they are valued and cherished, and that their feelings and ideas are respected.

And the most important benefit, the gift that home educating has given us? The satisfaction of knowing that we are part of a growing movement that can change the future, one child, and one family, at a time.

In conclusion I'd like to mention a few notes I picked up from the Internet recently, from We've Grown Up and We're Okay -- An Exploration of Adults Who Were Home-Educated As Students by academic researcher Gary Knowles, of the University of Michigan.

Knowles found that adults who have been home educated are located in both rural and urban areas; they are employed in a variety of professions and occupations, although many seem to be concentrated in those occupations that allow for independence, flexibility and, often, creativity; and they exhibit a wide range of political views and religious affiliations.

He also found that the majority reflected a positive attitude toward their home education and family experiences.

Forty-two percent had attended a college or a university after being home-educated for at least two years. Twelve percent had completed advanced university degrees, another twelve percent had completed an undergraduate degree, and a further sixteen percent had completed some graduate school courses.

Nearly two-thirds of the formerly home educated adults were self-employed, indicating, says Knowles, a high level of autonomy and independence. None were unemployed, although some chose to stay home to care for children. When asked whether or not they would wish to be home educated if they had their lives to live over again, ninety-six percent answered positively.

Positive aspects of home based education included strong family relationships; the self-directed, individualized nature of their learning; the resulting self-reliance; and the flexibility.

Respondents felt that home-based learning had encouraged the development of self-reliance and resourcefulness, as well as the study skills associated with attendance at a university or college.

Knowles contends that his "his survey and the life history accounts that arose out of it clearly show that, done in an enlightened, broad-minded way, with plenty of flexibility in curriculum and methods, home schooling can be a positive experience for children with benefits that last for many years."

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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