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Home school or home education?

Beverley Paine, Jan 2014

Are we all just looking for the perfect school? How many of us would give up homeschooling if we found a school that answered our children's educational, social and emotional needs? Especially if it was within walking distance and didn't cost an arm and a leg to enroll.

Some of us, maybe those who've been home educating for years, will shake their heads - not my family. They are usually the ones that see education as a natural progression from birth, the responsibility of parents rather than schools and teachers. They have always considered their children's education carefully - what it is, what it means, how it will look, and how it will happen for their children. These families are content, happy with their home education practice.

But most of us come to home education because of a crisis - school isn't working for our children and we need something that will, sometimes urgently, sometimes after a long time of banging our heads against the wall trying to get the school to listen to our child's needs. We are the ones that continue in our daily homeschooling adventure, always casting one eye on mainstream education, still looking for that perfect school.

In this we aren't so different from parents of school children. The My School website and controversy over league tables bears witness to this.

What is it we think schools can offer our children?

Socialisation. For millennia children have played with children. In their neighbourhoods, in their homes. Playing freely. Growing as nature intended. For many of us there is nothing to replace this traditional role of peer contact in child development. Schools are to blame. They lock children up. They deny our homeschooling children access to other children. A wide range of children, to chose playmates from. For six hours or more each day they impose a strict curfew on the movements of children in our community. It's obvious to most people that schools offer the only easily available access to children. It's hard to kids compatible with our kids.

Academics. We've all been through school ourselves and brainwashed to believe that following a prescribed curriculum with outcomes identified and worked towards in a systematic sequential manner is the only way to learn. Even though most of our own learning was done after we'd left school, or on the weekend or school holidays, usually because of our hobbies, or our parents work, or whatever. We feel reassured by text books and learning programs, plus they are much easier to use and keep track of where our kids are up to.

Convenience: particularly in regard to access to a range of experiences and access to experts.

Certificates. This is usually not an issue until the children are in their teens, but one that undermines the confidence of parents of toddlers.

Well heeled home educators will argue that it is easy to provide all of these outside of school, but I'd argue that it isn't that easy. It's hard work. We have to think and plan and coordinate and research, and we have to do this continuously. We can't use last year's curriculum like a Year 3 teacher can at the beginning of the new year because our child is now in Year 4!

So we seek support from like-minded people. We form support groups that meet informally and then increasingly in formal ways. We compare curriculum resources and share experiences. We start drama groups and debating groups, organise sports days, excursions, homeschool camps. We organise ourselves to help provide our children with the educational experiences we believe they need and deserve.

In the US there are now homeschool cooperatives where parents drop their children at the door and pick them up after activities and lessons. One parent will teach the children something this morning and another will take over this afternoon. Tomorrow another parent is on teacher duty. These coops have gradually developed over a couple of decades from grassroots support groups.

Is this home education or home schooling? Not homeschooling, one word, but the grammatically correct version 'home' 'school'. A different type of school. Perhaps even a version of, or growing towards, the 'perfect school'?

I was recently challenged by a home educating parent who stated "what else is a homeschooling network if NOT a school?" He went on to say that a formally organised group of people following a 'school of thought' about education, with a management structure that involves leaders and educational facilitators, where the members trust the advice, direction and socialisation functions of the management structure, acts in a way very similar to a school.

This parent distinguished home education from home schooling - a home educator is simply providing learning experiences in his or her home. Once they move beyond this - into organised activities with others on a regular basis - they are forming small, community based schools.

Some of us have become so entrenched with our need to defend home education we're anti-school. We'll reject the idea that organised home education is just another form of schooling. The way I see it, it's inevitable. Children need to be in the community learning and for most of us we work hard to make sure our children get those opportunities.

The difference between our home schools and schools is that our children are not forced to attend. And unlike schools our home educating networks do not strive to force everyone to think or act the same way. We're not in the business of social engineering. We need to keep this in mind as we continue to develop models of community learning, just in case we inadvertently begin to replicate the very structure we abandoned because it wasn't meeting our children's needs. The perfect school is a free school, where true education - not a list of outcomes - is valued. Children (and adults) are free to learn what they will, what they need to, and what they want to when they want to and in their own way.

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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

The information on this website is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal or professional advice. This site merges and incorporates 'Homeschool Australia' and 'Unschool Australia'.

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