Most Queensland families are satisfied with our state and independent schools, but for some families, conventional school is not the best option and they turn to home education, or homeschooling, as a viable alternative.
Among the benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility that comes with a learning program tailored to the individual child and delivered in a supportive home environment. Homeschoolers say their children’s natural creativity, curiosity and enthusiasm for learning are nurtured by those who know them best – their immediate family.
Home Education Australia (HEA) spokesperson Lindy Hadges believes that the conventional school system works well for some children but not for others, and she says many families decide to educate their children at home due to “a general dissatisfaction with the education system and the kind of results it produces.”
A pioneer of the home education movement in Australia, Lindy started homeschooling when her firstborn child reached pre-school age and over the last 18 years she has taught all of her children at home. “None of our five children have ever been to school, and they still look quite normal,” she laughs.
Lindy and her husband are both in fulltime Christian ministry, and she says this was only one of their reasons for choosing to educate their children at home. “Some people do choose to homeschool on the basis of faith, but for me, it wasn’t the only reason why,” she says. “It was part of a more complex exploration.”
Parents decide to homeschool for a variety of reasons, including personal values, religious ideology, location or health. Some families begin homeschooling after their children have suffered from the emotional and psychological trauma of bullying in schools, explains Lindy.
“When parents attempt to have that resolved through the normal processes and for whatever reason that fails, I guess they feel quite disempowered to support their children in those settings, and home schooling becomes an alternative,” she says.
Sunshine Coast mum Sarah is another veteran homeschooler, with 10 years’ experience in home educating her four children, now aged from 10 to 16. “For us, homeschooling is more than just a style of education, it really is a lifestyle,” she says.
Sarah began homeschooling because she and her husband didn’t agree with a lot of the pressures to conform within the mainstream school culture, and they wanted their children to have the opportunity for extended learning in certain subjects.
“We have always believed that there are a variety of ways to teach children - no system is perfect and each one has its own set of benefits and challenges,” she says. “It is healthy for a society to be tolerant of different ways of doing things. There are disadvantages in teaching everyone the same things the same way - a likely casualty being diversity of thoughts and ideas and different forms of expression.”
The close-knit family lives on an acreage property and Sarah says they enjoy the flexibility of homeschooling. The learning is tailored to suit each individual child’s needs, interests and talents, and Sarah can incorporate “real world situations” into their academic learning. She says her children are thriving and she believes that learning is not just a “school event” but a “lifelong, lifetime event”.
A growing sector
Over the last three years, the number of Queensland children registered for home education has more than doubled. In 2007, there were 558 children registered with Education Queensland (EQ) for home education, and this number increased to 1,228 in 2010.
Hundreds of families are turning to homeschooling as a means of giving their children what they believe is the best education. However, it remains a very small niche in the education sector in comparison with almost half a million student enrolments in Queensland state schools in 2010.
In Australia, it is legally acceptable for parents to homeschool their children if certain educational criteria are met, however, procedures and guidelines vary from state to state.
Education Queensland (EQ) recognises home education as an alternative to classroom education or distance education, under the Education (General Provisions) Act 2006. Parents must register with EQ’s Home Education Unit, which is responsible for the regulation and support of all home education in Queensland.
EQ’s acting assistant director-general for Tertiary and Non-State Education, Ian Kimber, says that to maintain registration, a parent is required to submit an annual written report that demonstrates the child’s educational progress and shows that the child is receiving a high-quality education. This annual report is the primary way that EQ monitors the home-educated children’s progress, and there are no home visits from the Home Education Unit in Queensland.
Homeschool parents create their own curriculum and learning program tailored to their child, but they are not required to be registered teachers. Mr Kimber also advises that all parents have free online access to Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) syllabus documents.
“Generally speaking, this type of education is only able to be conducted in the child’s home and must be taught by one, or both, of the child’s parents, or by a registered teacher,” Mr Kimber says. “Parents who home educate their child can develop a program to suit the individual needs of the child. Many parents base the child’s program on the state’s curriculum as taught in schools.”
EQ requirements for home education include:
- a summary of the educational program to be used or learning philosophy to be followed,
- details of how that program or philosophy is adapted to meet the educational needs of the individual child.
Dispelling the myths
Public perception of homeschooling has changed over the last 20 years and HEA spokesperson Lindy says there is now more acceptance and understanding.
“We had to put up with a lot of flack years ago,” she says. “There was a lot less acceptance - even my family, for example, nearly had heart failure. They were horrified that we were going to absolutely destroy or damage them irreparably in some way.”
Homeschooled children are now emerging as well-adjusted young adults and Lindy says people can now see the positive outcomes of home education, and this helps to remove some fears and uncertainties around homeschooling.
“It generally does produce very mature, quite strong, sensible sort of kids,” Lindy says.
Children educated at home usually do very well academically, according to Lindy, and some go on to tertiary education.
“The amount of work that they would cover in school, they can cover much more quickly in a short time at home,” Lindy explains. “It gives them a lot more time to explore other passions and interests in life, and I think it makes them more well-rounded children who’ve got more life experiences under their belt.”
Approaches to home education
Teaching styles commonly used by the homeschool community include a structured approach, natural learning, unschooling and distance education. As parents gain experience and confidence, they tend to develop their own unique homeschooling style that may combine more than one method.
This style of learning is measured and controlled, with achievable levels and goals for students. There is a set curriculum, with lesson plans and a structured daily schedule. The materials are often purchased from an educational institution, and there may be correspondence courses or a selection of texts and workbooks from various sources.
Natural learning is based on the principle that children learn by absorbing what is going on around them, and that they will learn naturally, just as they learn to walk and talk. This approach, which is similar to unschooling, is characterised by imagination, enthusiasm, mutual respect and curiosity about the world.
Unschooling negates the idea of “one size fits all” schooling and aims to avoid the rigidity of school. Child-driven education is activated and children are encouraged to develop independence, self-reliance and responsibility. They can develop their own learning style and pursue their passions at their own pace, while learning through everyday tasks like; cooking, shopping or gardening.
Distance education schools provide a service for home-based learners that parents may find helpful. Parents are provided with lesson plans and they can create a daily schedule that is similar to regular school. The structured curriculum of a distance education school can be supplemented with other compatible materials and subjects.
There is the potential for homeschooling to be isolating, but parents can avoid this by keeping up contact with friends and extended family, and by joining community groups and clubs. Regional Queensland has an active homeschool community, with parents often starting to network through Yahoo homeschool newsgroups, and making connections with other families from there.
Homeschoolers invariably report that their children have a wide social circle, and homeschool mum Sarah says the choice of activities is enormous.
“There are all the regular sports, music and activities that kids participate in available after school hours,” Sarah says. “The older boys have casual employment, go to annual camps and there are many other Homeschool Association or Distance Education events available to choose from, incorporating sporting activities, creative art classes and excursions.”
Homeschool parents say their children become excellent communicators because they engage with people of diverse ages and interests, whereas the communication in mainstream schools is restricted to a narrow group of peers and adults.
Going the distance
Homeschooling has its own unique challenges, and parents who choose to homeschool their children need courage, lots of time and commitment, innovative thinking, and above all, love and respect for their children.
Lindy advises homeschool parents to look after their own health and energy. “You can suffer from burnout, so you’ve really got to pace yourself and make sure you’re looking after yourself,” she says. “Your relationship with your husband and girlfriends is really important.”
Housework may have to take a lower priority and Lindy had to give up her expectations of a “picture-perfect house” as her children engaged in creative activities at various times. “It strengthens me in a way, to be less controlling and uptight,” she says. “I think it’s made me more accessible.”
Like most homeschoolers, Lindy doesn’t have a separate school room. “It goes against the grain, for what is probably the common approach to homeschooling in Australia, which is that our life is our learning,” she says.
Resources and support
Home Education Association. Phone: 1300 729 991 or visit: www.hea.asn.au
Home Education Unit, Education Queensland. Phone: 07 3405 3916 or 1800 677 176. Visit: www.education.qld.gov.au or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Homeschool Australia. Visit: www.homeschoolaustralia.com or join the Homeschool Australia Yahoo group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/HomeschoolAustraliaFAQ/
Sunshine Coast: Phone Beverley McMahon: 07 5494 1610 or email: email@example.com. Join the Sunshine Coast homeschoolers community group at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gold Coast: Phone Valma: 0408 715 139 or email: email@example.com
Townsville : Phone Helen: 07 4788 6886 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org