Nanowrimo – Day 12 + Some Homeschool Reflections

I’ve missed a few days on here. I suppose when I barely have time to actually write my nanowrimo, I also barely have time to write my blog. Nanowrimo coincides with what is basically the busiest time of year. November is approaching the end of the school year here in Australia (the school year lasts from January to early-mid December).

Just in the last few days we’ve had the fortnightly youth night (I volunteer, and one of the kids is now old enough to attend), weekly athletics (a three to four hour session where the kids get coached in track and field sports with heaps of other kids), their music school’s annual concert, ballet classes in the lead up to the end of year dance school concerts, piano lessons in the lead up to the end of year AMEB exams, a trip to the doctors, and just the run of the mill stuff where we’re trying to finish up some of the year’s school books. (Older child just finished up a book of grammar exercises, younger finished up handwriting. It’s very exciting to see things coming to a close and finishing the year strongly.)

Which brings me to homeschooling – it’s been an interesting year. We started in January 2014, and will finish up just before Christmas, having chosen to follow the calendar followed by the state’s public (government funded) school system. We opted to follow the government-required curriculum for homeschool, using standard workbooks that align with the Australian curriculum standards. As the year rolls to a close we’re trying to to tie up the loose ends and make sure that the kids are as prepared as possible for when they re-enter the mainstream schooling system next year.

We aren’t homeschoolers because we’re anti-school: I always feel like I need to throw that into any conversation about it. We’re using the legally sanctioned option of state registered homeschooling, but our motivation was in response to a specific set of circumstances. Within two months of beginning, we’d already started applying to schools for next year. One thing we realised was that we are strongly motivated to provide an as good as possible education to our children. For our fairly extroverted kids, we’ve discovered that the homeschool environment is simply inadequate to supply them with their need for regular social interaction with a variety of people. While we did what we could manage in the context of homeschool (ballet classes, music school, swimming and sports clubs, children’s church, playdates with old school friends, to name the main ones) in the end we believe that they will both greatly benefit from going to new schools.

While I’ve been homeschooling, my sociological brain hasn’t let me rest in the belief that homeschool is somehow superior. In fact, while I support the legal right to choose it, I also see that it would be terribly easy to be a bad homeschooling parent. The sheer broad scope of the core homeschool curriculum in our state means that you need to be good at a whole lot of subject areas. Luckily for us, I did do half of my education degree, during which I went into schools for teaching rounds, learned about childhood literacy learning and teaching methods, and studied educational psychology. After deciding it wasn’t for me, I transferred into Arts and Humanities. The Husband has engineering and mathematics qualifications. Where we weren’t able to cover the curriculum, we organised external assistance – like weekly lessons at a music school. At the same time I found myself regularly reading all sorts of materials that offer a counter-argument against homeschooling. Particularly religiously-motivated homeschooling.

Now, I have a few religious homeschooling friends and once again, I’m not trying to denigrate their efforts. Their methods and motivations vary from individual to individual. However, I now have the sense (rightly or wrongly) that for every homeschool success story there is a story of a child who was cult brainwashed, isolated, abused, denied basic rights and privileges, and left bereft of simple social skills. It is horrifying to me that something that ought to be a useful tool in the toolbox of educational options can be a front for control and abuse. But the stories of homeschool kids who had negative experiences are important and deserve to be heard. I found the Homeschoolers Anonymous website a troubling but enlightening read – I think it’s great that there are support networks out there for homeschool graduates, especially those who had negative experiences.

I read that in Australia it’s fairly common for homeschool parents to not register their kids with their state government. I can’t even imagine why people take this route. If you’re committed to educating your kid at home, then just read the materials, sign the agreement to actually teach your kid, and send off the forms. It’s too easy. In Victoria it’s kind of scary how easy it is. Sure, some states apparently require the parents to provide details of the curriculum they will use – but how hard is that? If you’re committed to providing kids with an adequate education standard, then you have to put in the effort.

In our case, we looked up the AusVELS expectations for children our kids’ ages, we bought books that comply with the system from the same bookstore a lot of the local schools use, and any non-essential extras – like Religious Education – we do on our own time. It’s a lot of work but I can’t imagine doing any less.

One of the things I’m discovering is that the 24/7 hectic lifestyle that marks my approach to homeschooling this year is that it doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for other things – like Nanowrimo, not to mention my own art or running, which I used to do when the kids were at school. Even with the kids also writing their own entries for the Nanowrimo Young Writers Program, when they’re busy writing, I’m usually busy catching up on rest or replying to messages or cleaning. By the time the kids are in bed, I’m exhausted.

Not that I’m complaining – when I think about what things were like this time last year, life is a whole lot better. We’re in a nicer neighbourhood, nicer house, with a better lifestyle. We’re not crumbling under the pressure of a high intensity and increasingly expensive religious school, fighting to ensure that our kids weren’t bullied (when your kid is told by their teacher that praying to Jesus will make the bullying stop, but the teacher themselves refuses to organise a meeting with the parents of the bullies so that any issues can be discussed openly among adults willing to do something practical, there are some serious questions that need to be asked).

We’re also not facing the daily stress that comes from living next door to aggressive, potentially violent repeat trespassers who dismantled the fence separating our properties paling by paling so that they could watch us coming and going from our house.

So, when we pulled the kids out of their school to homeschool, it was an act of desperation. Some major things in our life had to change before we could make decisions on where to go next. Leaving the school meant we could move to a different house. In our new neighbourhood we were able to have a breather, look around, and see what would be next – all while making sure that, at the very least, our kids were still learning all the essentials. Thankfully we discovered that our new neighbourhood has a lovely little public school, long established but with up to date facilities and friendly staff – we would never have come across it if we hadn’t moved here in the first place. We signed the younger of our kids up as soon as we could. The other kid, the super extrovert, will be heading to a much bigger public school with a huge range of subject options and lots of great extras and beautiful views of the mountains. Until we got out of the private religious school system and looked at it with fresh eyes we would never have realised just how many great schools there are in our local community.

So, believe me when I say that if my biggest problem at the moment is a little bit of homeschool chaos, and a lower than desired wordcount, not to mention that time that the kombucha scoby died, I’m really not complaining. Though extra energy and a few more hours in the day might help!

*I should add, just to clarify: I am personally not opposed to religious schools or religious homeschooling. If that’s what works for the child’s personality and needs, that’s great. If you’re doing it properly, in Australia at least, you don’t need to fear registering your homeschool children with the government.

**I am also a big believer that the individual child’s welfare and interests matter more than a parent’s desire to be a homeschooling or religious private school family. Children need an adequate level of education that will set them up to one day be a fully functioning adult, and enable them opportunities to engage in further education if they desire.