I didn’t think I’d be able to homeschool. It seemed too huge a responsibility. What if I taught the wrong facts? What if I omitted a vital part of the curriculum? Plus, I hadn’t quit work to start teaching—I had a novel to write.
But when one of our sons became really unhappy at his school, we had to do something. Towards the end of 2010, we made the decision to change schools and our sons’ names were added to a waiting list at another school. We crossed our fingers, hoping spots would come up for them, but none did. So, we decided to homeschool both of our boys for the year.
This is what I discovered:
1. It’s easier than you think.
You have a lot more knowledge than you think you do. You’ve probably got a lot more knowledge than many teachers.
2. Kids want to learn.
Mine did anyway. One of the reasons our son didn’t like school was that he was bored. He spent so much time waiting, when he wanted to be doing. But he had to wait for others to finish, wait for the rest of the class to settle, or wait while someone was disciplined. Believe me, kids don’t tolerate boredom for very long.
3. You can tailor the teaching to the child.
You’re their personal teacher, and you, as the parent, intuitively know your child better than anyone. My boys loved creative writing and science. We began each day with a twenty-minute free write, then read aloud what we’d written. When the timer went off, their hands would shoot in the air, ‘Can I read first?’
They also loved being hands-on. Science experiments ranked highly on their list of fun things to do. It’s amazing how many things you have around the home that you can make dissolve, or grow, or explode! I made them write up the experiments and snuck in a bit of English that way.
4. You can be really creative.
This was the most fun part. For example, after our excursion to Fremantle Prison, the boys wrote a script. I hired a couple of costumes, and we filmed it:
Homeschool gave us more free time. We finished our school days about lunchtime, which left free time before the girls came home. The boys did their music practice, then filled the rest of the afternoon doing what they wanted. My younger son wrote a novel and my older son wrote music. Now they’re back at school, they miss this space.
5. Discipline was not an issue.
Sometimes, they’d start wrestling each other on the ‘classroom’ floor, and I’d send one of them to their room to work alone for five minutes. When I’d call him back, often he didn’t want to come—he was enjoying the peace and quiet. My older son often took himself off to his room to work alone anyway.
I was a firm taskmaster: they knew they had to do their work, and they knew that although there were subjects they didn’t enjoy, they had to be swallowed. Just like vegetables.
We could work at our pace and during hours that suited us. We usually started between 8 and 8:30 in the morning and finished between 12:30 and 1:30, with a break for morning tea. If they were into their work and there was no reason to stop, we kept going. I scheduled the ‘heavier’ subjects—like English and Maths—earlier in the day, and things like science experiments for later. We often took excursions on Fridays.
If something cropped up—for example, my father was very ill that year—and we missed a few hours, or even days, it didn’t matter.
7. You complete work faster.
We got through the year’s curriculum in less than half the year. There are fewer distractions at home than at school—no changing classrooms, or assemblies to attend, or waiting around—so they worked a lot faster.
8. There is a big homeschool support network out there.
I probably didn’t make the most of this as I knew it was only for one year, but if it had been longer term, it would have been great to tap into. The Homeschool Association organise loads of excursions and activities.
9. There is so much online.
I’m sure you could find the whole curriculum online. We made use of Mathletics and Spellodrome and utilised YouTube, especially for History and Science. We tended to use a textbook, and support that with video and online activities. A lot of texts come with access to a website these days.
10. I learnt things, too.
I had to know a subject in order to teach it, or, I had to at least appear knowledgeable. I read up on history, for example, as I prepared the lessons. I learned also during the course of the day. We took many excursions and visited places I’d never been, like the Perth Mint and Fremantle Prison. Our favourite excursion, and one the boys still talk about, was a walk around our local area. We took lunch in our backpacks, along with a map of the historical indigenous landmarks. It captivated us all. Afterwards, as usual, I made them write it up so they got some English out of it, too.
11. I broadened my experiences
I was doing something new, taking a chance, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. It’s nice now to sit back and say, ‘Hey, we did it!’
12. Most importantly, I really got to know my kids.
This was the best bit. Before I started homeschool, if anyone had asked me if I knew my kids, I would have said, ‘Yes, of course’. And I did. But after homeschooling, I knew them even better. I got to read their writing, and it surprised me how much about them and their little idiosyncracies that I didn’t know. I discovered, for instance, that they are very witty. And we talked as we worked or walked—lots of inane chatter, but we also discussed the big stuff, too, like history, politics, and religion. Sometimes, they would feel as annoyed as me about issues. My older son became so upset by Australia’s past treatment of indigenous Australians that he started crying during the lesson, and when I came upstairs later that day, he was at his desk writing an essay on his thoughts.
At the same time as I got to know my boys better, they got to know more about me, too.
This is just a quick overview of our year of homeschooling. There were days when I felt like I had no time to myself, no time to go shopping, no time to write. It was, however, a convenient excuse not to do housework! Far and away, the good outweighed the bad, and, looking back, we all remember it fondly. As the year drew to a close, we were sad it was ending. The three of us had bonded during the year together and the boys still say it was their best year at ‘school’.