The ins and outs of homeschooling

Posted on July 22nd, 2009

Our children’s education is one of the most important decisions we as parents have to make, and the option of homeschooling should not be overlooked.

There is a growing trend worldwide towards homeschooling, with thousands of families opting to educate their children at home for a variety of reasons. Some parents are keen to give their children religious or individualised tuition, while others want to avoid the institutional nature of school life. Here’s more on what it means to homeschool, looking at various factors including education in relation to South African law, teachers’ thoughts on socialisation, sourcing learning material and how to go about it the right way.

What does it mean to homeschool?
Homeschooling means different things to different people. For some families, it means that a parent – usually the mother – teaches her child or children at their home, which is in essence the school environment, complete with textbooks, report cards and regularly scheduled sports fixtures and extramural activities. For other families, homeschooling is simply the way they live their lives: children and adults living and learning together with a seamlessness that would challenge an observer to determine which was ‘home’ and which was ‘school.’

The benefits of homeschooling
Family. For many people, the deepest and most abiding benefit of homeschooling is the claiming (or reclaiming) of their family. Homeschooling families spend incredible amounts of time together living, learning and playing. They have the opportunity to develop a depth of understanding for one another and to establish a strong commitment to the family.
Education for individual needs. Homeschooling is especially suited to children with special talents, such as those who are gifted at music, sport or chess, or children with special learning needs.
More time. It has been found that children of primaryschool age, who are homeschooled, take an average of two to three hours per day to complete all their work (homework included), and children of secondary-school age take approximately three to four hours. As a result, children have more time to practise sports, play, read, dream and enjoy doing the things they love.
Reduced expense. For those who wish to send their children to private schools but cannot afford to, homeschooling is a cheaper alternative.

Is homeschooling legal?
South African law makes provision for three kinds of education, which includes government schools, private schools and homeschooling. Although homeschooling has been legal in South Africa since 1996, it is not actively encouraged by government – permission must first be sought from provincial authorities and various requirements must be met. The Pestalozzi Trust, which is the legal defence fund for home education, offers more information on the rights and obligations of homeschooling parents (www.pestalozzi. org). According to South African government services website, www.services. gov.za, “A parent of a learner who is of compulsory school-going age must apply to the Head of the Department of Education of the province involved to register the learner for receiving education at home”.

This involves submitting an application form with a copy of the child’s birth certificate and supplying documentation that outlines the unit standards that the parent will teach.Materials and resources There are numerous choices of learning materials available for homeschooling in South Africa, some of which have been developed locally, and others which have been imported from abroad. A lot of the material can be downloaded on computer, while other systems make use of textbooks and follow a unit studies approach.

For assessment purposes, it is required by law that all parents who homeschool their children must:
• Keep a record of attendance
• Keep a portfolio of the child’s work
• Maintain up-to-date progress records
• Keep a portfolio of the educational support given to the child
• Keep evidence of continuous assessment reports
• Keep evidence of examinations at the end of each year
• Keep evidence at the end of Grades 3, 6 and 9 that shows whether the child has achieved the required outcomes for these grades

What teachers say
Lianne Shuan, a teacher at King David Primary School Linksfield in Johannesburg, shares her opinion: “I believe that homeschooling has a place but even as a teacher, I would never homeschool my own children.” According to Shuan, the social interactions of the school environment are very important for children’s development. “Kids who are homeschooled could suffer if parents don’t encourage socialisation within other settings. In certain cases, such as with special-needs children, it may be advantageous to homeschool them. However, mainstream children benefit far more from learning within a group, which is afforded by a classroom environment,” she says.

Furthermore, says Shuan: “It is healthy for kids to learn from their peers. At lunch breaks, I have seen that kids discuss work and help each other. Where one pupil may be stronger at calculations, another may be better at language skills and they often assist one another. This ‘buddy learning’ teaches important skills and promotes teamwork, which becomes essential in all aspects of life as one grows older.” Outcomes-Based Education (OBE), which is an approach to learning that seeks to link education more closely to the real world, gives students skills to access, criticise, analyse and practically apply knowledge, and is currently being promoted by the government in schools as the best learning system.

Group work is a vital aspect of OBE, which acknowledges that every child has different strengths and weaknesses, and places much emphasis on working together with peers in solving problems, etc. “There is also a very traditional approach to the ‘teacherstudent’ relationship, which should not be confused with that of the bond that exists between a parent and a child,” explains Shuan. “It is important for a child to separate and not be so dependent on their parents. Children’s time away from home is when they learn to make their own decisions, stand up for themselves and become individuals in their own right. In fact, I think that a mother who takes on the role of a full-time teacher at home is at risk of destroying her relationship with her child, and it becomes necessary to draw the line.”

The decision is yours
While homeschooling has certain benefits, it is not for all families and requires much consideration before implementation. If you are thinking about homeschooling your child, determine your goals and be clear about you want for yourself, your child and your family. Obtain as much information as you can, chat to other parents who homeschool their kids and find out what the various curricula are like. Fortunately, there are many support groups and useful websites on the subject, and if you find, after trying it out for a year or so, that it’s not working for you or your child, at least you can say that you gave it a try! •