Home Education Basics

by HBLN member Michelle Bentley, Ottawa, Ontario

HBLN is a community-based, volunteer-run, informal association of families in the Ottawa-Gatineau region who are interested in alternatives to the school system.

Home based learning occurs within the home and the wider community in a relevant and timely manner.  Many families learning at home prefer the term "home learning" since they do not replicate school at home. There is no need to!  You do not need any teacher training to be qualified to teach your children. Classroom methods of instruction were designed to handle large groups of students.  The term "school" indicates learning is something that only occurs in large groups under the guidance of a teacher, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday to Friday for 200 days of the year.  Home educated children on the other hand can be self-directed and self-motivated.  Children learn 365 days a year, any time, any place there is something that sparks their interest.

Homeschooling can be seen as a lifestyle choice.  There may not be a “typical day” since homeschooling can be flexible and take advantage of teachable moments.  The most important things involved are a positive attitude, a willingness to learn yourself, and an educated decision as to why you want to homeschool.  You can commit yourself to only one semester or year at a time, and one child at a time (families may have one child at home and another at school, and who is doing what varies from year to year).  It is important to make a decision based on your child’s needs and your own concerns, but you do not need to have all of the answers before you start.

How much time homeschooling takes depends on many factors, including ages of children and methods of teaching.  Since instruction is individualized and one-on-one families doing structured schoolwork often finds this takes about one third of the time it would at school (about two hours a day).  Materials and activities available vary widely in how much (or if any) preparation time is needed.  Some families use an approach known as unschooling, which allows the child to explore his or her own interests.  The parents’ role in this process is more of being a facilitator than a teacher.

Each family will find the balance between structured and unstructured activities that works for them; this will take some experimenting, and can be different from child to child and from month to month or year to year. In the beginning some families find it best to concentrate on the basics and limit activities and all those neat sounding projects (unless these bring enjoyment instead of stress); others will use hands-on or self-directed activities as their whole curriculum (especially with young children). Home based education is about individual children, not a "school system."  You can use a commercially prepared curriculum or find your own sources, or use a combination of both.  You develop a program that is best suited for you, your child, and your personal family situation.  Materials, including Canadian-based resources, are available at libraries, bookstores, teacher stores, or by mail or Internet.

Parents are often concerned with how to teach different ages of children at the same time.  Children can be taught the same subject together by reading aloud to the group and then discussing the material at their own levels, with extra explanations given when they are needed.  It is helpful to teach our children to learn to play alone at times, to respect a parent needing to work quietly with another child or even to have private time, and to give them the tools and skills to work independently.  Encourage older children to help the younger ones with their questions and projects.  They can also help with the housework to free up parent time for homeschooling and family activities!

Families often worry about socializing.  Homeschooled children develop strong socialization skills. Positive social skills such as co-operation, justice, respect, and tolerance are more easily modeled and taught in the home, where there is much closer supervision, than in the school yard.  Home schoolers are often more confident in socializing with all age groups, including adults, not just with their "class age." As with school children, they play with friends after school and are active in community teams and clubs.

Home schooled children are also encouraged to get together with each other in areas of common interest. They might work on a special project together or take part in group lessons in science, languages, chess, dance, art, music or sports (locally this includes fencing, swimming, hockey, soccer, archery, and gymnastics).  In addition many support groups organize sports teams, science fairs, and picnics and offer interesting field trips to museums, art galleries, historical sites, and conservation areas.  There is no lack of social opportunities for your child or you!

Canadian and U.S. studies show that home schoolers academically do well regardless of  cultural or social factors, have fewer behavioral problems than schooled children, and that home education is far superior for students with special needs.  Classroom teachers asked what they need to make teaching basic skills easier will ask for smaller class sizes and more parental involvement, and this combination is what makes homeschooling so successful.

Used with permission.

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