Ex­perts warn there are still risks with school­ing your kids at home, writes Naomi White

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - CELEB NEWS -

The hard­est thing for a child to learn is to read

I t’s one of the most con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions a par­ent can make — and one that can draw out­right ridicule from friends and fam­ily. Homeschool­ing re­mains a tricky topic. Long as­so­ci­ated with al­ter­na­tive life­styles, many peo­ple write it off as an op­tion. At the same time, the num­ber of fam­i­lies tak­ing it up is grow­ing across Aus­tralia. Just un­der 2200 fam­i­lies home­school about 3700 chil­dren across the state, ac­cord­ing to the NSW Ed­u­ca­tion Stan­dards Au­thor­ity (NESA) NSW, with most clus­tered around greater Syd­ney, the Hunter, Rich­mond, Tweed and mid-north coast re­gions. A fur­ther 180 chil­dren are home­schooled but have not been regis­tered. Rea­sons vary on why par­ents adopt this ap­proach, with NESA list­ing philo­soph­i­cal choices, re­li­gious rea­sons and par­ents seek­ing to tai­lor teach­ing for chil­dren with spe­cial needs. Ex­perts say the sup­port now of­fered to par­ents en­sures bet­ter out­comes for home­schooled chil­dren but some still warn of po­ten­tial pit­falls. Dr David Zyn­gier, a se­nior ed­u­ca­tion lec­turer at Mel­bourne’s Monash Univer­sity, be­lieves most chil­dren ben­e­fit from a tra­di­tional school-based ed­u­ca­tion. “Some homeschool­ing can be very ef­fec­tive,” Zyn­gier says. “But the hard­est thing for a child to learn ever is to read, which re­quires ex­perts to teach them. “It’s a huge chal­lenge for some kids and with­out read­ing and the abil­ity to read well, fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion be­comes very prob­lem­atic, which is why I rec­om­mend for the vast ma­jor­ity of kids is to go to a school staffed by pro­fes­sion­als.” Zyn­gier also warns that the im­por­tance of so­cial­i­sa­tion of­fered by a school en­vi­ron­ment can’t be over­stated. “There is some so­cial­i­sa­tion go­ing on (for home­schooled chil­dren) but gen­er­ally speak­ing these chil­dren are so­cial­is­ing with peo­ple who are like them, which is not what hap­pens in most of our public schools,” he says. “So­cial­is­ing with chil­dren in a mul­ti­cul­tural and di­verse en­vi­ron­ment is re­ally what we want to ex­pose our chil­dren to if we want them to grow up as well-rounded in­di­vid­u­als who can do more than pass a test.” Any par­ent can choose to home­school, as no for­mal teacher train­ing is needed, but they must be ap­proved by NESA through an ac­cred­i­ta­tion process that in­volves demon­strat­ing how they will fol­low the stan­dard cur­ricu­lum and a home visit. Par­ents must self-fund their child’s ed­u­ca­tion as none of the gov­ern­ment fund­ing pro­vided to schools ap­plies in the home. Univer­sity of New­cas­tle lec­turer David Roy, who is on the homeschool­ing con­sul­tancy group with NESA, says that de­spite these hur­dles the num­ber of chil­dren be­ing taught at home is ris­ing. “(We’ve seen) an in­crease that’s above the pop­u­la­tion in­crease; it’s a larger in­crease than nor­mally you would be ex­pect­ing, sta­tis­ti­cally,” he says. Roy be­lieves homeschool­ing can be suc­cess­ful, say­ing it’s no bar­rier to univer­sity. He says the ac­cred­i­ta­tion process, crit­i­cised by some par­ents as too strict, is vi­tal for en­sur­ing chil­dren meet crit­i­cal learn­ing out­comes. “The ac­cred­i­ta­tion process is a very use­ful and pow­er­ful thing,” Roy says. “Some homeschool­ing groups don’t like it but what it cre­ates is a clar­ity that this is the stan­dard you have to meet, just like a nor­mal school. If you work from that cur­ricu­lum, chil­dren can thrive, and time and time again I hear of thriv­ing chil­dren.” Roy says he has found the two main rea­sons par­ents opted for homeschool­ing were they had a feeling their child was not be­ing sup­ported at a main­stream school and bul­ly­ing. Dr Nikki Brunker from the Univer­sity of

It was un­heard of ... it was quite ter­ri­fy­ing

Syd­ney says as schools be­come more stan­dard­ised many par­ents are in­creas­ingly feeling their chil­dren aren’t be­ing given enough as­sis­tance. She says teach­ers are in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion with chil­dren who aren’t thriv­ing, and there are in­stances where chil­dren need the flex­i­bil­ity of homeschool­ing and do bet­ter when taught one-on-one by an adult rather than learn­ing in a peer group. “It’s push­ing teach­ers into a box as well. It’s re­ally hard with the cur­rent re­quire­ments on them,” she says. “If they can’t en­gage a kid in their re­quire­ments to teach and the kids are non­com­pli­ant and their be­hav­iour poli­cies are not work­ing, teach­ers have very few op­tions. “We tend to for­get par­ents are the first and pri­mary ed­u­ca­tors of all chil­dren; they’ve al­ready been en­gaged in ed­u­cat­ing them for four years. “From a teacher/ed­u­ca­tor per­spec­tive the first step is build­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the child, and par­ents al­ready have such an in­tense un­der­stand­ing of their child, they’re al­ready so far ahead of that teacher meet­ing 25 kids at the start of the year and get­ting to know what each one needs. It’s a phe­nom­e­nal load for a teacher to have to do that.” Zyn­gier says there are times where par­ents with­draw chil­dren for bul­ly­ing or con­cerns over teach­ing, with­out at­tempt­ing to rec­on­cile is­sues with the school. He ac­knowl­edges this is not easy for all par­ents but says bul­ly­ing, while a ma­jor prob­lem, is over­stated. “Par­ents should, in the first in­stance, see them­selves as very im­por­tant part­nersers in in the the ed­u­ca­tion process of their child,” hee says. says. “But while there are many av­enue­sues for for par­ents to be able to li­aise with a school­hool and and school teach­ers, it’s not al­ways easy for for them them to find the path­way to do it. “Fam­i­lies who home­school pointt to to bul­ly­ing as an is­sue be­cause it’s some­thing they want to be able to point out — this is the rea­son why, but they haven’t of­ten tried to re­solve the prob­lem. Schools are com­mit­ted to re­solv­ing the prob­lem. If the child is be­ing bul­lied at school, par­ents should firstly contact the school to do some­thing about it. All schools have good pro­ce­dures to fol­low. If par­ents aren’t happy with that, they can go to a re­gional of­fice or direc­tor.”

Lindy Hadges has home­schooled all of her five chil­dren — her el­dest is 27, the youngest 12. None has spent a day at school.

“I think by the time my daugh­ter was two or three peo­ple started hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about which preschool she would at­tend. I just re­mem­ber think­ing: ‘I’ve only just given birth to this child, I’ve barely had any time with them!’ It seemed un­nat­u­ral, I wanted time to be with them and to be in­flu­enc­ing and mould­ing them. There seemed to be this ex­pec­ta­tion I’d be giv­ing them away to other peo­ple be­cause they were sup­pos­edly bet­ter ex­perts. I felt some­thing was not right with this way of think­ing ... and then I stum­bled across homeschool­ing and it in­trigued me. We made the de­ci­sion to home­school by the time our daugh­ter was four. It was very new and, par­tic­u­larly back then, quite un­heard of and was quite ter­ri­fy­ing. I felt very strongly about it so I knew I was go­ing to do it, but I faced a con­sid­er­able amount of per­se­cu­tion. It’s changed to­day. Back then it was much harder to get in­for­ma­tion. I made a lot of my own re­sources, but nowa­days they’re read­ily avail­able. I’ve seen huge ben­e­fits. I think they’re not raised by a peer group the same age, but by a com­mu­nity of adults. I find they’re con­sid­er­ably stronger and more ma­ture than their schoolaged peers. They have more time to ex­plore and ex­pand who they are as ind in­di­vid­u­als, and see what their strengt strengths and weak­nesses are. T They have time to day­dream, re­flect and ex­pe­ri­ence things in a slower, m more reg­u­lated way an and that’s a very good thing. As a pare par­ent there’s time to ob­serve who th they are and help t them fo­cus on t that. If they’re in school they are in­tro­duced to so many things, there’s not time to w work out who th they are.

Lindy Hadges (be­low) with her two youngest chil­dren, Ja­cob, 15, and Odette, 12. Pic­ture: Si­mon Bullard

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