What it feels like to... ed­u­cate your chil­dren at home

Mar­garet Quaid (54) from Co Wex­ford taught her eight kids, aged be­tween 13 and 26, around the kitchen ta­ble from pri­mary through to sec­ond level

Irish Independent - - People & Features - For more in­for­ma­tion see henire­land.org. In con­ver­sa­tion with Kathy Don­aghy

Iwas a pri­mary school teacher and when I went to Aus­tralia and New Zealand on a ca­reer break, I met the man I would marry. I was 25 at the time and Vaughan and I were mar­ried two and a half years be­fore our first child, Christo­pher (now 26), came along.

I went back teach­ing af­ter the birth and my mother used to mind Christo­pher. I re­mem­ber she would sit do­ing nurs­ery rhymes with him and he was ab­sorb­ing ev­ery­thing like a sponge. I be­gan to look for in­for­ma­tion on home ed­u­ca­tion but there was none. I rang the Ir­ish Na­tional Teach­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion and the Na­tional Par­ents Coun­cil.

I heard an in­ter­view on the ra­dio with a lady who was home ed­u­cat­ing her chil­dren so I rang the ra­dio sta­tion and they passed on my num­ber to her. She called me back and told me about an or­gan­i­sa­tion called Sa Bhaile and when my third child was three weeks old, we went to our first home ed­u­ca­tion camp. We met peo­ple from all walks of life there.

That lit the spark and we knew we wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. I wanted my chil­dren to learn or­gan­i­cally and I also wanted to be in­volved. We were lucky we had that choice. Vaughan is a nurse and I stayed at home.

There’s dif­fer­ent types of home ed­u­ca­tion. It’s not home­school­ing as that gives you the im­age of a school in a house, al­though some peo­ple will set up a room with a black­board. But in our house, it was al­ways at the kitchen ta­ble be­cause I would be iron­ing or bak­ing. It was like a home-based in­dus­try.

Our el­dest son, Christo­pher, al­ways wanted to play the vi­o­lin. When he was five I re­mem­ber Vaughan say­ing he used to play the vi­o­lin. I never knew it. Christo­pher is now do­ing his masters in vi­o­lin in Lon­don and he plays piano and flute as well. You wait un­til the child is ask­ing you for some­thing and you fol­low the child’s tal­ent.

With home ed­u­ca­tion, you start off with the ba­sics — things like colours and play dough. We did bak­ing and you’d be mea­sur­ing things and do­ing sand play. I was al­ways ex­per­i­ment­ing with Montes­sori meth­ods and try­ing to make it real for them.

They’d help me in the kitchen. I’d tell them magic hap­pens in the kitchen when you have a pan and eggs. You can teach your child so much. Some of mine were early read­ers. Christo­pher was al­ways telling sto­ries. I’d write it down for him and he learned to read in a very ‘look and say’ way. My next son Ti­mothy (25) would hear a word and sound it out. I just kept read­ing to them all and show­ing them words.

The el­dest four Christo­pher, Ti­mothy, Ais­ling (23) and Eiméar (22) formed a mu­si­cal quar­tet. They’d play at fam­ily events do­ing gigs and wed­dings. It was great pocket money for them.

They’ve all fol­lowed their dreams. Ti­mothy is in South Africa trav­el­ling at the minute. He went into the Army band for three years and he wants to go into phys­io­ther­apy.

Ais­ling is teach­ing in Wick­low and she did mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion at Trin­ity Col­lege. Eiméar is do­ing busi­ness and Ger­man at Trin­ity and Aoib­heann (20) is do­ing lan­guage and trans­la­tion at DCU. They’re all do­ing the things they love.

Erin started sec­ondary school in Gorey last Septem­ber. She’s do­ing her Leav­ing Cert next year. Enya is 15 and Li­ad­háin is 13 and they’re both still at home. When they look back, they all say they had so much free time. They loved that they could do what they wanted and they could spend all day do­ing a project if that’s what they wanted.

I feel when you fol­low the chil­dren’s in­ter­ests and when they fol­low what they love, they just spark. They had the free­dom to say “this is not for me”. Twenty four years ago, when we de­cided to do this, peo­ple ques­tioned it. They won­dered if they’d have any friends and said things like “it will do more harm than good”.

Things have changed dra­mat­i­cally to­day. I’m the Home Ed­u­ca­tion Net­work con­tact of­fi­cer and any­one who wants in­for­ma­tion can con­tact me. I get three to five emails and calls a day from peo­ple. Par­ents are much more open to it now and they want to re­search it to give the child a choice.

I say lis­ten to your child. There are so many op­tions now with ed­u­ca­tion. It’s very pos­i­tive for peo­ple as not ev­ery­one is equipped to sit in a class room or to put up with the pres­sure of school. What I

With home ed­u­ca­tion, you start off with the ba­sics — things like colours and play dough

loved about home ed­u­ca­tion was that I was in­volved all the time and I re­ally know my chil­dren. They will ring me and talk to me and ask me about de­ci­sions. I love that they want me to be in­volved in their lives. I’ve al­ways lis­tened to them. If they wanted to try some­thing, I let them try it.

My life is so full — I learned with the chil­dren. We were learn­ing Span­ish to­gether and I’m still im­prov­ing ev­ery day. It can be hard to break the rules of so­ci­ety. I thought long and hard about it. But my neigh­bours’ opin­ions didn’t mat­ter.

I’ve al­ways said to the chil­dren “fol­low your heart”. I never had to push them. They had the space to know what they wanted to do and they were able to find them­selves and not be in­flu­enced by peers. There is an­other way but it has to suit your fam­ily. Ideally with home ed­u­ca­tion there should al­ways be one par­ent at home — I found that bet­ter. Some peo­ple can’t home ed­u­cate be­cause they have to work. It’s great for some and it doesn’t suit oth­ers.

Then you just start by lis­ten­ing to your child and start en­gag­ing with them. By go­ing for walks you’ll spark their in­ter­est in the world. Lis­ten to them — they are in­tel­li­gent lit­tle be­ings. I would say to peo­ple don’t be afraid to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.

The Home Ed­u­ca­tion Net­work is a great sup­port. We have our an­nual gath­er­ing in June in Meath and five of the chil­dren are go­ing.


Home work: Mar­garet Quaid teaches maths to two of her chil­dren, Li­ad­háin and Enya, and (in­set be­low) the girls on the vi­o­lin and piano

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