OUR KIDS, WHO are 13, 11 and 9, were in school until two years ago. My husband travels a lot with work and we wondered how we could open up the world of travel to the kids while still maintaining their education.
We also wanted the children to take more responsibility for themselves and not to be so dependent on us and teachers for direction. Homeschooling seemed to be the solution for us.
But as there was very little mainstream information in Ireland on the subject of homeschooling, I began by doing a lot of research.
A thriving homeschooling scene
I was totally unaware, for instance, that there are so many thriving home educating communities throughout Ireland, or that parents organise regular meetups and educational days, trips to museums, heritage centres and aquariums, all to expand the children’s minds and to open them up to the concept that learning is natural, fluid and ever present.
Far from switching off, this way seems to fire up the children’s imagination and enthusiasm. These were side benefits that we weren’t aware of before we started homeschooling.
For example students starting college will often have to learn new subjects, like Maths or German and this is normal. Yet there is a misconception that a homeschooled child won’t be able to pick up a new subject in their teens. It has been found that they actually pick up new subjects more quickly because they have a reason to learn. They might decide at age 16 to start the Leaving Cert cycle or a Fetac level 5 course.
Questioning the parent’s ability
Some might question a homeschooling parent’s ability to teach their kids a subject like Chemistry or Irish, when they aren’t a qualified teacher. In that case the student might need some grinds, but show me a Leaving Cert student these days who hasn’t spent their summers in the Gaeltacht or taken grinds during the academic year.
While our kids were very happy in their local school, which has excellent teachers, they wanted to explore topics that interest them. We find as a family that there is a lot less stress. No time keeping, uniforms, lunches etc.
We do follow a curriculum so they study about two hours a day, four days a week. We cover a lot quite quickly because we study one to one. The fifth day is for field trips. My husband, who was initially very dubious, is now a firm believer in homeschooling, purely from seeing our own children develop in confidence and ability.
Meeting up with other parents
I joined a few home schooling Facebook groups, one a quite small US-based science group. The next parent to join happened to be Larry Sanger, founder of Wikipedia. He is devoting a large amount of his time to homeschooling his sons. He also put free educational resources online for parents to use with their kids.
Elon Musk of Tesla is also homeschooling his children. I hadn’t known when I started but homeschooling is becoming surprisingly mainstream.
Through the meetups I see a lot of other homeschooling parents and I am constantly surprised by the cross section of society that is now choosing to homeschool their own kids. Some are solicitors, accountants, engineers, university lecturers, talented artists and craftsmen. Many have gone through the system themselves yet still choose to homeschool.
Many students in mainstream schools are left disappointed
I find it hard to understand how the State can have our children for 16 years with parents playing by all the rules re school attendance, homework, Junior and Leaving Cert. After all that you would expect every student to come out with 600 to 700 points and be able to pick whatever course in college they choose. But that doesn’t happen. In fact there is a shortage of places on courses, competition is fierce, and many students are left disappointed after suffering years of stress and angst.
We want what any parent wants for their child, that they grow up to be happy, confident and capable adults who can make meaningful relationships and can find a way of making a living that makes them happy. We see now that there are many ways to get there.
It is a serious decision for any family to make to homeschool and not to be taken lightly but it is good that parents know it is an option.
Cora McCauley is a representative of the Home Education Network Ireland, a group that offers support and advice to would be homeschoolers and members.