All you need to know about home-schooling

By Drum Digital
23 April 2014

From overcrowded classrooms to ruthless bullies, some children fare better when their education takes place at home. We tell you more about home-schooling and some SuperMoms who have chosen it.

Don’t take the decision to home-school lightly

Mari-Lynn Kent, who started home-schooling her daughter Emma (11) this year, wrestled with the decision to home-school for about a year. “It’s a big decision and if you make the wrong choice, your child suffers.”

A number of factors motivated Mari-Lynn to home-school her daughter. Emma has a very busy extramural schedule, but trouble with bullies at school and the sexual conversations between 11-year-olds on the playground were also motivating factors. “I felt the care wasn’t there, especially when it came to the bullying,” says Mari-Lynn. “The child sitting next to Emma was hitting her. I had to speak to the teacher three times before she was moved.”

Discipline is key

Home-schooling allows Emma to focus on her passion – dance. “We try to work ahead, keeping Fridays open for her extramural activities such as ballet, piano, drama and choir,” says Mari-Lynn.

Mari-Lynn, a mother of two, has a very structured approach to home-schooling. A distance education company supplies her with a curriculum and tells her what textbooks she needs. “I wanted everything under one umbrella. The company also uses teachers to set up exams and the curriculum,” she explains. “They advise you on how much work you should do each week so you don’t fall behind.”

What about exams?

The company requires students to write exams in June and December. “She can write them at home, but there needs to be a moderator. I’m not allowed to moderate, but can ask someone else, who’ll have to sign an affidavit, swearing that Emma wrote in an exam environment.”

If Emma then ever goes back to a traditional school, she will have the certificates to prove that her education is up to standard and she won’t have to write an entry level exam. Mari-Lynn plans on home-schooling her daughter until high school. “Emma wants to go to a traditional high school and if she still feels that way later, then I’ll send her to one.”

A more informal approach

Other parents prefer an informal approach to home-schooling, says Bouwe van der Eems from the Association for Homeschooling. “Some parents prefer to be guided by the child’s interests, focusing on the subjects their children are interested in. You don’t have to follow a one size fits all curriculum like a slave. Parents can pick and choose from a variety of curriculums.”

How do home-schooled children matriculate?

From Grade 10 onwards, you need to follow the national curriculum if you want your child to finish school with a South African matric qualification. A home-schooled pupil must submit projects and write exams just like those in traditional schools. Parents can do this through home-school curriculum providers.

Many people prefer the international matric qualifications, like the British Cambridge or US GED diploma, over a South African matric. “These qualifications are recognised by universities. Unlike a South African matric qualification, you don’t need to complete and hand in projects. You just prepare and write the exams,” van der Eems says.

Benefits of home-schooling

  • A child can work at her own pace, says Anel Annandale, a Cape Town child psychologist. “Often children who are home-schooled learn to take greater responsibility for their own learning and development.”
  • It gives you and your child greater flexibility when it comes to time, says Annandale. “It allows a child with a specific gift for a generally time-consuming interest, such as a gifted gymnast or horse rider, to schedule schoolwork around her practice and training schedule,” she adds.
  • “Peer pressure, bullying and high levels of competitiveness are less often a factor for home-schooled children,” Annandale says.
  • Home-schooling can lead to closer family relationships, says Raquel Ferreira, a Johannesburg educational psychologist. “Extended periods of time together strengthen family relationships, not only between the child and his parents, but also with his siblings. As they get to know each other, the family members form bonds that last a lifetime,” she says.
  • One-on-one tutoring means that there is more time available to actually learn and teach, says Annandale. “Teachers in traditional schooling systems often waste a lot of time on discipline issues which arise purely because of the large number of students in a class,” she says.
  • “Home-schooling is often better suited to children with learning difficulties because parents can focus more in-depth on specific subject areas that their children struggle with,” Annandale says. “Many of the behaviour issues that are often associated with learning difficulties, such as the hyperactivity and impulsivity that children with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) often exhibit are tolerated more easily in a home-schooling environment than it may be in a traditional classroom.”
  • If a child can’t cope in traditional or remedial school, then home-schooling might be your best option, says Megan Robinson, an educational psychologist from Johannesburg. “Home-schooling can work well for the unique child who’s tried all other options and hasn’t coped. Similarly, a child who’s suffering from an illness or physical difficulty may have no other option. A child with a severe emotional or social disorder will also cope well in a home-school environment.”

Drawbacks of home-schooling:

  • “Home-schooling often offers difficulty for university entrance and coping skills,” Robinson says. “Often children who go through home-schooling battle to adjust to the demands placed on them in the tertiary environment or in the working world.
  • Children might miss out on learning opportunities, she adds. “Normal schooling teaches the child about more than just the general curriculum and provides the developing child with vital skills and life lessons. For example, it teaches social interaction, discipline and structure, moral development, leadership skills and other valuable life skills.”
  • Children who are home-schooled often miss out on healthy competition and extracurricular memories, says Ferreira. “Parents need to involve their children in club sports so as to still allow this area of development.”
  • It might be impossible for parents to juggle work with home-schooling. “Often a parent has to stop working so that they have time to home-school, but this then has the associated drawbacks of loss of income for the family,” Annandale says.
  • Annandale warns that home-schooled children sometimes have fewer opportunities to socialise with other children their own age and may become withdrawn and reserved in social settings. “Children who are very sociable or really enjoy or excel at group activities and group sports generally fare better in a traditional schooling system.”
  • Some subjects are best taught by skilled teachers, says Ferreira. “Some home-schooling parents have a hard time with subjects such as algebra or physics. Parents may need to look into the use of private tutors for this reason.”

Beware the challenges

  • Home-schooling is hard work, says van der Eems. “You need to prepare and be willing to make sacrifices, especially when it comes to your time. The home-school never closes. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
  • Home-schooling isn’t the norm, he adds, and not everyone might agree with your choice to home-school your child and you might often need to defend your choice.
  • Schools have more teaching resources than home-schooling parents. “Parents may not have access to the same resources that schools do. For instance, practically demonstrating a chemistry experiment may require a lot more effort and money than it would in a traditional school with a fully-equipped science lab,” Annandale says.

Are you ready for the responsibility?

Home-schooling is a huge responsibility warns van der Eems. “When you take your child’s education into your own hands, you take on a huge responsibility,” he says. “It can weigh on your conscience and you can question if you’re doing the right thing for your child’s education and their future. However, there are many support groups and internet discussion forums where parents can support one another and ask for advice.”

? Petro-Anne Vlok

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