Since teaching our children at home is relatively new in South Africa, our knowledge and experience of home-schooling may be limited. It is thus understandable that our research into educating at home is often accompanied by a certain measure of anxiety. We are venturing into the unknown. The whole concept is new to us. It is outside of our frame of reference, which at present is probably only traditional schooling. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions that express our doubts and a few words of encouragement in answer to each question.
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Qualification as a teacher is neither legally required, according to the National Education Policy Act, 1996, nor is it necessary from a practical point of view. In fact, many qualified teachers who are teaching at home state that they would be better off without teaching experience. Having taught in a school, they tend to often fall back into schoolteacher habits or expectations that are inappropriate in the home situation. We have all probably had experience of a wide range of teachers with different teaching abilities during our own school days. You may describe the teachers you had as wonderful, good, mediocre, poor or bad. How about those who knew so much, but had absolutely no ability to teach what they knew? Then there were those who were so busy with sport or climbing the school equivalent of the corporate ladder that they were seldom in the classroom. Does this ring a bell? All of these teachers were qualified, but our own experiences showed that qualification is not necessarily an indication of ability. Many of us may not have teaching diplomas, but we are qualified by virtue of the fact that we are the parents of the children we wish to teach. We know them best and have the greatest love and concern for them. We know their needs, their weaknesses and strengths, their likes and dislikes. When a child is unable to complete a task, we are best able to discern whether he is being naughty or genuinely lacking in understanding. We are motivated by the desire to give our children the best education that we can. Love, kindness, patience, understanding and compassion surpass degrees and diplomas.
Consider, too, what we have already achieved by the time our children reach school going age. We have taught them to speak properly, given them the first few thousand words of their vocabulary and corrected their tenses and pronunciation. We have taught them to interact socially, to say “please” and “thank-you”, not to interrupt, to share and to respect their elders. They are toilet-trained. We have taught them to dress themselves and do basic chores. We have helped create an awareness of themselves in relation to others and their environment so that they are starting to think logically and to reason, deciding what is right and wrong. We have achieved all this, without qualification! Of course, those early years were not without anxieties, nor did we always go it alone. When necessary, we consulted with our parents or friends or read books on child training. We equipped ourselves for the job of parenting as best we could. Teaching our children at home is merely an extension of our parenting and we can equip ourselves for this teaching task just as easily. Help is available from other parents with experience. There are workshops and information days available from the home-school associations or curriculum suppliers. Many books are available on the subject.
Another related anxiety is the fear that we may lack knowledge in a certain subject. Some may feel they will be inadequately prepared to help their children in those subjects that they themselves did not study for Matric. We do not need to know everything in order to teach our children. We set the example by researching the topics we know little about. The enthusiasm with which we learn with our children will motivate and encourage them. There is no harm in admitting that we do not know something. We may not know some of the facts, but we do have the maturity, common sense and experience to know where to find the needed information. Sometimes, finding the needed information may mean asking a family friend or hiring a tutor.
The opportunity for working together on a one-to-one basis has many advantages over the classroom situation. Not only can we teach more efficiently, but the interaction with our children gives them a sense of security and confidence which enhances their ability to learn.
As with any new job, our confidence will grow as we gain experience – even qualified teachers are nervous at first! Our lack of confidence may be linked to the fact that we have no teacher qualification, but as has been discussed above, this need not be the case.
Many of us are faced with objections from friends and family that undermine our confidence and make us think twice about the validity of our teaching at home. To counter this, we need to remind ourselves of our reasons for setting out on the home-schooling path in the first place, then stand firm on our convictions. Many who object do so in ignorance.
Giving them information about teaching at home may soon help to overcome their objections. Some object with an aggression that floors us. It may be that our obvious commitment makes them feel guilty about how little time they spend with their own children.
This guilt manifests itself in aggression. Again, a gentle and kind answer may be helpful, but sometimes it may be best to remain silent. After a few months, the positive effects of teaching at home will be evident in your children anyway.
Multi-level learning will vary in each family according to the ages of the children, the number of children and the gaps between the children’s ages. We each have to work out what is best in our own situation. Several subjects can be taught to all the children: religious studies, literature, science, history and geography. The whole family can do experiments, take part in discussions or read a book together.
The older ones may retain more of the details, but the younger ones will also absorb whatever they are able to at their own level – help with a few explanations at his own level along the way. An older child can help a younger sibling (or vice versa in some cases!) while we are busy with another child. Older children are able to work independently while we give attention to whoever needs it.
Often two children need our attention at the same time. We then attend to one, while the other learns a lesson in patience! Forethought and efficient planning go a long way toward easing this load. For example, if each child has his own weekly timetable, he knows what to get on with while Mom or Dad is busy.
Costs will obviously vary according to the curriculum we choose and the extent to which our children are involved in paid extra-curricula activities. In general, costs are at most as much as public school fees, but we have the advantage of choosing how we spend our money.
There is a great temptation to buy all sorts of educational materials because we think our children “need” them. However, it costs little to borrow a book from the library, gather our children around and read to them. (Spend little money, but lots of time – the reward in family unity is priceless!) Money is saved when we use the same material for all the children together or re-use books for younger siblings.
It will obviously be difficult to succeed in the task of teaching if our children are not co-operative. To avoid such a situation, we should establish our authority in the home. This requires consistent, loving, discipline and training.. “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp is one of the excellent books available which shows how to change a child’s heart attitude rather than just the outward behaviour.
Many of us are busy parents with a variety of commitments. It is thus natural to wonder how to fit something new into an already full schedule. Teaching at home does require a time commitment, but it does not necessarily have to be the five to six hours that it usually is at school. At home we do not have to hear 30 speeches, hand out 30 newsletters, or attend assemblies and war-cry practices. The time we spend formally teaching our children will depend upon the curriculum we choose, the ages of the children and the number of children we have. It may vary from half an hour with a single young child to 4-5 hours with four children of various ages. As older children start to work more independently, this may reduce the parent’s time commitment.
The key here is organization. An organized home and planned lessons help us to utilize our time well. We should make use of as many timesaving plans as possible, which includes the training of our children to help with chores (even if we have paid help). For some this may mean planning meals for a month and shopping accordingly. For others, having a few frozen meals in store may be a sufficient time-saver. Other organizational aids include shopping and “to do” lists, a block-a-day calendar for appointments, outings and extra-mural commitments, and lesson plans that double as records by ticking off completed items. Get rid of “clutter” (stuff that hasn’t been used in the last two years is not likely to be used in the next two) to make room for stationery, books, files and educational projects that will be generated by the children. This all sounds like hard work – it is! Thus an important part of the plan is some time out for Mom or Dad – a refreshed parent can achieve much more than a tired parent.
This is the most frequently asked question from new home educators, concerned family and friends, and critics of home education. Adequate socialization for our children is a genuine concern, as interpersonal relations are obviously important in all walks of life. The better children get along with others now, the less likely they are to experience problems later on. It is often assumed that if children stay at home, they will be unable to relate to others because they are over-protected, sheltered and not part of the real world. Are these assumptions true? Can we adequately socialize our children at home?
Socialization is the process by which we become able to function as part of the society in which we live. Because socialization involves teaching our children how to relate to others, they need to be in the company of others to carry out what they have learnt. While it is true that children need to interact with their peers and be placed in settings with other children, the application of this principle is often wrong. The reasoning is that if a little is good, a lot is better. Taking this to the extreme, many conclude that long periods of time spent with large groups from an early age will provide the child with adequate socialization. In other words, children must go to school for adequate socialization. But one only has to observe the negative behaviour of many young people in the neighbourhood and in the malls to know that this is a false assumption. Sending our children to school is not a fail-safe way to socialize them. Consider then, some of the practical aspects of socialization to decide whether we can adequately socialize our children at home.
Another misconception regarding socialisation is that children prefer to only socialise with children of their own age group. Not only is this incorrect, but not remotely like the life we are preparing them for. Consider your own group of friends: Are they all the same age as you, or do you have friends who might be quite a bit younger or older, but with whom you share specific interests or a history? Socialisation at school is built around grades and age groups, not around children meeting like-minded children and becoming friends in a more natural way.
Over the years I have had opportunities to gather information from many parents with children who learn differently. The conclusion I come to is that most of the problems that manifest themselves in a school setting, virtually disappear when the child is brought home. Learning difficulties seem to be alleviated in the absence of stress, competition and the pressure of having to perform to a schedule. Where learning difficulties remain, parents report that one-on-one teaching is the best way to help their children make real progress.
At home you can do things differently and take the pressure off the child. For example, if the problem lies with reading and writing, as it often does, you can read aloud to your child and engage him or her in discussions. Ask your child for oral feedback instead of reams of written work. Besides the actual reading and writing lessons, he can do all his other work orally. If you have need of written work for the sake of keeping records, allow your child to dictate what he knows and you write or type it for him.
Before choosing a curriculum it is important to read up on home-schooling. In the process you will notice that there are different approaches to home education. Your choice of curriculum is determined by the approach you choose. (See separate article on these different approaches to home-schooling.) As home-schooling is still very young in South Africa, we do not have very many choices. Most curricula are the traditional school or textbook approach. For other approaches we have to use materials that have been developed in the USA, some of which are available locally.
We teach our children informally and automatically all the time they are with us. But this question usually refers to the start of formal learning. The answer is: when your child is ready. At school our children all start to read and write at the same time (usually age seven) because this is convenient for classroom management.
At home we have no such restrictions. Children may show an inclination to read anywhere between the ages of four and ten, girls usually earlier than boys. Simply start when they are ready. Do not expect learning to be linear – just as children have physical growth spurts, so they also may have mental spurts. Teach during the spurts and play games in between times! Do not worry about what age your child starts. Children learn even when they cannot read or write. They have learnt by listening and by imitation all their young lives. They do not suddenly stop doing so.
The advice that I received ten long years ago, worked very well in our situation. Here is this wise mother’s advice: give the youngster some attention first to satisfy her needs. While the others do chores or go on with some work on their own, play a game or read a book with your pre-schooler. Prepare a variety of crafts and activities in plastic sleeves or 2 litre ice-cream tubs. Put crayons and colouring books in one plastic sleeve and paper dolls in another. The tubs contain threading beads, play-dough and shapes, buildings blocks (5 litre tub), peg-boards, gummed paper shapes, simple puzzles and whatever else interests and keeps the attention of a pre-schooler.
Obviously choose age-related activities. Have only two items per week available. Young children are overwhelmed with too much choice and, anyway, they usually enjoy repeating an enjoyable activity. (How many times have you been asked to read the same book aloud?) When you are busy with an older child, your pre-schooler has the choice of two activities, books to read or she can play in the garden. Include the pre-schooler in as many activities as possible. Allow older siblings to take turns playing with her. A pre-schooler is part of the family too and deserves as much attention as the other children. If uninterrupted time is needed for a particular lesson, do this lesson during nap-time.
You do not need patience to teach at home. You teach at home to gain patience! While your children learn the three R’s, you will learn patience, perseverance, self-control, self-discipline, determination and a host of other much needed character traits. You will learn on the job.
Children educated at home are able to acquire a school-leavers certificate (National Senior Certificate) if they need to. Although the Department of Education no longer offers the NCS exams to private candidates, it is possible to obtain a school-leaving certificate through some of the curriculum suppliers such as GoLearnSA . If the student knows which tertiary education path he wishes to follow, he should check with his tertiary institution of choice what the admissions requirements are. In some departments it may be possible to write an entrance exam without previously acquiring a Matric certificate.
In order to cope with each of the above areas of concern, we need to actively do something: organize ourselves and our houses, plan, read books, consult with others, train and discipline our children. The ability to carry out any or all of these may depend on our level of commitment, financial position, time available and, of course, our individual personalities, but teaching our children successfully at home is within the reach of us all. As with all worthwhile endeavours, the greater the effort, the greater the rewards. And the rewards of teaching our own at home are GREAT!
Our acknowledgement to Kathy le Cordeur for this article.