How do we start?
If your child is in school, you must deregister him or her. If not, you don’t need to inform anyone – just get on with it.
… but don’t rush out and commit to anything yet. You won’t know how you want to approach this and what will suit your children.
Take some time to read, watch how your children like to play and learn, do fun things together, experiment gently and using free resources where you can.
How do we home-educate?
There are many different ways to home-educate, ranging from school-at-home (complete with workbooks and chalkboards) to autonomous (child or interest-led) education. Most families probably fall somewhere in-between. You can use workbooks or not, have formal lessons or not… it’s entirely up to you.
Many families find that their children need a period of no formal lessons when they first come out of school, as a time to adjust. This is well-recognised and is sometimes known as deschooling.
Must we keep to school hours or terms?
No – your family can learn in whatever way suits you all best, and at the times which suit you all best.
Do we need to follow the National Curriculum or teach specific subjects?
No. You may wish to follow the Northern Ireland Curriculum (or the National Curriculum for England and Wales, which is largely the same, is more readily-available on-line, and has many more workbooks etc written for it), but there is no requirement to do so.
Some home-educating families follow it, some use it as a rough guide, and some see it more as a restriction than a help. How you use it is entirely up to you. Many home-educators don’t think of learning as a series of acadmic subjects at all.
How can I teach my children a subject I know nothing about, or one I’m no good at?
Don’t worry – there are lots of ways to deal with this situation!
To begin with, many home-educating parents find they learn alongside their child. As children get a little older, they’re usually very capable of finding for themselves the resources and support they need in order to study a particular subject or topic. And home-educating doesn’t mean that you have to do everything – you can use the expertise you’ll find all around you.
Use libraries as much as you can – librarians are often delighted to find a child with a strong interest in something. Maybe a grandparent is knowledgeable about maps and map-making and would be glad to share that knowledge. Maybe there’s a neighbour who’d be willing to talk with your child about aerodynamics…
Whatever the topic, there’s almost always someone to turn to, and people are usually delighted to have the opportunity to share their expertise and enthusiasm with an interested learner. Visits to places like the Ulster Museum, the Ulster-American Folk Park and the Folk Park and Transport Museum are wonderful ways to learn history. W5 in Belfast is a fabulous science centre with great staff.
There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, and you can tap into it.
How will I know whether my child is learning?
You will know, because you’ll see it. You knew when they learned to walk and talk – it will be the same with algebra and photosynthesis.
The time you spend with your child will make it clear that they’re learning – and you’ll easily see too what they’re having difficulty with. You’ll be talking to your child and he’ll tell you all about what makes that trail in the sky behind a jet-plane. Or he’ll start counting how many syllables there are in words as you drive along in the car. Or he’ll tell you about how children used to have to go out to work when they were only 9 or 10 years old. Or how gravity is the reason people in Australia don’t fall off the world. All of those examples come from my own family – without us ever having covered any of those subjects formally.
All you have to do is be there and willing to listen.
Is home-education expensive?
It can be as expensive as you want to make it.
You can spend a small fortune on supplies – and many home-educators do, when they first start out. (It’s good advice to buy only what you need at first, rather than everything that looks good.)
There are also lots of free resources available – for example, librarians are usually helpful and there’s a wealth of resources on the internet.
How will I find the time to home-educate?
Home-education does take up time, there’s no denying it – but not nearly as much as people usually think.
If you’re home-educating more or less autonomously, you’ll be learning through living – you won’t have school to babysit for several hours a day, of course, but you adapt.
Even if you’re home-educating in a very formal way, doing school-at-home, you’ll be able to cover the work much more quickly than a teacher in a classroom situation: you’re working closely with a small number of children and can immediately see if they understand a concept and change how it’s being presented if they aren’t.
There’s no time spent lining up to get in or out of the classroom, waiting for other children to finish, handing out books and homework papers, going to assembly or lunch or a hundred other school-based distractions.
Where can I find educational supplies?
You can buy some books, such as those in the Letts range, from bookshops or stationery shops. You can also buy workbooks from companies like CGP or Schofield and Sims. Opitec is wonderful for all sorts of paper and arts and crafts supplies, and School Surplus often have amazing deals on offer.
What about exams? Can my children take GCSEs or A-levels? What if they want to go to university?
Home-educated children can sit GCSEs or A-levels as external candidates, through correspondence courses, or by going through a local college.
Many home-educated children take one or two GCSEs at a time, rather than a whole bunch in one year, or they bypass GCSEs altogether and go straight to A-levels. Some don’t do GCSEs or A-levels but are offered college places or apprenticeships based on their experience and skills, and some study through the Open University.
We know of several home-educated students from Northern Ireland who have gone on to university. Many home-educators have found that universities are more interested in a student who’s been home-educated, because they’re used to working with less supervision and because they’ve had a wider range of experiences than most school-attending children. In North America, some of the top universities actively recruit homeschooled students, because they’ve had such positive experiences with them. Home-educating certainly doesn’t mean you can’t get formal qualifications.
The Home Ed Exams Wiki (along with their facebook group) is the best place to start your research, and through Facebook Group you will be able to find other local parents who have helped their children through this for advice and support.