In the New Zealand curriculum, there are what is known as eight "learning areas." When you look at the list, you will probably think of them as "subjects" (more on that shortly). One of the most common questions/complaints I see, which can prompt a lot of outrage, is whether we MUST include all of the learning areas in an exemption application, and/or whether it's ok for the Ministry to ask us to. Here's the list:
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* If English is not the primary language of the family, it's ok to teach part or all of the curriculum in their main language, but the Ministry will expect to see evidence of some inclusion of developing English literacy appropriate to the age of the child.
** Languages other than English are essentially optional - no expectation of them before Year 7 in schools or applications, and may still be considered optional possibilities beyond that, so for the purposes of this discussion I am ignoring it and focusing on the other seven learning areas
The legal requirement of an exemption application is that it demonstrates that "the child is to be taught at least as regularly and well as in a registered school." This does not mean "the same as" but it does mean the expectation is there that the child will be taught to at least a comparable standard, across a curriculum "at least as broad in scope" as they would experience in school. What that looks like is open to some interpretation and is not legally defined (which is a good thing), but this leaves Ministry staff looking for some kind of way of deciding whether applications meet that criteria. It's understandable that they fall back on their understanding of what a curriculum ought to look like, based in the NZ curriculum. When staff see an application which does not cover some of the above areas, they usually ask for information about them, and this can cause outrage amongst homeschoolers who like to insist that "we are not required to teach the same subjects as schools."
It is true that we are not legally required to teach specific subjects. However, if one sets aside the idea of "required subjects" and sits back and looks at each of the learning areas and what they include, I think most reasonable people would agree that each of these are really just natural areas of learning that we ALL cover in some fashion with our children - the only exception being older teens who are at a level where they narrow their focus to prepare for specific further study or careers (and the Ministry are fine with that). Not sure about this? Read each of the following statements, and ask yourself whether you agree with them:
For the "non-core" subjects - Technology, the Arts, Health & P.E (and languages if you choose to include them) - these can be as unstructured as you like - they are mostly about identifying and writing down the kinds of things that are a natural part of life, or things you want to try with the kids or help them learn, and opportunities for engagement that they have. Where a child also has a particular interest, involvement etc already, then you will of course want to include these (eg in a sports team, dance class, having music lessons, learning coding etc). You don't need a ton of detail - but to show that the child will receive appropriate opportunities to engage with activities in these learning areas.
If you would like more specific guidance on the content of an application, then my exemption guide pack will be of great help. It is available HERE.
I hope this article has helped you to understand why the seven learning areas are both natural and appropriate to think about in terms of your child's learning program or home education. You do not have to call your learning areas by the same labels as above. The key point is that you show a broad program with no obvious gaps in appropriate engagement opportunities.
And, please, can we experienced home educators stop jumping up and down when the Ministry asks an applicant about what they will do for a given learning area (I used to do that too until I realised the above), and instead focus on helping parents understand what that might include? There are certainly some things we should resist, but I suggest this is not a hill to die on.