NZ's COVID situation and response has led to a big rise in interest in homeschooling, as well as to a rise in teachers and others who are offering to help in various ways in this space. Before you spend money hiring someone to help you with your exemption, to help you plan your programme, or to teach your children, there are some things you need to think about. This is quite a long read, so here's the "in a nutshell" bullet points:
- You can choose to hire tutors/teachers for certain aspects of your child's programme if you wish, but must remain in control of how and what they are being taught.
- If you do want to hire teachers etc, there are some things to think about first
- People come and go from homeschooling for different reasons and over different periods of time. We welcome you while you're here, but ask you to be mindful of how what you do and say reflects upon the entire community.
Rights and responsibilities in home education
The "right way" to homeschool
I've been in this sector for over a quarter of a century and met or talked to thousands of home educators. While many of them will intersect in having various common factors, each family is unique - what matters to them, how they view education, their individual needs and passions, their access to resources etc, all come together in unique combinations that result in each individual homeschool being a bit different. And that's one of the great beauties of it!
Homeschoolers can also be very passionate people. We CARE about our children and their education, and we care about the homeschooling community as a whole. This passion can result in folk sharing their own ideas with great enthusiasm, and sometimes seeming to imply that their way is the best way. It may or may not be best for you and your family - do explore things that sound good to you, and do be willing to listen to seasoned home educators who have trod the road before you and have much wisdom to impart. But don't jump on the latest fad or feel you must try everything being put out there - take time to figure out what's right for you and your family. Start small, with the basics, and add other things later.
Because at the end of the day, the "right way" to home educate is the way that works for you - suits your family, your children's needs, delivers them a reasonable education, and is sustainable. And you won't actually know what that is until you've given it a go for a while, and see first hand what's working and what isn't. One of the most common mistakes newbies make is to spend a lot of money on curriculum etc in the first year, and then find it wasn't a good fit.
Hiring help.....with exemptions
Sometimes families want help with this process, and that's ok. There are various helps available, and you can make use of the ones that work best for you. Just remember, though, that the application needs to reflect YOUR plans and intentions, things YOU have decided. Do not expect someone else to just come up with it all for you. If anyone offers to, tempting though it may be, walk away. This is NOT just about "getting the tick" from the Ministry. It's about your children's education and wellbeing, for which you are responsible.
Helps you might want:
- I have a guide to exemptions, and a manual on planning your programme, which can help you figure out what you want to do, understand the exemption process, and write up your own application.
- Experienced home educators whom you know or in your local area or on the online forums might offer to help you figure out what you want to do and how to put your application together or read over when you're written and make suggestions. If they're doing this without cost, have recent application experience, and are providing support that is useful to you, go for it. They are, in essence, parents who have walked this road before you and are helping to light the way. Most homeschooling parents, though, are very busy with their own families' needs, so don't ask more of them than they are willing to offer.
- A few folk who have a great deal of experience in both home education and helping with applications, supporting families who have issues with the Ministry etc provide professional (paid) help with applications - this might include coaching around what your programme will look like, reviewing and giving feedback on your application, in some cases helping write it for you (reflecting your decisions and based on information you provide), and/or supporting you through any bumps in the road with the Ministry. This is what I do nearly full time, and there are a small core group of others in this space too, to whom I can refer folk if needed. When you engage the services of one of us, you can be confident that we understand the current application requirements, know what it is like to actually homeschool over many years, and will be there to follow through if you need additional support around any issues that arise during your application process. We want you to succeed - not just in getting the exemption, but in effectively educating your children.
- Have they ever homeschooled? For how long?
- How much experience do they have with exemption applications? How many have they helped with, over what period of time? And was this since 2016 (when requirements changed)?
- If it's programme planning you want help with, is the style and approach they are expert in what you want for your children at home? We do not have to emulate schools at home (and there are a lot of good reasons not to, especially in the first year), but, as discussed above, you are free to choose the approach you want. Teachers who choose to homeschool often say they have to "unlearn" teaching in order to be effective home educators. Teachers who have never home educated may not understand how different home learning is, and what works best there.
- How much knowledge do they have of readily available resources for homeschoolers? Do they know the courses and products available sufficiently to make recommendations?
- If they are offering their own "style" of homeschooling or resources they are creating, will they be there for you in the long run? If the C-19 situation changes, will they go back to their teaching jobs, or continue in this new direction?
- If they help put your application together, and then the Ministry asks for additional information because they are not satisfied with what has been presented, will this person be there to support you through that process with no additional cost?
- How does what they are charging compare to what the seasoned professional homeschoolers are charging?
Again, this is not about "getting the tick" from the Ministry, but investigating and choosing an approach to educating YOUR children that seems, as best as you can discern, like a good fit for YOUR family, and sustainable going forward, and then outlining that in the exemption application, and, if you feel the need, working with someone with the experience and expertise to help you relay that in the exemption application.
Hiring help....to homeschool
Many families have, over the years, hired experts to teach some things to their kids - this might be music teachers, a math tutor, an art teacher, sports coaches or whatever. Often in areas where they themselves lack expertise, or where their child has a particular gifting or interest they want to support the development of beyond the level at which they can personally guide. This is appropriate and in scope for home education - parents are responsible for their child's education, and that includes providing resources to ensure that the child's needs are met, whether those resources are books and stationery, or an expert guide. This also applies where a child has additional needs that the family feel are best supported with the help of those with particular expertise.
If what a teacher is offering does gel with what you want, need, and can afford, then you have the right to choose this option if you want. And also the right to change your mind if you see it's not working well down the track (beware of any contracts you might be asked to sign).
Welcome to our world...please don't poop in the pond
Those who choose to home educate do generally all have one significant thing in common - we CARE about our kids and want what is best for them! We want them to succeed in life, and want to provide them with the skills and education they need to do so. We also want to remain free to make this choice for our children.
Some of us homeschool for many, many years. Others come and go for short periods of time. Every year, there are both a significant number of folk who enter homeschooling, and a significant number who exit. Last year, there were over 1800 who gained exemptions, and over 1300 who ceased homeschooling. Over 30% of those had held exemptions for less than a year.
Home educators are also generally a very friendly and welcoming bunch. We open our arms and hearts to new families - some come and go in a short time, and others become life-long friends. However long you rest in this space, we welcome you. Remember, though, we are also all human. The world right now has basically tilted off it's axis. As a result, a lot of people are scared, frustrated, angry etc. That applies to some who are coming into homeschooling, and also to some who are already there. This can make for some less-than-tactful statements, misunderstandings, and issues. Please, be patient with each other, and willing to forgive. We are not the enemies of each other. Rather we are caring parents sharing a bit of common ground, despite our differences. Those who are passionate about home education and know they are likely to live in this space long after most of the newbies have gone again, may be concerned about the damage that can be done if folk enter homeschooling in a way that brings disrepute on the wider community. And those with a lot of experience may be concerned about folk with no experience trying to come into this space and represent themselves as "experts" and whether or not that will bring harm to new families and how they experience homeschooling. Likewise, newbie families often cannot think past the need to get the exemption asap, and are feeling pressured and panicky, ready to grab the first rope tossed their way. They're not in the headspace to see the bigger picture very clearly yet, and don't know what they don't know. Again, let's all be patient and kind to one another.
If you're new to homeschooling, hard as it may be, please do slow down, take the time to think about what you want your children's learning to look like and how best to implement it. Don't rashly run this way or that, and please, please, set aside your anger (no matter how justified, and no matter the cause), and focus on what your plan is going forward. If more experienced folk express concern about something, hear them out. Take from that what is good and useful to you, and what is wise in terms of protecting the reputation and rights of your family AND the wider homeschooling community, and let go of the rest. Know that you have the right to decide what and how your children will be taught, and don't have to follow anyone else's ideas and plan.
All we ask is that you don't come into this space assuming you know best for anyone other than your own family, or acting in a way that can bring disrepute on homeschoolers in general. We will try to support and encourage you on your journey, and hope you discover, as most of us did, that it's the best thing you ever did for your kids and yourself! :