What

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So what do you teach when you’re home educating your child?
What are the guidelines expected by authorities?
What sort of time should you allocate each day?

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First, A Story

I love this comment from my friend Jeannie, who lives in Victoria, home educating her large family – here she’s talking about her 7yo son:

“He spends his days ‘unschooled’, climbing trees, constructing things, destroying, planting his own garden, digging, rendering the side of the house with mud, taking care of his pet eggs (found 6 upstairs the other day, complete with egg ‘high chairs’ etc.), listening happily while I read him books, cooking eggs in a frying pan on the hot retaining wall in the sun, any other cooking, making strange concoctions, as well as all the other kiddy things, swimming, bike riding etc. No one can tell me he isn’t learning. The important point is that he is self-motivated… something children lose by being limited, or forced. He initiated 99% of these things himself. He’s always busy. And the other day, my outdoors-y hyper-boy told me he’d like to read now … If only people could think outside the box that all us ‘schooled’ people have been conditioned to be sit in.”

The update to this story, from just a few short months later, is that the outdoors-y hyper-boy is really making headway with his reading. Jeannie says:

“He read 11 books today. Or should I say, ‘read’? You know how they are when they start – they know some words, and get their hints from the pictures – but he’s quite fluent, and really whips through them. I only do it till his interest starts to wane. The best part is, if I’m pointing out a sound, he’ll say, “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me!” preferring to figure it out himself. Personally, that is my biggest buzz, not the fact that he is reading. That drive, that curiosity, determination. I love that natural home [education] is mainly about character/spirit building. Oh what a wonderful world it would be if the rest of mankind could cotton on?!”

As you ponder what you’ll do in your home education  environment, would you spend at least a little time considering what that shared joy might look like for you and your child?
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WHAT TO TEACH

What you teach will depend, in part, on the Approach you take to home education.

With apologies, I can’t possibly even begin to suggest precise curriculum that might be appropriate for your child – the available resources are boundless, and your child’s needs unique.

In terms of precise resources, there is nothing that will adequately replace your own research, with your own child’s Uniqueness, habits, Learning preferences, etc. in mind. You learn these as you go, really, so if you just need to start somewhere, look at our Express Start page, make a choice, and be willing to adapt as you and your child grow and learn together.
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Structured

If you’re taking a more structured approach, then you’re probably thinking in terms of the more traditional key learning areas, or the ACT’s Every Chance to Learn document.

Resources for a structured approach are available from a huge array of shops and online suppliers. Think more broadly than just text books and work books though – those alone will ensure a quick trip to Boredomville for the whole family.
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Unstructured

If your approach is more unstructured, you’re more likely to be steering as far clear of key learning areas or strict subject definitions as possible. Interestingly though, in keeping Records as part of the Registration Process, you will need to categorise things in some way. In the ACT, you don’t have to specify key learning areas as such, but some kind of differentiation between areas of exploration or study will help you, as much as anyone else.

When you take an unstructured approach to your child’s education, you tend to watch what their interests are, and provide resources in line with those interests. Much of what you’ll need may already be around your home, especially in the early years, but plenty of additional resources will come from libraries, online, the community, and all sorts of unexpected places.
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Overall

Regardless of whether you choose a structured or unstructured approach, I suggest that you keep in mind that there are more things that you will want to focus on home education than just academia. In school, academia is the main focus, and we can get stuck thinking that the practical and relational aspects of life have to take second and third place.

In all seriousness, I suggest that you put the focus of your home education considerations into this order:

relational • practical • academic

Yes, seriously. It works a lot better in the long run, and our children genuinely get a better quality education that way.
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OFFICIAL EXPECTATIONS

As convenient as it might be for officials when home educators follow a schoolish approach, it is generally fairly well accepted these days that home educators have a vast array of strategies for meeting their children’s educational needs which don’t look in the least bit schoolish. Officials expect to be shown evidence that learning is taking place, and that progress is being made by the child from one registration period to the next. They are not shocked when home educators show them diversity of approach or methodology.

Generally, the best advice I’ve been given regarding official expectations is that authorities are looking for ‘some depth’ and ‘some breadth’. To my mind, this has been incredibly useful information.

Home educated children often delve very deeply into their current area of interest ‘until all the goodness has been wrung out of it’. Even in these phases of intense interest, it’s unlikely that this one subject is the only area they are exposed to during that phase. The area of interest is the ‘depth’, but all the other things they do during that phase – excursions, group activities, books read, discussions had, family participation, etc., provide the ‘breadth’. Even when the area of deep interest shifts, the broader educational opportunities continue to support the overall picture.
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TIME ALLOCATION

Don’t Aim for School Hours

It is incorrect to assume that if a child is being educated at home, then they should be at their desk for the same number of hours that a schooled child attends school.

Schooled children spend considerable time:

  • chatting to each other
  • disrupting or being disrupted by other children
  • sharing the attention of the teacher

Home educated children do not encounter these factors – certainly not to the same degree, even if they do share your attention with siblings.

This is by no means an official estimate, but it has been suggested that with one-on-one, face-to-face attention, a home educated child may achieve as much in a single hour as a schooled child gains in a full day of school attendance. I’m not sure that such a statement could be entirely proven, but the individuality of the home education environment has some undeniable advantages – personal attention being one of them.
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Education Isn’t Always Structured

Even if you employ a certain degree of structure in your home education environment, learning won’t necessarily cease once you give your child freedom for the day from their bookwork. Natural learners would argue that the most important learning takes place away from the workbooks.

If you spend a day just observing your child as he or she plays and interacts with their world, you will observe some incredible learning taking place. Helping your child to see that they are learning in the midst of their own natural explorations into life is also utterly fascinating.

Recently, after a busy few days, my daughter woke up feeling unwell. She spent the morning playing games on the computer, obviously doing nothing that was taxing on either her brain or body. She felt better after a few hours, and later, as I drove her to a music lesson, I asked idly, “So what have you learned today, sweetheart?” – fully expecting that she would answer just as idly, “Nothing.”

“Oh, quite a lot, really!” she replied, clearly even surprising herself. “Remember the other day when we were talking about marketing strategies? Well the game that I was playing, which was something I used to play a lot when I was younger, actually teaches you how to assess a demographic and develop a marketing strategy that will bring you in the most number of customers. Who knew? And I thought it was a silly little kid’s game that I’m really far too old to play anymore!”

So, what amount of time should you allocate to your child’s education? Again, there are no pat answers. Whatever seems appropriate to you is the best answer, but don’t stress if it isn’t much – teach them how to learn for themselves, and they’ll never be “behind”.
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Liberty without learning is always in peril;
learning without liberty is always in vain.
~ John F. Kennedy

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