By the time you have a registration visit with an Authorised
Person from the DET, it’s most likely that you’ll have
already been home educating for about five months.
This section aims to dispel some myths and hopefully make
you a little more comfortable about the upcoming visit.
It can still be daunting, feeling like you’re being “inspected.” The first thing you need to be aware of is that the Authorised Person isn’t coming to inspect your home, your housekeeping skills, or your pantry. The purpose of the visit is to ascertain that your child is receiving a high quality education, and that there is evidence to substantiate your submission (see Documentation) as an accurate overview of your child’s home education experience.
In addition to the considerations below, if it’s possible for your partner to attend the registration visit with you, that can be extremely helpful. Brad has attended most of our visits, not because he’s heavily involved in Hayley’s day-to-day education, but because we are in agreement about why we do what we do. Having a supportive partner in attendance can not only lend moral support, but also an extra memory and additional insight.
Where I share stories, below, these are rarely from local families. They are stories from Australian families, but the stories are generalities to make a point, not intended to expose any individual’s private circumstances.
Preparing Your Mind
Before the scheduled time of your registration visit, whether it’s 10 o’clock the night before or 6 o’clock that morning, take some time to sit still with a cuppa and just gather your thoughts.
When my husband is preparing for a meeting, or to tackle a large project, he talks about ‘silencing the noise’ – something I see as being highly relevant here. ‘Noise’ is all the stuff that lies to you, distracts you, undermines you and makes you feel fearful or inadequate. If you are genuinely home educating your child (and why would you go to all this bother if you weren’t?), you have nothing to fear.
- It doesn’t matter whether some other home educator you know is using a different approach and seems more confident than you are. You are home educating your child as is appropriate for your circumstances. Deal with your own home education experience, not anyone else’s.
- It doesn’t matter if Grandpa is convinced your child’s progress with quantum physics is sub-standard. If your child is progressing in a way that is relevant to their own abilities, that’s what matters. Keep the focus on your child, not others’ expectations.
- It doesn’t matter if Little Jill or Johnny has suddenly expressed abject hatred of the expensive new history program you bought – there are other ways of addressing your child’s educational needs in that area, and you can explore those the day after the visit. Resource hiccups are common, and are only one aspect of the bigger picture.
- It doesn’t matter if you just had a fight with your spouse about the state of the children’s bedrooms. Teaching children to keep their own personal spaces neat is an ongoing battle in pretty much every family in the western world – you can discuss strategies to tackle the issue afresh after the visit. Let the visit be the priority for the day – life goes on around it.
When you sit down to prepare your mind for your visit, you need to say to each distraction, insecurity, hiccup, external expectation or other form of noise: “Sshhh. Be still.” The washing and ironing can wait, the phone can go to voicemail, the children can play quietly for a little while.
What you need to say to yourself is along these lines: “I am educating my child at home, the way I believe is appropriate and effective for my child. I have nothing to fear. I’m doing a good job, relevant to my child’s unique temperament and particular needs.”
Preparing Your ‘Evidence’
The process of getting your documentation in order will have served to give you, as well as the Authorised Person, reference points for your discussion.
As our experience with the registration process increased, I learned to make up a folder for myself as I was preparing our submission. I’d make notes about supporting documentation, photographs or other ‘evidence’ that might be useful at the visit. The folder would contain a copy of our application, so that I knew what the Authorised Person was referring to, along with photos, references, lists or whatever, so that I was well prepared. Often, not everything I had prepared was looked at, but being prepared helped me be less nervous, and flicking through my own notes would remind me of something I wanted to mention.
- Make some notes if they will help you – perhaps jot down particular excursions or projects that your child was especially engaged with, or have certain photos to hand.
- You can take the Authorised Person to the garage to show them the partially assembled bikes, around the backyard to show the garden or the guinea pigs, or to the computer to show them programs being used, PowerPoint presentations the child has been working on, or to the pool room to show off the trophies.
Concentrated preparation might be disconcerting to you, depending on your temperament. Even if you’re someone who has a natural aversion to organisation, I encourage you to at least think through what supporting evidence you can show. This means that the visit isn’t a waste of your time or the Authorised Person’s – a fact you’ll both appreciate when registration progresses unimpeded.
Simply put, lack of preparation can come across as lack of engagement with your child’s learning, or even suggest that the home education experience is deficient in some way. Even if you just jot down a few notes that will help underpin the paperwork you’ve provided, it will help you talk confidently about what it is you’re actually doing. Being able to talk the walk is every bit as important as actually walking the walk on a daily basis.
Preparing Your Child
Some families I have heard of do nothing to prepare their child for an upcoming registration visit. They don’t mention the visit, they don’t talk about what to expect, they keep it a secret from the child until the Authorised Person arrives at the door. Perhaps they feel that if the child knows in advance, they’ll be scared – so the surprise visitor arrives, and the child is expected to ‘do all the right things’ and ‘jump through all the hoops’. While in some few circumstances, such an approach might be appropriate to an individual child, it would not be my favoured preparation technique.
In my humble opinion, children are most comfortable when their concept of an upcoming situation is that it’s ‘normal’ or ‘to be expected’. This visit isn’t ‘out of the blue’ – you’ll have known that it was coming for several months – so why not talk about it with your child, letting them know that it’s part of the registration process from the outset.
From our first visit, this was the approach we took in preparing Hayley for the registration visit:
- talked about the visit just being ‘part of the process’
- explained that DET had a legal responsibility to make sure we were giving her a good education, and we had nothing to hide so we were happy to respect their authority
- said that whoever came was sure to be a nice person who was interested in her
- asked her to be respectful of us and not speak over us or contradict us*
* Asking Hayley not to contradict us during the registration visit was not about ‘controlling’ her, or us trying to falsify anything. Especially when she was younger, she was highly loquacious, and had a child’s typically myopic view of things. Even in dinner table conversations, we might be discussing a bigger picture view, and she would jump in boots and all telling us we were wrong, when in fact it was simply that she did not have the whole picture or story. Such a scenario is a normal part of many children’s development, but not one we wanted to have to address in the midst of a registration visit. Our request was primarily about manners, and asking her to trust our integrity as we communicated with authorities.
There are a lot of variables in a registration visit. Some Authorised Personnel are more process oriented, while others are wonderful at engaging with the child and drawing them out. Some children will talk the leg of any available iron pot, while others would prefer to hide under the bed.
You can’t always predict how your children will behave, but you can determine to have a good sense of humour about whatever transpires:
- A mother was very proud of her little boy’s fluent reading, so during the visit she suggested that he read to the Authorised Person from his favourite book. Instead of reading fluently, as his mum knew he was capable of doing, he read slowly and painstakingly, as if he was just learning to decode words: “The … cat … sat … on … the … mat …” instead of “The cat sat on the mat, waiting patiently for Mindy to pour her a bowl full of rich, creamy milk,” as he was well capable of.
- During a visit, a mother asked her children to bring out their project books – she’d had them complete pages related to different topics they’d been investigating. One son was particularly reluctant to engage with the Authorised Person, and the AP, in an effort to entice some communication from the boy, asked, “What’s your favourite page? Would you show me?” The little boy fidgeted for a minute or two, then opened up to a blank page. “This is my favourite page,” he announced with all the innocence in the world.
You can’t make your child comfortable about the visit, even if you are:
- One child seemed genuinely scared about having a stranger come into the home. The mother communicated this with the Authorised Person prior to the visit, so rather than have the visit invade the child’s private space, it was conducted elsewhere, where the child had access to a whiteboard and markers, and had the freedom to come and go from the conversation as they were comfortable with.
- In one family where the father suffered from bipolar disorder, the home education experience ran along smoothly on a day-to-day basis, and dad’s condition was in good check. The impending visit, however, was enough to tip the balance to a small degree. One child began to fear that Dad would freak out during the visit, and that even though Dad was in good enough control to take himself off elsewhere, the child feared that authorities wouldn’t understand. The parents communicated well with authorities, and the meeting was held in a local cafe. Dad attended the meeting for a scheduled ten minutes, and then he left as planned so that the children’s education rather than his illness was the primary focus of the visit.
Preparing Your Home
Having said (above) that your home isn’t what’s being inspected, I can’t in all good conscience suggest that you ignore all housekeeping in the weeks leading up to the visit. If it appears that you are educating your child but not bathing, feeding or otherwise caring for them, that might raise concerns of a different nature.
- Most home educators live in cheerfully messy homes with a great many projects in stages of partial completion all over the place, full of love and the provision of a great many good things, including a high quality education for their children. Don’t be afraid to let the authorities see your home as it really is. Use your common sense, and don’t allow yourself to be ruled by unreasonable fear.
- A home with a dirt floor can still be swept clean with the only table scrubbed and the kettle singing a welcome over the flame. A palace can have dishes piled high, crusted mud on marble floors and strident tones the norm from one end of the place to the other. Your home is not the education department’s business – ascertaining the high quality education of your child, is.
- Clean a little, tidy a little, just because preparing for visitors is part of having good manners. If you can welcome the Authorised Person into your home warmly, show them truthfully what home education looks like your way, and engage with both the process and the person, they probably won’t even notice the dog-hair strewn from one end of the place to the other (a constant problem at our house).
Home education is as much a lifestyle as an educational model. Live richly. Show what’s really happening.
Everyone concerned will feel a lot happier about having someone of authority walk through your door if your home’s atmosphere is calm and pleasant.
- Try to have a little ‘together’ time before the time of the visit. Maybe have a special breakfast and think about silly jokes – your visitor might even like to hear one or two.
- Unity between you and your partner will help tremendously too. Of course this isn’t something you can always predict, but you can focus on the fact that you love each other and you’re in this together, and that you think enough of each other to discuss issues that arise more fully after the visit.
- Remember that what you’re doing is legal and perfectly acceptable. The Authorised Person isn’t coming to see where they can trip you up or make you feel inadequate, they’re coming to see that your child has the opportunity to learn, high and wide and deep and full.
Child Child, Location Location
It is not a legal requirement for the home educated child to be present at the time of the registration visit. You will see for yourself, I’m sure, that it’s highly desirable, but it is not essential. It is the parent’s provision of the high quality education that’s being assessed, not the child.
If, for some reason, your child cannot meet with authorities (fear, contagious disease, etc.), do let DET know prior to their visit. Be honest about the reasons – they may have alternatives that are mutually agreeable.
Similarly, it is not a legal requirement that registration visits must be conducted in the home. It is helpful for the Authorised Person to see the child in their home education environment, but it is not essential.
If there are genuine reasons why you don’t want to or can’t have the Authorised Person come to your home to conduct the registration visit, contact the DET and discuss the situation with them. Again, there may be a readily acceptable alternative that can be quickly agreed upon.
In preparing for battle I have always found that
plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.*
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower