Questions People Ask Us

I wrote this as part of a “course” designed by Barbara Shelton to help you rethink education. She provided some of the questions and I added others I have come across regularly. The short answers are for when someone stops you, typically in the grocery store, to ask about homeschooling and they just want a quick answer (if any!!) They were supposed to be limited to 50 words so shouldn’t take you too long to flick through! But of course you are not a captive audience like you would be at the supermarket, so feel free to log off – I’ll never know;-)
The long answers, which come afterwards, are for serious questioners, and you’ll need a strong coffee or something to get to the end of them.

At the time of writing our children were 8, 7, 6, 4 and 2 years old, plus a baby.

THE SHORT ANSWERS
~ the grocery store version ~
Why do you homeschool?
Lots of reasons really. We want a Christian education for our kids. We believe the best education happens at home and we think it’s the best place to learn relationship skills. Plus we get to be with our kids – and we like them, so that’s a bonus!
(OK so I’ve never actually said that – I tend to say, “We find it’s the best way to achieve our family goals – our kids learn so much from just living.”)
How long does it take?
We spend a couple of hours reading aloud each day, a bit of time at the table and the rest of the day is learning all sorts of other things – home management skills, gardening, nature walks, art and music, carpentry, sewing, whatever they’re interested in. They’re learning all the time.
What stuff do you use?
Well it’s important to realise that school creates artificial learning experiences. We’ve found we don’t need to make up learning opportunities – the children learn so much from living real life. We read aloud heaps with them and then use their individual interests to develop the tools of learning (things like reading, writing, reasoning, habits etc).
What does the government require?
By law we are required to teach “at least as regularly and as well” as a public school. Of course we desire so much more than that. You get an exemption certificate and ERO visits to see what you’re up to.
Are you a teacher? Are you qualified to do that?
Yes I am, but you know what? That was one of my biggest hindrances in homeschooling. Being organised helps me run a busy household, but learning how to learn from real life itself was a slow process because of all my teachery ways.
What about socialization?
My social skills far outweigh any five-year-olds!! When you are in a social environment you are always learning some kind of social skills – school isn’t the only place, and if anything, sometimes it can be negative socialisation that occurs there.
We’ve got six children, numerous neighbours, a Grandpa living nearby, church involvement….we have lots of good socialisation.
You get together with other homeschoolers for sports and stuff, aye?
Yes there are groups, but we don’t actually belong to one. We do things with other families and have lots of people in our home, but on the whole we try not to go out too much so the children have time to explore and think and develop interests.
Aren’t you over-protecting your children?
I don’t think there is any such thing as over-protection for little kids. They don’t need to know about all the evil in the world – they need to start by learning what is true and good and noble so they have a firm foundation on which to base all their decisions and thoughts.
How will your children ever be able to deal with the real world?
That’s one of the great things about homeschooling – they are actually able to learn in the real world. For example, J had a little business selling flower presses by the time he was seven and had joined the Entomological Society and was revelling in their activities. J has been fortunate to have become friends with a little girl who has cancer and has been able to be with her in hospital for whole days at a time. They get to fold newsletters for a Missions Organisation sometimes doing real work with a bunch of other adults. And they ride their bikes around the section with the neighbourhood kids. They are really in the real world already.
(117 words – this one can’t be answered in under 50 words as Barbara suggests the grocery store versions should be!!!)
Don’t the public schools need Christian kids in them?
Certainly, they need Christians. But I think they need Christian adults, who can fight the battle that rages in those places; people who are trained to use spiritual weapons, not wee children who are tossed about by every wind of doctrine and who are not yet standing strong in their faith.
How will they get into university?
Well, our eldest is only eight, so that won’t be too much of a worry for some time yet! She may not even want to go to university. If she wants to pursue another course of study we’ll encourage her in that. If she prefers university, we will find out what is required and work with her towards that as the time approaches.
(63 words – this is not usually a quick question anyway)
I could never do that!
It’s right for our family, but it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s a whole lifestyle and not everyone lives the same way. Having said that, I am not a patient person and this is a vehicle God is using to teach me! It’s not always easy, but it’s satisfying.
You’ve got your hands full, haven’t you?
Sure do. It’s a good thing I enjoy it eh!
(has anyone got a better answer to this obvious statement, which always seems to expect a reply???)

THE LONG ANSWERS
~ the over a cup of coffee version ~
Why do you homeschool?
We started off homeschooling for one reason and have ended up doing it for other reasons. Initially we wanted a Christian education for our kids – and we still do of course. There were two options – Christian school or homeschooling. To put J into a Christian school at five would have meant me going back to work to be able to afford it – putting four babies in preschool so one could go to school did not seem a sensible option to us, especially as we were committed to the early years being at home. So that left homeschooling.
Since then we have read a lot about homeschooling and educated ourselves. We have had our own assumptions about education challenged as we have read people suggesting that sitting in school does not necessarily equal education and that a rich lifestyle at home can provide many learning opportunities.
It has been a journey to go from doing school at home to letting our children learn from real life – funny really, considering it’s the real world we want our kids to be prepared for!
Some of the things our children have had the opportunity to be involved with that they possibly wouldn’t have if they had been in school include:
* J prepared a power point slide show of a missionary couple to be used at church when she was 8
* J made flower presses and sold them (even Mitre 10 bought some) when he was 7 – good business skills
*getting to know a girl with cancer and even being able to accompany her to some of her treatments during “school hours”
* helping a Missions organization fold their pamphlets and stuff envelopes
* doing the grocery shopping
* helping with bottling fruit in summer
* making meals for sick people and accompanying Mama as she delivers them
* J is learning to sew with another little girl – a lovely crafty lady with no girls of her own is relishing the opportunity to teach them
* making “props” for the pastor to use at church on Sunday morning
* keeping their own garden and helping out with the family garden
Our children have opportunities to relate with people of many ages. J, in particular, shows initiative in this area. He has been known to ring the library to find out if they have any books on his latest area of interest. He was into kiwi at one stage and got out the phone book to get the number for the Information Centre up in the bush, and when they were no help he rang the zoo! Another time he read in a field guide of an entomologist who lives in Auckland so he wrote him a lovely letter and got a personal reply from him and has subsequently become the youngest ever member of the Auckland Entomological Society. When we go to monthly meetings at the Department of Hort Research at 7:30 on a Thursday evening I consider his education to be taking place (And mine is too, even if I don’t share his enthusiasm for bugs!)
I am thankful for their interaction with older people, because on the whole (there are exceptions of course!) adults have better social skills than children and so my kids get to participate in good socialisation rather than negative. And there is certainly plenty of opportunity at home with five siblings for each one to learn how to interact with peers.
Because our kids have enquiring minds and are prepared to politely ask questions, they have got to do all sorts of things like “drive” the cable car in Wellington, try foreign foods without buying them, sit in the cockpit of an aeroplane, and use medical equipment.
Now we homeschool, because our children can learn in the real world; school is an artificial world.
Our other main reason is relationships. Life, we have come to believe, is more about relationships than preparation for a job, education and academic success, and this can be taught so much more readily at home with a few siblings than with a whole bunch of kids in one class. Do teachers really have time to work with 30 children’s attitudes of the heart? Do they (often, not always) leave kids to sort out their own problems because they believe this is the best way or because it is the easiest? When our peer group was leaving their two-year-olds to sort out their scraps we were interfering and being labelled as meddlers. We now have seven/eight year olds who have positive strategies for solving relational problems and don’t have to resort to emotional blackmail, name-calling and physical violence. We don’t have a I’m-bigger-than-you-hierarchy in the family. They know about turning the other cheek, forgiveness, heaping blessings on the enemy and showing love.
We are not the model family always doing everything right, but I am sure you can see why this is an important motivation in keeping our kids at home.
How long does it take?
It depends what you count as “school”. We like to see education as preparing children for all of life, so we see everything they do as part of their education. When they are learning to clean the toilet they are learning home management skills, which will definitely help them in that so-called real world! Ditto when they are helping out in the garden (plus they’re doing horticulture and probably maths then too). I allow extra time to cook, because I want the children to be involved.
We have reached the philosophical conclusion that in the early years an informal approach is more appropriate to children’s development than a formal academic approach. For that reason, we don’t spend heaps of time sitting at desks – yet.
As far as table time goes, we “do some most days”. They keep recipe books, memory verse books, creation journals, reading logs, lists of things they’ve made or special ideas they’ve had, questions they want answered and they make little books about things that interest them. We use their individual interests to teach them the tools of learning so that when they are a bit older and ready for formal academics they will be ready to learn anything. (And what are the tools of learning? Influenced by Charlotte Mason and Clay and Sally Clarkson, we have decided they include 1) developing good habits such as attention/concentration, excellence, orderliness/neatness, truthfulness, self-control, diligence/redeeming the time, love, obedience, 2) developing good appetites for literature, art, music and video, 3) curiosity, 4) creativity, 5) language skills, 6) reason, and 7) wisdom).
I read to them for a couple of hours a day (literature, science, history, geography, biographies, picture books).
Apart from Sofa Science in the winter (reading those interesting books about science), they do lots of hands-on collecting and identifying. J knows more than I do about insects, they’ve played round with making a weather station, they’ve watched the clouds, we’re starting to identify birds and plants, they’ve grown sunflowers and J kept a journal of their progress, we’ve done a wee bit of stargazing, there are all sorts of rocks and shells and birds nests and seaweed and crystals on the science shelf. It’s all very informal but there is no doubt learning is taking place.
After six months of reading about Ancient Egypt my kids know more than I did when I left university! I’m really not worried that their education is lacking.
Plus we do other things that probably don’t happen in school too, which really add richness to their lives. We observe the paintings of some great Masters. So our kids are good friends with Monet, Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh, Rockwell, Renoir, Rousseau and Breugel, and can pick one of their paintings a mile off. We do the same with composers, although we started later with that and muddled round with a few other things first. Now they know lots of brass band marches, bagpipe music and Beethoven. And they absolutely LOVE Vivaldi and The Carnival of the Animals.
Many of these things just happen. We talk about the picture we are studying over the dinner table, music is playing at lunchtime, we recite memory verses after breakfast, we learn a new hymn and sing it as we go about our chores – they are as much a habit as brushing our teeth. We have found ourselves growing into what we like to call a lifestyle of learning.
What does the government require?
By law we are required to teach “at least as regularly and as well” as a public school. To be pedantic that means we only have to do as well as the worst child in the worst school – but what parent wants that for their child? Of course we desire more, and because it is a huge commitment I suspect there would be precious few people who would homeschool if they really didn’t care.
Naturally that does theoretically mean that it is possible a few children might be at risk, but that is the price of freedom. Should we legislate and take away freedom from the majority just because of the “bad” minority? No, we need to preserve freedom at all costs. Plus, we must ask what makes us assume the government is going to do a better job than a parent. Where does that thinking come from? An ever-lengthening history of socialism, which holds the State as the answer to all man’s woes. We only need to look at the horrific job being done by some schools to see that government schooling is not the cure-all answer we might expect it to be. My oh my, it would be interesting if the law was changed so that school children who didn’t perform as well as homeschoolers were sent home!!!
When the Education Review Office rep came to visit us he pointed out that very few families are actually doing a bad job, and even when they are, they give them a few hints and visit again in six months. It is advantageous to the education department and the NZ taxpayer for us to succeed!
It’s interesting to look at the research too. One study in the States showed that ALL the homeschooled children tested scored higher than the 80th percentile. Other studies show similar results academically and also in social skills. The only area the average homeschooled child does more poorly than their peers, is in gross motor skills. But for kids with a bent for sport, they often excel, perhaps because of having more time to devote to pursuing their interest.
Are you a teacher? Are you qualified to do that?
Although I am, it has been one of my biggest hindrances in homeschooling. When you are learning at home you have the luxury of learning from real life, but I was so busy creating artificial learning experiences like in the classroom that we were missing what was really happening in our little world! I have had to relearn what education is all about. It’s not about test scores and remembering information. It’s not even about which books you’ve read or how many stories you’ve written. Education is….NEED TO FINISH THIS blah blah blah (hmmmm never did get round to that!)
What about socialization?
This seems to be the biggie question. We are brought up to believe that we need to go to school to be socialised. And true, school does produce socialisation – but not necessarily positive socialisation. But what is socialisation? It is learning to get along with other people, to relate to them in appropriate and meaningful ways. I can actually teach my children these things better than their five-year-old peers!! And it’s not just up to me – they learn to interact with the lady in the post office, the librarian, the Sunday School teacher, the children in the Sunday School class when they are actually allowed to talk together, the lady who teaches sewing, the neighbourhood children, their father, their siblings, their extended family, their friends, the missionaries they write to, the butcher, the baker and they would chat with the candlestick maker if they knew one! There are lots of social environments apart from school – in fact, school is probably the most artificial social environment constructed (apart from prison!!)
You get together with other homeschoolers for sports and stuff, aye?
Yes, there are groups, but we don’t actually belong to one. We do things with other families and have lots of people in our home, but on the whole we try not to go out too much so the children (and us too) have time to explore and think and develop interests. We find one of the things we value about homeschooling was the decision we made to slow down and make time for people in our lives. To make time for thinking and reading and learning and enjoying and being. We have loved learning how to grow vegetables and bottle fruit and draw and play the piano and fellowship with others. We think seriously about what we go to outside the home, because it is all too easy to get busy doing doing doing. We love concerts and exhibitions and walks in the bush, but we try not to get too busy with them.
Aren’t you over-protecting your children?
When you have a little seedling you can put it out in the field and abandon it to the frosts and winds and slugs and rabbits and other predators. Or you can put it in a hothouse while its roots grow down and its stem strengthens. Then it can be planted outside and grow to maturity, producing a crop of twenty, fifty or a hundred times. What is likely to happen to the first seedling? What fruit will it bear if it is strangled by weeds or fails to take root?
As a society we let our children grow up too fast, and we are suffering the consequences of this. Children need time to be children, and we do have to protect them from the corruption in the world to allow them this privilege. There will be plenty of time for them to come in contact with drugs and swearing and fashion and consumerism and greed and pop music!
Another argument is that if you expose them to these things, then you will probably be keeping them from other things such as classical music, biographies of scientists, the power of prayer, a simple lifestyle – because there’s not time to do both!
How will your children ever be able to deal with the real world?
This one was already answered in 117 words above!! There’s not much more to say.
Don’t the public schools need Christian kids in them?
Let me answer that with a question. If we believe children are the ones to be the salt and light in the schools, why are we not sending our kids to the local Hare Krishna school or the Buddhist temple up the road?
Because that would be a spiritual battle they are unprepared for. And state schools are no different. They do not have God as their starting point. Humanistic materialism is the god being worshipped there and we need to realise that it is in opposition to what we are wanting to teach our kids. School is not neutral – it is the place philosophies are played out and the war is waged for our children’s minds. For that reason, we need adult Christians there – people who are trained to do battle and can stand against the enemy.
(There is so much you could say about this topic to someone who really wants to know – but mostly they don’t!)
How will they get into university?
We haven’t looked into the New Zealand situation yet, but we have read some anecdotal stuff from the States. There at least, it certainly appears there is more than one way to get into university. We will consider this more closely when our kids get a bit older – they’re all still at preschool or primary school so far!
The other thing, is that there is more than one way to get an education. University isn’t the only way. Of course, if you want to become a doctor, you will have to go to Med School, but certainly if one of the kids has that bent it will be evident before the day they turn eighteen and we can work towards it.
It’s also important to remember that we don’t expect our kids to have “done their education” by the time they are eighteen. We hope they will be in process at that stage and be continuing as learners for life. This is quite a different way of looking at education.
We have the luxury of being creative with what they learn and how they learn it. As fifteen year olds they might be working alongside a local beekeeper two days a week or giving tuition to younger students in the evenings or organising a homeschool kids PE programme or choreographing a musical production or writing children’s book reviews for publication or volunteering with St Johns…all as part of their education.
I could never do that!
Do you think you should be? It’s right for us, but is it what God is asking of you?
If it is then we could talk some more, if it’s not then don’t feel condemned by our decision! Not everyone is called to live the same lifestyle as us. What’s important is that each family does what God has called it to. God’s call on our family is to be different, to be a large healthy family preparing the children to serve Him in their own unique ways. And God is using the vehicle of homeschooling to teach me about patience and gentleness and love and trust and faithfulness! It’s not always easy, but I know it’s where we’re supposed to be.

We are hoping (according to the literature we have read and believed) that as our children approach 10, 11, 12 they will be ready for formal academic studies and because they will not be burnt out and possibly even bored, they will approach grammar and mathematics, formal science and debating with eagerness (and if not, they’ll just have to do it anyway!!) Time will tell.

As I re-read through this I realised some things have changed…some things could be updated (for example, as the kids hit 10,11,12 they DID start and ARE STARTING doing more “formal” stuff)….some things have become more *us*….some we have moved away from…..but I don’t have time right now to expound any further…and none of it looks *heretical* to me so I’ll leave it for now;-)

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