official ERO report

A representative from the Education Review Office comes out to pay a friendly visit every so often (we’ve had two such visits in eight years). We sit and chat, hope the children will more-or-less behave themselves, and receive a nice wee report in the mail a few weeks later, telling us things we already knew. I actually object to this process! I do not believe it is the government’s responsibility to make sure any children are educated; it’s the parent’s job. However, I accept the monetary handout offered by said government so I accept their need to check it’s being spent wisely. Not that they even ask what we spend it on! The questions we are asked are recorded below. For this last visit I jotted down some answers beforehand. Of course, at the time I didn’t say half of what was written and went off on totally different tangents!

Is the exempted student taught as well as in a registered school?
Is it OK to answer a question with a question?
If they weren’t, would the eldest two have placed first in the University of Auckland Science competition two years running? Would their next brother down have come third this year, his first time entering? Remember they were competing against children enrolled in registered schools!

Is the exempted student taught as regularly as in a registered school?
I would have to say “more so”. It maybe a cliche that reviewers get tired of hearing from home educators, but it is true, nonetheless. We view *all of life* as a learning opportunity. We teach every day.
The reviewer no doubt wants evidence of some kind of daily schedule. While I do not believe we need to keep to a school routine, it does so happen that we have a rhythm to our day. Get up and tidy bedrooms, prepare breakfast, eat, revise Scripture and sing together, do chores, read aloud together and work on individual hand work projects at the same time, work at the table, prepare lunch, eat, tidy up, quiet reading, work on individual or collaborative projects, play, chores, bath, dinner, family discussion, possibly computer or DVD for older children (or reading or games or handwork), bed.

That answers the “legal requirements” anything else I add is from the goodness of my heart;-) Do we really need to add anything else?

Yes, I’d say so – there are all these questions to prepare for, and the interview is supposed to take a couple of hours.

How has your child benefited from being homeschooled? What do you like about HS?
Individualisation to each child’s interests and abilities would be the biggest advantage.
The opportunity to live more fully in the real world, and not be confined to a classroom with same-age-peers for a long period of time.
The increased opportunities to learn real-world skills (bread baking, dinner cooking, washing, gardening, carpentry, quilt-making, knitting).
The opportunity for the children to be *mentored* by people who care deeply about them (and not just taught).

How, and how well, are any special education needs met?
Kyle was a slow reader. At nine, he has just really started. It was wonderful to be able to not pressure him, but allow him to develop on his own timetable.

Has your programme changed from the initial application? How?
I answered this question with regards to J12’s and J11’s applications at the last interview with Rob Williamson. As for K9, K8 and L7, there has been no change. By the time we submitted their applications we had found our way as a home educating family and so that was reflected in their applications being very different to the first two.

How do you manage your programme to meet goals stated in the application?
We just do what we said we would. We allow each child’s interests to determine the path of learning they follow. In addition to that we read aloud together (all kinds of books), listen to music, read poetry, discuss current affairs, write letters to politicians and newspapers, work together, observe paintings, learn to draw……

How well does the curriculum cover the essential learning areas, essential skills, attitudes and values?
I’m interested in this question. Whose attitudes and values? It covers ours very well! But ours may not be the same as a registered school’s. And that’s another reason we are choosing to educate our children ourselves.
That said, we learn a wide variety of things, the children are learning to read, write, observe, think mathematically, study scientifically, express themselves artistically, communicate, manage a household.

How do you know the programme you are providing is the most appropriate?
We have prayerfully considered how to tackle our children’s education and for us it is a walk of faith. To that end, we believe we are doing the best we can for them and with them.

How well is available time used for learning purposes?
Incredibly well. We don’t have any lining up outside a room before entering, we don’t spend time taking the roll, we don’t give out homework or check up on it later, we don’t have sitting on the mat waiting for everyone to be quiet (well, not often!)….we live and learn.

What are the most useful teaching and learning resources and how are they used?
Books and relationships.
Books that teach me like “A Thomas Jefferson Education” and “The Heart of Homeschooling” and “A Charlotte Mason Companion” ….and books we read aloud as a family.
And relationships. Within the family and in the wider community.

How are learning difficulties identified?(sufficiently early and in a valid way)
It would be interesting to know what is meant by “sufficiently early” and what would be considered “valid”. As to *how* – observation and an intimate knowledge of each of our children allows us to know when they are struggling. Our eldest son has a very severe colour-blindness. What would have been a “valid” way of discovering this, I wonder. We picked it up because he couldn’t learn his colours even though he seemed very bright with regards to other things. We picked up a lesser colour-blindness issue with a subsequent son much sooner, because we had a heightened awareness it could be a problem.
One of our children struggled to learn bladder control. After an operation to correct a physical deformity, he was fine. We identified his difficulty, because we are there all the time and intricately involved in his life.
I suspect the question is intended for “academic difficulties” though. So I’d better answer that!
The one who was slow to read – the story is the same. We were there. We care. We observe. We experiment. We show understanding. We offer help. We could see he had trouble identifying sounds and so we a) had his hearing checked and b) played lots of auditory games with him before even considering that he would be able to make the connection between the printed symbol and the sound it made. This took a lot longer than it had for his older siblings, and indeed some of his younger ones were reading before he was.

How does your child respond to the programme?
I have trouble with the word “programme”, because we just live life while the children are younger (up to 12-ish). But to answer the question, they all love life. And the older ones who are starting something more formal, are self-motivated so I couldn’t ask for more.

Does your child make satisfactory educational progress and reach a satisfactory standard of attainment? How do you know?
First of all it’s probably worth me mentioning we have very limited academic expectations before about 12 years of age. For the first eight or so years of their lives we give attention to the nurture of happy, interactive, confident children through lessons that occur naturally during work and play in our family setting. The children are learning critical lessons of life and making assumptions that define their concept of self, family, and the beginnings of their broader worldview, rather than progressing academically in leaps and bounds. It may not be a “satisfactory standard of attainment” to an outsider, but it is one we are comfortable with.
From 8-12-ish we want them to really discover and develop a love for learning. We expect they will learn to read and write (again, the joy of reading and writing is of greater consequence at this stage, in our opinion, than the ability to produce accurate work – the accuracy will come later if it doesn’t yet). So far this is happening. They also spend a lot of time “playing” with ideas of science, mathematics, economics, art.
Once the Love of Learning is firmly established, the children/young adults will (we hope and plan) enter a rigorous stage of serious study, working up to tackling such works as Euclid, Einstein and Darwin. There will be reading, writing, discussing. We are only just entering this stage with our eldest and so it is hard to comment fully yet.
How do we know these things are happening? Because we know our children.

How do you create a positive environment that enhances achievement?
As parents, we have a passion for our own learning. This example is probably the most stimulating aspect of our children’s teaching. Our babies watch us walking and talking and have the expectation that they too will some day learn to walk and talk. Our older kids see us reading books and learning new things and discussing issues….and they expect to do the same.
Plus we have access to plenty of books and tools.
It is important to say, our focus is not on achievement at the younger stage. We are very informal in our expectations when they are younger (our main goal is to develop a love of learning), but as they are getting older, we are seeing them pick up more and more interests and choose more formality in their learning (whether that’s through starting to study Latin or teaching themselves musical instruments or wanting correct spelling)

How do you use learning opportunities and resources in the community?
Our goal is to raise self-educators and we don’t force academic issues. We are already seeing positive results of this approach. The elder three wanted to take part in the Weetbix Try-athlon. For an entire year they trained without any parental pushing at all. Sure, we encouraged them, but we never told them they had to go out and make a running track or a cycling course. We didn’t tell them they had to work out how many laps of the pool they would need to do. We didn’t even suggest they make training logs. But they did all these things and barely missed a day’s training in the full twelve months they were preparing. Self-motivation.
They decided to be involved in the science competition. I guided their thinking in the very early stage of committing to ONE PARTICULAR idea out of all the millions of possibilities. And then I left them to it, willingly assisting when requested, but mostly leaving them to get on with the research and actual making of the projects.
J11 went through a stage of making flower presses to sell. He used local stores to purchase the raw materials and then used the same store to sell back the finished product – as well as an online discussion board.
Also springing from an online discussion board that I am part of, they are able to attend knitacinnos where twenty-something-year-old “nanas” and their mother sit round knitting and chatting. Plus they came to a felt-making class run by one of these ladies and made themselves nice pieces of felt.
Another community resource is *the internet*. They keep their own blog as a record of many of the things they get up to. http://www.uskids.wordpress.com
Other community resources. We have an annual pass to MOTAT this year. Last year was Howick Historic Village. The year before that was the zoo.
library * church * bush and beach walks * Entomological Society meetings and events until recently * neighbourhood * get-togethers with friends

Tell us about your child’s day.
How well does the programme meet the requirement for regularity?
See above

Is there anything else you want to tell ERO about your child’s programme?
Our philosophy differs to that of general schooling, and so we may *look* like we are not doing much by schooly standards. It is precisely because we don’t want our children to be subjected to the generic school experience that we have them OUT of school, so it would stand to reason that our day will not appear schooly, and even that we should balk at such terminology as “programmes” and even “achievement”.

I don’t think I need to say too much about the children’s programme, but I would like to say something about my teaching, because that is, when all is said and done, what is supposed to be assessed.
Here are my keys to great teaching (actually they are not *my* ideas at all, they are Oliver DeMille’s, but I have wholeheartedly adopted them as my own):

  1. Classics, not textbooks
    Become conversant with the great ideas of humanity and you learn how to think. BTW, classics does not refer solely to “literature”. Every field has its classic works.
  2. Mentors, not professors
    Professors typically give twenty students the same curriculum by the same methods with the same goals in mind.
    Mentors help students work out what they want to achieve and how to go about it.
  3. Inspire, not require
    Forcing a student to learn will not work. Mentors need to find out what the student needs and creatively encourage them to engage in it on their own – with excitement and interest.
    i) set the example of passionate study
    ii) help the student understand his options
    iii) give them the choice to study
  4. Structure time, not content
    “We need structure in order to give adequate time and attention to learning”
  5. Quality, not conformity
    Coach to high standards (scholar phase students, not young children)
  6. Simplicity, not complexity
    Keep it simple: read, write, do projects and discuss. It really is that simple.
    Discussions can be informal or planned, with one student or with a group.
    Writing should be daily – on both the part of the student and the mentor, at least a few paragraphs, if not an entire essay.
  7. You, not them
    Set the example by learning, reading, thinking, pondering, writing, discussing and requiring quality work.
    Perhaps the most important thing to say is that I do not believe you can make someone learn. But that does not mean I ignore them in their quest to learn. My job as a teacher is to INSPIRE them to self-education.

And the report…..

Using your most regal and pompous voice, as befits the occasion, please read aloud the following:
“Although the philosophy implicit in the original application for exemption remains the same, the implementation of J’s programme has changed with experience and research. The programme now more closely reflects Mr and Mrs A’s belief in self-directed learning and is less guided by methodologies that are perceived to be characteristic of conventional schooling.”
You can say that again!!!!!! And it sounds so much better than “through trial and error, and what sometimes feels like laziness on my part, we’re now comfortable with the kids learning what they need at any given time.”

Yes, we now have our Official Education Review Reports for the eldest five children – or rather, the reports of My Teaching of The Eldest Five Children.
“Mrs A is meticulous in her oversight and management of K10’s learning and closely monitors his progress and achievement.”
Such positive affirmation gave me warm fuzzies for a moment, but, honestly, it’s really just a matter of *knowing* your children. And who is saying this? Someone who came in for a couple of hours, made a few observations and wrote them up on a piece of paper. Really, truly, it meant so much more to me when M5 just came up and gave me a squeezy bear hug that lasted no less than thirty-seven seconds. And a kiss.

“K8’s mathematics programme is based mainly on unstructured but closely monitored opportunities that occur in her immediate environment and in the daily life of her family.”
That’s educationalese for “K8 does maths as it arises in everyday life, no we don’t use a textbook thankyouverymuch.” He’s very clever, that Mr ERO.

I was a wee bit concerned what he would think as he went down the chronological order of the children, L7 being the youngest he was reporting on, and the one for whom there wasn’t a whole lot to say other than “he just loves *everything*, especially lego and running around outside”, and *that* sounded precocious, even if it is true!
Mr EducationReviewOfficer made his own observation: “L7 is clearly deriving benefit from the learning related role modelling of his older siblings and the informed, reflective pedagogy of his parents.”
But before we get too big-headed about a statement like that (which is actually just another way of saying the same thing mentioned above….see related green comments for what I think about that), we have to understand Mr ERO is the master of Kind and Endearing Comments. This one is just The Funniest Statement: “He discusses his learning with enthusiasm and articulates his thoughts in carefully measured statements.”
You see, what actually happened is L-then-nearly-7 was eager to show a particular part of a book to Mr ERO…….in his enthusaism (aptly noted by Mr ERO), he started the same sentence *a number of* times, somewhat along these lines: “Well…….um…….well……well…….it’s………well………I mean…..well…….”
Mr ERO generously described that as “carefully measured statements” and not “inarticulate babble”!!!!!

Now, before I sound too ungracious about the Reports (which, as I ahve already pointed out, I philosophically disagree with, but not enough to conscientiously object to….and so we just play the system and hunker down and get on with our lives), I will say, that even though they are made by a person who really has no clue what goes on in our home other than what we tell him on a short visit, it IS nice to get a pat on the back and receive recognition for the job you are doing, which is most-of-the-time unnoticed and in-many-ways seemingly unrewarded. I won’t pretend it totally doesn’t matter what people think – because it IS nice when they say you’re doing a good job. I guess it’s just that I don’t rely on someone else’s opinion to determine how I evaluate what I’m getting up to with the kiddos.

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