The lunchboxes have been prepared, uniforms washed and labelled, and schoolbags packed.
For most children around Australia, this is their reality as they head back to school or, in some cases, as they start school, for the year.
For a growing number of children and families, however, this is not their reality.
Homeschooling And Unschooling On The Rise
In recent years, the number of children who are registered for homeschooling in Australia has grown by almost 70% – from 10,000 in 2011 to 17,000 in 2016.
Add to this the families (estimates are around 1,000 students) who choose to ‘unschool’, and not to register for home education, and the result is a large number of families opting out of traditional or mainstream schooling. Why?
Discontent With The Education System
I have spent years working in the early education profession. In 2009, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the Early Years Learning Framework – a document to be implemented in early childhood services around Australia.
This document is supported by overwhelming research, which says children learn best through play and through the exploration of things that interest them. And so, in the early years (preschool, kindergarten, long day care, and family day care) this is precisely what happens: children play, explore, create, ask questions and share ideas.
Then these children head off to ‘big school’ and much of this seems to fly out the window. Sure, you can find wonderful schools, and teachers who embrace playful, interest-based learning, but they seem to be few and far between.
Instead, children sit at desks and learn by rote. They all learn about maths in the same way; they study dinosaurs in June because that’s when it is scheduled.
I get it – meeting the needs and interests of individual children in a group setting can be challenging. But surely, if it means children are engaged and excited about learning, isn’t it worth it?
In 2008 I was fortunate to visit Bold Park Community School in Western Australia. As I walked around the campus, I was impressed by the obvious commitment to interest-based learning, play and creativity. I remember thinking to myself: all children deserve this.
And yet, the unfortunate fact is that not all children have access to this kind of education. Most children are in a schooling system which, according to many home educators, fails to recognise individuality, and puts more emphasis on test scores than on the development of skills, knowledge and character.
Bullying And Social Issues
One of the common criticisms of homeschooling and unschooling is children won’t develop social skills.
The number of homeschool groups, gatherings, and opportunities to interact with people of all ages in the community suggest this is simply not the case.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons often cited for removing a child from a mainstream school is bullying and social concerns. We are in the midst of a bullying epidemic in our schools and something needs to change.
How The Internet Has Helped
There is no doubt access to the Internet has had a significant impact on the way we parent and the way we learn. In the past, homeschooling might have been seen as something reserved for trained teachers or ‘learned’ types.
Now, however, parents can find information, support and resources at the click of a button. This has made homeschooling more attainable for anyone who wishes to explore it. Access to information has empowered those who previously might not have thought themselves capable or qualified to teach their children.
I am and always will be a book lover, and a strong advocate for using the library. It is also a wondrous thing to have instantly accessible information, about any and every subject a child could possibly wish to explore
When my child wants to know why and how a chameleon changes colour, we can immediately find the answer; this often leads to further questions and more searching. The ability to seek out information fuels a love of learning.
Another sign of the increase in popularity of homeschooling and unschooling is the emergence of thousands of websites, blogs and social media accounts dedicated to these educational choices.
They offer a ‘behind the scenes’ insight into how homeschooling and unschooling actually work for children and families. They have created a sense of community and have served to destigmatise this approach to education.
There are many different reasons why families make the decision to homeschool or unschool. The increasing number who do so is evidence families feel more empowered to make individual choices.
Sometimes parents might instigate the choice; at other times the child might wish to be educated at home. Perhaps it is due to location, or specific health or other needs; maybe it is because of concerns about the rigorous testing and schedule of learning in traditional schools, or because the mainstream education system doesn’t align with a family’s philosophy of parenting.
Whatever the reasons, the message is clear: Australian families are feeling more empowered to make informed decisions about education. If the current trend continues, 2018 will see an even greater number of children engaged in home education.