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Educating your child at home: rules, benefits, and challenges

More and more families are looking for individualization in their children’s education. Parents don’t want their children to be exposed to mass education, in which there is no time or space to develop their specific abilities and strengths, to adapt teaching methods and forms to their needs and preferred cognitive strategies. That’s why the parents often choose non-public educationprivate or “social” schools—which offer such individualized forms of work with students.  continue reading...

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Some families, however, want to go even further to have a decisive influence on how their children are taught and how they acquire knowledge and skills.

The pandemic and its restrictions encouraged many families to choose a solution which has recently been gaining more and more popularity in Poland—homeschooling.

In the U.S., where homeschooling was born, nearly 2.5 million children learn in the homeschooling system. In Poland, there are currently around 14,000 homeschoolers, but the number is growing.

Homeschooling: laws and regulations

Educating children at home was a norm in the past, but since the 19th century, education has moved to schools with the introduction of compulsory education. Homeschooling today is much more structured as it is regulated by law.

The movement towards homeschooling began to flourish in the 1970s, when authors and researchers—such as John Holt and Dorothy and Raymond Moore—began writing about education reform. They suggested homeschooling as an alternative educational option. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, in the United States the percentage of children studying at home is growing every year.

Homeschooling is legal in Poland, as per the Act on the Education System of September 7, 1991 (amended), which states the possibility of "fulfilling compulsory schooling requirement outside the school," thus allowing homeschooling for children aged 6 to 18.

However, there is no complete freedom here—the child must be enrolled in a regularly operating school (home school), and although the implementation of the school curriculum takes place outside the school, its success is checked by means of school exams in individual subjects. It is on the basis of these exam results that the child is promoted to the next grade.

Forms of work with children

While the scope of knowledge/skills to be mastered is regulated by law and enforced in the form of compulsory examinations, the very process and forms of teaching remain in the hands of the families. Children can be taught individually, in groups, by parents or tutors.

Learning can take place anytime and anywhere, not only in the home "classroom." A lot of attention is paid to the practical application of theoretical knowledge in a natural environment, putting into practice what the kids have learned. Here, parents can show their creativity: the kids can learn maths when renovating a kitchen, biology when cooking meals or caring for a dog, and geography when planning holidays.

Initially, in the early stages of education, parents tend to be excellent at teaching and providing children with material and knowledge/skills that children are expected to acquire at this stage of education. Over time, however, when the curriculum content in individual subjects becomes more complex, parents often use a number of other forms; parents of a group of children educated at home often share the curriculum content among themselves according to their skills or qualifications, and even temporarily hire a teacher of a given subject.

Of course, homeschooling doesn’t mean acquiring knowledge in social isolation, away from the world. Such learning is only part of the entire learning process. Parents and guardians strive to provide a variety of stimuli to encourage learning, from trips and activities enriching learning, to sports and various types of hobbies, to observations, experiments, and the children’s own research. Also, taking care of the social aspect, parents often organize meetings and sessions with other children educated in the same way.

There are also special forms of work aimed at homeschoolers like support groups, educational co-ops, workshops organized by home schools, trips for homeschoolers, etc.

Benefits of homeschooling

What does homeschooling give students and families? Here are some of its advantages:

• Greater effectiveness of learning (individual work with one child or a small group),

• Flexibility and the ability to regulate the pace—if necessary, slowing down or accelerating the pace of learning,

• Adapting learning to the child’s individual cognitive style and needs,

• Strengthening family relationships: more time together, less external pressure,

• Greater independence of children by participation in home activities, organization of learning, planning the day, time management,

• Better health: regular meals, an adequate amount of sleep at individually appropriate times, outdoor activities,

• Saving the parents’ and the child's time—no commuting, no parent meetings.

Challenges of homeschooling

Despite its many advantages, homeschooling is associated with some challenges and difficulties:

• New roles in the family. For this method to work, parents and children must enter into a new relationship—the role of mom or dad must now turn into the role of teachers, with its requirements and discipline. Children, in turn, must see them as authority figures and adapt to their teaching requirements. It is not always easy, but with the right attitude on both sides—it is possible. It’s worth seeking advice from a school psychologist or exchanging experiences with other parents in the homeschooling community. A school can be invaluable here, so when choosing one, it is worth checking if it offers this type of support.

• Annual exams. Homeschoolers have to take exams at the end of each school year, while their peers educated in schools don’t (except for the compulsory eighth-grade exams) and their end-of-year grades are based on quizzes, tests, assignments, class work, etc. It is a considerable burden, because the promotion to the next "homeschool" grade depends on those exam results. That’s why a good atmosphere in the home school and its good understanding of homeschooling are so important.

• A more active role for families. Due to the fact that the child doesn’t have access to a peer group on a daily basis, the family has a greater responsibility to provide them with sufficient socialization. This, on the other hand, gives families a much greater understanding of who the child interacts with and a chance to choose valuable peers.

• Need for discipline. The timetable and other elements of the learning process are not imposed by the school, so the families have to work them out. It's not easy, but it’s a good lesson in self-discipline, time management, and responsibility. And it can benefit the family’s daily home life.

Homeschooling-friendly school

How and when to start? You can start homeschooling at any time during the school year. You need to choose the school where you will enrol your child, i.e., your home school. And it shouldn't be a random choice. It’s best to choose a homeschooling-friendly school, which already has experience with this kind of education.

What should we look for in such a school and why is it important? With experience in this area, the school knows how to conduct exams and can offer families help and support, as well as materials to help them in their homeschooling process. It also has the documents needed to complete the formalities. Moreover, it brings together children and parents in the homeschooling system, integrating them into a homeschooling community.

Here's what to expect from a homeschooling-friendly school:

• Regular contact with the homeschooling coordinator for basic information, content-related and organizational help,

• Contact with the school via an electronic platform,

• Organizing regular meetings for children in the form of workshops, tutorials, and trips,

• Preparation courses for the eighth grade and final high school (matura) exams,

• Organizing meetings and events for families,

• Organizing parent support groups,

• Friendly and stress-free atmosphere during the annual exams,

• Possibility of convenient scheduling of exams,

• A detailed description of the content and requirements for each subject, published in an understandable form and available at the beginning of the school year,

• Access to the e-learning platform and educational resources in electronic form,

• Access to teaching aids and books from the school's resources,

• Individual support of the student in the learning process, e.g., through tutoring,

• Opportunity to participate in subject-based and other types of competitions.

Homeschooling parents/guardians do not need to have any special qualifications, but they certainly need to prepare to embark on this education system and keep it going. It is definitely worth using the help and inspiration of other homeschooling families and the home school.

Photo by sofatutor on Unsplash

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