I have homeschooled my two children for almost a decade and have come to the conclusion that the definition of success is a grey, wishy-washy area. And the answer will vary enormously depending on who you ask.
House prices there were lower than the UK, and so financially we were slightly better off. I still thought about homeschooling – it had never left my mind – only now, now it seemed like a more attainable goal.
Unfortunately, I still had my fears and worried that taking your children out of school was something that only hippies did, so our first two years of living in New Zealand saw both of my children enrolled at the local primary school.
What School Looked Like For My kids
School is school. No matter where you are in the world.
There are still twenty-odd children to one teacher, peer pressure is prevalent, and if you don’t know a, b and c, by the time you are nine years old you will be labelled as ‘struggling’.
All the things that annoyed me about school in the UK were still present in New Zealand.
Getting Involved With The School
I got involved in my children’s school day as much as I could by volunteering in their classrooms as a helper, but this made me want to bring them home even more.
Sometimes you’re best off not knowing what goes on at school.
On the mornings that I wasn’t staying to help, I’d drop them off at school and wave goodbye. I’d go home feeling empty and sad.
There was so much that I knew I could teach them my own way and at their own pace. Everywhere I looked, places were just screaming out to learned about and explored.
While it was true we could go and do these things together as a family, having two days at the weekend just wasn’t enough, and anyway, the children were always far too tired to do anything by the end of the week.
My Reason For Homeschooling
My reason for homeschooling was not your usual answer.
I had always wanted to homeschool but thought that I couldn’t as I wasn’t a teacher. And then I became friendly with a lady who was giving my daughter horseriding lessons. She lived down the road from me, on a farm.
She unschooled her two boys.
I knew nothing about unschooling and so proceeded to ask all of the typical questions about University and socialising. I told her about my daughter’s misery at school and she asked why I didn’t just take her out of school and try ‘unschooling’.
Unschooling, for those not familiar with the term, is freestyle learning that is very much child-led.
The children decide what they are interested in and then dive headlong into learning about it – in whichever way takes their fancy.
That might mean spending two weeks curled up in front of the fire reading about the world’s highest structures or collecting driftwood from the beach and taking a week to build their own Leaning Tower of Pisa.
I’m not going to go on about my thoughts on unschooling right now, but just know that if I had my seven years again, this is the way I would go.
I admired the lady down the road for homeschooling and unschooling. She seemed so happy and relaxed. The kids were free and always outdoors.
She started telling me about the local homeschooling community that she was part of, about how there were over 200 kids and that they did all this fantastic stuff together as a group.
In 2011 we decided that we would pull in our belts. Cut back on a few things- no more meals out or buying fancy clothes- in fact, no more clothes unless they were second hand.
We would be buying cheaper wine, and swapped our petrol car with an old but affordable diesel Mitsubishi. All of these things would enable us to survive on one wage for a while. And one wage meant that I could homeschool.
Brian, my husband, was ever supportive. He’s a science man so was excited at the thought of being able to teach the kids something I knew absolutely nothing about. He also had his own heating business, so the possibility that both kids could go to work with him and learn how businesses run was a very exciting prospect.
Sonny and Tessa, as you can imagine, were over the moon. Their mum had just told them they could quit school. Why wouldn’t they be excited? Especially Tessa. She was at that beautiful age where the only person she loved more than her Mum was her Mummy.
I was excited but scared too. I am a real worry wort I knew it was a massive undertaking and was aware of what the consensus of homeschoolers was. Having been one of those people that thought homeschoolers were weird.
Now, I would be annoyed if people thought I was normal.
Homeschooling has taught us all that to be different is to be unique.
And to be unique is exciting.
Back then, I wasn’t aware of this and so was just a tiny bit terrified and worried about what people might think of me.
How Old Were The Children When You Started Homeschooling?
Sonny and Tess were ten and seven respectively when we started to homeschool.
Initially, we told everyone that we were just going to try it for a term. After the first term came to an end, I kept hold of my safety blanket by saying that we would just homeschool until the end of the year.
They would dress up and then take their books out to the field. Were we weird? We most certainly were people…
That year turned into six without me noticing.
I am in no way an expert on homeschooling, but I know what has worked for us and what hasn’t.
In the nine years that we have been at home, we have had lots and lots of fantastic times. But we have also had many tears.
Mostly always mine.
It’s hard being the Mum. Especially when that same mum has to tell her daughter that she needs to learn how to spell and try and explain what the hell an STD is.
Know that if you are going to undertake to homeschool your kids, then you will need to be gentle with yourself. I suggest practising some self-love exercises – the one person that has to believe that you can do this is YOU!
The First Six Years of Our Homeschooling Journey
Your homeschooling journey will look completely different to mine. But in the first six years, before I tried to homeschool and work full time, our homeschooling journey was very special.
Like I said, not always easy, but then nothing is. That’s fine. This is how our homeschooling journey looked for the first six years.
Where We Learned
My children have learned mainly on the beach and at our kitchen table. They have learned by living. If they’ve wanted to do a project on pollination we have spent hours laying in a field watching a bee going from flower to flower.
They just learned wherever they felt like it. Most of our learning takes place in the kitchen though.
If they ever showed an interest in British history, we would spend a week watching BBC documentaries.
Doing their lessons on the beach. The best classroom ever!
What we Learned
Before I turned to a high school online maths programme, Maths was always done by using Singapore Maths Books. They are apparently the best in the world, and we used them for five years. And yes, it is a fabulous, thorough programme and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
It is a little pricey but I don’t know where to start with maths so this is not a subject I could bluff.
I’m rubbish at science. I try, I really do, but ask the kids…every single experiment that I’ve ever done has failed. Stupendously I might add, but still, a fail.
I’d spend days researching how to get the yolk of an egg to the outside by spinning it really fast in a pair of tights. I’m not joking; it was a bloody disaster. The kids would almost wet themselves with laughter at my attempts.
It not only cost me a small fortune in eggs and tights but in the end, I forgot why I was even doing the experiment.
One of our many science projects. If I kept out of it, they were ok, as soon as I stepped in…Epic fail!
We LOVE to travel so right from the beginning of our homeschool journey these subjects were never going to be hard!
We did lots and lots of reading in those first six years.
Reading covers everything. Don’t forget that. If all you do for five years is read a range of books with your kids, they will learn a MASSIVE amount.
We would spend hours reading on the beach or in the garden. Every time we went in the car, we would listen to a talking book. I could fill pages and pages of the books that we have read, but I just want to recommend the ones that taught my kids (and me) the most.
Books That I Would Recommend For Kids Under 12 Who Homeschool.
Strawberry Girl is a classic. Teaches the kids history, values and the English language. We LOVED this book; especially as we are from England and we could practise our ‘deep South’ accent!
Red Sails To Capri
Another fabulous book for any child under the age of 12 (and Mothers who are 48). Red Sails To Capri Teaches about Europe, integrity, adventure and business.
The Little Riders
My kids LOVED this book. The Little Riders is set amidst WW2 and is about a child who saves the local clock tower. Teaches about the war, Europe, bravery and was a fabulous conversation starter into a deep subject.
The No Cell-Phone Policy When Homeschooling
Homeschooling was easier when the children were younger.
Although it demanded more of my time, it was more straightforward. No phones or gadgets vying for their attention.
For the past three years, we have had a no-phone policy while they are doing school work and I put this down tas one of the reasons I consider our family to be successful homeschoolers.
It’s quite hard to police it though. Short of putting the phones down my pants, so they can’t find it, both of them always seem to find a way to get hold of their phones.
Of course, when confronted about this, the answer is always the same… “I’m just checking the time.”
We don’t have clocks in our house you know.
We Took Our Teenage Homeschoolers Travelling. Here’s One Of The Videos They Made…
Homeschooling & Working Full Time. (What it Looked Like For Us).
Homeschooling while working full time. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible, especially not if your kids are teenagers and are capable of sitting with the work that has been assigned to them.
As your kids become older, your homeschool routine will change and adapt. By using more online tutors your time will be freed up. As mine was.
This was probably the insane reason I decided to start my own business again and believed that I could manage both homeschooling and working full time.
I am addicted to starting new ventures; I get a real buzz from it. I was ready for a new challenge and so decided to build a touring theatre in education company.
This I did, and it was a huge success. But what was supposed to be a part-time venture took over nearly 40 hours a week of my time for a year. I was homeschooling and working full time, and it wasn’t easy.
The trouble was not being able to give 100% commitment to either one or the other. I tried to balance both, but in the end, it was too much.
Educating at home while working full time. It’s not easy. Yes, it helped that the kids were both involved in my business, but at the same time, It was a massive juggling act.
Sonny was 15 at the time, and he coped fine. He is doing exams through a correspondence course. He’s very independent. I’m only there to advise him on assignments, nag him to get on with his work and tell him to get off Facebook.
But Tessa? She was only 12 and had to take a bit of a back seat.
Although I don’t think it did her any harm, in fact, it was probably good for her to see her mum create a business from scratch and then make it all work, I also know it wasn’t easy for her.
She has been used to having me there to help her and to arrange science experiments that would fail. Yes, it’s made her a lot more independent, but I don’t think either one of us was ready for it, or particularly enjoyed what it did to our homeschool routine.
I quit the business and returned back to full-time homeschooling.
Three years later and I am now, once again, homeschooling and working full time, but this time it is different. It is a success. My daughter is older and I have lowered my expectations. I now know that kids learn with or without traditional lessons, so I am able to trust in myself a lot more.
Why not listen to our latest podcast episode? Me and my now 18-year-old homeschool son talk about what worked and what didn’t in homeschooling. Have a listen below!
I hope this little homeschooling blog gives you a glimpse into our journey. I don’t know about you but I love knowing about other stories (and I consider ours a success!) If there is anything else that you would like to know about homeschooling then contact me (or leave a comment below) and I will do my best to help.
I ALWAYS answer any comments or email enquiries personally. Take care fellow homeschooler! Liz x
Nine years ago, when I first started homeschooling, I felt a little bit like a duck. A duck without any water on its back.
A dry, ducky freak.
Not because I had chosen to take my children out of a four-walled box so that I could spend more time with them and teach them at home but because try as I might I did not fit in with my new homeschooling community.
I wasn’t a regular homeschooling mum.
Why I Didn’t Fit In
I wasn’t religious— although admittedly, I do like to say ‘oh my God, you are j-o-k-i-n-g!’ a lot when I’m trying to sound cool in front of my kids…
and I swore. Usually under my breath and mostly in the form of ‘shut the f*ck up you little sh*ts’ from behind the locked bathroom door. I mean they never heard me but I don’t suppose that’s the point.
And I loved wine.
Not just a sip on a Sunday to give thanks to Jesus for his blood. No. I’m talking a couple of hefty glasses a night with my dinner. And even more, if it was his and my birthday.
So all in all, I wasn’t your average homeschooling parent role model.
Hands up. I admit it. I do love a glass of red. (The other glass is my husband’s by the way! We’re not quite Frenchy liberal yet).
Life as a Homeschooling Parent (When You Don’t Even Know How To Spell Astronaught).
When you step into the waters of something new and don’t know what the hell you are doing you talk, read and attend everything and anything about your subject matter.
And homeschooling was no different.
The trouble was, try as I might, I couldn’t find any other homeschooling parents that wanted to come to swim in my duck pond and drink wine and stuff.
Instead, these very intelligent parents talked about how their ten-year-old kid was almost ready to graduate and about how they were switching maths programmes because the algebra wasn’t challenging enough.
And this freaked me out.
My insecure ducky feelings were rampant in those early homeschooling years. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and I spent most of my days measuring myself against other ‘successful’ homeschooling parents.
All in all, feeling like a crappy failure.
So, in order to find someone like me, I attended every activity under the sun.
Even the painfully shite ones.
So that I could swim in the duck pond with another quack.
What About You? Are You Cut Out To Homeschool? Take This 3 Min Quiz to Find Out NOW!
Looking a little bit worried there Liz…I wish I knew back then that everything would be just fine if only I had relaxed as a homeschooling mum.
Homeschooling get-togethers. With other mums and stuff.
If you are new to homeschooling and the leader of the duck pond suggests a get together with all the other parents, tell them that your cat has just died and you have to go to Afganistan to bury it.
I found those early homeschool socials where every housebound parent got together to release their frustrations, truly hideous.
Probably because of my insecurities and feelings of I’m-not-really-good-enough.
Looking back I probably should’ve stayed at home and poked myself in the eye with a sharp stick.
The events were always held in the same homeschooly venues. An odd-smelling room with orange polyester curtains flaying at the windows and a switched off tea urn that the group was banned from using.
And parents. Lots of parents. Asking me why my kid was wearing plastic vampire teeth.
Those Early Homeschool Memories
I wish I could tell you that I look back at those homeschool get-togethers with fondness, but I can’t.
The thought of those early homeschool meetups still sends shivers down my spine. Yes, they were valuable times—I made a handful of lifelong friends because of those village hall meet-ups— but to get to where I needed to be was painful.
I suppose now it would be different.
There are Facebook groups and TicToc parties where all ducks are equal and use emojis of a pencil and stuff, but back then? Nope.
To this day when I walk into any village hall, I start quivering and reciting the nine times tables in my head – all the while scanning the room for a rusty tea urn.
But. Be it out of guilt, ignorance or both, every week I was there; measuring myself up against the other homeschooling veterans.
Trying to be accepted into the big girls club and pretending that I gave a shit about Khan academy’s refund policy.
And all the time wishing I was at home drinking a G&T in the garden with my cat that was still alive.
Hello? Is anyone out there the same as me??
So why did I continue with this self-induced torture?
I thought that if I didn’t attend every homeschool get together under the sun that my kids would somehow fail.
That if I didn’t take my kids to these social events then they wouldn’t make friends or be happy.
Because apparently, if you don’t send your kids to school, then congregating in a 1970’s jumble sale hall on a Tuesday afternoon is the only way they will ever get to make friends and meet people.
I also didn’t trust in myself. I believed that because I was new to homeschooling and I wasn’t an ex-teacher or something else equally as worthy, I was somehow not good enough.
And then one day, at the beginning of a new term, I asked my kids if they were enjoying these get-togethers.
They said no.
They said that they’d rather go and swim in the river and play Minecraft than go to another homeschool meetup and draw pictures of carrots.
They said they couldn’t stand the smell of the baby duck pond any longer.
So I decided there and then to stop. As I said, I had made friends with a couple of parents that were on the same page as me and I saw no need to put myself through the comparison torture any longer.
Instead, I started to trust myself.
I began a new homeschooling journey, and on this voyage, I gave myself some credit and started to listen to my own common sense.
And that was all it took.
Come on kids. Let’s get across this duck pond the best way that we can…
What Did Did I Learn About Homeschooling?
Sadly, it took me a few years of trying to copy everyone else before I learned something invaluable about homeschooling.
What it really takes. Not just to be a successful homeschooler, but more importantly, a happy one.
Homeschooling your kids doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to take an avid interest in phonics and number patterns or start wearing your husband’s socks and crocs to the supermarket (although what’s wrong with that I say?).
Homeschooling doesn’t mean you have to stand by a tea urn and listen to other parents soapboxing their opinions on religion and health and university entrance exams; Droning on and on about how eating carrot sticks is far better for you than biltong.
What’s wrong with Biltong? Huh?
What Is Homeschooling?
Homeschooling is so much more than having your kids learn at home and answering questions about pyjamas and socialisation.
Homeschooling is about reading to your kids, talking to your kids. Cooking meals in the name of mathematics with your kids.
Homeschooling is having the freedom to travel as a family, to watch films on rainy days (or on sunny days with the curtains closed).
Being a homeschooling parent is about going grocery shopping with your kids.
No hang on. Scrub that. That’s ridiculous.
Being a homeschooling parent is about going grocery shopping and leaving the kids in the car with the windows down.
Homeschooling is about tickling your kids and keeping them as children for as long as possible.
Homeschooling means arguing with your kids and saying sorry afterwards.
Homeschooling is about crying to your kids and telling them stuff that you probably shouldn’t. (But which you’ll never regret because kids appreciate honest vulnerability).
It means drinking wine and wobbling your tummy in the bathroom mirror. It means wondering if you can go another week before you book an appointment at the hairdressers and it means that you’ll become a whizz on google.
Homeschooling is being yourself. Knowing who you are.
Knowing that’s it and that’s enough.
Finally. Homeschooling became so much easier when I realised that I just needed to trust in myself a bit more.
To be a successful homeschooler, all you have to do is be yourself.
It’s not about number crunching or essay writing. It doesn’t begin or end with finding the square root of a carrot or dissecting a milk carton with a compass.
You don’t need a fancy pants curriculum to cut it with homeschooling.
It’s just you and your kids. Making the best of what you’ve got.
And if that means making it the hell up as you go along then so be it.
Homeschooling means making it up as you go along. Learning from your mistakes and being really, REALLY kind to each other.