Home Schooling

Some home-schooling tips from a veteran mom of 24 years

By Helen Devenish

Who would have thought even a month or two ago that most children in Australia (and the world) would now be home-schooling! It’s amazing how much our world has changed in such a short space of time. Home-schooling is now ‘in’ and that means for me, after 24 years of home-schooling I’m no longer thought of as weird. I have loved home-schooling our 9 children and I have never regretted it, but it hasn’t always been easy. I’d like to share some things I’ve learnt along the way and I hope they may be helpful to others.

When I first started home-schooling as a young Mum (of 5 kids at the time), I was scared. It’s okay to feel scared, daunted, inadequate or anxious as it’s a huge change. I only knew one other home-schooling family at the time we started, so this step into the unknown did feel daunting and challenging. On top of that, my husband and I had extended family members who were teachers. Was I going to measure up? People used to ask me when they found out that I home-schooled if I was a teacher? I would gulp and say no, but that I loved my kids, and we (David and I) felt it was the best thing to do for our children.

Sometimes when people (family and others) would visit they would ask our kids to show them their school work and then quiz them on what they were learning. I found all that quite intimidating. I wondered how I could educate them as well as a school could. But something interesting began to happen. Sean, our eldest, who was 10 years old at the time we started home-schooling, started to learn things for himself. He enjoyed extra time to be creative and started doing all kinds of things. He was interested in World War 2 so now he had time to pursue his interests.

He invented games and made miniature cardboard soldiers and got his younger brothers involved, as well as the son from the one other home-schooling family we knew. We realised Sean was learning history, geography, English comprehension and more. And that is the beauty of natural learning. Apart from Maths, just about every other main stream subject is covered in children pursuing what interests them, unless they like accounting or similar!

Our youngest daughter Shalom (the 9th child in our family) is 13 years old. She has her set ‘school’ books she goes through each day (actually only 4 days a week and she’s still at least a year ahead on most subjects, if not more). But she has so many other interests which all add to her learning. She has pen pals she writes to in Canberra and England (whom she’s not met), she’s got into growing veggies and she’s reading up on what to grow, when to grow different things and what to do when leaves get eaten or a plant dies prematurely. She also loves to make cards. She saved up her pocket money and birthday money and bought a sizzix machine so she can cut out all kinds of shapes from paper and then with her inks and stamping she makes beautiful cards.

She’s even just received an order from our local Post office for 60 cards. So now she’s learning about profit and loss and upfront costs and mark up etc. And this, all while doing what she loves. She watches YouTube ‘how to’ videos for card making as well as all kinds of other creative ideas. She uses her pocket money, and money from selling cards, to buy more materials and make birthday presents and gifts for people. When we went to Kuala Lumper, Malaysia, 18 months ago she studied everything to do with KL before we went (all of her own initiative). So, when we arrived in KL, we had a hand-drawn map compliments of Shalom. She also knew where all the best sight-seeing destinations were, and how far away they were, as well as knowing all about the exchange rate for money.

So as you see from these two examples my kids do so much more learning outside of their official ‘school’ work. We do follow a curriculum for the basics so we know our kids are progressing at a good rate and learning similar things to others their age but most of our home-schooling is interest based. It works well and makes for very happy kids when they have time to pursue what they are interested in and know they are learning and maturing all at the same time. 

There are ‘gaps’ in my kids learning as my kids don’t necessarily know everything that kids who go to school know. But then school kids don’t necessarily know everything my kids know either. It’s just different and that’s ok. Who said we all have to be the same and we all have to know exactly the same things? No one. Diversity is good. Yes, there are weaknesses in home-schooling but I personally think there’s way more strengths.

How do I keep my kids occupied ALL day? Any of my kids who say they’re bored get jobs: cleaning, tidying up, weeding etc. So, guess what? None of my kids have said ‘I’m bored’ in a very long time. It works well and helps them to find their own creative pursuits.

I cannot begin to express the gratitude I have to have been able to home-school my kids these last 24 years. I only wish I knew there was such a thing as home-schooling earlier than I did so then we would never have sent our kids to school at all (our older 2 were at school when we changed over to home-schooling). I love hanging out with my kids and spending all the time together, especially through their teenage years, which has cemented some very strong family relationships. 

Our eldest is now almost 34 years old and he and his wife are home-schooling their eldest who is 5 years old. It’s been a journey for them too and I’m glad I can now encourage my daughter-in-law with what I have learnt over the years, especially dealing with lack of confidence in the early days, which made it quite stressful for me at times. 

So what do our outcomes of home-schooling look like? How did our kids do academically? Of our 9 children, 8 have now finished home-schooling, I’ll just share the outcomes of a couple of them.

Sean, almost 34 yrs, started his accounting degree part-time through Open University at 14 yrs old. He finished his degree at 19 yrs and started almost immediately at an accounting firm and became partner at 22 yrs. He now has his own business developing software for accounting and more. Charity, 18 yrs, was very keen on fashion. At 16 yrs, after finishing Year 10, we applied for an exemption for her from full time education from the minister of education (Tasmania) so she could work 25+ hours a week at Dome as head barista while putting herself through her certificate and advanced certificate in fashion styling.

She studied a mainland course which was mostly online (apart from two trips to Melbourne of 5 days and 3 days each, in which I accompanied her, although not to the actual course, she did that alone). This was approved by the education department and Charity paid for the course herself ($8,500) from working at Dome. Although now she works at a cafe/ coffee roasting business, fashion is still her passion, and she has started her own website. We encourage our kids to be the best they can be at whatever they put their hand to. 

How can your kids learn more than you? Somehow, they just do! I’m still the most illiterate one in the family when it comes to computers. My kids teach me!!! 

But more important than academics is their character. Are they kind, thoughtful, loving, generous, compassionate? And more important than their character is their relationship with the Lord. What you prioritise in home-schooling will either make or break your kids. If you’re just concerned about academics, they may end up with a degree but at what cost? If they snub others, are judgemental, unkind and thoughtless a degree is not the be all and end all of life or education.

There are somethings that are way more important than academics, but if we as parents don’t prioritise those things neither will our kids. It’s a big responsibility to home-school but then just having kids is a big responsibility. It’s not always going to be easy. But day after day, week after week, month after month, and as the months turn into years, you will one day see the fruit of your home-schooling; for good or for bad.

Enjoy the time with your kids. They grow up so very fast. It’s tiring to home-school, it’s busy, it’s chaotic at time’s but in the end it’s always worth it. Make sure you take time out to rest, especially if you feel you’re not coping. Mums and Dads need time out too. But also take time to be refreshed in the Lords presence. Half an hour with Him can make the world of difference to your day and help you to be a better reflection of Jesus to your kids. 

So back to Australia today and the strange turn of events that has seen Australian families forced to home-school due to the current health crisis. Hang in there and enjoy the ride of your life with your kids. We are family, we are one!

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By Helen Devenish- pastor, evangelist, wife, mother of 9, grandmother, author, artist. If you have found this article helpful or have any questions and would like to contact Helen please check out her ministry website at lovehobart.com  or email lovehobart@gmail.com

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