Home Home education Help! Wanted: A Bulletproof Jacket for my Home Education

Help! Wanted: A Bulletproof Jacket for my Home Education

By Karin van Oostrum (Pestalozzi Trust)

It happens to all homeschooling moms at some point: you get a niggling feeling that you might be neglecting your child. Will you realise in a year or two that homeschooling them had been a fatal mistake, when it is apparent by that time that you already might have destroyed their lives?…

Or it happens that a family member or friend does you the “favour” of reporting you to the Welfare, which is what happened to the mom who called the office the other day. She was nervous, worried, uncertain. A friend visited, but the visit unfortunately ended in a difference of opinion. The outcome was that the friend threatened to “report” her because she homeschools; because “her children have so much potential and now she keeps them at home”.

“Report” can mean anything, but usually it means “report to the Welfare”. In our experience, about 99.99% of such threats remain just a threat and never amount to more, but a mom still worries when that happens. If such a case is reported to Welfare, they have to follow up on it and sort it out, and that would mean that she could expect a visit from the Welfare.

The question is: Am I in fact doing my children a disservice? Am I neglecting my child? The term “child negligence” includes situations where physical and/or emotional and/or educational resources are purposefully withheld from a child, where a parent or caregiver is, in fact, able to provide it.

Let us look at a couple of bulletproof layers which you can put on to protect your home education.

Spend enough time with your child

The first protective layer you can put on, is to spend a lot of time with your child. That means that you spend enough time together so that you get to know your child. It sounds obvious that a parent would know her child, but if a child had been in school for some time, mom and child frequently need to get to know each other from scratch again: you need get to know your child, and your child needs get to know you.

In Section 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), that South Africa ratified on June 16th, 1995, education is described as follows:

“The education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.”

Parents instinctively have a vast amount of knowledge their children, by virtue of being a mom or a dad. But it requires focused attention and effort from a parent to get to know a child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities, which also change as the child grows up. The next step is then to do everything in your power to develop or allow to develop the personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities of each child to its fullest potential. It is a privilege to work so intensively and intimately with each child, and I actually pity a teacher who is confronted with such a huge task with regards to every child in his class.

Do you know if your child is making progress?

The Children’s Act (38 of 2005) includes the following in its definition of “care”:

guiding, directing and securing the child’s education and upbringing, including religious and cultural education and upbringing, in a manner appropriate to the child’s age, maturity, and stage of development.”

By guiding and directing your child in his/her training and education, and ensuring that they do, in fact, receive an education, you are assisting your child to fulfill his right to education: according to section 29 of the Constitution, every person has the right to a basic education.

If you have to ensure that your child is trained and educated, it also implies that you have to know whether your child is making progress. This is something else this not be confused with checking if your child is up to standard. When you start wondering if your child is “up to standard” it can give you sleepless nights and ruin your whole life. The question really is: up to which standard? Or: up to whose standard? According to research and informal observation a large number of parents remove their children from school to start homeschooling because the standard of education in the public/private/micro school the child attended was not satisfactory. If you suspect that your child is behind, you have to ask yourself: “behind whom?”

I am certainly not the only mom who was a nervous wreck before clinic visits to check the development of her child: Did her head grow enough? Was she weighing too little or too much? What if her length was not up to standard? Did she have enough teeth for this age? Shouldn’t she have sat/crawled/rolled/walked/spoken long ago already? Then the huge relief (or worry) when the clinic sister gave her judgement: my child is still up to standard! Or, if the outcome was negative: how can I get my child up to standard? It is only with subsequent children that you slowly start to realize: my child is one of a kind; she has her own unique pattern of progress, and it is okay. It is as it should be. She will eventually grow up, even if she meets her milestone at different times and in different ways than her siblings, or than my neighbour’s children. It helps a lot to chat to other moms; soon you will realize that there are actually very few children who progress exactly according to the graphs of the clinic sister or the child-care gurus.

A parent soon realises: each child has its own growth pattern, and progress at its own tempo. To shut up troublemakers, and put on another bulletproof layer, a mom however needs to know whether her child is making progress. Homeschooling parents are just as unique as their children, and every family figures out their own way of measuring and knowing whether their children are making progress. Whichever way you do it – you should know clearly what your child can do now that she was unable to do a year ago, when taking into account all to her various skills.

A parent can do this relatively easily if he/she spends ample time with the child and have many conversations with the child. In this way you’ll be able to gauge how you child’s thoughts and reasoning skills have changed, what new ideas he is exploring, or which arguments he is weighing up and trying to clarify for himself. If you chat to other moms (after they have realized they don’t need to impress you with how fast their children are progressing) they will also tell you that one child progresses quickly with languages but slower with math, and that another child is exactly the opposite. No two children are the same.

Where is your child heading?

Does it sometimes feel as if you are working in circles and don’t ever get anywhere with your home education? I remember the times well when I felt as if we were just treading water and didn’t have any direction in our home education – the feeling you get when you drive around and around a traffic circle without choosing one of the exits. Maybe that is what it looks like to outsiders when they look at a homeschooling family. “Do these people even know what they are doing? … Do they know where they are going?”

Granted – it is true that one often feels as if one is walking in circles and isn’t make any progress. The truth is that no-one knows at the beginning of the year exactly what their path is going to look like over the next year, never mind over the next five years. The reality is also that children’s goals do change. The upside of home education is that you can give your child more time to try out a couple of directions, that he would never have been able to do if he had to be in school full-time. Make good use of this time to try out various options, to save time and money later on.

For a third bulletproof layer, and to avoid walking in circles, decide on a long-term goal for each child. For example, Matric; or: To start my own business; or: To travel the world; or: To learn as many languages as possible; or: To learn to ride a horse; or: To be able to service my car myself. These goals can change, and usually do change, as time goes by and as the child gets to know himself better and finds his place in life. Of course, there are many short-term goals, such as finishing a specific handbook or an interesting course or a piece of practical work. The fact is that should someone stop you and interrogate you on what you are doing with your child, you would have a plan of action, that you can share with her with a smile.

In short:

Ensure that you

  • Spend a lot of time with your child;
  • Measure his progress;
  • Have long- and short-term goals for his home education.

Then you will be able to calmly deflect most bullets aimed at your home education.

Not sure that your home education is, in fact, bulletproof? Feel free to contact us and we can chat about it. Also keep in mind that, if you are a member of the Trust, and you find yourself in any conflict with regards to you home education (for example, if a social worker turns up on your doorstep), immediately call the emergency number of the Trust. Call sooner rather than later – a small fire is much easier to put out than a big fire. Contact us the moment you suspect trouble is heading your way.