Hazel Katherine Larkin explains the realities and benefits of homeschooling in Ireland.
Some families home-educate their children because of religious reasons. Other parents may prefer to do it because it gives them greater control over the education of their children.
Most children in Ireland start school between the ages of four and six, and stay there until they are between 16 and 18. Many Irish families, however, choose not to send their children to school.
Bunreacht na hÉireann supports the right of parents to educate their own children in whatever way they see fit. Article 42 of the Constitution states:
- The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.
- Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes…
- The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.
Parents decide to home-educate for a variety of reasons. For some, they worry about the standard of education in Irish schools.
“With more than 30 children in the majority of classes in Ireland, how much ‘learning’ can actually happen?” asks Paula, who has always home-educated her three children (aged 13, 10 and eight).
Other parents decide they don’t want to send their children to a school with a Catholic ethos – and have no other choices in their localities.
“We’re atheists,” Jenny, another homeschooling mother, tells me. “And I didn’t want them going to a school and being fed all this nonsense about a god that we believe doesn’t exist. Then, they’d have to come home and un-learn it. It didn’t seem fair on either them or the school.”
Her solution, when the local Educate Together school had no place for her eldest daughter, was to home-educate.
Some parents remove their children from school when things aren’t going well. That’s what Sophie did. Her girls are both in the top 5% of gifted learners and the school neither knew – nor wanted to learn – how to facilitate their intelligence.
“My daughters were not receiving an adequate education and the school was refusing to work with me. In fact, they were putting obstacles in my way. When my seven year old told me she wanted to die because of the stress at school, I knew it was time to act,” she told me.
For other families, a less-structured approach to learning suits their family style better than the strict rigours of the average Irish classroom.
All these reasons – and more – are valid and acceptable ones to homeschool.
If you wish to try homeschooling in Ireland the first thing to do is register with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). This needs to be done when the child turns six, or you remove them from school, whichever applies. The Board then sends an officer to your home and they go through the formalities of registering your child as homeschooled.
The NEWB ensures that you have given thought to all aspects of your child’s education – moral, physical, religious, social and intellectual – and also that you physically have an area for your child to learn (well-lit, well-ventilated, warm and comfortable), and a space where artwork can be displayed.
Information on what is expected will also be imparted during the meeting as well as other useful information – such as, if your child ever enters mainstream school in Ireland, they will not be entitled to an exemption from Irish. In addition, both parents (even if you’re separated or divorced) must sign that they are happy for the child to be homeschooled.
The NEWB will then make a decision on your suitability to homeschool and you will be informed of that decision in writing.
The financial implications
The first thing to consider is who will actually be doing the schooling? If you co-parent, will one of you have to give up work? If so, how will that impact on your family finances?
The other financial burden to consider is all the materials, books and subscriptions to online lessons, etc. that you might need to pay for.
Additionally, classes such as music, gym and other classes that might be available through school will be added expenses for the homeschooling family.
Another thing to consider is that you won’t be able to access the free dental and eye checks that are carried out through the schools – so, unless you have a medical card, you’ll have to pay for them. On the occasions when you need a sitter for your child – if you have a meeting or appointment you can’t bring them to, for example – that’s another expense.
What to teach and how to teach it?
Different families have different approaches to homeschooling. Some parents prefer to use a curriculum, while others are of the opinion that learning is organic, and that children learn what they need to know by everyday interaction with the world around them.
Personally, I used a learning log for each of my children. Every day, I made a note of what they studied, and for how long. I also included things like visits to museums, galleries and trips overseas; cooking, crafting, foreign languages, and things like their yoga practice, GAA practice and outdoor free-play. When we sat down and added it all up – they fitted a lot of educational things into their days!
Some parents hesitate to homeschool because they worry that they’re not ‘expert’ enough to teach their children. As long as you can read, you can help your child to learn – and for the things you can’t do, there are other people who can help. I ‘outsourced’ their dancing, singing and Mandarin classes, I had a friend (who is a professional artist) do art with them, and did the rest myself. We are also lucky enough to have a fabulous library nearby, and it became a great resource to us during the year my girls were homeschooled.
You, as a parent, are the greatest resource your child has. No one will have as much interest in ensuring their educational success as you. There is a Home Education Network (HEN) in Ireland, as well as many online forums dedicated to homeschooling in Ireland and abroad, so there is help, support and advice available to anyone homeschooling – or just considering it.
Home education is not just for children of primary school age, either. Your children can also do their secondary education at home – and there is no compunction on them to do the Irish state exams, either. They can sit exams set by educational departments in other jurisdictions, and matriculate for Irish universities without having done a Leaving Certificate.
If you choose to homeschool – and then realise that it doesn’t suit you as well as you thought it might – you can always put your children back into a state school. Their entitlement to a state education will not be compromised by your decision to home educate.
Finally, if you do decide to homeschool, don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t expect too much from yourself and your child. Accept that some days will be better than others, enjoy the process and ask for the support and help you need.
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