homeschooling in ireland
Education

Homeschooling in Ireland

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.

Why homeschool?

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.

Registration

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.

Resources

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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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.

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Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

A
Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.