a home education journey


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    My husband and I home educated our 4 children, beginning in the early ’90’s in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. They never attended a public or private school. The decision to home educate was not readily understood by many in the small country town where I had been born and raised and was not an easy path to walk. Much of the criticism we received was from well-meaning people. At the time I could not answer many of their questions because I felt we hadn’t travelled far enough to know whether what we were doing was going to bear fruit. Not just academically, but in every way.

    Every now and then though we did receive encouragement… like when we were visiting our local doctor. He had observed our children over the years and said to me that whatever we were doing was working and to keep it up… once a mum, whom I had not seen before, approached me when I was grocery shopping with the children and said that she was going to make my day. Her teenage daughter had seen the 4 kids and I shopping and had commented to her mum that when she was a mum that she wanted to be like I was with my children. That really did make my day 🙂

    We always walked a lot as a family (our car was too small to fit us all in) and I was touched when my husband came home from work one day and said that a local Aboriginal woman had spoken with him at work that day and had commented to him that she often saw us walking together with the children and that she wanted her family to be like ours when one day she had one.

    With education, we stuck with the basics initially, reading, writing and maths. The kids would study till about lunch time and would then spend the afternoons in the home, pursuing things that interested them. When the oldest was about 12 we felt we had a little bit more time for something else so we started studying history as a family… accurate historical novels, supplemented with atlases, texts etc. The kids loved it, especially read aloud times with dad at night. There are many happy memories. They never attained a School certificate or Higher School Certificate.

    About 4 years ago our oldest 2 started online studies through ‘Open Universities Australia’. We were astounded when in her first year our daughter won an Academic Achievement Scholarship (through the University of South Australia) which paid the rest of her undergraduate University fees; she is now studying as an external student at the University of New South Wales, doing a Masters in Taxation Law. Our son has almost completed the Charted Accountancy program and works for a local accountancy firm. The youngest 2 are studying online through Open University.

    During their university studies, online tutors asked what it was they shared in common because the standard of their work was uncommonly high and yet obviously their work was unique. This was a real encouragement too.

    It’s interesting that a lot of people seem to think that home-educated children must somehow suffer from a lack of socialisation, particularly with kids their own age. From this end of the journey, with four adult children either in the workforce or uni, I can say from experience that this isn’t necessarily true. While our children were never part of a group of kids their own age, as the children got older we mixed as family with people in the community of all ages. Through sports like dog training and table tennis, the kids learned to be respectful, how to follow directions and how to communicate with people from all different age groups.

    At present, in Australia, the Federal government requires University fees to be repaid in instalments when the student’s income is above approximately $45,000. If the student doesn’t find employment, or if it remains under approx. $45,000, the loan does not have to be paid back.

    When I look back I see that I made lots of mistakes but there always was the time to make adjustments and move on before those mistakes took on consequences that couldn’t be fixed.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to do this all over again. It has been incredibly costly in many ways. There were hard choices that were misunderstood and discredited. We were a single low income family and we all had to economise in order to afford books for our family’s education. But the quality of family life we have has been worth its cost.

    At present we continue to live together, renting a 5 acre farm in Tasmania. We are learning how to grow our own food year round, tend a small orchard we planted 5 years ago, raise sheep, milk goats and grow seed crops of New Zealand Yam and Potato Onions.

    We have greatly appreciated the warnings and advice given at The Automatic Earth.


    My children seem to do a lot of their more serious learning at home – although they attend full-time schools. All the basics of alphabet, reading, maths and so on were acquired initially at home – although they go to “good” schools. The twelve year old had a tutor recently for two hours each week and passed entry tests to a selective-entry school. It would not have happened without one-to-one tuition.

    I can’t help thinking that schooling is not really geared to teaching – more towards instilling values. Indoctrination, if you prefer.


    Yes, I agree on all counts. It took me a while to begin to appreciate that the learning I had been exposed to during my own education (in the public school system in New South Wales) was not going to be the way that we would learn as a family.

    Even outside the school system, I found that some learning materials just did not encourage curiosity or initiative – some materials either reminded me of a merry-go-round that kept going faster and faster, building up more review, lessons becoming larger and larger until suddenly you were dumped out feeling dizzy from the effects – or they became like a crushing weight we just couldn’t carry. The best learning materials were those that engaged our family to want to learn together or that spiked an interest in someone to go further and find out more.

    For core subjects like phonics, spelling and maths I had to find texts that were of excellent quality and which worked for our family. Each child traveled through phonics, maths and spelling at their own pace. Everything else was learnt as a family, all learning together until they reached the age where they developed individual interests and taught themselves. We would help them find resources, but they followed the trail till their interest was satisfied or desired skills attained.

    Because my husband had a love of history, I purchased accurate historical novels and the atlases, topographical maps, texts etc that piqued his interest. It wasn’t long before the kids were looking over their dads shoulder to see what he was up to. We never tested this subject or had them answer multiple choice, short answer or tick- the- box questions. Those materials were incredibly dull and very expensive. I could tell they were really learning by the way they were relating to their dad, the questions they asked, the conversations they shared as they played Lego together, and from the games they played in the back yard, which tended to have an historical flavour. We all spoke the same language because we were all learning together. I am sure this would work for many subjects, not just history. We didn’t have TV readily available.

    As for indoctrination, sadly this is so true. Even if our journey had not been academically successful, it would have been worth it for the harmony it brought into our home, the space it created for us as parents to learn from our mistakes, and for the absence of peer pressure, which just let the kids enjoy growing up together as a team of four.

    Nicole Foss

    I’m so glad it worked well for you. Too often mainstream ‘education’ can mean indoctrination. I used to despair over the textbooks my kids brought home, and we would have to contradict the propaganda in the evenings. All the home schooled kids I know have learned very effectively and have an innate intellectual curiosity. That is a very valuable thing.

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