My son is paying for his own education. As a New Zealander living in Australia, he is not eligible for any government assistance, no youth allowance, training benefits or 'HECS' grants. In many ways this is an advantage, when he finishes his course he will not be burdened with a huge debt. Rather he will go and thank the cows in the neighbouring fields.... for these lovely girls produced the milk which paid the farmer who has employed my son since the age of 12! He started off helping to feed calves, a before school job which fitted in well with our schedule and moved onto milking and running the dairy shed, a job he still does, except that he now has an assistant... his 14 year old sister, who is proving to be as just as competent, though I do not think she relishes the 4.45am starts!
There are many advantages to a home education and the opportunity to combine work and study is just one. My son saved his wages, not frittering them away on trivial items but when he wanted something such as his own computer and a better surfboard, he was able to purchase them himself. He also buys his own clothes and the occasional bag of licorice! As he grew older, he developed a sense of maturity which extended to finances. He was sorely tempted to buy an iphone when they first came out (and had the money to do so) but in the end he read the reviews, considered his needs and opted for a stylish mobile that cost a lot less; it wasn't even a touch screen! We were pleasantly surprised!
Working for someone else has also enabled him to develop his interpersonal skills; good communication with his employer is vital and over the years my son has proved himself to be a trustworthy, reliable employee. Developing a good work ethic in his formative years will benefit him both now and in the future, in the career he has chosen to pursue. We thought he might have chosen agriculture, for the skills he has already attained would have set him up to be an excellent herd manager but technology was always his passion and as his interest grew in this subject, I gave him the permission to study what interested him the most. We encouraged him to keep his farm job, as we told him one day it could pay his way through college and that is exactly what it is doing!
My son's desk and study station. Amazingly, he is a tidy teenager. He cleans his own room and does his own laundry. He can't stand a messy house and somehow puts up with sharing his room with a younger brother who does not share these traits!
In June, he sat his first formal exam... ever! We had booked a room at the local library and organized the librarian to be the invigilator. The University send the exam paper to the invigilator who ensures it is sat under exam conditions. It was ready and waiting for my son on the appointed exam day and he emerged two hours later smiling! I had been a little nervous for him, after all, this was a university exam paper and he had never taken any form of test, (apart from the Learner Driver's exam at the RTA in order to obtain his Learner Driver plates! ) If he had been to a conventional school, he would not be sitting his HSC until the end of next year! I'm still trying to convince people that he is actually doing a degree and that he does not have to leave home or gain the HSC in order to go to university. I would offer this advice to home educators who are constantly receiving questions about college and higher education. Remember, there are alternative pathways to University. It does help to be a self- motivated learner, my son certainly is and this is what home education can produce!
He received his exam result last week and was very pleased with his mark of 94%. His first unit is over and he has already commenced his second unit. As his mum and 'once upon a time' teacher, I am justifiably proud but in sharing my son's achievements I am more than aware that there is so much more to home education that academic success, yet it is the one area that so many people become focused on... at homeschool support meetings the discussions centre on curriculum choices; the questions I am asked most often about homeschooling are about future educational options - how will he get into uni? I remember being asked this when my son was ten and I told them 'We will cross that bridge when we come to it'... six years later we did exactly that!
If there is one book I would encourage parents of Christian teenagers to give to their children to read, it is this book 'Do Hard Things' by Alex and Brett Harris. I gave this book to my son on his 16th birthday and it had a big impact on him. The fact that the authors were also teenage homeschooled boys added to its appeal. When your son comes and reads excerpts to you, you know its message is hitting home!
My focus has never been solely on academics; I didn't start homeschooling my son in order to accelerate him and if someone had told me he would be ready to tackle university learning at age 16, I simply would not have believed it! Especially in those days when I questioned my own competency.... 'How will I ever get this child to read?'... I did, with patience and a solid foundation in phonics. 'How will I teach him algebra when it remains a mystery to me?'.... He taught himself with a good maths text book and tried to explain it to me!
Other fears and doubts came to plague me, sometimes in the night!...'I didn't give him enough writing practice, how will he cope with writing academic papers?'... He's coping just fine! 'He never learned a language' ... but he understands the intricacies of writing computer languages.
'Lord, you will grant us peace; all we have accomplished is really from you' chapter 26 v12 NIV
The NKJ says ' Lord you will establish peace for us' ( as you set out on and continue your homeschool journey) 'For You have also done all our works in us' ( God is at work in you as you teach your children!)
In the midst of all this self-questioning, one little phrase kept me going ... 'Christ and Character first, Skills and Schooling second' or now I would prefer to say 'Enterprise and Education second', as my son was never 'schooled' in the way most of us understand school. I allowed him to shout out times tables as he came down the slide. When he wanted to race outside to observe a magpie in the garden I said 'Go!' And I stood by in the backyard and watched in amazement, as he successfully replicated the experiment of making water powered rockets from lemonade bottles which had featured on 'Rough Science' the previous evening (a brilliant British programme which aired on SBS for a while). I think we were meant to do history that day but home education offers so many opportunities for spontaneous learning!
These are just some of the activities I encouraged as part of our home education programme but remember there is no 'one size fits all' solution, each family is different, each child is different and learns in different ways and at different rates. Another advantage of home education is that you can tailor-make your programme to suit the needs of each individual child.
It's not always about books and study!
Learning to kayak in the South Island of NZ on a homeschooler's support day outing
Learning to kayak in the South Island of NZ on a homeschooler's support day outing
Looking back over the past 11 years, I have to say I am so pleased I chose to home educate and never gave into the temptation to return my son to school for friends, sports, lab facilities or woodworking classes, despite having some people question our educational choice when there was 'a perfectly good Christian school' in the region. We simply could not afford this option and it would have plunged us into debt if we had chosen this path. We also believed that God was on our side, He had called us to do this and He kept providing the strength to continue the journey. When I felt weary and would say 'I'm not up to this, I can't go on' He would whisper, 'Yes you can.... I walk with you, I'm with you, just call on me, I'm right here.' He reassured me that he has great plans for this young man; when he was a baby in the womb He told me that my son would be a light in his world and I did not know I was having a boy at that stage. Later on, towards the end of my pregnancy He protected both me and my unborn son in a very dramatic way from being the potential victims of a murderer (It's quite a story so I will save that for a future post).
Right now my son is enjoying a break from his work and his studies. Whilst we shiver in the cold he is enjoying warmth and sunshine but he's not on holiday. He is in Thailand on his first missions trip with four other young men from our church. They are helping to build houses in a leper colony as part of an established missions project that our church has supported for many years. He left on Saturday and is there for two weeks. I know its going to be life impacting, life changing and I'm so pleased he had the chance to go.
We received a text message last evening from him. He was working on the walls and a roof of a home for a mother and her child. I was thrilled to read those those last four words... 'for a mother and a child.' When our son was set to work and given tasks by his father to complete on our home extension, there were times when he indicated that he was less than thrilled with 'all this work', but we told him 'You never know, you might get to build your own home one day... it's not his own home but the experience of helping to build a home has come around a lot sooner than we ever imagined. And what a difference it is going to make for one family.
I really hope that what I have shared has inspired you, especially if you have started out on this journey and are facing those same questions, worrying about how you will teach this subject or that subject and wondering how you will motivate that son to learn! I could have told you all about how we started out, what influenced us to home educate, the materials we used, the books we read but I wanted to encourage you by introducing you to a young man who only went to school for one year, who was homeschooled through high school, who according to convention should still be at school. He's intelligent, well educated, sociable, hard working... a wage earner, a friend, a brother, a son and grandson, a defender of the faith and a servant of God. His journey into manhood is continuing and I've realized I was never raising a child... I was raising an adult. Home education has been part of his story and I pray that the foundation it provided and the solid foot stools it offered along the way will be one he never forgets! And I want to let him know..... The sky is your limit!.... Keep going, all the way to the top! .... Do hard things, shatter those low expectations people have for your generation! .... Hold onto God, He will never let you down! .... And don't forget to honour your parents, love those sisters and teach that brother of yours how to keep his room tidy!