Through the last 7 years of my parenting career, I have made an amazing discovery: my children can learn quite well without my help, and sometimes even in spite of it!

Parents make excellent teachers for their own children up to the age of five or six, yet once that magical birthday is reached, we often feel we are not up to the task of continuing our childs education. We reason that teachers spend years at university being taught how to teach, and how could we possibly explain mathematical formulae to our child when we dont feel all that comfortable with them ourselves?

Home education differs from school in a lot of ways, and parents dont really need most of the things that teachers are taught in college. They dont need to know how to control 27 rowdy children in a confined space. They dont need to keep the more intelligent children from being bored whilst trying to give remedial work to the slower ones at the same time. Parents dont have to plan class lessons that fit into a 40 minute time slot, minus the time taken for roll call, class discipline, fire drills, giving homework and listening to excuses as to why it wasnt done in the first place. On a side note, I read somewhere that the average child receives less than half an hour of individual attention from a teacher on a daily basis ” gifted children receive approximately seven minutes.

As home educators, we also dont need to have an intimate knowledge of English, mathematics, art, science, or whatever else happens to be in your local schools current curriculum. We make use of resources ” libraries, workbooks, language tapes and videos, music or art lessons, sports centres, TAFE classes, community centres, other adults in the community, our circle of friends, and tutors where necessary.

To further a childs education you need time, love and a desire to help your child learn. Children will naturally be curious and absorb information they are ready for ” exposing them to lots of different things will give them a broad base to work from later on, and help you identify the childs individual gifts and skills. You can do all this without workbooks, just by answering lots of questions and listening to your child.

If you feel the need for bookwork, there are a lot of very inexpensive materials around, which cover the basics of reading and mathematics at a level suitable for any age. Dont feel tempted to start too early ” most children arent ready for bookwork until age seven or eight, and boys in particular may not be ready to read until they are ten or eleven. Give them time to explore their interests and foster their love of learning; help them discover information themselves and you both will benefit in the long run.

Educational supply companies (like EDSCO in Brisbane) carry a huge range of workbooks and other resources, such as math manipulatives (MAB, Cuisenaire rods, pattern shapes and so on). Online homeschool suppliers offer workbooks from overseas, proven age-appropriate curriculums, and often testing services or materials to determine what level your child may be at.

Textbooks are great for parents who like to research for their own learning, and intimidating for those who dont understand the education lese that most texts are written in. Lets face it, most textbooks can be downright boring! They can be useful for high school level subjects, and are easy enough to find at secondhand bookshops, markets, bargain centres and garage sales. If you want a reference book, try an older version and save yourself some money ” you might find you only pick it up twice (unless you are after some bedtime reading to help you get to sleep of course).

If you dont want to send your child to school, but still want them to follow the states age-based curriculum, you may prefer to go through a registered school of Distance Education. Queensland has just changed its regulations with regard to Distance Education students, making it easier and cheaper for home educators. Work is supplied for completion to a timed schedule, teachers grade the work and satisfactory progress must be made to continue. There is usually a lot of repetition which does not suit all learners, but others thrive on the structure and discipline required.

Real life however is the best learning situation. Take your children shopping with you ” not the whole grocery shop, just a few items needed to make a cake perhaps. Your child can help make the shopping list (writing, reading, planning), find it in the store (reading, recognition), determine which is the cheaper (comparison, money), pay for it at the checkout (money, people skills), help you make the batter (reading, measuring, estimating), watch it rise in the oven (science), ice it (science, fine motor skills, art) and eat it (nutrition and enjoyment!).

We have a read aloud time every evening. At the moment were working our way through the “Little House on the Prairie” series of books, and I am learning more than the children! Details of house construction, cooking recipes, manners and behaviour, animal husbandry, family relationships and history are all covered. Try other “living books” and classics you enjoyed at the same age to encourage your childs imagination and learn at the same time. The Chronicles of Narnia, Biggles, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Silver Brumby, Charlottes Web and Enid Blyton books come to mind, Im sure youve got many more favourites!

Games are also a great way to teach young (and old). Try store bought ones such as Monopoly, Bingo, Payday and even Snakes and Ladders for math concepts. Add on Scrabble and Upwords for spelling, Carmen San Diego for Geography and anything from the Magic School Bus for science. We have made up our own board games (Belinda Moore has some great suggestions also!) to focus on certain skills, such as number placement, subtraction, or multiplication. Not only is it fun to play on a fairy board game (or dinosaurs or space aliens), but making it with your child is another great educational experience (planning, drawing, colouring-in, cutting and pasting, reading, and even Plaster of Paris for game figures if you want to get carried away).

Computers can be great supplemental teachers for some children. My eldest daughter will gladly spend time on the computer “playing math”: Daisy Maths, Zoombinis or Math Workshop. She has worked her way around the solar system with the Magic School Bus, learned antonyms and synonyms in Clue Finders, and is currently studying animal eco systems in Sim Park.

Some children like flashcards ” make up your own with pictures on one side and letters or phonic sounds on the other. Word cards ” write a simple word on each card and let your child form their very own sentence to read by themselves. Help your child make their own book ” write the story with words they know, put it together and let them be the illustrator. Relatives will be astounded at your childs reading skills!

School learning is all about making our children responsible citizens. It recreates a lot of lifes experiences which children would naturally have at home in a loving environment, and adds on knowledge that is supposed to make your child more employable, or at least able to enter university. Personally, I cant remember most of what I studied at university (let alone school), and none of my employers ever made much use of what I had learned there (it seemed that practice was more important than theory).

Wouldnt it be better to give your child an appreciation of the world that is out there, with the skills so they can learn anything they want to, for the rest of their lives? I like to encourage the joy of learning, to marvel at how they can spend all day on a science lesson (we have a lot of bugs in our backyard), and not have to interrupt an important discovery because their 40 minutes is up and they need to get to the next class.

You do not have to recreate a school curriculum at home. You alone can cater for your childs needs, personality and abilities. After all, youve done a great job so far, why stop now?

Resources to Support Homeschooling Make your own board games and loads more more stuff than youll ever find time to browse! worksheets, online activities, projects, year to year curriculum guide new or second hand resources Good quality blackline masters which can be photocopied for other children, as well as workbooks. curriculum and general homeschooling materials homeschooling supplies and tests more supplies and resources SSHED magazine (ideas and support) Beverley Paines site – books, information and links childrens books, living books, specialising in history books Brisbane School of Distance Education general rundown of home education purchases and outlines curriculums available ” ages 3 to 12, and best of all, its free! we love software by Broderbund (other name is Learning Company) as they are easy to use, educational, great fun to play, and work well on our computer! for information on Magic School Bus products available. Try for second-hand items, or bookstores will order in for you.

“If you want to be rich and happy dont go to school” Robert Kiyosaki. Also “Cashflow For Kids” by Robert Kiyosaki (a board game to help younger children learn about financial independence)

Homeschooling support and ideas groups on Yahoo groups (too many to list!)

EDSCO 3/77 Araluen Street, Kedron Qld 07 33502677

Anything by these homeschooling authors: John Holt, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Linda Dobson, Wendy Priesnitz, Beverley Paine (see link), John Peacock (Australian Home Education), Mary Griffith (Unschooling Handbook).

For different types of curriculum ideas search on: Charlotte Mason, Steiner/Waldorf, Classical, Montessori, Natural Learning, Unschooling, Deschooling, Unit studies, ACE