By Mike & Lynette Woods
The following comprises excerpts from our application seeking exemption of our own children from attending public school and to educate them at home. It is published with the aim of helping fellow NZ home schoolers work through their own exemption applications. It may still be of interest to others elsewhere. Feel free to use bits that you like in your own applications for exemption.
Please note that this is a somewhat ‘sanitised’ version and does not represent our complete philosophy. Don’t forget that the reader of the exemption application will generally come with a schooling perspective in mind. The document, therefore, uses terms like curriculum, assessment, and regularity of education which will be familiar to educationalists, but fail to convey accurately our philosophy as they relate to schooling.
It has been our intention for some years that our children would be educated at home. We believe that it is the fundamental right of parents to bring up and educate their children until the onset of maturity as an adult. Parents have the sole right to develop their child’s language, cultural, moral, spiritual and aesthetic understandings until the age of six years of age (the exception being gross negligence, where the State has powers to intervene in these rights). We also believe that parents face certain responsibilities and commitments to the development of their child.
At the age of six, however, the State has deemed itself responsible for the education of children until at least the age of sixteen. This appears to us to be based on the wrong premise, and is one of the reasons for the failure of the state to deliver a satisfactory education to all students. In particular, it fails to lay the responsibility on parents to support the state education of their children and to participate fully in the life of the child, while denying the rights of parents to exert responsibility for the child. In the case of New Zealand, the ability to seek an exemption from attendance at school is a poor substitute for good legislation as found in other countries. Firstly, it does not establish a right for parents to educate their children, nor does it specify their responsibilities. The State has become the paternalistic guardian of the nation’s education rather than the guide and supporter of education.
Until such time as the public has the opportunity to advance submissions on the nature of the current education legislation, the exemption approach applies. This requires a statement that argues for an exemption on the basis that the child “will be taught at least as regularly and as well as in a registered school”. This statement is of course a difficulty in itself, for it assumes that the child will be ‘taught’, as in a school, as opposed to being educated. It also fails to provide any educational aim or aims upon which to assess the purpose of being ‘taught’.
Aim(s) of education
We will begin our arguments from this point, as it is very important to have established an aim or aims for education. It is our belief that the aim of education must be focused on the future needs of our child as an adult living within a changed society. Some of the aims, therefore, must be:
to develop maturity and a degree of independent thinking in the child so that he or she will become an adult who can actively participate in and contribute to wider society in a democratic nation.
to enable the child to engage with various ways of understanding the world through a variety of subject disciplines, philosophies, and approaches.
to develop in the child a broad base of knowledge and skills and some particular strengths and interests that will prepare him or her for a life of work whether that be paid or unpaid.
to develop in the child positive attitudes and values, and deep-seated beliefs so that he or she develops as a moral, spiritual and ethical being.
Our understanding of the curriculum is that it should be broad, encompassing, and that subject disciplines are not containers within which knowledge and skills are located. Our focus will be on integrating subject matter where relevant and yet we agree that some understanding of the disciplines is obviously necessary.
The subject cannon will clearly include the so-called “basics” of reading, writing and arithmetic which are the foundations of an education. However other skills such as communication, problem solving, and self study skills are also important.
In addition certain positive attitudes and values will be encouraged, and the child will be provided with encouragement and an environment which develops high spiritual, moral and ethical standards. A particular emphasis will be given to a grounding in the Christian faith. This will permeate all aspects of his or her learning.
The basic learning areas will include some study within most of the following subject disciplines over the course of the child’s education at home: English language, English literature, one or two foreign languages (which we as parents have some command of), geography, history, economics, religious studies, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, technology, mathematics, music, dance and art. This is not an exclusive list. A special emphasis will be given to English language including, initially, speaking, writing, reading and handwriting; geography and history; the sciences and mathematics.
While to exhaustively expand on the range and ordering of the subject matter within the curriculum is not feasible in this brief application, considerable thought will be given to sequencing in order to maximise understanding of learning areas. Within each learning area, all the fundamentals of a discipline will be covered and extension material will also be provided where the child shows interest and ability.
We will provide opportunities for our child to gain knowledge, skills, and understanding while keeping in mind the aims as described earlier. This may at times mean utilising expertise in the wider community to provide the diversity of learning approaches and opportunities he or she needs.
Methods of learning will extend from didactic instruction through to self initiated inquiry. Main methods used will include use of questioning techniques, discussion, debate, consultation, demonstration, experimentation, construction, activities including reading and writing, multi-media activities, and visits. The over-all focus will be to use whichever technique is most appropriate to the learning opportunity, the interests of the child, and the specific situation. The method of our child’s learning will feature a mix of formal and spontaneous learning as is appropriate in a one on one environment.
It is unreasonable to expect even progression in each subject due to our child having varying strengths and interests. Steady progress will be encouraged in each subject, but her level of interest and progress may mean she advances more quickly in some subjects than others.
An example of the application of part of the curriculum
You have asked for an example of how our curriculum and philosophy translate into practical terms. We have, therefore, developed an example of how we approached one topic recently.
The topic was “the bee”.
This science study started with a bee coming into the house, which we subsequently trapped.
The aim of the study was to develop an understanding of: the bee:
as an insect the anatomy of the bee (internal and external)
the parts of a flower and in particular the plant’s means of reproduction
the purpose of the sting
the need for caution when bees are around
the health complications of bee stings for some people
the bee ‘society’
the bee’s sex – workers, queen, and drones
the bee’s products and their use by people – honey, bee’s wax
Resources we used included the bee, a selection of flowers, a magnifying glass, tweezers, a video (The Private Life of Plants – David Attenborough), Groliers encyclopedia – CDROM based and which included a print out of a bee’s anatomy, Microsoft Creative Writer – computer programme, science book, paper & art set, story book, craft materials.
The approach we used was as follows.
After we had caught the bee it died, so our child held the bee, felt how furry it was, felt the brushes on the legs, and found the location of the sting. We discussed safety when around bees, what the purpose of the bee’s sting is, and how some people are allergic to the sting and the treatment required.
We then helped our child take two of the wings off with tweezers to have a look more closely at the wings using a magnifying glass. She discovered there were two sets of wings – one set hidden. We asked a lot of questions, such as “where is the mouth”, “where are the eyes”, “what are the feelers for”, etc.
We helped our child look up “bee” on the computer encyclopedia, and discovered that our bee was a female worker, and where the poison sack was located. We read about the bee’s society and discussed the bee’s products and their uses. We printed off the accompanying diagram of the internal anatomy of the bee so that she could colour it in and examine it more closely. We borrowed several books from the library which we read and saw more illustrations and photographs, etc.
We examined the flowers and identified the various parts of them. We talked about how the bee and the flower work together for each other’s mutual benefit and how they were perfectly adapted and created for each other, eg the brushes on the bee’s legs which brush the pollen off and onto each stamen and stigma. We talked about why the flowers were such bright colours and how this aided the process. We also went out and looked at her plants that were in flower in the vegetable garden and together we discussed how important the bees (and other insects for some plants) were to the development of fruit and vegetables.
We sat down and watched part of a video which demonstrated some of the things we’d been discussing and learning. We also read a fun story about bees, a Berenstain Bears book called The Honey Hunt which illustrates where bees do and do not make their nests and what happens when they are disturbed.
Our child made a mobile of bees and flowers to hang in her bedroom using craft materials including glitter, glue, styrofoam balls and felt pieces. She used Creative Writer (a children’s word processing and art software) to write a brief story about bees and flowers which we printed off. They then decorated and illustrated it.
We evaluated the effectiveness of our child’s learning by asking her a number of questions about the bee, its role in pollinating flowers, and the products of bees later in the week. Our child had forgotten some material, which we revisited by referring to the science book from the library. We evaluated the effectiveness of our approach by thinking of what we could do better. We felt that we could have made better use of the Creative Writer, in helping our child to draw together the key facts that arose out of our study.
Regularity of education
While regularity is difficult to describe in terms of a timetable (something that often reflects a fragmented approach to learning), it is more easily described in terms of the use of time. We believe that children learn through a wide range of experiences and methods, so our child’s learning is not restricted to four or five hours a day, but rather we view education as a constant process of learning. Whether we are baking (reading a recipe, using fractions with the recipe and counting, describing chemical reactions etc) or visiting the supermarket (writing out the list, reading it and putting the things in the trolley, practicing maths by adding up the cost of things we have bought etc.) or gardening (names of plants and how they develop and grow) or is playing with water with her friends or climbing over a jungle gym.
We believe that there needs to be a balance between self-directed inquiry by the child, play activity alone or with other children (which is also a learning activity), structured lessons (frequently provided outside the home) and a participatory style of learning assisted by adults (parents in particular). The key is to combine different learning styles across the full range of the curriculum in a way that does not become so routine as to become boring or rigid. The ‘teachable moment’ is also important, so a task may be dropped when our child shows interest in a subject. This interest can then be developed to reflect the underlying curriculum. The key element is that over a period of, say, a fortnight, a balance has been given to each of the main areas of the curriculum.
The day is partitioned by the natural meal and tea breaks. This gives five slots between breakfast and morning tea, between morning tea and lunch, between lunch and afternoon tea, between afternoon tea and dinner, and between dinner and bedtime. Not all subjects would be covered in one day. Some days our child may spend most of the morning on one subject, then not do any more of that particular subject for another few days. We try to integrate as many subjects as possible around a particular theme or unit study to show the interconnection of all knowledge. This helps in motivating our child to learn from things that are of interest.
Environment and Resources
Examples of Resources at Home
Resources at home include: toys, games, books including atlases, dictionaries and other reference material, a variety of workbooks for different subjects, story books, calculators, maths sets, pens, paints, art materials, craft materials, fabrics, scissors and paper.
Our child has access to computers, laser printer & flatbed colour scanner. We have a range of computer software, both of the general tool-type (word processor, etc.) and open-ended children’s software. We intend to continue to expand and update our computer hardware and software as our child develops recognising this can be a very important resource. We have access to the Internet and the wide range of educational web sites on it such as art galleries, museums, libraries, home school sites, news sites, as well as funs sites such as Children’s Television Workshop with Sesame Street etc.
We have a number of musical instruments as well as a sewing machine and garden and home maintenance tools. Our child will be encouraged to obtain proficiency with these in assisting us with household chores. Other resources include tape recorders, stereo equipment, camcorder, bikes, swing and slide set, hula hoop, skipping rope, balls, swimming accessories, etc.
Our resources also include our own education and subsequent employment and overseas trip experiences etc. It is suggested that you include examples of work history, voluntary work, church activity, personal interests, etc.
Examples of Resources Outside the Home
Resources outside the home include, our local library, museums, laboratories, botanic gardens, zoo, parks, national library and art galleries, astronomy centre and wherever else we go; eg. the beach, shops, airport, bakery, butcher’s etc. Activities include swimming lessons, dance lessons, and music lessons. Resources include our local home schoolers association library and regular field trips including police visits, ambulance, fire station, post office and so on.
Our child has her own room and two different work spaces with desks. Our child can also access two different spaces set up with computers. Although she has work spaces our child may choose to work at our dining room table and certainly chooses to read wherever!
Our child is part of a wider community including neighbourhood children and a wide circle of friends and relatives. Our children also enjoy playing together. Our child also enjoys interaction with other children at lessons and classes, at the swimming pool or playground. Our child actively participates in Home Schoolers Association events.
Evaluation and Assessment
Evaluation is an important aspect of the learning cycle. The cycle begins with establishing the needs of the learner. With younger children, this may be established by parents, taking into account the child’s development. With older children, the needs may be identified through cooperation with the child. Once needs are established, the goals of particular learning experiences are set, and design of the learning strategy is undertaken. Evaluation follows the learning experience.
The term “assessment” is generally used in the sense of an evaluation of the child’s progress. Assessment covers a range from informal measures to formal measures. Examples include:
informal oral question-and-answer testing
oral or written tests
moderated testing (using external moderator)
standardised testing (including SATs, PAT tests)
external examinations (standards-based or norm-referenced)
A key issue is whether the assessment relates to the progress of the individual child, the performance of the child when compared normatively with children of a similar age, or whether the assessment is against standardised performance expectations.
Clearly, in home schooling most assessment is based on the progress of the child by observing the learning process and any products (such as written material, constructions, art, etc). Each time learning occurs, it is natural to mentally assess our child’s progress against our background curriculum. A diary will record learning activities to assist in evaluating whether the curriculum has been covered fully.
Our child will be given frequent exercises and activities from which we can build up a portfolio of work. The portfolio will naturally form a basis for determining progress over time. Aspects of our child’s work can be compared with other children’s work to assess informally progress against peers. We will continue to record other features of the learning programme and our child’s progress in a diary. This will serve as a reference point for later evaluation.
Each year we will provide a report on progress to the Ministry of Education (if this is required).