Tuesday, July 30, 2019

How we homeschool in New Zealand

I've had several people get in touch with me and ask about how homeschooling works here in New Zealand, so it's been really helpful to be able to point them to the posts I've written about what our family does each term.

If you're considering homeschooling, please know that there is no external moderation. It's up to you to decide how to educate your children.

You do, however, have to apply for your children over the age of six to be exempt from going to a formal school. I recently completed my son's application and we received his exemption in the mail after having to answer an email where I was asked to explain in more detail how I was planning to assess him and what my educational goals for him are over the next 12 months. It was the first time I'd needed to provide further information on an application, so it was a bit nerve-wracking, but all went through fine and we received his exemption certificate in the mail with plenty of time to spare before his sixth birthday. I was so relieved.

Writing the exemption application is a good process, because it gets you thinking about how you want to educate.

The hardest one for me to write was the first one, because I hadn't homeschooled before and really had no idea what I was going to do. My plan turned out to be nothing like the reality of it, but that's okay. No one holds you to your plan. I think it just assures the Ministry of Education that you're serious about this homeschooling business; that it's not just an excuse to neglect your kids.

For us, homeschooling looks like a structured term time where we do: some bookwork at home in maths, English, science and history; lots of audiobooks and read aloud time, as well as quiet reading time; participation in club netball for the girls, participation in two different homeschool groups where all three kids take various art, sport, dance, computer programming and science classes (plus hang out with friends); chores and housework; music lessons; and, most importantly, lots and lots of unstructured play time.
I also try to fit in excursions from time to time, when I can.  Last week we went to the zoo; this week we went to Tui Glen playground.
When the kids are left to their own devices, their default play is Lego. They can spend hours creating and exploring imaginary worlds with it. They also regularly play board games together, which Paul and I join in on sometimes. (Our family favourite at the moment is King of Tokyo, closely followed by 5 Minute Dungeon.) The kids also like jumping on the trampoline, rollerblading, climbing trees, playing with the cat and the chickens, or pulling out art supplies and getting creative on the dining room table.

Oh, and lately the girls have been teaching themselves to play songs on our piano keyboard using YouTube tutorials they search up on our iPad. My eldest daughter, who is officially learning violin, not piano, can be found at our keyboard most hours of the day, practising piano.

That's what kids do, when given lots of unstructured play time. They follow their interests and teach themselves things.

Our family follows the school term, because all of our structured activities happen during term time,  but we make the most of our holidays. I always find I need a good one by the end of the term, as I'm exhausted. We usually go to the beach where we get to recharge in nature, but this past holiday we did something different and went to stay with family in Christchurch. It was exciting for the kids, getting to travel by airplane for the first time in many years, and getting to explore a new-to-them city.

We loved spending time with our Christchurch family, and we also got to visit lots of wonderful places while we were there. We were lucky, because our holiday coincided with KidsFest, so the children got to do many activities free or cheaper than usual.
We visited Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, which was amazing and just seemed to keep going forever. The kids fed and patted so many animals, even eels.
We explored the new five-story Tūranga library (we can't call ourselves a homeschooling family if we don't visit the library). Tūranga had a Lego play area and a virtual reality machine, both which sucked the kids in for ages.
We played on the Margaret Mahy playground.
We rode the gondola and got to see amazing views out over Christchurch and Lyttelton Harbour.
We played at Taylor's Mistake beach, which satisfied our usual holiday beach-time urges, even if the water was freezing.
We spent two nights in Hanmer Springs, where we got to swim in the gorgeous hot pools, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
We caught up with old friends of mine, and did cupcake decorating.
We caught the tram around Christchurch's CBD and got to see buildings that were damaged by the earthquakes, as well as new buildings that have sprung up to replace the destroyed ones. We hopped off the tram to explore the Christchurch Museum, and then hopped back on again to finish the circuit.

In all the downtime in between our various excursions, the children played with their cousins - building Lego, practising songs on the piano and getting creative with art supplies on the dining room table.

Kids are always learning, even if it's just how to negotiate the swapping of one Lego piece for another - the kind of skill that will be useful for the rest of their lives.


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