Anyone can home educate their children. You do not need a formal teaching qualification. You do not need a curriculum, formal lessons or a designated school room. You do need an interest in your children's education and a commitment of time and energy. Home educators come from all walks of life and have a variety of reasons for choosing this option.
How does home education work in practice?
Welsh researcher Alan Thomas carried out a study of home educating families that was published as "Educating Children at Home" by Continuum (ISBN 0304701793). He found that a great variety of methods and approaches were being used. Some families make a formal arrangement about hours and curriculum. Many others follow the interests and talents of the child and have a more open ended approach. Most families will use a combination of these two broad approaches; often moving from a more structured to a more flexible system. The experience of home education is very different from school-based education. The amount that children learn without being taught is surprising to some but gratifying to all involved. It may help to take along term view by realising that, although the "average child" may learn to read at, say, six, some children will not learn to read until much later. There is no evidence that these late readers are any less keen on reading when they see that it is useful to them.
What about exams and other forms of assessment?
Parents who are with their children every day do not need to see exam results to monitor their child's progress, strengths or weaknesses. Exams measure only a small part of the skills that children need to acquire as they grow up. Self-esteem, social competence, emotional security, happiness and physical development are not easily monitored, let alone improved by examinations. When/if it comes time to sit formal exams like the Leaving Certificate or O and A levels, arrangements can be made through V.E.C.s, Adult Education Classes or the Dublin Tutorial Centre (www.dublintutorialcentre.com, Tel 01 661 2209). Junior and Leaving Cert can also be sat at any school by registering with the school in early January of the year that the exams will be taken. More information can be seen at www.examinations.ie A levels can also be taken through the National Extension College in the UK, firstname.lastname@example.org website www.nec.ac.uk. Nuala Jackson runs a distance learning school that provides junior and leaving cert. She can be contacted on 051 383426 (evenings) or on her website at www.xlcproject.org.
What about social interaction?
What about it? Home educated children mix with their brothers, sisters, neighbours, friends and relations. Many of them participate in community and sports activities. Many of them take part in group activities - music, dancing, sports, clubs - outside the home. There is no evidence that home educated children lack positive social experiences and there is some evidence that they avoid some negative social experiences. Considering the amount of time that home educated children spend out in the wide world mixing with a variety of different people of differing ages it is clear that their social experience and hence social skills are at least as well developed as those of their school educated peers.