Homeschooling or Distance Education? One Aussie mum’s experiences.

We’ve spent 3 years each doing Distance Education and Homeschooling- here’s our verdict on which method is best – and how, when and why our family schools at home!

Homeschooling and Distance Education in Australia

It’s no secret that our single parent family thrives on homeschooling. It suits our lifestyle beautifully, especially given that we are an Australian travel family – and so, often on the move!

However I didn’t originally plan on distance educating and homeschooling my two girls – we fell into school at home purely due to circumstances…

Why we began home education

Homeschooling books

In the year my youngest child started kindergarten and my eldest was in year 3, we experienced an unresolvable bullying problem at our local primary school.

Living rurally, the only other options open to us were to either send the girls to a town school located 30kms away, or try schooling the girls at home.

I decided against another school –  I felt the Department of Education hadn’t supported us through the bullying issue and I didn’t want the chance of my kids going through all that trauma again at another school. As a parent, I had lost trust in the school system – and so had my kids.

It was time to explore our home schooling options, and I immediately applied for a NSW homeschooling certificate to get the ball rolling.

Once the NSW Department of Education learned I had applied for homeschooling. I was offered the option of enrolling the girls in Distance Education instead. At the time I didn’t have a clue how to homeschool, and so decided that DE might offer me more support.

Although we lived in rural NSW, because we had the local government school nearby the girls didn’t qualify for Distance Education under the standard distance or medical requirements. Therefore they were enrolled under the eligibility exception of Special Circumstances.

Home schooling on the road

What is Distance Education?

Distance Education (or DE) is a government funded, teacher-supervised education model that aligns with mainstream schooling, and is run and recognised by each state’s Department of Education.

All schoolwork is supplied to parents via mail to deliver to their children at home or during long-term travel – be that either domestically or internationally. All marking and reports are maintained and issued by the supervising DE school.

Students are expected to take part in NAPLAN, and also attend periodical Mini Schools of several days throughout the school year. Home visits may also occur.

What is Homeschooling?

Homeschooling is a self-funded education model where parents research, lesson plan and source materials for their child’s education to teach them in the home.

Parents are responsible for all aspects of managing and supervising their child’s education. This includes the delivery, support, marking and scope and sequence of their child’s schoolwork. Scope and sequence is basically checking that your child is meeting the required educational steps and milestones expected for their level or year of work.

Alternatively, instead of putting together your child’s schooling plans and lessons yourself, you can choose to hire tutors, or purchase a complete homeschooling program from a private company.

In our case, I homeschool the kids using a homeschool program, as all the curriculum level school work is supplied. We are currently in our third year with the Complete Education Australia (CEA) homeschooling program. (More about CEA below)

Do you need to get government permission to Homeschool?

Basically, yes – the same as any other form of schooling. Whilst I have heard of some families flying beneath the homeschooling registration process radar as they circumnavigate Australia, you are formally required to state register your child for homeschooling once they are of compulsory school age.  This proves difficult for families who no longer have a permanent home address in any state – but not impossible, apparently!

Unschooling (child-lead education with minimal structure) and the more common, traditional Homeschooling like we do (a more structured but flexible approach) registration requirements can vary greatly between Australian states.

Some states have minimal requirements. Others require more stringent supervision.

Our home state of NSW requires homeschool registration, a certificate to be granted to commence homeschooling and then an annual in-home visit.

Where can I apply to homeschool in NSW?

You can read about legal NSW homeschooling requirements at the official NESA website here and go directly to the NSW homeschooling application form website page here.

For other Australian state requirements, go to your state government education authority website.

Homeschooling on the lap

Homeschooling versus Distance Education

When it comes to the question of which homeschooling method is better, I personally found that homeschooling suits my girls far better than Distance Education did.

It offers a more flexible, child-lead experience. The kids are happier and more relaxed in their learning, which in-turn, improves their school results- and overall quality of life.

As a mum, I find that homeschooling has also been easier to manage – and facilitate.

It has a more simple approach with the kids completing their work and then the parent marking and/or monitoring their progress directly.

As mentioned prior, in New South Wales homeschooling, homeschool inspectors visit your home for a once a year check. You are required to present each school term’s school work summary, or “work samples” examples (such as written, digital and video files) and also sets of parent Scope and Sequence records.

Distance Education is more a continual monitoring system, which requires all school work to be completed and sent back to the teacher to mark each fortnight, plus any marked work returned to be revised and corrected as necessary with the consultation of the supervising teacher.

Kids receive feedback from their teacher via a recorded video message, and in turn are expected to also provide video samples of some of their work along with their written work.

Some families may see DE as more unnecessarily high maintenance, as a lot of time is spent on both schoolwork and in the DE paper trail.

That said, there are many Australian families happily using DE, and in the end it comes down to eligibility for DE – and of course what suits your child best.

For our family, homeschool was the clear winner between the two methods of home education.

Why we left DE for Homeschooling

My children spent three years in the NSW Distance Education system before I was told my eldest would not be allowed to continue on to a DE High School due to no longer qualifying under special circumstances.

The Department of Education (and government) likes to keep kids in regular school wherever possible – DE is an expensive service, and my daughter was no doubt expected to rejoin mainstream schooling. She gave a high school a short trial (in a gifted child program) and realised mainstream schooling was not making her happy. So I applied for her to commence homeschooling.

My youngest daughter soon followed her sister, leaving Distance Education for homeschooling too.

You don’t have to be a teacher to homeschool your kids

Homeschooling initially scared me off as a mum because I thought that I wasn’t skilled enough to research and create our own homeschooling program by myself.

Although I didn’t feel confident, it was vitally important to me that my kids would be getting the well-rounded, good quality education they needed, regardless of how or where they learned. So I started looking for a Homeschooling program that would offer a curriculum-equivalent standard. That’s when I discovered Complete Education Australia – Australia’s biggest homeschooling providers.

Homeschooling kids

The Australian homeschooling program we use

We’ve been sponsored by the CEA homeschooling program for three years now, and I truly can’t imagine Homeschooling any other way.

CEA is a brilliant way to tackle Homeschooling if you’re just an ordinary Aussie mum like me – and not a school teacher!

The benefits are many, but the really great thing about CEA is that you don’t have to be a teacher to homeschool your kids – because the CEA program is simply print and deliver. You facilitate your kids homeschooling journey – not teach them. It really doesn’t get any easier than that!

An Australian curriculum homeschooling program

How the CEA program works couldn’t be more simple.

Work is printed out in chronologically ordered, Australian curriculum equivalent schoolwork subjects that tick every requirement box for the Department of Education, yet remains flexible enough to tailor to the learning level and interests of your child.

So if your child is a gifted child or really interested or advanced in science, maths or another subject then they are able to work years ahead of their age level if they wish.

Alternatively, if your child is struggling to keep up, then they can work at an easier level and learn at a pace that suits them.

This individualised way of educating your child just makes sense.

CEA are there to hold your hand and support your child’s homeschool journey, from providing structure sheets and plans for your first homeschooling registration check, to adjusting subject levels as your child progresses. It’s really great to know that support is there if you need it.

If you’d like to learn more about how to homeschool using the CEA program, you can visit their website here.

But how do homeschooling kids socialise?

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this question, I’d be a rich mum! The idea that kids don’t socialise if they are homeschoolers is, quite frankly, an urban myth! Just because kids home school, doesn’t mean they become isolated from society – socialising your kids when you are home schooling is much easier than you think.

Traditional school isn’t the only place kids can socialise – after all, socialising is about much more than just forcing a bunch of kids of the same age to sit together in a classroom for hours on end!

There are plenty of opportunities for children to socialise outside of the school structure.

Find Homeschooling social groups on Facebook

My girls go to a local homeschooling kids social group once a week when we are at home. They absolutely love it, and have lots of fun with their peers there.  They watch movies, visiting fun places together or just hang out. Social groups are a great way for homeschooling kids to get together, create new friendships and above all, have fun!

To find your closest social group, search Facebook for an Australian homeschooling social group in your area. That’s how we found ours!

Homeschooling kids do extra curricular activities

Like many other school kids, my girls also attend extra curricular lessons. They enjoy piano, violin, cheerleading classes and language lessons.

Extra curricular activities are another great way for kids to make friends and have fun together.

Family travel homeschoolers socialise and learn on the road

As a family travel blog mum, my family tend to be away from home quite a bit. This opens up even more opportunities for real-world learning – and for my kids to meet and interact with a wide variety of people of all ages, from all walks of life!

There are many Aussie families “doing the lap”, or travelling around Australia full time with their caravans, campers and tents – and lots of them are happy homeschoolers!

Strictly speaking, Distance Education is the legal way to school on the road, as homeschoolers are meant to be schooling from the home in the home state they are registered in, however there are certainly families using a state home address but homeschooling as they travel Australia too.

Travelling Australia and internationally offers countless opportunities for kids to enjoy hands-on learning and socialising with fellow travellers.

Visiting museums during the quieter school hours is one of the perks!

The unexpected bonuses and freedom of homeschooling!

I saved the best for last – from holidaying outside of crowded, expensive school holiday periods, to sleeping in, to having museums, parks and beaches all to yourself during the school day – there’s a whole lot for parents to love about schooling from home!

Best of all, your family is living, loving and learning together. Spending these precious years with your children and creating unshakable family bonds is truly a beautiful thing.

But how will my children learn to deal with conflict?

There is a widespread belief that children being bullied at school must learn to resolve the situation themselves. To a point, this may be true. But many bullying situations far surpass the point of reason, and can even be downright dangerous.

Think about it – are adults expected to not only cope with victimisation but also somehow stop it without outside assistance? Fortunately adults have avenues open to them such as Human Resources – or the law – or they can leave – remove themselves from a bad situation. Why wouldn’t we also give our kids these same opportunities for relief from an irretrievable situation?

How does sending your child into misery each day improve their social abilities? Certainly in our case, several months of this was already too much unnecessary stress.

Yes – actually, we do love homeschooling!

Homeschooling has helped us to achieve a lifestyle my family loves – and now we can’t imagine life any other way!

Its totally do-able – you just need to take that first, brave step. If I can do it – anyone can.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please give us a Facebook “Like” or comment below, to keep them coming!

To listen to my most recent homeschooling media interview, go to ABC radio Sydney here

The Let’s Go Mum family are partners with Complete Education Australia.  As always, all opinions are firmly our own.

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About LetsGoMum

Hi, I'm Barbara, mum of the Let's Go Mum blog. We'd love to hear from you! You can contact me anytime with ideas on where you think we should go or what you think we should try...just drop me a line at barbara@letsgomum.com.au!
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