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

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We’ve spent 6 years – 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 having to go through all that trauma again at yet 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 my 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 and school books are 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 (such as school activity sheets, homeschooling support books, English subject novels and text books) for their child’s education to teach them in the home.

Parents, grand parents or carers 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 and recording that your child is meeting the required educational steps and milestones expected for their level or year of work.

What is Unschooling?

Unschooling is another non-school education model which is a more child-lead, free range life education with minimal structure.

As we traditionally Homeschool to equal state-based curriculum learning, I can’t speak in detail about Unschooling (but I’d love to hear from you in the comments section at the end of this article about how you Unschool, if you do!).

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!

Homeschooling registration requirements can vary greatly between Australian states. Some states have minimal requirements. Others require more stringent supervision.

The NSW homeschooling application process

Our home state of NSW requires an initial application for homeschool registration. This can take months, but in our case about a month until the first in-home visit by a government supervisor occurred to check I had an acceptable plan in place.

After this first visit, a Homeschooling Certificate was granted to commence homeschooling – the hard-copy can take a couple of weeks to be mailed to you.

The first Homeschooling Certificate usually only covers a period of a few months. Then there is usually another home visit to check you are following your plan. When the government supervisor is satisfied you are all coping well, in-home visits are reduced to annual check-ups, or possibly once every two years.

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 – than distance education.

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.

Homeschooling kids

Common Homeschooling Myths dispelled

Ignorance breeds fear. There are a lot of points of view that before you start educating from home, you will hear and see often and perhaps worry about. Once you start homeschooling, you’ll realise you were worried about nothing. Here’s a couple of big ones.

Don’t you have to be a teacher to homeschool your kids?

No. Thousands of Australian parents homeschool their kids around the country all the way up to University and do just fine.

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 – but plenty of parents do.

In my case, I started looking for a Homeschooling program that would offer a NSW curriculum-equivalent standard. That’s when I discovered Complete Education Australia, who are Australia’s biggest homeschooling providers (see more about CEA at the bottom of this article).

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.

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.

Homeschooling socialising ideas

Socialising definitely does not have to start and end in a crowded school classroom or playground – and it doesn’t have to be restricted to a defined age group, either!  There’s a whole world of social opportunities out there for your child, just the way nature intended.

Your Family

Big or small, your child is already learning how to socialise simply by being a part of your family.

Have a big family? Great! Organise family occasions, invite the cousins over, visit grandma – it’s all valuable socialising, and everyone in the family benefits too.

If you have a tiny family like ours, it may be helpful to look further for some extra socialising. Explore a lot. Visit museums and parks for kids to play at a playground. They will often naturally connect and play together.

Encourage your kids to order their own meal when you are at restaurants, or buy their own packet of chips at a shop, or answer your phone. It all helps with their confidence and social skills.

Find Homeschooling social groups on Facebook

My girls are part of a small local homeschooling teenager social group. When we are at home we join the weekly meet-ups, and when we are away they stay in touch via the online chat group.

My girls absolutely love their homeschool group, and have lots of fun with their peers there. They watch movies together, visit fun places – or sometimes just hang out. Parents enjoy catching up with each other too.

Social groups and Homeschooling co-ops are a great way for homeschooling families to get together, create new friendships and above all, have fun!

Safe online chat groups can be another good way for kids and teens to keep in contact with each other.

To find your closest homeschool social or online chat 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, either in person or via Skype. They enjoy piano, violin, cheerleading classes and language lessons.

If you are travelling like we often are, Skype or Zoom lessons are a useful method to keep their skills up.

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

Travel & exploring Australia

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.

Can I still Homeschool if…

I’m doing The Lap or travelling overseas?

Yes! Family travel homeschoolers socialise and learn on the road

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 acceptable way to school on the road or overseas, as homeschoolers are meant to be schooling at home, in the home state they are registered in.

That said, it’s common for families to use their state home or a family address to register and then homeschool their kids as they travel Australia.

Still others seem to wander freely without registering for homeschooling at all!

In any case, travelling Australia and internationally offers countless opportunities for kids to enjoy hands-on learning and socialising with fellow travellers.

Can I still Homeschool if…

I am a single parent?

Yes! There are plenty of Homeschooling single parents

Many single mums and dads homeschool their children. Find out more about single parent homeschooling and the extra Centrelink benefits available here at the Single Mum Australia website.

Handy Homeschooling Tools & Resources

The Australian homeschooling program we use

We’ve been sponsored by the Complete Education Australia (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!

CEA is 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.

Homeschooling tutors

Another option instead of putting together your child’s homeschooling plan and lessons yourself is to hire tutors to help you.

This can be a great way to dispel any worry about your child not educationally keeping up with their age-group, however of course this is also a very expensive way to approach homeschooling, and removes a lot of the family time bonding aspect from it.

Hiring a tutor for one subject can be a good way to further support a particular area your child may be struggling with.

Where to get cheap homeschool books online

Homeschooling often sparks a child’s interest in learning thanks to the freedom to choose to study things they already have an interest in – this often also results in voracious readers!

My kids love books and reading, so we tend to visit the library a lot. We do buy an awful lot of books too, plus each term we need to order books for English.

We buy most of the books we need from Booktopia, because it’s usually cheaper – plus they have the harder-to-get books we are often searching for.

Buying online is much easier than fruitlessly searching through bookstores who often only stock popular or new titles, and charge a lot more for the privilege.

Your Homeschooling Certificate gets you free stuff

Hang on to that Homeschooling Certificate or carry a digital image photo of it with you, because at certain attractions such as some museums it may give you teacher status and get you free entry!

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. Don’t waste them high-fiving your child in the hallway as you all run off to work or school in different directions if you can possibly help it.

Yes – actually, we do love homeschooling!

Homeschooling has helped us to achieve a lifestyle together that 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 or found it useful, please consider giving us a Facebook “Like” or comment below – and thank you.

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 remain 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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