Home from school
For many Irish children, the school bell never rings, but is educating your children at home the right thing for your family?FOR SOME children, the humdrum of the school routine is an alien concept. More than 2,000 Irish children are educated at home and have no experience of the national curriculum, the rigours of school rules or even the camaraderie of the classroom.
Eddie O’Neill and his wife, Monica, have six children and three foster children, all of whom are educated at home. As a secondary school teacher, the Carlow man is well placed to tackle this task and believes he is giving his brood a much more positive start in life than they would have had in mainstream education.
“Not sending the children to school was originally Monica’s idea,” he says. “Our eldest son [Daragh] is now 25 and is working in a golf club in Hawaii. But when he was a baby Monica met a family who home educated and she thought it made a lot of sense. I wasn’t so sure, particularly as there were only a handful of families doing it at the time, and I was also a teacher.
“But we decided to give it a go and apart from Daragh who went to secondary school for first year and Leaving Cert and our second son Oisin (18) who went for a while when he was 13, none of the others have ever been to school. And I have to say they are thriving at home.
“Even Jess, one of our foster children who hated school, has totally turned over a new leaf with regard to education and self-esteem. Without exception, the children are all very independent, creative and keen to learn.”
Eddie, who has taken a sabbatical from work to help his wife with the children, says education should be about learning for the love of it rather than the need to get good grades.
“The most important thing I would say about home education is that we don’t teach our children anything – they learn for themselves,” he says.
“For example, when our 12-year-old son Oran learned to read, he taught himself in just 10 days because he had seen his older brothers reading football cards and wanted to be able to do it too.
“On a daily basis, we all get up, have breakfast and do some chores then Monica gives the kids a page of maths to do. If they are stuck, they ask for help, but usually they just get on with it. Then for the rest of the day, they work with Lego, draw, paint, create something and go for walks. We don’t have a set routine and the children just learn all day long without even thinking about it.
“They all love to read, they are allowed to use the computer to look up something educational and occasionally to play games and we have lots of impromptu quizzes and discussions about what is going on in the world. We don’t tend to do an awful lot of writing even though I know some people think it is very important. In short, we cover a lot of things without focusing on any particular subjects.
“I know some home educators who have little class systems set up but it is very individual and most of us do whatever suits our own families.”
Eddie says one of the most common perceptions about home education is that it involves an awful lot of work for parents and many people are scared of taking on the challenge.
“The first question I would ask people is what they are actually afraid of,” he says. “There isn’t a huge amount of work involved and, in fact, when we have had to take foster children to school, their routines and homework created more of an upheaval than anything we were doing at home. I think school is a stressful place for children and there is a huge absence of creativity whereas at home, they learn at their own pace and discover things that actually interest them.
“I’ve never worried about exams as there are plenty of different ways of achieving a qualification outside the school system. I believe you have to do what you love doing in life and if you can make a living out of it then that’s great.
“And this is where home-educated children have the advantage: they are allowed to learn at their own pace and develop an enthusiasm and love of learning. They are more independent and confident than other children of their age and they don’t have the stress to achieve results that children in exam classes have.
“The other huge bonus is that we as parents get to spend so much time with our children who will all be grown up before too long. I would encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in home education to take the plunge and just do it – you and your children will reap the rewards.”
Home Education: The Facts
Educating your child at home is a legal right.
A set curriculum or formal teaching qualifications are not necessary but it is important to be able to see progress in development should your family be assessed.
“800 children are registered with the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB). Under the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, parents must register with the National Educational Welfare Board if they are home educating their child.”*
Formal exams such as Leaving Certificate, A Level and VEC can be arranged if parents would like their child to have official results.
For more information contact the Home Education Network on heneire.org
* This article was amended on August 28th, 2012, to correct a factual error