Learning at home with the McLean family

Our editor Kate Barber talks with Mum Julia McLean about their decision to homeschool their two eldest children and how the experience has been for the family.

The number of families taking their children out of mainstream schooling to learn at home is on the rise. Todd Roughton from Home Schooling NZ says that pre-Covid, 6400 children were being homeschooled in New Zealand. That number now sits at 10,000 and continues to rise. 

The pandemic and the political climate have been a catalyst for many families making this shift. However, the reasons are many, says Julia, as are the approaches and curriculum options available. Ultimately, Julia says, “We are all families trying to do the best for our children”. 

Why did you decide to homeschool your children? 

Our family was stressed. Our son was miserable, and the school was trying their best, but no amount of intervention or strategy was working. I knew that, as a family, we couldn’t survive this any longer. Change was needed. I got past my fear of being responsible for my child’s education. Failing him was not an option, but until that point, I felt we were. Now one year on, he’s a completely different child, and he makes me proud. 

My second child suffered two concussions – the first in lockdown 2020 and then another one seven months later. Her headaches were constant, and her vision was compromised. Her ability to concentrate and participate in class were affected. Bullying kicked in, and ultimately, after a year of turmoil, we knew she couldn’t recover at school and needed time to heal. We applied for the exemption, and 12 weeks into her new learning environment she was headache free. She started to feel success again in her schoolwork, and her learning is back on track. 

What are the best aspects of homeschooling?

It has allowed me to learn more about my children and what makes them happy. For example, I never knew my son loved science, that he’s not that fussed about sport, and that he’d much rather teach himself a new skill than go and sit with a bunch of strangers and learn it. Homeschooling has allowed me to shape and participate in their learning by following their passions. It’s also allowed other people to share their knowledge because the kids are available. 

Finally, it’s the confidence I’ve seen my kids develop. They know the sacrifice we’ve made as a family to educate them; therefore, they have taken real ownership of their learning. It also means their pets benefit from more time spent together. 

Tell me about the homeschooling community?

I’ve been surprised by how well connected the homeschooling community is and just what is available for children. I quickly learned it was up to me to make sure bookwork was done because there were so many activities we could choose to do. There is no issue of not having social contact! 

The support networks my kids and I have formed are genuine and authentic. There are so many different approaches that can be taken to homeschooling, but I’ve found there’s no judgment because, at the end of the day, we are all families trying to do the best for our children.  

What are the hardest parts?

It is hard wearing the two hats of parent and educator. Neither one gets to clock off, and there are times when I find myself assessing my performance! A minor issue is that we spend a lot of time around home, so I look forward to getting off the property. 

What advice do you have for families considering homeschooling? 

  • Put your child’s needs first and work backwards from there to determine whether homeschooling is the right fit. 
  • Take a long-term approach to decision-making because you and your child or children may find you love it and want to go all the way through. 
  • Talk to a range of homeschooling families, because there are a number of curriculum options and approaches to learning that you may choose to follow.
  • The exemption process is daunting, but consider it a helpful tool for you to figure out how you will approach and create the best learning environment for your child.

Grandparents raising grandchildren trust NZ

Are you raising your grandchild or someone else’s child full-time? Do you need help getting access to financial support for their needs? Are you stressed and struggling with challenging behaviour? Do you need someone in your corner who understands what you are going through?

If you answered YES, you are not alone. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust NZ (GRG) supports over 5800 member families nationwide to raise resilient and healthy children. GRG provides information, support, advocacy services and trauma-informed caregiver education workshops designed to help empower you and reduce stress in your lives. Contact GRG on 0800 GRANDS (0800 472 637) and join today.

office@grg.org.nz / 09 418 3753 / grg.org.nz