The Best School of Learning is the Home

Jenny Anderson’s four school-aged children have never been to school.

Instead, Jenny has educated them herself, at home. She has a poster which provides her with encouragement and inspiration. It says, “The Best School of Learning is the Home”.

The decision to home educate began after Jenny and husband Brett met some teenagers who “seemed to be different”.

“They were articulate, they were interested, they were interesting,” Jenny explains. “We wondered what the difference was, and it turned out to be home education.

“For me, home education is about being able to be the biggest influence in our children’s lives, taking up the challenge to train them and raise them with our values and beliefs.

“You have to know in your heart that you’re doing the right thing. If you look at the teachers you’ve had, you can remember those whose heart was really in it.

“That’s particularly important when the dishes are piled up, the children are tearing around and you want to throw your hands in the air and say I can’t do it! Home education is a vocation. You have to have that sense that this is where I am supposed to be.”

Jenny recalls the mad rush to get everything done when her children were in childcare for a time.

“We were always flying out the door in the morning, and in the evenings you’re trying to get dinner on the table and the kids to bed,” she says.

“There wasn’t time to sit down and have proper conversations. Home education gives you those teachable moments.”

Jenny and Brett, who works as an IT consultant, have been home educating a long time. Their eldest child, Kira, is now 17, and doing a Bachelor of Arts (Internet Communication) online through Open Universities Australia. Lachlan is 15, Alyssa 11 and Dania, 7 – so the journey is far from over.

Like any path, it has not always been easy. Most families live on one income and Jenny has had to sacrifice her own time and some ambitions.

“I struggled with that at the beginning,” she admits. “I look at it as a sacrifice for a season. There is only a small window of time I can invest in my children and there will come a time when that ends and I move on to something else.”

There is no classroom in the family’s Tuggeranong home. Kira works at the computer; Lachlan likes quiet so works at a desk in his room; Dania is always at the kitchen table while Alyssa moves between her bedroom and the kitchen.

Jenny’s home education approach has changed a lot over the years. In the early days there was a strict timetable but now it is more relaxed. She also used to join other home educating families for regular excursions to museums and galleries, but that happens less nowadays.

The children do bookwork in the morning – using set curriculum for maths, english and science – while Jenny adopts a ‘natural learning approach’ to other subjects. The afternoons are free to pursue individual interests, for example Alyssa has just planted a vegetable garden. All the children are actively involved in CircXtreme (a circus group in Kambah), play musical instruments and are involved in a community theatre group. In the past, they have done gym, scouts and dancing. In 2005, the family spent seven months travelling around Australia which Jenny says was an amazing learning experience.

So what about assessment, and what about socialisation?

“The purpose of assessment is to determine how much they’ve understood,” Jenny says. “When you have regular conversations with your child, you know how much they know.

“In terms of socialisation, a child who is properly socialised can interact with people of all ages and in different situations.

“Of course our children have friends, but their first friends are their family. We also have an extended family network, friends, and we are very involved in our local church.

“Some people see home educating as strange and seem to think I might be judging their choices, which I am not.

“I am challenging society’s assumptions and opting out of a system but that doesn’t mean I am judging others. Our decision is counter-cultural, that’s all. While there are many benefits to home education, there are equally many benefits to other choices, such as being a full-time parent, working part-time and working full-time. All have rich opportunities for developing our children and we should all embrace the journey we are on.”

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