Homeschooling in New Zealand: Things to consider

Homeschooling in New Zealand-Things to consider

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and home educate your kids.  You’ve thought long and hard, weighing up the different options, and think that homeschooling is probably the way to go for at least one of your children. 

Or maybe you’re at the very start of that journey; not totally sure that the local school is the right answer for your child, and you’re gathering information about all the schooling options available in New Zealand, including distance learning or correspondence school.  Once you’ve got enough information on the table you can have a look at which option might work the best.

Welcome aboard  🙂

Homeschooling in New Zealand: Things to consider

I’ve compiled a handy list of things to do or things to consider when deciding to start the home education journey. Let’s start by taking a look at one thing you really need to know about; the law.

Deciding to homeschool: Know the law

In New Zealand, the legal requirement is for students to be enrolled in a school between the ages of 6 and 16.  In order to home educate, you must apply to the Ministry of Education for an ‘exemption from enrolment at a registered school’ for each child.

The Ministry will then assess your application to see if it meets the legal requirements that your child will be “taught as regularly and as well as in a registered school”.  Children with special education needs will need to be taught “at least as regularly and well as in a special class or clinic or by a special service”.

Once an exemption from enrolment is granted, the Education Review Office (ERO) is responsible for monitoring the teaching that the children receive.

Check out more information about the exemption process available on the National Council of Home Educators New Zealand (NCHENZ) website or go here for more information about home educating a child with special education needs.

Get connected with other homeschoolers in your area

deciding to homeschool

As you talk with people about your decision to home educate, you will hear over and over again the question “But what about socialisation??”  People worry that the kids will be stuck at home all day, every day, only ever talk to their parents, and grow up unable to function normally in society.

Never fear.

Most places in the country have got active homeschool support groups where you can meet other families.  Some are purely social, some organise group field trips, classes, team sports and the like.  Some are for religious homeschoolers, some for secular homeschoolers, some for anyone and everyone.

If you don’t immediately click with the first homeschool family or group that you meet, don’t panic – no two homeschooling families are alike.  Hopefully you’ll find buddies for your kids (and yourself!) before too long.

Even if your kids are preschoolers, or at school and you’re just thinking about home education as an option, make contact with your local group. One thing to remember, though, is that they’re all run by homeschooling parents, volunteering to coordinate a group of local families.

For the most part they’ll be a great source of support and help in your homeschooling journey, but all that stuff will happen in their spare time, and their emails don’t necessarily get checked regularly.

NCHENZ has got a good list of local support groups on their website, but it is not a complete list – if you don’t see a contact for your area, then get on one of the national lists or Facebook groups (see the next point) and ask if anyone knows of homeschoolers near you – there’s bound to be someone!

And don’t forget that your children can still access all the after school activities that they would be doing if they attended school.  Scouts and Guides, ballet and music classes, art lessons, club sports, swimming, sports etc are all available in most parts of the country.

Get connected with others online, both in New Zealand and overseas

In addition to the support of a local home educators’ group, there are a number of national and international online groups you can connect with.

These can be a life-saver, especially for those who are geographically isolated, those who struggle to leave the house for whatever reason (ill health, new baby, no car), or whose family timetables make it difficult to meet up with others.

Even those of us who are well connected with our local groups find it valuable to be plugged in to what is happening on a national level. You can find a whole heap of groups, discussion forums and various support options on the NCHENZ website.

Read widely about home education styles and approaches

There are as many ways to homeschool as there are families who do it, but there are broad categories of style and approach that people tend to gravitate to.  This website has a handy list of the most common approaches.

Have a read around the internet, and check out your local library for books on homeschooling.  There are hundreds of home education blogs and websites with lots of great information and advice.

There are lots of different ways to do this, and it’s a good idea to investigate the options and see which approach might be a good fit for your family. This website has some really useful information on different approaches to homeschooling.

Read up on different learning styles

deciding to homeschool

While you’re at the library, get a book or two about learning styles, or search for information online.

As you read about learning styles, consider how your child likes to learn, and also your own preferences. Try to pick a curriculum or strategy that fits with both of you reasonably well.

If the thought doing lots of fiddly crafts all day makes you want to run screaming down the road, then no matter how ‘hands on’ your child is, a craft-heavy curriculum is probably not a great fit for you.

Likewise, no matter how much you love to learn by sitting and listening to stories, if your child prefers to tick boxes and fill in forms and workbooks, then a curriculum that relies on lots of read-alouds will be an uphill struggle (ask me how I know!)

Gather your resources

Once you’ve got an idea about the general approach you’d like to take, and the learning styles you’re working with, you will have a better idea of what sort of resources you’ll be needing.

Your local library is probably a treasure house of books for all your science, geography, history, technology, and literature topics.

As well as that, there are a few New Zealand homeschool suppliers, most international suppliers will ship to New Zealand, and there is a roaring online trade in second-hand curricula (some of these trade sites are listed on the NCHENZ website noted above).

Be prepared for people to not understand your decision

It would be great if the people we care about always understood and supported our decisions, but sometimes that isn’t the case.

You may find that friends and family start wondering if you’ve gone off the deep end, and they may start to voice their ‘concerns’ about you making a choice that is so different from their own experiences. For the most part, these people (especially the children’s grandparents) are motivated by loving concern. Remember that they haven’t journeyed through the whole decision-making process with you.

When we decided to homeschool our kids I found it helpful to write out a “Common Questions About Home Education” page for my family. It covered things like “Is it legal?”, “What about team sports?”,  “Does it work?”, and “Don’t the parents need to be teachers?”.

My Dad in particular found it reassuring to see that there were thoughtful answers to his worries, and it also helped that the reasons were all laid out on an official-looking bit of paper, rather than it just being something I was telling him.

Not all families and friends will become as supportive (or at least neutral) as mine.  Some will see it as a rejection or criticism of their own schooling choices, others just won’t be able to understand you doing something so non-mainstream.

This blog has a helpful post about grandparents who just don’t understand, but much of the information can be applied to other family members and friends too.

Be prepared for it to not work at all the way you thought it would, and to switch to a completely different approach as the need arises. Probably more than once.

Things change.

Kids grow up a bit and move into their next developmental phase. That great curriculum that was awesome for a month has started to get tedious beyond belief. You learn of another approach that you’d like to try. Kid #2 is a completely different learner to kid #1. Or maybe the reality of doing this homeschool thing day in and day out is not living up to your early visions of what it would be.

This is all perfectly normal and to be expected.

The beauty of home education is that there is no ‘One Right Way’ to do it. Have a break. Declare it a ‘field trip week’. Try learning maths through games and puzzles, or if you’ve been doing that, buy a workbook and try the pencil and paper method.

Go see a play. Watch a movie version of Shakespeare, or Narnia, or The Lord of The Rings. Make your own stop motion Lego movies. Try a different language or spelling curriculum. And then another.

Remember that homeschooling, like life, is all about the journey.  Deciding to homeschool is just the first part. Build in plenty of rest-stops and remember to enjoy the scenery along the way.

Stacey Wilson

Stacey Wilson lives in the South Island with her husband, their 4 children, 4 hens, and a rabbit that they secretly think must have watched Monty Python's "Holy Grail".

In addition to home educating her children, she blogs at Kombucha Research, turning scientific papers into plain English, and has just published her first book Simple Kombucha Sourdough.

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