Pass the ruler, mom
This family is taking the structured approach to homeschooling. 

For many people, the term homeschooling conjures up the image of hippie-like children running wild at home doing whatever they want and learning not much more than how to be social misfits. But in reality homeschooling is exactly what you as a family make it. And as the Eccles family has discovered, with the right curriculum (and a thick skin to counter the outspoken opinions of others), it can be exactly the right choice for you, your children and your lifestyle.

Why homeschooling?

“When we embarked on our homeschooling adventure – because that is what it really felt like with the adrenalin rush, the uncertainty surrounding homeschooling and the varied opinions and attitudes that we encountered – our daughter, Hannah, was in grade two at a mainstream school,” says mom Merithy Eccles.

“Hannah had begun to show signs of emotional stress and it became apparent that she was just not coping in the conventional school environment. I began to dread the end of the school day as she would be weepy and clingy. We first thought that the best option would be to consider another school – but I am well aware that there is no such thing as a perfect school anywhere. A friend of mine was homeschooling so I went along to one of the monthly meetings convinced that I would find a bunch of ‘weirdos’ (actually there were some pretty peculiar people there) but on the whole I was impressed with the dedication that the majority of the parents had towards ensuring the best education for their child. So I began doing my own research and the more I learnt, the more became convinced that homeschooling was the best option for Hannah, and our other children.”

Our personal approach 

“There is so much on offer and the choice of approach and style ranges from totally unstructured child-centred methods to structured curriculum-based methods. The toughest decision is choosing the curriculum that best suits you and your child,” explains Merithy.

“We chose a structured homeschooling method because we believe that structured learning, with the requisite planning, implementation and self-discipline is a critical skill. After much trial, including having our children in mainstream schooling again for two years, we finally settled on the Theocentric Christian Education (TCE) system – a very structured and thorough homeschooling program based in Cape Town.

The TCE is a thorough curriculum, with very comprehensive books. Each grade is broken down into 40 weeks. Exams are written after week 20 and week 40 .A report is issued at the end of each exam, and there are weekly tests and assessments. The parent keeps track of the term marks and these are sent to TCE. Each grade has a manual, set out by TCE, which covers the work requirement for the year. They offer a good range of subjects and the opportunity to do A levels (on the Cambridge system). And help is only an email away. One of the reasons we chose TCE is that they are recognised by the government as well as universities.”

So can anyone start homeschooling?

“I do believe that any person can homeschool their children but it is definitely a sacrifice,” continues Merithy.

“There are some days when I send my children outside and spend half an hour regaining my sanity (the safest option for all involved). Whether a family can or should homeschool really depends on the family, its resources, circumstances, personalities and children’s needs: we know of families where some of the children are home-schooled and others are in traditional schools. I also believe that the availability of homeschooling depends on the family circumstances and often hinges on the parent’s self-esteem and fear that somehow we will mess withour children’s future if we educate themourselves. When I see the amount of driving around that moms do, hurrying to get their children ready for school, the lunch boxes, the projects that have to be supervised after school and most often into the evening, I am very grateful formy choice and for my opportunity to homeschool. Yes, there are some days when I feel that my life is all about the kids and their selfish ways but I believe that most moms have those feelings sometime during their mothering years.”

For the nay-sayers

Many people’s objections to homeschooling lie in the belief that the children will not be well socialised, will not be able to cope in the “real world” and that their futures will some how be jeopardised. For Merithy these are unjustified fears.

“I am not sure why there is such an obsession with ‘socialisation’ from people who don’t homeschool. I have seen children who have never been homeschooled who are worse social misfits than most homeschooled children. I firmly believe that the school system does not teach healthy socialising; there is nothing natural about spending eight hours a day with people your own age, when you think about it,” says Merithy. “There is also a lot of evidence showing that homeschooled children cope well, if not better, than mainstreamed children. When Hannah and Warwick returned to ‘mainstream’ education they had no issue with mixing with children from different grades. They were recognised immediately as leaders in their classes, by both teachers and friends. What seems to have set Hannah and Warwick apart from the other children is their independence and willingness to talk to teachers and those outside their peer group. In fact one of their continual concerns was their classmates’ lack of interest in education and their lack of respect for the teachers and learning.

“I admit that in the beginning I used to wonder if I was messing with my children’s future, especially as I am not a trained teacher. I quickly got over that as I realised that once a child can read they basically teach themselves, we just have to instil in them a thirst for knowledge and find a tutor for the subjects you find hard – it also helped that I had them assessed by educational specialists and they passed with flying colours. We have found that the best way to counter any possible pitfalls is to make sure that children are involved in social activities, especially in the sporting and cultural fields: they have played in club tennis, done dancing, Eisteddfod, been involved in drama, and have been taught by more than one person, such as tutors, music and art teachers,” she adds.

Dealing with judgement

“I have learnt over the years that total strangers who find out that we are homeschooling are under the impression that they are entitled to give their opinion about how we are turning our children into social misfits and messing up their lives. I have learnt to ignore such obnoxious presumption. In fact, in an effort to avoid people commenting about our choice to homeschool our children, we even named our school. Once, we had a mom comment that she had heard of the school and believed it to be quite good– we did not correct her! Sometimes when asked about our reason for homeschooling we reply that it is cotton-picking season and we need the labour!” laughs Merithy.

“Through homeschooling I know my children really well and have been privileged to see them develop and find out what it is they enjoy. If you are in a position to homeschool your child, I do not believe that one can do worse for your children than any school. With the resources available today there is a whole world waiting to be explored. I have also always believed that education is a lifelong pursuit and that by homeschooling and instilling a love for knowledge I am starting our children ona lifelong journey. I find it very sad when children cannot wait to leave school so they can stop learning and get on with the ‘real world’,” she concludes.

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