Homeschooling in Australia

This week we’re going across the ocean to talk with April, an Australian homeschooler and author of the blog, Learning Alongside.

Welcome!  April, I love the title of your blog. Can you explain why you chose “Learning Alongside” as the name of your blog?

From the beginning of our homeschooling journey I have been learning.  I never realised how much I didn’t know about my children, our family dynamics and myself.  Home education has given me the opportunity of learning alongside my children and this would be one of things I love most about our life.

How old are your children?

I have three children.  An 8 year old boy and two girls, 5 and 2 years.

Many of our readers are from the USA and other countries. Can you tell us where you are from in Australia? 

We live in the Lockyer Valley, which is in South-East Queensland.  Approximately a 90 minute drive from the state’s capital, Brisbane.

Australia Map courtesy of wikimedia

This isn’t related to homeschooling per-se, but we all love and are intrigued by Australian wildlife. Can you tell us the typical animals you see in your neighborhood and local area? 

Fortunately we live out of town on a five acre block of bushland.  Often in the morning as I hang out the washing, I watch wallabies {small kangaroos} feed on the long grass surrounding our dam.  Most days we hear the laugh of a kookaburra, marvel at the bearded dragon {lizard} as it stalks its prey, become annoyed with the possums that fight at night in the trees while we try to sleep and {carefully!} remove the tree snakes that sometimes visit our verandah in search of the green frogs that live there.  Our local area is abundant with Australian wildlife.

Top left: Picture by April of a wallaby in their yard, Top right: Kookaburra, photo from wikimedia

Bottom left: Bearded Dragon, Bottom right: possum, photo from wikimedia

Now back to homeschooling. Is homeschooling common in Australia?

No, homeschooling is unique in Australia.  Prior to deciding to home educate my children I’d never met any homeschoolers.  When mentioning to people that we homeschool they always get this puzzled look on their face, which is then followed by an onslaught of questions.  Is it legal?  Why would you do that?  Are you a qualified teacher?  The good news is that the number of parents choosing to home educate in Australia is rapidly increasing.

How/why did you get started homeschooling?

My eldest child attended Kindy, Prep and first term of Year One.  As I delivered him to school each day I felt as though I was doing the wrong thing.  The once vibrant, caring and loveable kid I knew was slowly disappearing.  He had always been a bright spark and we were saddened to find out that he spent most of his days playing with toy cars in the corner because he already knew how to read and the other children were still learning the alphabet.  So I looked into alternatives and homeschooling seemed like the right thing to do.  Every day I think of another reason why home education is the best thing for our children and family.

What kind of curriculum is available to you in Australia? Do you use curriculum written by other Aussies or curriculum from the U.S.?

In Australia there is minimal curriculum purpose-made for homeschooling.  Admittedly the only Australian book we use at the moment is for handwriting, everything else I have sourced from the US.  I drool over the choices US homeschoolers have available to them.  I dream of one day travelling to the states to attend a convention!  The expense of shipping from the US to Australia usually costs as much as the books themselves.  I’m grateful that a lot of curriculum is being offered in eBook format now.  It saves money and you have it instantly.

Here in the U.S. depending on where you live there are a lot of opportunities for homeschoolers – everything from homeschool days at the local museums to co-ops and homeschool park days, homeschool ice skating, swimming and more!).  Do you have much of a homeschool community and opportunities like this where you live?

In our neck of the woods, there is all but nothing in the way of homeschooler events.  Last year I organised a group of local homeschoolers to meet at the park once a month and still there is only three or four families that come regularly.  I’ve read about homeschooling groups, in larger Australian cities, that have regular events and classes for their children to attend.  However nothing as awesome as the co-ops I read about on US blogs.  Oh boy, I’m starting to get a bit jealous now…

What did you do for school yesterday ?  Do most of your days look like that?

Today was a typical one for us.  We started early {6.30am} with English subjects {spelling, grammar and writing}, which was then followed by maths.  From 9 to 9.30am we had some morning tea and then focused on science for an hour, Rocks & Minerals is our current theme.  The kids then completed a few independent activities; reading, piano practice, typing, memory work, craft activity etc.  The formal part of our day finished at 11.30am ready for a noon lunch.  Mostly our afternoons are spent pursuing individual interests, for me that means housework…  Today though, we drove to the city in the afternoon as the kids had dance lessons to attend.

Do you homeschool set hours/days?

I would like to say we homeschool every weekday, but in truth it would most likely be four days per week.  Something always seems to arise at the last minute.  Grandma visits, excursion opportunity, sickness, errands, appointments etc.  However each week I schedule for five days just in case things run smoothly.

Where do you do most of your homeschooling? Do you have a specific homeschooling room?

In the beginning we huddled around the kitchen table.  Last year my husband renovated an old granny flat in the backyard and transformed it into a glorious learning space.  “The Green Room” as it is fondly known, is an excellent place to store all of our homeschooling resources and the majority of our bookwork is completed there.  We still utilise many other areas of our home, but the Green Room is our special homeschooling spot.

How does homeschooling work in your family? Are you the main homeschooling parent? Do you share responsibilities with your spouse/grandparent?

As my husband works full-time shift work, I do the majority of the lesson planning and activities with the kids.  Whenever my husband has the chance he always volunteers to assist.  He has strengths in science and technology, so I tend to offload these subjects to him where possible {lol}.  He is also very helpful with our toddler and entertains her some mornings so I can have some one-on-one time with the bigger kids.

Many Americans don’t know that the Aussie school year begins in January and is set up quite differently than the typical September-to-June school year here in America.  Can you tell us about the public school schedule in Australia:

Our schooling year begins at the end of January.  The year is broken into four terms of approximately ten weeks in each.  First break for the year is two weeks over Easter.  Our winter holidays are in June/July, again for two weeks.  Spring break is in September for two weeks and summer holidays is for six weeks commencing in early December.

Do you as homeschoolers follow that schedule? 

My husband has eight weeks a year of annual leave, so we holiday when he gets time off work.  Rarely does it coincide with mainstream schooling.  We like this as it isn’t busy when we visit the beach or take the kids on excursions.  We always break for one week at Easter and another over Christmas to enjoy the festivities.

Do you have a particular style of homeschooling? (For example, do you call yourselves classical homeschoolers? Montessori? Charlotte Mason?)  Do you follow a set curriculum?

Over the past few years I have trialled many different homeschooling philosophies to see what works best for us.  For my toddler {also when the bigger kids were small} we basically follow a Montessori inspired routine.  We then morphed into a Classical style of learning.  I love the Well-Trained Mind cycle for science and history, which we follow, however spend our afternoons in a relaxed homeschooling.  So I think this means we are “Eclectic” with a Classical influence, a dash of Montessori and sprinkle of a relaxed approach.  But that will probably change…

What curriculum/books do you recommend most often to fellow homeschoolers?

Math-U-See {MUS} and Institute of Excellence in Writing {IEW}.  I like the mastery approach of MUS.  The DVD’s are terrific, my kids actually enjoy watching them and their maths computation has excelled.  IEW has been a blessing in disguise.  I struggle with writing personally and in the beginning I wasn’t confident in guiding my son with composition.  The IEW approach is ingenious and I am personally enjoying learning how to write properly for the first time ever.

How do you manage the school/house/work/kids’ activities/meal balance? 

I’m a self-confessed neat freak!  I find that I can’t concentrate and function efficiently if surrounded by mess.  We have a good habit of always cleaning up when we finish one activity prior to starting the next.  The kids also have a list of daily chores and some extra on house cleaning day.  My husband is a talented cook, so I leave a lot of the meal planning and cooking up to him.  I’m so grateful!  At the end of each day I give the house a quick spruce up and then once a week a thorough clean.  We seem to be in a nice groove at the moment and it is all working nicely.

What are your homeschooling plans for the future? Will you homeschool straight through high school?

At this stage, we will continue to home educate ‘til the end.  I love homeschooling our children and the benefits are truly amazing, so why fix something that isn’t broken.  In saying this, who knows what the future holds.  If I’d been asked five years ago if I would be homeschooling today, I would have said a definite no.  And look what I’m doing now!

How much do you use technology in your homeschool–the computer, TV, iPod/iPad games, etc?

We try to involve technology as much as possible into our daily lives.  This is the way the world is moving.  Our iPad has been a fantastic addition to lessons this year and we view many YouTube clips that relate to our current themes.  The kids use their computer daily for various activities.  The kids enjoy watching recorded science, maths and art programs.  All media though is educationally-based.  I have a habit of only utilising media that has learning value.  The kids seem none the wiser…

Tell us about your most favorite homeschool project/activity/memory?

The most memorable activity to date was when the children worked on creating a cardboard castle for their medieval studies.  I felt blessed that I could witness all my children working together on a task and the bigger kids encouraging the toddler to join in.  She was pleased as punch to be invited to colour a wall of the castle.  A very special moment for this mum…

How has your homeschooling changed since you first began?

As like many new to homeschooling, I tried to recreate the typical “school” environment at home.  I had curriculum for everything and a very strict timetable.  It didn’t take long for me to realise that we were wasting time and that home education can be far more meaningful than anything offered in a traditional classroom.  Our entire approach to homeschooling has become more relaxed as we aim to find the perfect balance.

A huge thank you to April for this interview!

You might be interested in our other Homeschool Interviews and Guest Posts:  

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12 Responses

  1. Jill says:

    What a great series! I have been enjoying following along with your interviews. Thanks!

  2. Jill says:

    What a great series! I have been enjoying following along with your interviews. Thanks!

  3. Jen says:

    I am a homeschooler in Darwin, Australia. Nice to meet you, I’m off to check out your blog now.

    • Liesl Den says:

      Nice to meet you too! We lived for 12+ years in Alice Springs and went up to Darwin a number of times… checking out Kakadu, Litchfield, the magnetic termite mounds and all that along the way! I have some pictures of some our travels around Australia in the “Where We Used to Live” category in the right sidebar. Not that you need to see those pictures, though, right?!! Happy Homeschooling! ~Liesl

  4. Jen says:

    I am a homeschooler in Darwin, Australia. Nice to meet you, I’m off to check out your blog now.

    • Liesl Den says:

      Nice to meet you too! We lived for 12+ years in Alice Springs and went up to Darwin a number of times… checking out Kakadu, Litchfield, the magnetic termite mounds and all that along the way! I have some pictures of some our travels around Australia in the “Where We Used to Live” category in the right sidebar. Not that you need to see those pictures, though, right?!! Happy Homeschooling! ~Liesl

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