Home-school network strong in Tauranga

By Michele Hunter

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Heili Swart gave up her job as a physiotherapist to focus on home schooling her children Nina, 3, Conrad, 6 and Ruben, 8. Photo/John Borren
Heili Swart gave up her job as a physiotherapist to focus on home schooling her children Nina, 3, Conrad, 6 and Ruben, 8. Photo/John Borren

A quick glance at the Swart family's weekly calendar soon quashes the perception that home-schooled children lack social outlets.

In fact, Oropi mum Heili Swart says her two boys have the benefit of socialising with children in a wider age range, and have so many options for extra-curricular activities in Tauranga, they have to limit themselves each term.

Mrs Swart said Tauranga had a strong network of about 100 home-schooled families, divided into three groups defined by children's age and the family's style of home-schooling.

They get together for activities including drama, swimming and gym classes, and meet weekly for socialisation.

The Swart boys, who have a 3-year-old sister, Nina, also belong to sports clubs.The number of children home-schooled across Tauranga and the Western Bay was 246 in 1998, spiking to 267 in 2005 and dropping back to 222 last year.

Mrs Swart and her husband, Pierre, thought long and hard about their decision to home-school sons Ruben, 8, and Conrad, 6.

Coming from South Africa, they weren't entirely happy with the length of the school day in New Zealand, or the fact children started full days at school at age 5.

"As parents we wanted to remain being the major influence over our children, especially because they're still so very young," Mrs Swart said.

Mr Swart, who now works as a tradesman, said he felt school never played to his personal strengths and both parents liked the idea of tailoring their children's education to suit their individual personalities.

They liked the idea of teaching their children things and in ways that were outside the box and "exposing them to things they might not be exposed to, outside of school".

They also liked the flexibility of home-schooling. Lessons can happen at 8am, 10am or 4pm, she said.

"Some people are morning people, some people are afternoon people, so you can play to the strength of the child."

Lesson lengths can also be adjusted to suit the child's level of concentration, as can location of the lessons, some of which are held outdoors.

"It's very helpful for boys who struggle to sit still."

She is adamant the decision to home-school was the right one and she doesn't regret giving up her career as a physiotherapist, despite a major loss of income.

"No, not at all. I love my children and I love what I do. I get to be with them, I get to see them learn. I get to see them develop. I get to see the penny drop," Mrs Swart said.

While home-school parents receive an annual government allowance, they must cover the cost of resources themselves.

Meanwhile, Val Dodd had very different reasons for home-schooling three of her seven children.

Her daughter, then in Year 10, was being bullied at school, falling behind and not receiving the support she needed.

Working as a primary school teacher aide, Mrs Dodd decided it was her own child who needed her assistance most, so she took her out of school, along with her younger sister.

Her youngest daughter was just starting school at the time, so she was home-schooled as well.

Previously unsure she was capable of home-schooling, Mrs Dodd soon realised the amount of resources and support available made it a realistic prospect.

"It's been the best thing I've ever done," she said.

Her children attend social get-togethers, one of two home-school classes run at Aspire Gym in Bethlehem and go rock climbing.

Social isolation was not a reality, Mrs Dodd said.

"That's very far from the case. We actually have to put the brakes on that," she said.

The decision has worked for the family with their eldest daughter, now 19, happily working, the next sitting her final NCEA exams and the third a happily home-schooled 12-year-old with a real thirst for knowledge.

Once they were onto a topic or subject they could pursue it without the constraints of a school timetable, Mrs Dodd said.

"We get hold of a topic and we can really explore it. The enthusiasm that I've found in my children for learning is huge."

Children could learn at their own pace and explore alternative ways of doing things, without ridicule, she said.

Both families said home-schooling had brought their family closer, particularly the bond between siblings.

Who can home educate?

- Any parent or legal guardian of a child aged between 5 and 16 years of age may apply to home educate.

- To gain approval, your application must satisfy the Ministry of Education that your child will be taught at least as regularly and as well as he or she would be in a registered school. If your child has special education needs, the application must show that these needs will be met.

Source: Ministry of Education

- Bay of Plenty Times

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