It's a cold and wet Monday morning and school starts at 9am but nothing sounds better than staying in your pyjamas all day, curled up next to the fire. With a rising number of children being home-schooled, the problem of not wanting to leave the house on those days does not exist. There is no need to worry about how to trudge through English, maths, science, PE and social studies like every other Monday. But it's not about sleep-ins and three Rotorua families speak about what lies at the centre of what has led them to home-school their children. A decision not solely based on education.

Family comes first. That's the overarching rhetoric homeschooled families share.

The Rotorua Daily Post was given a sneak peek into just why some people love learning at home following new figures which show 173 students in Rotorua are enrolled in home-schooling.

Jonathan Pilaar, 16, has had the best of both worlds; the youngest of three children who were taught by their mother until he was in Year 8 was now at Western Heights High School.


While being at high school offered the chance to constantly be around friends, Pilaar said the bonds he formed in the home-school community were a lot stronger.

His parents both attended conventional schools but made the decision to home educate their extremely timid first child, Michael, and their other two followed.

Homeschooling in New Zealand

While home-schooled, he was not drawn to the idea of conventional school: "school was more of a threat".

The closer connections, the freedom, the lack of distractions and the home-cooked lunches would not lure him back, saying high school was the best place to do NCEA.

His mother and former teacher Elizabeth said it was not the easy option but gave them a family connection like no other.

"It's no picnic, but it's a feast," she said, describing this "fantastic way of life" as an environment which would encourage and inspire her children.

"It's not the easy option but it's worth it."

While others were at school, being put into boxes based on their curriculum-based achievements, her children were exploring their passions and talents in their own time, she said.

She said her children were self-motivated and managed time well. In her opinion, it gave her children confidence in their own identity.

The first of their children to be enrolled at school was their late son, Michael, for his second year of NCEA. Her daughter made the decision to go to school for Level 1.

In 2017, Michael died at the age of 19 after battling melanoma.

She said the family was extremely close and had been given memories they would not have otherwise had if they had gone to school.

"I don't feel as if I was cheated of any time," she said in hindsight of her son's death.

Mariah Pahl, 13, will be leaving Rotorua Girls' High School for home-school in about two weeks. She said Girls' High was a good school with good teachers and the decision to leave was hers.

The decision was nothing to do with the school but rather the schooling system that did not align with her learning style.

At home, the learning pace and structure would be rejigged and she would only do one subject a day.

Her mother Tessa said it would allow Mariah to learn life lessons.

The number of students studying at home in NZ.
The number of students studying at home in NZ.

"It gives us a lot more freedom to have time together as a family and also be able to teach her how to cook, do finances and even travel.

"Education is really important and so many kids drop out and do nothing ... she will still be learning and doing it how she needs to," she said.

She said her youngest daughter, 6, adored school and would continue to go, and the decision to home-school was a personal one of the child.

The five Peake children, aged between 5 and 13, have only ever been home-schooled by their mother, Katrina, who was also home-schooled.

"School doesn't suit everyone. Some kids can't sit still for long, and why should they?"

Benji Peake (left), 5, Deborah, 7, Elizabeth, 9, Scotty, 12, and Joshua, 13 are all homeschooled. Photo / Stephen Parker
Benji Peake (left), 5, Deborah, 7, Elizabeth, 9, Scotty, 12, and Joshua, 13 are all homeschooled. Photo / Stephen Parker

Things like reading were delayed until they were ready and the relaxed environment meant they could explore interests.

"I want them to live a secure and happy childhood but I want them to be aware of the world around them," she said.

Time and space apart to do their own thing was also important, and they did not live in each other's pockets, she said.

Peake said while her children had no desire to go to school at the moment, "it's not really an option at the primary level".

But it would be discussed when they got to high school.

The approach to home-schooling varies drastically from family to family, and the Peakes gave a glimpse of what a normal day at home looks like, if there is such a thing as a normal day.

Mother and homeschool teacher Katrina Peake says school is not for everyone.

Books and toys are sprawled in organised chaos, and a relaxed atmosphere fills the room.

The structure of the day is fluid, guided by the interests of her children at a pace they can manage. A typical day was difficult for mother and teacher Katrina to describe.

Breakfast is followed by chores. They aim to get stuck in at 9am - Pyjamas optional.

Each child is then divided off, working on either reading, maths or any other learning-based activity they can manage.

After lunch they are "out and about" either running errands in town, on day-trips or working on different projects of interest.

Afternoons are also filled with classes such as te reo Māori or technology with one of the other homeschool families.

Catching up with other homeschool families is also important and Peake helps co-ordinate a Friday group which meets at the scout hall.

For the Peake family no two days are the same. And that's just how they like it.