When you think about homeschoolers a few things may come to mind: Maybe they are stuck in their house all day, don't have any friends, have no social skills, learn from unqualified teachers and miss out on the "school experience". Despite this perception, the number of children in home education is continuing to grow in Rotorua and nationwide. Cira Olivier finds out why more people are doing away with the structures of the schooling system in favour of being guided by the interests of their children.
The number of homeschoolers has more than doubled in Rotorua in the last 20 years with 173 students registered last year compared to 85 in 1998.
Across the country, more students are entering this system of learning and staying in it for longer.
Katrina Peake, a key contact in Rotorua's homeschool community, said the majority of people made the choice for lifestyle or religious reasons.
Peake homeschooled her five children aged between 5 and 13 and said their obvious talents and interests had shone through in a way that may have been neglected in a rigid education regime.
Her oldest son wants to be a pilot, an interest developed at a young age, and that pushed him to work on subjects like maths and science.
He also took part in Air Cadets to work towards his dream.
He will go to high school in a few years, an option given to all of Peake's children.
Elizabeth Pilaar used to homeschool her three children and said they valued academics but it gave them the opportunity to learn by experience.
"In February a few years ago when everyone was at school we took a five-week holiday to the South Island," she said.
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They visited historical sites, museums, mines and landmarks - which they would not have been able to if they were in a registered school.
Her children moved to traditional schooling at different stages during intermediate and high school.
By law, children between the age of 6 and 16 are required to enrol in and attend a registered school unless the Ministry of Education grants an exemption.
To get this, parents or caregivers need to fill in a 14-page application detailing how the child will be taught, what learning philosophy will be used, and what resources will be used.
Rotorua Girls' High School student Mariah Pahl has just sent her application to be homeschooled to the Ministry of Education.
Mariah said she thought Girls' High was a "really good school" but anxiety, a fast pace and a constant change in subjects she was not interested in were the main reasons for her decision.
Rotorua Girls' High School principal Sarah Davis said she believed schools were the best place for children to learn, guided by teachers who were trained to teach.
"It's our bread and butter, its what we do," she said but added she was not familiar with the alternative pathway of learning.
With one argument for homeschooling being that it was more immersive, Davies said schools worked hard on providing that immersion too.
Speaking generally she said: "If there seems to be a gap from the family's point of view they need to communicate this with the school so we can do what we can".
Auckland University clinical psychologist Vas Ajello, who specialises in child and adolescent psychology, said the impact of homeschooling on development depended on a range of factors.
He said the biggest factor was access to peer-based activities and that could be the biggest disadvantage of homeschooling compared to conventional schooling.
"But this can easily be mitigated with after-school activities or easily accessible neighbourhood peer groups."
Ajello said there was a higher chance of homeschooled children being less equipped to handle social situations based on the nature of home school but that was easy to overcome.
"Homeschooling is not 24/7, it's six hours and good results can be obtained, but it depends on the maintenance of clear routines and boundaries."
The Ministry of Education's deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said parents could choose the curriculum they use to teach their children.
If it met the legal criteria of being taught "at least as regularly and well as in a registered school", the exemption would be granted, she said.
The ministry needs to ensure the standard of learning is of standard meaning families may be reviewed by the Education Review Office just like schools.
A biannual declaration to the ministry is also required to assure the home educating is continuing and the Certificate of Exemption is still valid.
The ministry provides allowances for homeschooling of $743 for one child, $632 for the second, $521 for the third, and $372 for all children after. They are paid twice in a year.
Across New Zealand, students being homeschooled increased last year by 290 students; 1320 students entered into homeschooling and 1030 students finished homeschooling.
The average age of students who finished homeschool last year was 13, with those children then going to a high school.