The World is our school

We are an Irish family living and travelling full time in a camper van since June 2018 with a 7 year old and a 6 year old and this month as we went back home to Ireland to catch up with family and get some work done on the camper van we arranged to have a homeschooling assessment with Tusla (Irelands child & family agency) to be officially logged into the Irish home school register. We always knew we had the option to home school and it’s something we discussed since before the kids were even born.

Most children in Ireland start school between the ages of four and six, and stay there until they are between 16 and 18. Lots of Irish families nowadays choose not to send their children to school at all and there are lots of reasons why some families decide to home educate their children. Some do it because it gives them greater control over the education of their children, some prefer the freedom of it. Other parents decide they don’t want to send their children to a school with a catholic ethos and have no other choices in their localities. For other families, a less-structured approach to learning suits their family style better.

“More children are being homeschooled by parents for “philosophical, educational, lifestyle, religious, and cultural reasons,” according to Tusla and for us all of these reasons are why we homeschool.

The Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann supports the right of parents to educate their own children in whatever way they see fit. Article 42 of the Constitution states:

“The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.”

“Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes.”

“The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.”

Although it’s our constitutional right to home school, there is an application form to fill out followed by an assessment with Tusla. The form needs to be sent in when the child turns six, or if you remove them from school before they turn 16. Tusla then sends an assessor to your home and they go through the formalities of registering your child as home schooled. The NEWB (National Educational Welfare Board) will then make a decision on your suitability to home school; if you are giving your child at least a basic minimum education although it’s not stated what that minimum is and you will be informed of the decision in writing.

Around 1,500 children were registered as being home schooled last September compared to 439 children a decade ago so the waiting list to be assessed these days is pretty long. We sent Ellens application in last March 2018 and we waited almost a year and a half for the assessment. I phoned Tusla to ask about doing a double assessment as Alex had just turned 6 when we went back to Ireland and they agreed which was fantastic to get both of them registered before we leave the country again so we arranged a date recently where a Tusla official called out to us for the preliminary assessment.

I must admit I was a little nervous about meeting. Technically we are un-schoolers in that we don’t follow any learning method or curriculum and we have a child led learning approach which is a completely acceptable way to home school and in my opinion one of the best ways for kids to learn. We don’t have a set time to learn or teach individual subjects. There are no tests and the children choose whatever they want to read, work on or practice each day. Now that’s not to say we’re lazy about it, quite the opposite and we have researched so much about lots of different home schooling philosophies and curriculum’s but having researched the unschool method we knew right away that’s what would work for us. Children are little sponges and naturally want to learn. When you give them the time & independence to let them learn what they want they will develop their own way to learn. They ask questions all the time and we help to fuel their interests by giving them the resources to explore further and show them how to research the answers for themselves.

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” John Holt

As soon as the Tusla assessor arrived to meet us he immediately made us feel comfortable. He was so friendly and encouraging and absolutely loved what we are doing. The reason for the meeting is to ensure that you are providing your children with a basic minimum education and that you have given thought to all aspects of your child’s education such as moral, physical, social and intellectual and also that you physically have an area for your child to learn and a space where artwork can be displayed. The children don’t even have to be present as the assessment meeting is just between the Tusla rep and the primary educator (me) but our kids were running around doing what they do. Alex was building a solar powered robot and Ellen was making spells and potions. She proudly told him she was a witch and gave him a magic hag stone that she found on the beach previous day. He had a quick look through their journals, workbooks, books, art and our travel photobook and was absolutely blown away by what we do. The whole meeting took around three hours for the two children and at the end he congratulated us as he would be highly recommending us to the NEWB board to be put on the register of Irish home schoolers.

What a relief to have it done. We wanted to be put on the Irish home school register as we will be travelling to countries where homeschooling is illegal such as Germany and Sweden where I’m not sure how long we will be able to stay as home schoolers. Home schooling is legal in most European countries but it is a bit of a grey area in some countries like Spain but we have met many home schoolers there and had amazing experiences with other home schooling families who have never had a problem. Last winter we visited the beach town of La Herradura near Malaga where hundreds of homeschoolers from all over the world visit, live or camp and take part in lots of meet ups, activities and learning at the World schooling Andalusia Hub and this is just one of many world schooling communities across Europe.

Of course there’s pro’s and con’s to everything and for us the pro’s of home schooling far outweigh the cons. It just really works for us as a family. Some things to consider is the cost of homeschooling, although it has to be cheaper than the cost of going to school. You might have subscriptions, apps, books, workbooks, craft supplies to buy as well as costs of any extra curricular activities or in the future possibly for tutors and we can’t avail of the free medical check ups provided by school so unless you have a medical card that has to be done privately. Home schooling parents who recieve a social welfare payment however are still entitled to the back to school allowance. If you live rurally it can be difficult to attend any home school meetups that happen across the country and you may have to connect with families online or through HEN (the Irish Home Education Network). This was my situation anyway but there are lots of groups on facebook who organise meetups and day trips.

Another point to consider is the amount of questions and comments you get. The kids and us get questioned about home schooling all the time, it’s not even the amount of questions that gets wearing but the lack of support, the presumptions and judgement behind them eg, if we didn’t make children do things they wouldn’t do anything, how tiring it must be to be with your kids all the time, presuming that they can’t read and write or learn anything without school, how will they have morals without religion and how you should have a teaching qualification to teach your own children. What about exams, college, socialisation, do they have friends and concerns about whether the children are learning anything at all.

Our children are still very young and college is the last thing on our minds yet I have researched it a lot as I get asked about it so often. We’re a little bit obsessed with the ‘points race’ here in Ireland, that it’s easy to miss the fact that you don’t actually need a leaving cert to get into college. You can attend any Irish Institute of Technology or University through loads of different avenues:

  • Achieve a minimum of five distinctions on any FETAC Level 5 courses to qualify for any college course in IT’s.
  • Many IT college diploma and degree courses only require an interview or access course.
  • Apply via interview or portfolio for any University.
  • Wait until you are 23 when you will be a mature student and a Leaving Certificate is no longer required.
  • Study through the Open University.
  • You can study for the SAT’s (Leaving Cert equivalent) online and complete the written exams at designated test centers across Ireland.
  • Study abroad, it’s always worth researching what qualifications you need to study at colleges abroad. Many colleges have a certain number of places for foreign students.

But if your child really wants to do the leaving cert exam, they can. The whole secondary school curriculum is online now so students can study at home and can apply to sit the exam with any school without having to be registered with that school. We certainly wont be pushing our kids through the exams, they can make that choice for themselves and we trust they will be just fine with or without exams.

While a college degree would have guaranteed you a life long job in the past, that expensive and hard earned degree has massively decreased in value these days and you don’t get the same guarantee. Another point to consider is that many people now don’t want to have the same job for life and there are lots of people who have no interest in college whatsoever and would rather pursue an apprenticeship or a career in which the leaving cert is irrelevant.

School takes a one size fits all approach teaching just a few generic subjects yet we all have different skills, learning styles and interests. I believe that through school many of us lose those innate natural skills and interests and then lots of us end up spending our late teens, twenties, thirties and beyond wondering what to do with our lives. As George Bernard Shaw once said “My schooling not only failed to teach me what it professed to be teaching, but prevented me from being educated to an extent which infuriates me when I think of all I might have learned at home by myself.” Had we known it was an option when I was a teen I would have loved the opportunity to stay at home to learn.

Learning on the road is easy. We are presented with so many learning opportunities every single day and we embrace and appreciate every minute of it. We have met many like minded people and have made some amazing friends too. We have groups on facebook and if we are ever near a road schooling family we will always arrange to meet up. We have met some incredibly inspiring people during our travels, some of whom have been on the road for many years and make it work. This year we hope to meet some of them again and maybe more. I have been receiving calls and messages lately from families who are inspired to live off grid, in a community abroad or joining the van life and carving out a new and exciting life for themselves. I always say that the decision to change is the hardest part. Once you’ve made the decision to do it you’re already half way there.

I think the most important thing to remember is that we are all unique, we have choices and there are so many ways to learn. We want what every parent wants for their child, that they grow up to be happy, healthy, creative, confident and capable of doing anything they want to do. Thankfully we have the freedom to choose any home schooling method, curriculum or subject anytime so we are looking forward to seeing our childrens interests and talents evolve as we continue our travels. I’m not entirely anti school but I am pro choice and the principle of home schooling has been around for a long time so before you go asking us about socialisation please remember, we’re not aliens, just people choosing a different learning process.

If you would like to read more about homeschooling or see my favourite books and videos follow this link

Published by Niamh & Liam Colfer

Niamh & Liam Colfer currently livin' on the Hook peninsula in County Wexford offering yoga and breath-work classes, personal training and hike the Hook walking tours. All about healthy balanced lifestyle, home schooling, travel, outdoor life, sea swims and on the Hook / off the Hook adventures.

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