As with many parents, September means a whole new challenge for Emily Slater. But instead of ticking items off the traditional back-to-school checklist, this young mum will begin homeschooling her children on a permanent basis.
Emily, who lives in Mallow, Co Cork, with her husband John and four children, Abigail, 7, Josiah, 5, Micah, 3, and Noah, 1, says that prior to the lockdown last March, her two oldest children had been attending primary school in Mallow.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything.
“Abigail would have begun second class this September and Josiah would have been starting senior infants,” says the 31-year-old full-time homemaker.
Instead, the children will be homeschooled by Emily with John’s support.
“There were a number of factors in our decision, and coronavirus had a lot to do with it,” says Ms Slater.
Homeschooling had always been something she and her husband had been interested in doing, but she had never felt confident enough to try it.
“I was homeschooled myself, and it was something that my husband wanted to do, but I was nervous about it, as I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
“However, when Covid-19 came, we did it for months and I realised it was possible.”
So from September she will teach Abigail and Josiah and begin “pre-schooling” three-year-old Micah.
“I’m currently in the process of registering with Tusla as a home educator and I’ll begin homeschooling while awaiting approval,” says Ms Slater, who has already sourced a range of educational programmes and textbooks.
The Slater children are among a growing minority of homeschooling families in this country.
As of the end of 2019, official figures from Tusla showed that fewer than 1,500 children were registered as being homeschooled in Ireland.
Cora McCauley of the Home Education Network (www.henireland.org) expects the level of homeschooling in Ireland to rise this autumn.
HEN reports that in recent months a growing number of families have said they are actively considering homeschooling children full-time from September.
However, some parents remained “nervous” about stepping out of the school system, says Ms McCauley.
For Ms Slater and her family, however, it is full steam ahead. “We plan on sticking to a similar schedule to the usual primary school
start around 9am," she says.
“We’ll follow a relatively flexible timetable until about lunchtime from Monday to Friday,” she says, adding that they will also work around baby Noah’s nap times.
“It is a responsibility but it is one that we are ready to accept and with all the resources that are out there now it is manageable.”
Portarlington mum Lisa Keating, 40, has homeschooled her daughter Aimee, 11, since about the age of 5, and believes it’s the best thing she has ever done. Six years ago she established the Homeschoolers Ireland Facebook page, that gradually evolved into a resource which offers advice and support to homeschooling parents.
Her group has also experienced a surge of interest from parents. By the beginning of August, she says, membership had reached 2,700. Many parents reported that their children were “thriving on the one-to-one attention they received”.
However, she points out, homeschooling is dependent on one parent being at home fulltime.
Homeschooling, however, doesn’t suit everyone, and many parents will be relieved to see their children return to the familiar school environment in the coming weeks.
Laura Erskine, a parenting expert with BabyDoc Club, says homeschooling her son James, 11, and daughter Lucy, 8, while working — and caring for her youngest daughter Poppy, now nearly 2 — was not all plain sailing.
“There were challenges, particularly in being an at-work mother trying to schedule your day so that you were available to your children to do their school work in and around the needs of an employer or clients,” she recalls.
The logistics of trying to work and homeschool were difficult at times, she says, and could result in children not completing work.
This, in turn, she recalls wryly, “can make you as a parent feel that you are failing on all fronts.”
She found the amount of work to be got through in terms of online learning was “ a bit of an eye-opener in terms of the amount of time you need to invest”.
“Most parents will send their children back to school for the new school year with a mixture of trepidation and relief.
"We know that life must go on despite the pandemic and, while our return to the new normal is unsettling, it is absolutely necessary for our children’s wellbeing.”
- Register your interest in homeschooling with Tusla by letter or fill in the application form which is on the Tusla website or available from the Home Schoolers Ireland Facebook group.
“There is a backlog so you can begin to homeschool while awaiting approval,” says Ms Keating;
- Carefully research homeschooling before making a decision, as it requires commitment on the part of parents, she counsels - Visit sites such as www.henireland.org, the Homeschoolers Ireland Facebook page or www.citizensinformation.ie.
Ms Keating also suggests researching potential textbooks and curriculum at curriculumonline.ie and folens.ie.
It’s also worth checking out the online courses available for homeschooled children sites such as outschool.com.
- Don’t immediately start recreating the school environment at home.
“It’s a good idea to take two to three months to come out of the school mindset and discover what your child likes to do, and what his or her interests are, and incorporate learning around this.”
- Don’t give in to doubt: “A lot of parents doubt themselves because they are not qualified teachers, but the State recognises that parent as the primary educator.”
Remember, you don’t need to have a degree or be a maths genius to homeschool a child, she says.
“There are a lot of resources out there in terms of online and your local library.”
- Have courage: “A certain amount of courage is required to take the leap because you are going against the grain.”