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Homeschooling-In-Ireland_-A-Mom-s-Story

Homeschooling In Ireland: A Mom's Story

“There isn’t a disparity between ‘school’ and ‘home’ – it’s just life and their learning is simply part of that,” reflects Emily Rainsford Ryan on home educating their six children.

Athy-based Emily is mum to Thomas (19);  Michael (16); Liam (13); Grace (9); James (6); and Anna (3.) “Thomas went to Naoinra playschool and to school for three years. Michael went to playschool too. The younger four have always been home educated.”

The idea of homeschooling was planted in her mind when she heard a radio interview about the topic. “It really resonated with me and sounded like a very joyful life.

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“It was before the internet was freely available, and I didn’t know where I could find out more, so it just sat in the back of my head. We moved to east Galway the year Thomas was to start school, and he went into junior infants in a really lovely country school,” says Emily.

“However, he found the process and school stressful, even though the academic aspect of it came easily to him. In the meantime, we had met some home educating families in the area, and we're going to home education workshops and outings.”

The initial plan was to take Thomas out for six months. “I contacted the principal and he was very encouraging and supportive,” Emily recounts. “About a year later we realised we were still there, home educating. Life had destressed completely and the children were content, healthy and engaged in lots of projects. 

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“More importantly, our lives were so much happier. We were engaging with our environment; the seasons; our varying interests; and each other in a very natural organic way.”

The family registered with Tusla’s predecessor.  “Learning is very much child-centred and child-directed. The kids tend to get interested in something and can spend days or weeks exploring every facet of it rather than short half-hour segments of lots of things within a day.

“Having said that, within the normal rhythm of our day, there would be lots of reading; drawing; writing such as notes, books,  and titles on a painting; maths in so many ways including baking; number squares; Lego; building blocks and maths books; history; geography; plenty of outdoors activity such as using the trampoline, and we have a forest at the end of our garden. We also do workshops on specific topics such as in science,” Emily says.

“The older ones are and have always been, completely self-directed. They do maths with Khan Academy and use Duolingo mostly for languages. They are voracious readers. History and geography are areas that enormously interest them. They do a lot of coding and programming; art and photography. 

“The internet is such an amazing resource. There are fantastic Youtube tutorials; documentaries; apps and programmes that give you the freedom to be able to learn anything in which you have an interest. We have a comprehensive library in our house and use our local library too,” Emily says.

She hasn’t found it difficult to accommodate the different ages. “We are more facilitating what the child needs at the time. They do most of the ‘work’ themselves. I spend time with them writing including making books, letters and letter shapes; numbers and maths; reading and more reading and drawing.

“Our ‘learning’  happens all day and sometimes until quite late. One of our sons was teaching himself Spanish and did it at night, every night. He found he could think best at that time. Just last week, our six-year-old was making a book on medieval history and needed me to write some long passages to explain the drawing and history. We were up making this for hours, long after his bedtime. But he was so full of ideas, and in full flow, so we just went with it. We could because he didn’t have to be up in the morning for anything.”

Home education, Emily contends, has benefited her children in so many ways. “They are very relaxed and stress-free. They have as much time as they need to create and to think. They are under no pressure to ‘learn’ – they do it without thinking because children are naturally curious. When left alone, they do all or a lot of the work themselves, especially as they become teens.”

The disadvantages, Emily has found, are more from the parent perspective. “You are 100 percent responsible. You have to be very tuned into your kids to see and know what they need and want. It’s about being very involved when needed and knowing when to stand back and give space.

“Another disadvantage is that it can be hard to carve out time for yourself to switch off. However, while there are days when you just want to be left alone, most of the time the kids are all involved in their own stuff.”

One criticism of homeschooling is that it affects children’s ability to with others their age. However, Emily says this hasn’t been their experience. “We make sure they meet up with friends several times a week. 

“We go to organised meet-ups once or twice a week, and meet with friends and cousins too. Our older boys are in college, having done FETAC level five courses, and have enviable social lives.”

Emily encourages others who are in a position to take the home education route to do so. “It’s a lovely way of life. I would say that to do this, you need to trust your gut and trust your kids that they inherently want to learn. Sometimes their learning isn’t quantifiable, but that’s ok. They are doing things at their own speed and are often processing things in the way that they need to, to understand them. We regularly say that this has been, by far, the best thing we have done for our family as a whole.”

More information is available from Home Education Network Ireland (HEN), a peer-to-peer support group for those home educating or thinking of the option. It operates a phone line and hosts meet-ups. "Home education is a positive option for many families who find that school does not meet their children's needs,” says Cora McCauley, HEN PRO. “It is perfectly legal and is protected under the Constitution. Children must be registered with Tusla. For full details on the registration process, parents can find a guide on HEN’s website or by contacting Tusla.

About the Author

Caroline Allen is a freelance journalist who lives in the midlands with her husband and two teenage sons. She has written for national and international media outlets and enjoys covering everything from parenting to property and country living to human interest stories.
 

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