A couple of weeks back I had the chance to review Shirley Erwee’s latest book, Homeschooling the Primary Years, Published by Penguin Random House South Africa. As a follow up we were lucky enough to get the chance to interview the author and find out more about her homeschooling journey. Questions and Answers that I hope will inspire many of our homeschooling readers.
I’m a homeschooling mom of six children and author and co-author of various homeschool curriculum materials and I run a couple of homeschool-oriented websites. We started homeschooling in 1997 when my husband was awarded custody of my step-daughter, who was age 5 at that time. Homeschooling was a brand new concept in South Africa at that stage so I feel like I’ve ‘grown up’ with the local homeschooling community.
In her teen years, my step-daughter chose to go back to live with her mother and she attended high school, so about 3 years ago, I started researching the high school options available for my own children. I started compiling the information to share within our homeschool community and in a nutshell, that’s how my first book, Homeschooling High School came to be. When it was accepted by the publishers, they immediately asked me to write a second one focusing on the primary years, which was released in July 2015.
I am passionate about encouraging homeschooling parents and I love finding answers or tips to share with others. My latest venture is offering personal support via live online webinars for homeschooling parents. I help them find the info and answers they need to build their confidence as they set out on this educational adventure.
Se7en + 1 Questions for a Veteran Homeschooler
- Looking back, can you remember what was it that drew you to homeschooling?
- There is so much information available about homeschooling on the internet… so much so as to be overwhelming. If you were a beginner homeschooler where would you turn for help, encouragement, mentoring?
- If you could begin homeschooling all over again, would you do it differently?
- If you had to give one tip to a beginner homeschooler what would it be?
- What has been the biggest challenge to you as a homeschooling family?
- What is the one tool you would rather not have to school without?
- How do you deal with the bad days and the doubts that inevitably assail homeschooling parents?
- What has been your favourite thing about homeschooling?
I researched homeschooling for a few weeks online before we took the plunge to try it out. I recognised the many benefits that homeschooling offers but I was sold mostly on the fact that we could give our family a good quality academic education and teach them our own family values and faith at the same time. I loved the fact that we would have the opportunity to build stronger family relationships than if our children were attending school most of the day and the freedom that it would give our family.
I have created a page giving ten steps for new homeschoolers to follow in order to find what I believe is the essential information for new homeschoolers. It is titled “First Aid” for New Homeschoolers and the steps include homeschooling parent books to read, seminars and webinar courses to educate parents as well as links to associations offering legal and social support for homeschoolers in South Africa. Homeschoolers in other countries should follow similar steps, but link in with their own local support groups and get legal advice that is applicable in their local circumstances.
I think I started pretty well, given the knowledge and experience I had at the time. We started slowly with only a Maths and Reading programme and we used the library for everything else. With hindsight I think I would relax more and not be so hard on myself. We homeschool mothers always feel we should be doing more, that we should be more organised, more skilled at X,Y or Z, instead of just accepting ourselves and the limits of our time, talents, skills, budget and circumstances. If we are doing the best we can on a given day, then that is good enough!
Do your best not to constantly doubt yourself and compare yourself with your own (false) ideals or with others. Just live in each moment and accept that homeschooling is never the same from one day to the next because real life interferes with all of our schedules, programmes and agendas. Learning to deal with that is a priceless life lesson for our children, more valuable than filling the pages of books or ticking off assignments as ‘done’.
I am not raising my children to be factory workers or employees who have to clock in at the same time every day, stick to a schedule, take orders, get through a workload, never question anything, wear a uniform and clock out at the end of the day. I want my kids to be flexible, self-motivated and have the freedom to find their passions and pursue them and earn a living along the way. When you are self-motivated and hopefully doing what you love, you don’t need a schedule and discipline to keep at it. In a nutshell, I think being motivated and flexible is more important than being highly regimented.
Keeping our home orderly, clean and neat is a constant challenge as we are a large family. Although everyone helps, with young children especially, there always seems to be a mess somewhere.
The internet. When I started there was hardly anyone I knew doing homeschooling, so my own support and learning came almost entirely from the internet and books I ordered online about homeschooling. Today, we have a super offline local support group, but the internet is a priceless learning tool for all of us.
I’ve often fallen into that trap of comparing with other homeschoolers or my own expectations and feeling that I am not accomplishing enough, for various reasons. However, the following quote always reminds me of where to put my focus as our ‘buckets’ are never as full as I would like them to be:
“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats
This quote reminds me that one of my goals is to equip my children with the skills they need and to nurture in them a love of learning so that they will become self-motivated and so that they can learn anything they want to or need to at any point in the future.
Secondly, parenting and homeschooling has been and still is a huge part of a journey of spiritual growth in my life. As I’ve faced our challenges, I have had to recognise my own character weaknesses and allow God to teach me lessons about myself, about human frailty, about love and forgiveness and the nuts and bolts of building relationships.
When homeschooling is a conviction or a choice you are committed to, then you just have to persevere and find ways to overcome the challenges.
And the Se7en + 1th question…
Being able to witness my children reaching various learning milestones first hand – accomplishments like learning to read or to master long division, and being there to help them and coach them to develop good relationships with one another.
Many thanks to Shirley Erwee and the Publisher, Penguin Random House South Africa, for providing us with this interview.