Starting to Homeschool in NZ

An Article by Phil Astley

Home education is a journey. The most commonly asked questions we get asked are variations of “How do I get started?” Being the bunch of individualists that we are, there is no one right way. Adapt what seems useful and leave the rest for later, when it may come in useful. If you think something is missing, please let us know.

If you have read the following material and need more help, check the FAQ page or contact your local support group. If all else fails, e-mail us for advice.

With that introduction, we offer the following pointers to getting started on home education in New Zealand. Please do these before applying for your exemption. It makes the exemption process much easier.


People who aim at nothing hit it with spectacular accuracy. We suggest the best way to start preparing an application is to identify your goals. If you cannot articulate your goals for your children, how can you plan your route? Even unschoolers have goals for their children – they just set about achieving them without lots of artificial “learning”.

Also, as you travel on your home education journey, you will wonder if you are doing the right thing, if you are making progress, etc. keeping your eye on your goals will help deal with these natural doubts.

So what do you want for your children at the end of their school-level education? This is very important. If academic success is your primary goal, then you will have a different emphasis from someone who is more character-focussed.

Whatever the reason for considering home education, it helps to know what you want to achieve at the end of your time as “teacher”. The “basics” or the “three R’s” do not require a lot of time in a child’s life, and anything beyond that is largely optional. Knowing what you want to achieve, and how much time you have greatly reduces the
pressure to push children – especially in the early years.

Of course as you learn more your goals will change. As your children develop, their goals will emerge – and will conflict with yours. When that happens you know you have at least been successful in developing their independence.

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Investigate children’s learning styles

Schools were designed for a different environment. Today everyone needs as much education and training as possible – the country simply can’t afford to have uneducated citizens. Sadly schools still focus on the traditional
approach which automatically dooms many to “failure”.

To learn more, search on the Internet for “Seven intelligences” and “Learning styles”. The next step is to apply these ideas to your children, and reflect them and your children’s interests and abilities in planning your approach, materials, etc.

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Plan for Mum (or Dad)

Yes, we know it’s not always Mum who stays at home – but still the vast majority of full time stay-at-home educators are mothers. Obviously if your family has Dad at home, then this changes. While most of the issues are common, stay-at-home Dads have their own issues.

The main point is that any adult looking after children 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will soon go mad – or worse. If you do not plan for time for yourself, you will not get it. (Children’s needs expand to fill the time available.) If the full-time home educator’s personal needs are not met, they will burn out, the whole family will suffer, and home education will not work.

One of the great helps here is meeting with other home educators – preferably in the flesh but e-mail lists and chats provide an alternative which still provides a supportive, understanding safe-haven for home educators to share their concerns, learn, and generally unwind.

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Legal and administrative

Familiarise yourself with these rules and procedures, and comply if necessary. Basically children aged between six
and 16 have to enroll in a school – unless they get an exemption from the Ministry of Education.

We cannot tell people what to put in their applications – but note the advice about tailoring each application to your goals, and keeping them as general as possible.

Also check the practical issues page for more advice on completing your exemption.

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Meet local home educators

Support groups around the country are a key support structure for most home educators. “Structure” may create the wrong impression. Each group is independent – and the styles range from an occasional very informal get together of a few families to incorporated societies with newsletters, e-mail lists / telephone trees, resource libraries and a raft of activities.

While these groups are independent, many of them do network. Many swap newsletters.

There are also national groups (or individuals who work nationally), but these are largely focussed on political, legal and associated matters, leaving day to day support to the various groups.

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Join on-line home education groups

There are several e-mail lists and a chat for Kiwi home educators. The lists each have their own purpose or flavour, so check them out. It’s easy to unsubscribe if you find a particular list does not suit you.

One benefit of these over local support groups is you choose the time when you get involved. Another is that mixing with a wider range of home educators than exist in most local groups helps the exchange of ideas.

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Investigate approaches and resources

Your goals will help you develop your educational philosophy. This could range from highly structured to highly unstructured, from using independent areas of learning as building blocks to integrated unit studies, from starting very early to “better late than never”, etc. You might use ideas from educationalists like Charlotte Mason, Rudolph Steiner, Maria Montessori, John Holt, Dr Raymond Moore, John Taylor Gatto, etc.

As part of this, you should document areas of learning you think are important. For example, we would suggest literacy and numeracy would be high on everyone’s list. We don’t just mean being able to read and use numbers – we mean actually reading and using numbers, etc. We would also add humour to those two areas (although some would point out that humour is part of literacy).

What other areas are there? Well, we suggest the rest of knowledge can be included as “the world which the child inhabits”. This can be broken down into physical (biological, chemical, physical, etc), social (historic, geographic, political, economic, arts and culture, etc.) and spiritual. Clearly each of these can be further broken down until you arrive at Etruscan architecture, the nature of quasars, the politics of 21st century road funding in New Zealand,
or any other piece of knowledge. (That’s generally what any curriculum does.)

Our view is that it does not really matter what particular areas you choose to study. There is so much knowledge in the world, being added to at such fantastic rates, that no-one can ever hope to know more than a small percentage of the total sum of human knoweldge. As the child matures, they will have more say, but for young children we recommend exposing them to as much of life as possible (at appropriate levels) so they can start to understand how
specific areas of knowledge relate to other areas of knowledge.

If you could live with two different home educating families for a week, you would probably think they couldn’t possibly be part of the same movement. There are many different styles and approaches, many of which can be used in combination with each other. There are many resources available – most of which suit a traditional style
of education, but some of which offer hope to others.

Until now, none of this advice has entailed spending money. In this area you could spend alot of money – or you could spend very little, using local support group resources, libraries, museums and other community resources.

You’ll soon notice numerous second hand resources for sale. While some of these have been used and are still suitable for resale, others have never (or hardly) been used. Please take the hint – no matter how good a resource looks, it may not suit your style. Don’t spend a lot on materials until you’ve had a bit of experience.

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This applies if you pull your children out of school. (Remember if your child is between six and 16, you must get an exemption before doing this.) Most of those who have been through this confirm that children who have been in school take time to “detox”. They need to get school out of their systems, and there is even a generally accepted rule of thumb that this takes about one month for every completed year of school.

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This is important. There is no lifestyle quite like this. While not every day is necessarily a bundle of laughs, you should enjoy it overall. If you don’t, then you are unlikely to last. Talk to someone – don’t stay isolated.

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