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Three school exemption examples

Newsletter · Feb 1, 2021

I’m pausing the Q&As, just for this week, so that I can bring you something else you might find useful: snippets from the school exemption documents I’ve just submitted for my three eldest children.

Home education isn’t yet very common here in New Zealand (at last check less than 1% of children here were registered as being home educated, compared to numbers up around 7% in the US) but it is at least seen as a valid educational approach by our powers that be. The catch – it is illegal not to attend a registered school from the age of 6 unless you’ve applied for, and received, an official exemption letter.

For the past week I’ve been putting together those exemption applications for our three school-aged children (13, 10 and 6), and while we haven’t yet received our official letter of exemption (it can take weeks to be assessed) I thought it might be useful to share a few excerpts from them. The requirements, globally, are very different – but I know there are plenty of places (like New Zealand, and most States of Australia) that require some kind of document or statement of intent before you can happily go on your way.

And, aside from it being a formal requirement, I actually found this a really useful process to go through! It encouraged me to get quite clear on our motivations and approach, and even though we’re very fluid and organic in the way we go about things, it has been interesting to put that down into something that resembles a plan.

Here’s the introduction I included, because I felt it was important to state right up front that our approach would be intentionally different to school:

We would like to apply for an exemption from school for our son, William.

William is 10 years old, and has been home educated for the past three years. William has three siblings – an older brother (13), and two younger sisters (six and one).

My wife Kate and I have always been passionate about education and learning. Kate is a trained primary school teacher (now full-time mum), and I spent time studying Education at tertiary level (and work from home, with a flexible schedule).

With that said, Kate and I have both found ourselves on a journey of *un*learning much of what we picked up in that formal training and study. Our approach now, after many years of home educating, sits much closer to unschooling than it does classical homeschooling. We believe that if you live an intentional life filled with things you’re good at, things you want to get better at, and things that give you meaning, then by default learning opportunities will continually present themselves. We believe that if a child is supported, encouraged, motivated and coached, it’s hard to stop them from learning.

It’s important to note, upfront, that one of the reasons we’ve chosen the home education path is to unshackle our lives from the academic-focused classroom environment. We place a great deal of value in foundational literacy and numeracy, but beyond that we have settled into paths of growth that are personalised to our children. Who they are, where their strengths lie, and how they want to develop as people.

We believe that the role of education goes well beyond preparing a child for work, for a career. It should also help them explore who they are and what gives them meaning. It should relentlessly seek to uncover intersections between what a child is good at and what they are interested in.

A good education, then, should help a child become the most explored version of themselves possible.

I then spoke about the broad curriculum areas we’ve chosen as framing for William’s life:

Our curriculum for William includes foundational literacy and numeracy from the standard New Zealand Curriculum, but also skills related to technology, computer science and development, engineering and robotics, entrepreneurship, finances and investment, physical and mental health and wellness, and music.

William’s educational journey is led by him (his interests and passions), with us there to help direct, focus and resource his learning in those areas. Some of that learning is completely free-flowing, and some is more structured and based around projects. Where we believe it’s important or necessary, we help him generate questions to explore, facilitate the process of that exploration, and help package his learning.

Rather than spending blocks of time focused on individual aspects of a curriculum, William organically draws from multiple key learning areas in most things he spends his time doing (and very specifically on every project he works on).

I also felt it was important to include a block on who William actually IS – because if we’re not putting our children at the centre of the ‘curriculum’ that will be the North Star of their formative years, then we’re doing it wrong:

William struggled during his time at school. He’s a physical, sensitive, expressive child, and found it difficult to spend long periods of time sitting to complete whatever the required task was. His teachers at the time were concerned he was unable to comprehend those tasks, and that he lacked focus. When we started our home education journey with William he had become discouraged, as he’d started to take that feedback to heart.

Kate and I put the onus on ourselves to help him discover himself, to help him build skills through things he was actually interested in, and three years later we have a completely different child! He is a passionate and accomplished pianist, baker, gardener, engineer and developer. He deep-dives into these areas every day, and is one of the most focused children we’ve ever met. There isn’t a day that goes by when we don’t think about what his life might have looked like had we continued pushing him through that classroom door.

From there, I dive into the specific curriculum areas he’s helped us define up for him, give details of a sample project that he actually enjoyed working on (a lot of people ask us about record keeping, and this is one of the light-touch things that helps us do that!), and dig more into how we’ll track ‘progress’ and ensure ‘regularity’ (clearly not my terms, but very much part of the legal requirements here) by talking through the flow of a standard week.

If having the entire exemption documents for the three ages I prepared them for (13, 10 and 6) would be useful, for either formal requirements you’re facing or just to help you shape up your own family’s approach, please reply to this email and let me know – I’d be happy to make them downloadable on my site!

And with that, I’m off to wait for a call from the Ministry of Education telling me how these applications went.

Talk soon!

P.S. If you’re wondering why we don’t yet have exemptions, it’s because we spent a few years in Melbourne, Australia where we were happily exempt after going through a formal review (apparently we’re suckers for punishment – this will be our second time in our second country going through this process!)

Issy Butson, aka Stark Raving Dad. Author of The Grandparent's Guide to Home Schooling

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