A natural way of learning
Iona Blakely-Milner was afraid her son would become one of the nation’s guinea pigs when C2005 first arrived in schools. So she embarked on her own experiment of home schooling her child when he was in Grade 4.
That was eight years ago and Blakely-Milner’s only regret is that she didn’t start her eldest son, James (16), on the home schooling route from the word go.
The Port Elizabeth mother of four says: “I’ve always been interested in doing things differently and overall I wasn’t dissatisfied with James’s schooling. But then a friend started home schooling her child who was having problems and when I saw how her child started taking charge of his learning, I knew it was what I wanted for my children.”
Back in 1997, however, there wasn’t much literature or resources for home schoolers.
But Blakely-Milner says the toughest hurdle was to challenge her mindset and “unschool myself” of her prejudices and attachment to the conventional system.
The family uses an overseas curriculum and follow the Cambridge system for James as he prepares for the equivalent of matric exams. While Jason (15), Aidan (13) and Byron (11) thrive on the system academically, Blakely-Milner says that it is also the emotional and spiritual benefits that make home schooling an attractive option for their family.
“The children learn to respect each other. Because they’re not confined to interacting with children in their own age group, they socialise with older and younger people in a more natural way,” says Blakely-Milner.
She says home schooling has taught her children to be more independent and take ownership of their learning by meeting their own deadlines, and learning to search for information and solve problems. They also do their best without the pressure of institutionalised competitiveness.
“All children have different learning styles. Some are more aural, some are more visual, some are more technical, some are hands-on, while others are better at theory. There are children who work better at night and others who thrive in the daytime, and home schooling can accommodate all this,” she says.
Blakely-Milner says one of the biggest myths about home schooling is that children miss out on interaction with other children. She says her children engage with children in their church groups and home-schooling groups and also play sports. In fact, her son Jason is a budding South African junior tennis player.
“The house is always full of children, those who are home-schooled and those who aren’t,” she says .
Another myth that needs to be dispelled, she says, is that all home schoolers are a bunch of racists who are anti-transformation.
“I’m sure those people exist, but it’s not our experience and we have black families who are home schooling in the Eastern Cape,” says the former computer systems analyst.
Her own family has grown closer together because “they do life with me”. Even though her husband is not directly involved with the actual education of the children, she says home schooling is a complete lifestyle choice for them as a family.
Life for Blakely-Milner has changed radically. She says: “You do march to a different drum. There are no uniforms, the children cut their hair when they want, not when a school rule says they must.”
The cherry on the top is that she is spared rush-hour traffic when all the other parents are tearing across town to drop their kids off.