Amanda de Waal is a successful homeschooling mom and has been with Clonard since 2004. Her eldest son started homeschooling from grade 6 and completed his Cambridge HIGCSE in 2009. Her daughter Elizabeth was homeschooled since grade 1 and has also just completed the Cambridge IGCSE programme achieving an impressive 74% aggregate on this tough programme and currently doing her AS-levels. Their youngest daughter, Emma is also a Clonard baby and currently in grade 7.
We had a chat to Amanda to share some of her valuable insights about homeschooling with you:
Q – What made you decide to homeschool all 3 of your children?
A – We moved from Durban to rural KwaZulu-Natal in 2004. There were no suitable schools, or any amenities in our rural area so home-schooling became our only option as we weren’t prepared to have our children attend boarding school.
Q – Do you do everything yourself or do you make use of tutor support?
A – We have never made use of tutor support, but I must add here, that the way Clonard has their system set up, we have never felt the need, especially in the lower grades, for the use of a tutor. Granted, progress into the higher grades can be a little tricky, but with the use of the Internet for research when the kids don’t fully grasp a concept, we have never found tutoring support necessary.
Q – What do you do to provide socialization for your kids – is this necessary?
A – This is a tricky question. When my children were smaller I organized a play group in the area once a week. In the interim years we had a homework group with some of the other children in the area that we introduced to Clonard. Socialization is vital to a child’s development – it gives them confidence and a sense of belonging. Now that they’re almost grown up, I see that they tend to choose with whom they socialize very carefully. I must say for me there seems to be some correlation between home-school children being more independent and relying more on the quality rather than the quantity of friendships.
Q – Do you follow the same style and programme for each of your kids or does each require a unique approach?
A – There are some aspects of home-schooling that I have kept structured for all 3 children, especially in the foundation phase. For example: time tables, spelling tests and weekly tests to recap work on learning subjects. No two children are alike and so I did slight adjustments for each child to make the learning process more pleasant for them but there are some basics that they all have to adhere to.
Q – What do your kids think about homeschooling versus mainstream school – was this mainly your decision or theirs?
A – Unfortunately my kids had no input as home-schooling was really our only option. There are positives and negatives to both home-schooling and mainstream schooling. I was able to add extra interesting material to spice up the learning process and a big plus is that you can work at your own pace. Both Liz and Emma started school at 5, and Liz will only be 16 when she finishes her AS Levels. Of course another worry with mainstream schooling today is the lack of discipline of learners, the lack of respect shown to fellow learners and teachers, the issue of bullying in schools and let us not forget the chronic drug problem that seems to plague our schools.
Q – Where does the work take place – what does your classroom look like?
A – You can see our humble little classroom in the photo, I feel if you create a space where you can put up posters, maps and put up your board, it tends to put them into a working frame of mind.
Q – Tell us about a typical school day in the de Waal household?
A – I start the day with Emma at 8:30am, our first item on the agenda is that she has to report on current world news for the day. We set up a world map with markers and it is her responsibility to give a recap of highlights marking the places on the world map. This keeps both of us updated and gives her a knowledge of what is happening in the world and where. We alternate classes between the girls through the day. They each have a homework book where due work is listed; we discuss the work but they are left to complete homework on their own by 16:30. I feel this gives them discipline and accountability for their own work.
Q – What is the secret of your success?
A – Home-schooling used to have a stigma of inferior quality attached to it, I was determined not to fail my kids in this criteria. I really feel that diligence in daily classes, coupled with discipline has been a big part of our success. Of course I want to say that my kids are super smart, as each mother will say of their own little brood, but I think it is important to realise, as I think most mothers end up being tutors in the home-schooling environment, that we are responsible for their success.
Q – What do you all do for downtime?
A – Again, this will depend on your child’s personality, Elizabeth has taught herself how to play guitar and it is a tug on the heartstrings to listen to the fruits of her efforts. Emma is learning piano and is a budding artist, as the many manga drawings on her wall will testify. Luckily they both love reading and of course laptops, tablets and cellphones easily fill up the missing hours. We are blessed to have the beach close at hand, and occasionally the girls enjoy some tennis with us.
Q – How has homeschooling your children impacted on your relationship with your kids?
A – I know this is going to sound like a cliché, but we live in rural area with very little influence on our household. I am a strict mother, but I love my kids and have found especially now that they are a little bit older that a no-nonsense, honest relationship with open discussion is really the only way to go.
Q – What is your greatest challenge/s in homeschooling?
A – Not being able to do a South African Matric whilst home-schooling really forced us to look for different options. My son completed his HIGCSE through Damelin but we were disappointed with their administration and decided to look for different options. After a lot of research and frustration, having to enter Elizabeth as a private candidate at St. Charles College in Pietermaritzburg, finding a CIE school to write exams at was probably our saving grace.
Q – What is the best advantage/s to homeschooling?
A – I found I could start school with my kids at an earlier age than allowed by the education department. We do only a four day school week with Friday reserved for tests and/or summary updates and work that could not be done during the week. Another big plus is being able to structure our terms and holidays around our needs.
Q – What to look for in a curriculum provider?
A – A well-structured syllabus coupled with helpful support staff is core to any good curriculum.
Q – What was the transition like from Grade 9 SA Caps curriculum onto the Cambridge programme?
A – At the time the Lizzy was starting Grade 10, Clonard did not offer the Grade 10 or Cambridge syllabus yet so we ordered CAPS Grade 10 textbooks and completed Grade 10 on our own. We then went on to Cambridge IGCSE and found that year to be quite beneficial in retrospect, as we managed to do the IGCSE in 8 months instead of the prescribed 18 months.
Q – Is hubbie involved?
A – We have appointed Hubby as principal of home-school de Waal! His input is limited to our need of his wallet and when marks are due. We have given him carte blanche on bragging rights as he is very proud.
Q – Your best piece of advice for any Mom considering homeschooling her kids?
A – I think it is important never to lose sight of the fact that as mothers/tutors/care-givers and the many other hats that Mom’s wear daily, your children rely on you to send them into this world as well educated, socially well-rounded and responsible young adults. Home-schooling is not easy. No one is there to check on you and it is easy to take shortcuts. Children are perceptive little beings and will carry your mentality forward
We are so grateful to Amanda for sharing her valuable experience with us. If you have any further questions for Amanda please comment below.