To tell you a little more about our family – we are an Afrikaans family of four. We have 2 boys, aged 15 and 11. My husband is very supportive and pro homeschooling, especially since he can see the wide range of benefits in our boys’ lives. Not just the academics and their cognitive development, but especially their character development and socio-emotional wellness. My husband is a CA and has his own business. I have worked as a Social Worker and specialized in Addictions Counselling, Christian Counselling and Art Therapy.
Our eldest son was in grade 3 when we took him out of public school and his younger brother was still in preschool. Like every family, I suppose, we had a catalyst that made us take the brave leap of faith to start homeschooling. Our eldest son did very well in mainstream school on the surface – he excelled academically, enjoyed participating in sports and had lots of friends. But then he started to develop an autoimmune illness (diagnosed by a paediatrician), triggered by the stress of the school environment. Interesting enough, the autoimmune illness miraculously cleared up within a few weeks after taking him out of school. We prayed about it as a family and just felt a very strong calling and conviction to homeschool our children and also to raise them in the ways of the Lord and to give them a faith based education.
Our eldest son who is 15 years old is currently working towards his American High School Diploma (Honours Pathway). He is 2e (neurodiverse) and homeschooling is just a wonderful flexible learning environment for him. He has a wide range of special interests and pursues them with the hyper focus that is typical of neurodiverse kids. He is very interested in Philosophy, Psychology, Literature and the Sciences. He is also a creative and spends a lot of time researching and doing his own delight directed learning in the areas of Art & Design, Architecture, Visual Development and Animation. He would like to study and pursue a career in Animation and Visual Development, for example to study at the Animation School in Cape Town or do a degree in Art/ Animation at a university.
His younger brother who is 11 is just wired differently. He is also 2e (neurodiverse) and he loves learning and needs a lot of mental stimulation. He loves numbers and math, things like gaming, coding and engineering. He is still in his primary years, but would probably pursue a career in Accounting like his dad, or maybe Coding or Engineering.
We have been homeschooling for just over 9 years. From the start homeschooling was just a very good fit for us as a family.
The primary years are easy and carefree, with the main aim to cultivate a love of learning. To develop each child in his individual bend and aptitude, to focus on delight directed learning, as well as develop self discipline, a growth mindset and perseverance in areas that’s harder for them to work at.
We started with ACE, because I felt we needed the structure and support of being part of an Academy. It worked very well for us and helped us to make the transition from mainstream schooling to homeschooling. Our children loved homeschooling straight away and it was wonderful to see how they flourished.
After 2 years I felt more comfortable to try a more eclectic approach since I really wanted to apply the Charlotte Mason philosophy in our homeschool. We changed to Sonlight as our core curriculum for a few years with Math-u-see, Afrikaans Sonder Grense, Handwriting Without Tears, and I supplemented and enriched it with other resources and delight directed learning as needed. I did a year of The Good and the Beautiful with my younger son as his core curriculum, doing the Language Arts, Science and History. We also did Ambleside’s Music and Art Appreciation. And of course loads of Living Books! The American curriculum is so versatile, extremely homeschool friendly and there are so many wonderful service providers and philosophies to choose from.
When my eldest was in grade 8 we started with more formal online schooling to prepare and align him for the formal high school track (grade 9 to 12). I wanted to make sure that there were no learning gaps since we have been doing eclectic homeschooling for a few years with no formal assessments or tests/exams.
He did the SwithchedOn Curriculum through Active Academy for 18 months (wonderful curriculum and staff, very supportive) and then we hit a bump in the road. We tried Cambridge for a few months and that also just didn’t work for him – it was quite a challenging time for me – since I wanted to provide a stable learning environment and continuity. But I just knew we had to keep on looking until we found the right fit for him and his specific needs. In the end we found the right approach and fit for him with Acellus Academy https://www.acellusacademy.com/ that suited his neurodiversity, temperament, his interests and his learning styles. He is also enrolled in an UK based art school where he is doing an IGCSE equivalent in Art & Design, https://www.artcoursework.com/class-courses/level-2-art-design/
I am still following an eclectic approach for the younger brother, aged 11, who is in middle school. We recently added blended learning where he started to do more online schooling through Power Homeschool https://www.powerhomeschool.org/ (they use the Acellus curriculum but it is parent led and not an accredited online school). Their learning platform and subjects are very engaging and interesting, like Elementary Engineering and Introduction to Coding, Foundations of Music etc. It is a good transition from primary school to middle school and by the time he reaches grade 9 he will be well prepared for the more formal stage of his education.
We have been doing the American curriculum from the start, although in different forms and with different service providers like ACE, Sonlight, Math-u-see, Apologia, The Good and the Beautiful, SwitchedOn and Acellus. It depended on where we were in our own homeschool journey and what the kids’ educational needs were at that stage of their development.
We struggled a lot in the beginning of high school to choose between the UK national curriculum (Cambridge Matric) and the US national curriculum (American High School Diploma). I did a lot of research and found that it is a common problem, since the two are so well matched, they are the #1 and #2 top curricula in the world, with the US national curriculum #1 in 2020.
Both are excellent international school leaving certificates that provide a matric with exemption in South Africa, through the South African Matriculation Board / USAf for university bound students. The American High School Diploma (Honours Pathway) is equivalent to a Cambridge A levels matric. So in the end it’s a matter of preference. I found that there is also a false perception in South Africa that Cambridge is more prestigious and the American High School Diploma is often confused with the GED and not a lot of people are familiar with it. But in the end you have to find what works for your family.
For us the American curriculum is just wonderful. It is so flexible and versatile and there are so many ways to apply it in your homeschooling. It worked well with an eclectic approach in the primary and middle school years. You can easily combine it with other resources and service providers since the scope and sequence in the subjects and grades are the same. For high school it is also fantastic since it is once again versatile, you can use an umbrella school or an accredited online school. There are so many interesting and career oriented subjects to choose from. It is self paced and all the exams are online and for us it has been so much more affordable, especially in comparison with Cambridge.
We are also very grateful to be a part of the homeschool community in Hermanus. We never feel isolated and alone and we have made wonderful friends with other like minded families.
One pitfall I can mention is that there is a year gap between South African grade levels and US/UK grade levels in Math. I wasn’t aware of that and because our eldest started in the SA school system I just kept him on a SA grade level for Math. So we actually had to fill in a whole year of Math when he started grade 8 – that was quite a challenge. A great resource to use is Elephant Learning, he was able to catch up with a year’s Math within 3 months: https://www.elephantlearning.com/
Also don’t get tripped up when you make the transition from primary/middle school to high school. It is just a different phase in your child’s homeschool journey and when they get there they will be mentally and psychologically ready for the challenge.
Don’t be afraid to explore and try different things. You know your child and his/her specific needs. The right fit is out there – just keep looking. Also make use of the support out there, reach out and ask questions, it is a huge amount of data and information to process. There is wisdom in the counsel of many. Be kind to yourself, it takes time to find your feet, and you have to gather a whole new body of knowledge and a whole new skill set.
Never stop learning and educating yourself, it’s not only the kids that have to adapt and change and grow – as homeschool parents we are on a continuous journey of discovery.
“Don’t be victimized by others’ perceptions of right and wrong. Stand firm in your own convictions.”
You can’t be led by others’ good or bad examples, stay teachable, listen to their advice, but choose your own path.
Above all else, what always carries me, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.”
Blessings from our homeschooling family to yours!