Photo by Mark Wheddon
TOGETHER: From left, Liam, Gideon, Michele, Asher and Moriah Wheddon take a look at a history book.
Photo by Mark Wheddon TOGETHER: From left, Liam, Gideon, Michele, Asher and Moriah Wheddon take a look at a history book.
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Your child’s education is a priority, but are you happy with the quality of education on offer in Bermuda’s schools?

If not, perhaps you should consider homeschooling. This is the education of children at home, away from the public/private school environment, either by the parents or tutors.

Homeschooling is a growing trend both here and overseas as many parents are opting to take their children out of the school environment.

There are many reasons why a parent would want to homeschool.

You might want to provide a more religious or moral environment, or a different style of teaching to that at your local schools.

Any parent considering homeschooling first needs to weigh up the pros and cons.

Benefits

The advantages include a greater one-on-one time between your child and the ‘teacher’, plus substantial cost savings to be made on school fees.

And with the growth of educational programmes on the Internet, it has never been easier to homeschool.

The disadvantages are that you alone are responsible for the curriculum, quality of teaching and the educational growth of your child.

That’s quite a lot of pressure. You also need to be in a position where you can devote substantial hours of your own time to the teaching of your child.

Critics have also claimed that teaching children at home can affect their socialization and the interaction with other youngsters and adults growing up.

But there are plenty of parents who disagree with this, and Michele Wheddon is one of them.

Mrs Wheddon, a mother-of-four, has been homeschooling her children for the past several years.

She has a BA degree in English from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and an ECE (Early Childhood Education) diploma from Fanshawe College, Canada.

Mrs Wheddon is married to Mark, a swimming pool technician who has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from St Mary’s University, Canada, and formerly owned the business, Designer Flowers.

The couple live in Paget with their 12-year-old daughter Moriah, and three sons, Gideon, nine, Liam, seven, and Asher, five.

As a Christian family, Mrs Wheddon said having a more religious focus was one of the reasons why they decided to homeschool.

Another factor was cost, as the expense of sending four children to private school in Bermuda would have been too high to bear.

As a former nursery school teacher at Adventureland Pre-School and Nursery and at Bloomfield Nursery School, Mrs Wheddon also had experience in teaching youngsters.

She says however, that any parent can homeschool these days due to the accessibility of programmes available on the Internet.

Mrs Wheddon said: “You know your child better than anyone, so who can teach them better than you?

“Nowadays there are so many different programmes out there which are written word for word, it makes it easy to teach your child at home.

“There is a lot of support online, and even online tutors you can contact if you need help on anything. And there is a lot of support for homeschooling in Bermuda,” said Mrs Wheddon.

“There are a lot of other homeschoolers, so we get together quite a lot. Sometimes we have classes at the aquarium or at BUEI, and then we get together for playdates in the afternoon.

“We also have a Yahoo group and a Facebook page, so if you have a question you can contact us.

“If someone has a question about a certain homeschool programme or they want to know how it works, we can give them feedback as to whether it may suit them or not.

“And if anyone in the group has something they want to do, they just post it on Facebook and we organize a get-together.

“Homeschoolers are all kinds of people, from all walks of life. A lot of us are Christian, but there are many who aren’t.”

She said: “Homeschool can be done at any age. Some parents will put their kids in public school for primary and then when they reach middle school they want to teach them themselves, particularly if they can’t afford to send them to private school.

“We know parents who have started homeschooling their kids as teenagers and who have had considerable success from that. Sometimes it can be an adjustment for the child to no longer be in a classroom, but they can do very well.”

Mrs Wheddon said: “Our children have been homeschooled from the beginning; they’ve never been to school apart from Sunday school.

“I decided when I was pregnant with Moriah that I wanted to do that, and when she was about six or seven months old we said we were definitely going to do it.

“Because I was a nursery school teacher I decided I could school her myself. But I also wanted her to have a Christian upbringing.

“I want my children to learn how to have good morals and a good character, without the interference of peer pressure you sometimes get at schools.

“I didn’t want my children picking up swear words and different values.”

She added: “There was also a money factor, with having so many children (four) and with private schools being so expensive.

“Homeschooling makes sense when you consider the school fees. But that’s only if you can afford to stay at home and not have to go out to work.

“For me, it balances out financially for me to make my ‘job’ teaching the kids. If I was working as a nursery school teacher I wouldn’t have the salary to be able to afford the school fees for our kids.

One-on-one

“It is a lot of organization though; it’s definitely a full-time job. And my husband knows not to expect a clean house on school days.”

She said: “Some days it’s really rewarding, and other days I’m tired at the end of the day. Everyone has good days and bad days, including kids.”

Mrs Wheddon uses a mix of educational materials, mainly resourced online.

“I use a book called The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Susan Wise Bauer, Jessie Wise), and this tells you which level your child should be at a certain age, what you should be teaching them, and for how many hours a day.

“When it comes to workbooks and educational materials, I usually bring in whatever I need through Amazon.

“I pick and choose what works for each child, and will research it first, ordering items from different companies.

“If something is not working I won’t be afraid to drop it and try something else.

“I try to do Christian courses as much as possible, usually ‘Horizons’ by Alpha Omega Publications.

“People can order programmes online that come in a box set. For example, Horizons has an entire year’s programme within one box.”

As her son Gideon is dyslexic, Mrs Wheddon uses Horizons Math, which she describes as “very colourful”.

“This helps him to ‘separate’ things,” she explained.

“We are also using Horizons for a CD-ROM course for Gideon this year. Gideon goes to the Reading Clinic three times a week and they are recommending he does a lot of his language arts and maths on a computer, because then he won’t have to write everything down.

“As Gideon thinks a lot faster than he can write, it’s frustrating for him. This computer course will hopefully help him. It covers five subjects and costs $500, so it is affordable.”

This year, Moriah will also start to attend a high school on a part-time basis for science classes.

Mrs Wheddon said: “Moriah has decided she wants to become a vet and so she will need a lot of sciences.

“She is 12 and it will be like I am sending my child off to school for the first time, so it is a bit of a worry about how she will do in a classroom setting. But I’m sure she will do fine.

“It will be interesting to see how she finds it.”

Mrs Wheddon said: “Because homeschooling is more one-on-one, the children actually spend less time in a classroom on a typical school day.”

She described a typical day at the homeschool.

“We get up, have breakfast and then feed the animals.

“The kids all take responsibility for them,” she said.

The four children are each given a different daily task, written on the blackboard in the living room. This involves feeding, cleaning and looking after the family’s two dogs, cat, goose, rabbits and chickens.

After this is completed, it’s time to turn to the workbooks.

Mrs Wheddon said: “We start at about 8:30am. I start off with the kindergarten class, with Asher, going through his workbooks.

“In our lessons we do letters, numbers, shapes, and learning to read. The rest of the time is then play and songs.

“Then I will sit with Liam to go through his workbooks. While I am teaching Liam I let Asher play with something I have set up for him.

“I can work on math with both Liam and Gideon at the same time.

“While I am teaching the younger ones, the two older children can be left alone to go through their workbooks.

“Moriah will read her history lesson and will start on a project, followed by a quiz. She’s more self-taught now.

“Gideon, being dyslexic, needs a bit more help sometimes and so if he has a test I will read out his questions. If it’s a long test I will also break it down into segments for him.

“When it’s 10am we all go into a 20-minute recess. Then we have more lessons until lunchtime, when we have an hour’s break.

“After lunch, we will continue if the younger children have anything else to do, but mainly it will be Moriah and Gideon who continue into the afternoon with their studies.

“Moriah, being the oldest, will finish at about 2:30pm, while Gideon tends to finish at around 1pm.

Classroom

“I tell them what they have to do at the start of each lesson, and if it’s something new then I will give them a lesson first on the blackboard.

“I will write out the problems, for maths for example, and then make sure they understand it before I leave them to work through the workbook.

“They always know they can ask for help at any time. I will take each of the boys for a one-on-one reading lesson, which needs to be done in a quiet setting.”

The Wheddons’ homeschool curriculum consists of “all the basics”.

“They do math, English, science, history and geography, and Bible class,” said Mrs Wheddon.

“We try to get some logic in there as well, which is about puzzles and problem-solving. It usually consists of visuals and you have to figure out what is going to happen next in the picture.

“The problem-solving gets harder and harder as you progress.

“There are also word puzzles, such as writing down what is going to happen next in a story.

“Our daughter (Moriah) also does Latin as it is the basis of many other languages and so we thought it would give her a good base to start with for foreign languages.”

Mrs Wheddon plays the piano and so also teaches her children music.

Moriah and Liam play the piano, and Gideon sings.

Liam and Asher are currently taking Kindermusik lessons with a group of other homeschooled children.

The Wheddons are in the process of creating a purpose-built classroom in their home.

Mrs Wheddon said: “Everyone will have their own desk and we will probably also get a couple of computers for Gideon and Moriah to work on.”

When it comes to the pros and cons of homeschooling, Mrs Wheddon said: “The benefits are that you are teaching your children your values, and if they are falling behind then you know right away.

“If they don’t understand something then you also know right away because it’s more one-on-one than being taught in a group.”

She does not believe homeschooled children necessarily learn faster however.

“They will come along at their own pace,” she said.

“I don’t push my children hard but if they’re falling behind I will say, ‘You need to work harder on this subject and spend more time on it’.

“A few years ago my daughter was tested for her reading ability and although she was in Grade Five, her reading was at Grade Eight. But that’s not because I pushed her but because she loves to read.

“When she goes to the high school this year, I think she will be at the same level as the other kids. She tested to get into the school and so they will put her where she’s supposed to be.”

Mrs Wheddon added that some homeschooled children may also feel more comfortable asking questions about things they are not sure of, rather than in a group setting with a teacher.

“With homeschooled kids, they’re used to their mom answering questions so they will definitely feel comfortable asking questions of their parents when it comes to education too.

“And most of them ask a lot of questions!

“There’s also none of the hand raising and having to wait that you have in a school classroom.”

She added: “You can also save a lot of money by homeschooling.

“We could have sent our children to private school or we could have had a house, and so we chose to have a house.”

She said: “As for the disadvantages of homeschooling, if a child is shy and then goes into a group setting at some point, then they are not so used to it and it may take them longer to come out of their shell.

“My son Liam is shy, but all my children are very socialized. They all go to Sunday school and sailing each week, and also go to the Olympian Club, and so they are constantly around other children.

“I don’t believe that homeschooling makes children ‘anti-social’, and in that whole socialization issue.

“It’s all about a child’s character. From the age of two my son Gideon would go to the playground and say ‘I’m here’ and then make friends with everyone there, whereas Liam is more shy.

“Homeschooled kids are really very sociable; I don’t know any who are anti-social.

“When you think about it, they’re not stuck in a classroom all day long with a group of kids all the same age group who are getting on each others’ nerves.

“When these kids get together with other kids they just have fun.

“My kids also spend most of the summer in camps, so that’s their chance to get out there and away from Mommy. They talk to kids of all age groups.”

Mrs Wheddon said: “If anyone needs any questions answered, they can always contact the homeschooling group in Bermuda.”

To contact the Bermuda Home School Group see the Facebook or Yahoo page. Contact Laura Humphrey via Facebook message for more information.