Teacher Dad

Is teaching children in the home really a viable alternative to traditional schooling? Homeschooling parent and professional teacher Ian Kutschke shares his views and experiences.

The father of two boys, Ian Kutschke’s decision to homeschool in Ho Chi Minh City was made back home in Canada before the family arrived. When Ian’s wife Lizzy found work here, an assessment of their circumstances made it clear to them that teaching the kids from home was the most sensible decision given their situation. With Lizzy’s explicit support and assistance, Ian now takes full responsibility for ensuring his kids keep up with their learning, even though they’re not attending a traditional school.

Was it difficult to get started in homeschooling?

I had this idea that you had to register somewhere and buy a curriculum, and it had to be a really organized thing—and you do need to organize—but it’s actually quite simple really. For us, we use the Canadian curriculum and the Australian curriculum, and they both have websites where you can see what’s expected of the child and what they’re taught at each grade level. You can use that as a guide to see what you should be introducing to the children.

I realized that because of the really small teacher to pupil ratio, you don’t need to take as long to get across a concept or an idea, so you’re able to finish an academic year long before other students do at school.

Did you need to buy a lot of teaching resources?

We actually had a lot of resources to begin with, because we wanted in general to collect educational types of games—and we see what their interests are, so we buy books accordingly. When it comes to birthdays and Christmases and that sort of stuff, people ask what they like, and we get a lot of resources that way.

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Do you need to connect with other homeschooling parents here?

There is a Facebook group here, Home Schooling Australia Discussion Group, and on that you can meet up, go on playdates and swap stories and experiences. They have excursions, field trips and the like, and if you really get into it you can organize with somebody to teach their children certain subjects, and they can teach your children certain subjects. I haven’t gone that far as it is, I’m a teacher by trade and we live in this community where there are enough kids that the boys do get a social aspect out of it. They can play with these kids, so we organize to go on playdates with the people living here.

Did you ever doubt that you could pull this off?

I didn’t have any doubts, but I did realize that there were some challenges that I wasn’t expecting—one of them is having patience. I could see myself losing my patience at certain times, and that didn’t create a very helpful environment. So I needed to look at different ways of getting concepts across, and breaking activities up and changing things, so we’re not spending too much time on one particular topic. Throw some physical activities in there, and even giving myself some “me time.” That’s another important thing, making sure that I have enough time in the day to do the stuff that I want to do, and not feel that I’m always bogged down with kids.

How do you ensure that your teaching is effective?

I think the challenge for any parent and any teacher, regardless of the setting, traditional or home schooling, is to take the material, the stuff that’s in the book, and bring it alive, make it relevant. Make it meaningful for them in their minds. Giving them some workbook and just turning the page can be ineffectual. The lessons that I’ve found where there’s a lot of retention and that they enjoyed a lot were built around themes that stimulated the different kinds of learning—kinesthetic, audio and visual.

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Is it important to follow a disciplined schedule?

The beauty of homeschooling is that you’re really flexible. You don’t have a strict 30-minute class—maybe it’s going to take 40 minutes, but so what? Maybe they’re having a great time while they’re doing it. Sometimes that eats into the time I had planned for something else, but again, so what? The important thing is that they’re getting a lot out of it.

Do you rely much on the computer or tablet as a teaching resource?

The internet is just stacked, it’s chock- full of resources for homeschooling and teaching resources—in fact, there’s too much stuff. One of the biggest challenges is wading through that, but once you do and get rid of the useless stuff that doesn’t apply to you, you find your go-to resources.

I actually try to stay away from the computer stuff, to be honest. These guys, they barely know how to turn the computer on. My opinion is that it’s not necessary right now. They will pick it up, kids are just like sponges—so they’re not missing out. I think it’s actually detrimental to spend too much time on the computer. They’re not losing anything. They need to know how to read, they need to do numbers. Any area like that where they have problems, they’re going to be behind in class. But if they don’t know how to do stuff on the computer, it’s not important.

How do you deal with planning your lessons?

You have to listen to the kids. They pretty much dictate a lot of the curriculum and the learning. If you listen to them, and take into account what they’re saying, they’ll buy in much easier and be far more motivated to do something than if you say “No, no, we’re going to do this” and it’s all teacher-centered.

It can be time-consuming to prepare the lessons, but I think a couple of hours a week are enough and you’re set for the week.

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Do you have high expectations of your kids?

I think I do have high expectations, but I also allow them to fail and fall “flat on their face” many times, because learning to get back up and have another go is a far better skill for them to learn in the long run than getting points (extrinsic rewards, praise or accepting less than what they are expected of).

Do you need to worry about testing and grading?

I don’t like the whole American testing system, getting really heavy on tests. I know it’s part of the school environment, so gradually I will get that into their schooling. But I don’t teach the schools, I don’t teach to the curricula, I don’t teach to the other schools’ expectations, because I teach to the kids. They kind of direct their own learning. If you’re observant, and see what the child is doing, and listen to what they’re telling you, that will direct your schooling and teaching. If they’re getting frustrated with math, for example, maybe we’ll come at it from a different approach. You start to realize their strengths and work with that as well.

Would you say homeschooling is better than traditional schooling?

The reason we’re homeschooling is mainly to do with our circumstances. Being a teacher, I know what teachers do, and there are some fabulous schools with wonderful teachers out there who should be compensated and rightly so, but parents still can’t necessarily justify the costs. If you have the money to send your child to school, that’s cool—but if you take that same money and invest it properly and stay home to teach your child, it could be the difference between having a few hundred thousand and a couple of million in your bank account for them later on.

There are some great schools here. I’m not going to say that homeschooling is better, or traditional schooling is better, that’s irrelevant and it depends on the circumstances you’re in. I would send my kids to an international school for sure, depending on what suited us. You’d look at the environment, the class sizes, and obviously fees, the general vibe of the place, proximity, facilities perhaps.

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Do you think it’s possible for a child to thrive even if their schooling experience is unusual or even substandard?

Speaking as a former manager and from what I’ve seen and learned over the years, if a child is in a substandard school, there is still room for growth. Yes, maybe the parent puts in more time at home with their child’s school work or maybe not. Either way, the child is still learning something about themselves and about life. I think the key in this situation is for the parent to have those conversations with their children and make sure they are guided towards positive self-esteem, self-evaluation and identify needs, academic or otherwise.

Do you ever worry your kids are falling behind others?

One of the traps that parents fall into is comparing their kids with others, worrying if their kid is falling behind—although that is a legitimate fear. I think everybody compares, it’s normal, but you don’t want to do it to the point where you’re only doing things because your motivation is your status, the status of your child.

Do you think you manage to cover the teaching fundamentals in a homeschooling environment?

Really—and this is a bold thing to say—if you read to your child, you have a garden, and a ball, that’s all you need. With those three things there, you can start creating all kinds of lesson plans. With books, obviously there’s that bond you create with your child, but also you introduce them to all kinds of new vocabulary, and you stimulate their imagination—whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it’s things about the world, the whole universe around them. Questions arise from those readings, and that’s when you can say, well, let’s explore this a little bit more. Voila, you have your direction to go start making lessons. The garden, that’s a life skill, people need to know how to grow their own food— and then there’s all that connecting with nature and the science behind it, observing, writing in journals, making pictures and then seeing the progression of how things grow, what happens if you don’t do that, what happens if you add this, what are the consequences. And every kid should know how to throw and kick a ball.

IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN

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