Is Home Schooling Right For You?
As children in their neighborhood started the new school year by waving goodbye to parents and hopping onto the bus, Paul, Timmy and Hannah Thomson took off with their mom to a local Shakespeare festival.
Ramona Thomson of Channelview, Texas, initially worried that her field trip idea might backfire: would her 14-, 12- and 7-year-old children show any interest in the plays? She discovered that the three-day event was one of the best moments in their home schooling experience.
"When I'm with them and we're all learning something cool together, it's a moment when you all go, 'Wow.' It's just an awe moment," Thomson says. "We went to that Shakespearean festival and just had a blast."
While most parents enroll their children in public, private or charter schools, some families opt for home schooling.
Making the decision isn't easy. While home school parents believe far more advantages than disadvantages exist, they'll concede that the teaching method is both a major adjustment and commitment.
The concept also is a hot-button issue. Some traditional teachers worry that home school children aren't necessarily receiving the best education simply because a parent is at the helm. Opponents also question whether a child socializes enough.
But both sides agree that careful study of the teaching method and what it means for a family is critical before making the decision to home school.
The Home School Life
Families choose to home school for a variety of reasons, including wanting to spend more time together on a flexible schedule. Parents' frustration with their child's school environment also could lead to home schooling. Moral and religious values also are factors.
From field trips and outings to traditional textbook reading and workbook assignments, families practice a variety of teaching methods. They may impose a rigid daily schedule or conduct a more relaxed routine. Some follow a mixture of the two approaches.
For Suzie Eads of Rantoul, Kan., teaching during the evening hours works best for her 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, who began home schooling three years ago after developing juvenile diabetes and missing seven weeks of school. Mornings are homework time, giving Rachel the afternoon to work on a beading jewelry business she started or to spend time with her younger siblings.
"Rachel seems to be learning really well," says Eads, a former PTA president at the school Rachel used to attend. "I can see she's much more in tune with what's going on in life and around the world."
Proponents of home schooling stress families' freedom to educate their children how they see fit. "Generally, parents are in charge of the home schooling program," says Laura Derrick, spokeswoman for the National Home Education Network, an organization that promotes efforts of state and local home schooling groups and individuals. "They set the program, they design it. They decide when a child is promoted."
Home schooling is legal in every state and relatively easy to initiate, says Derrick, who home schools her 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. Some states, however, require steps including reporting the decision, outlining a plan and providing periodic reports and testing, she says. In rare instances, a parent must have certain qualifications to home school. The National Home Education Network provides legal information as well as contacts for each state.
Is It for Everyone?
Heather Stanfield, an elementary school teacher in Portage, Mich., isn't convinced home schooling is something any parent could or should take on. "I don't think a lot of these parents are qualified to do the job they are doing," Stanfield says. "Parents probably think they can do a good job because they're their parents, and maybe they can – obviously no one has to have a degree to be a parent. (But) I know my school district has a lot to offer. It's hard for me to imagine a person could stay home and have as much offered to them."
The home schooling path can be difficult, Eads admits. "The toughest part sometimes is making yourself do it when you don't want to," she says. "Or it's grading a paper. If you're in a bad mood and they haven't cleaned their room, you don't want to grade an English paper – you're already mad."
"The first six months I probably thought it was the worst idea I ever had in my life," Thomson says. "The problem is, if you haven't been with your children 24/7 and you suddenly are, if there are any issues to deal with you have to deal with them now."
Taking things slowly and seeking support, from fellow home schoolers and others, helps tremendously, she says.
Socialization and Future Educational Goals
Stanfield and other traditional educators worry that home schooling can limit children's interaction with others, specifically those outside of the home schooling network.
"I've been thinking about that a lot, because Rachel spent seven years of her life in public schools," Eads says. While her daughter makes time for her friends, what she misses the most is going to the school dance or prom or band. "I think it's something you need to work on, with 4-H, Girl Scouts, music lessons and all those things," Eads says.
Home schooling supporters believe plenty of opportunities to socialize exist, through support groups and other networking. Community resources, such as the city park and recreation department, provide for interaction with peers as well as adults, they say.
Proponents also stress that future educational goals aren't compromised. Some home schoolers even begin taking college courses as teenagers. "A lot of colleges are seeking out home schoolers," Derrick says. "They find they are independent learners."
She does acknowledge, however, that smaller colleges and universities are more open to home schoolers compared to state-funded universities.
Making it Work
Parents who are interested in home schooling, yet feel apprehensive about it, can give it a try during the summer, Eads says. "Sit down and learn the best way that they learn," she says. "If you feel comfortable teaching them, then you'll probably feel comfortable doing it all year Long."
Parents may be surprised to discover that they learn just as much as their child. "My kids have taught me more than eight and a half years of higher education ever did," Thomson says. "They have taught me patience, imagination, creativity and wonder. I have stood back in awe as I watched them learn more without me than they ever could have with me. They are my teachers and it is a honor to have the opportunity to learn from them."