Considering Homeschooling


Introduction to Homeschooling
Lillian Jones

In the golden glow of a rural September morning, a gaggle of fresh faced children bustles onto a big yellow bus. The door closes and the bus rumbles off down the road, past redwoods and apple orchards, toward school in Occidental.

But down the lane, eleven year old Ethan is still home. He peers intently into the bowels of a computer, readying a screwdriver as his dad strains to push stiff metal parts together. His dad has been away at work for three days, and they have both been looking forward to this day of catching up on projects together.

On a hillside twenty miles away, in Kenwood, twelve year old Ramon lets his goats out of their pens and joins his mom inside at the kitchen table, to play with logarithms in their favorite math book.

And over in Santa Rosa, nine year old Allegra and Ashley break away from their reading to help their mom pack up lunch for today's field trip. They will be joining seven other families for a tour of the Petrified Forest in Calistoga before they rush off to ballet class.

These are some of what could be as many as two million children in this country who do not go to school.

Parents choose to educate their children outside of the traditional setting for a variety of reasons: academic goals, religious beliefs, social philosophy, personal needs and any number of issues. Patrick Farenga, publisher of the popular national homeschooling journal, Growing Without Schooling (GWS), has seen dramatic change and expansion over the past twenty years, "We have seen the homeschooling movement grow from its alternative schooling and back-to-the-land roots in the late seventies, to its popularity with religious fundamentalists in the eighties, to its current gradual acceptance by 'mainstream' families. Homeschooling is clearly not only growing, but flourishing."

How do parents know what to teach and how to go about teaching it? There are almost as many answers to this question as there are homeschoolers. The HomeSchool Association of California (HSC) points out that the home setting allows for direct personalized attention. "The teacher," they remind us, "possesses deep knowledge of each child and can individually tailor teaching methods to the child�s learning style. Studies have found no significant difference in the achievement of homeschooled children when grouped according to whether the parent was, or had ever been, a state-certified teacher. Children of homeschool parents with only a 12th grade education have scored above the national norm on the Stanford Achievement Test."

In fact, many homeschool parents think of their role as more facilitator than teacher. Some of the most popular books in homeschooling libraries, such as those by the late educator and homeschool advocate John Holt, encourage a relationship and atmosphere where parents support children in finding and pursuing their own interests. Traditional skills and knowledge are best garnered in a natural way that embraces a love of learning. The love of learning is held as an ultimate goal which can open any door.

Albert Einstein, who homeschooled for a time and was known to have had his difficulties in school, is often quoted: "It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry ...which stands mainly in need of freedom... It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty."

Resources are plentiful, and there is plenty of enthusiastic sharing and comparing among homeschoolers. Besides books and periodicals, newsletters, local social support groups and big state conferences put on by state organizations like HSC, there are even electronic networks found in services such as America Online, where homeschool parents (and kids) chat and post notes about everything from algebra programs to Greek curricula and college admissions.

"The world is our classroom" is a favorite theme of homeschoolers, who are often on the go. There are outings with Scouts, classes with 4H, visits to historical sights and museums , farms and factories, choirs, plays and the world at large. Kids' classes are offered at Lawrence Hall of Science, at Sonoma State's Excel program and at an increasing number of "after school" programs around the county. Days can be easily filled with social gatherings, drama groups, and with science or Spanish clubs at one another's homes. If homeschoolers have a common complaint, it is the driving involved in taking advantage of the many tempting opportunities for enrichment.

While providing a wholesome educational setting is important, being the primary influence in their children's lives is often of paramount importance to homeschooling parents. As tempting as all the outside enrichment opportunities are, most homeschooling families find that the times they value the most are the quiet times together around home. There is time to meander in the outdoors, to take in the sights and smells of autumn, or to snuggle together under a quilt on a frosty winter morning to watch a favorite film, or to stay up deliciously late on a spring night to finish a few more chapters from a beloved book. Homeschool children also have lots of time to be alone, and to daydream.

Gretchen McPherson, a Sonoma County homeschool mom, appreciates the gift of time that allows her children to pursue many varied interests in the community, " we have time to focus, to learn to truly concentrate on something. Time to read classics by the hour or Winston Churchill's memoirs, time to bake bread together and keep nature journals; time to do chores! But the most precious times to me are the unplanned 'gab sessions' with my three teenagers, when we sit up late enjoying each other's conversation and sifting through all the world's and our own problems. All this time with my children has knit our hearts together. That is a crucial benefit of home education."

Mark and Helen Hegener, publishers of Home Education Magazine, a favorite resource for many homeschoolers, are moved by this account. They also have homeschooled their children through the teen years. "When I was a teen," Mark remembers, "there was a big deal made about a 'generation gap.' We were all going through the same type of emotional flux. There were new kinds of relationships, responsibilities, questions and quandaries...but the peer group one had to draw from had no experience in dealing with these new situations. A teenager could feel very lost and lonely. All too often, when an adult tried to share his or her wisdom and experience, friction was the result, because the teenager was more used to relating with other teens. Thus the 'generation gap' was almost inevitable."

Hegener contrasts this with his present experience, "As homeschool parents, we don't see this big space between parents and their kids, at any age. When the time has been taken to communicate openly, it can be just as natural and comfortable for your teen to come to you with questions when they start dating as it was when they needed help with a model airplane. Families become close through living together, and build a foundation that will last down through generations."

An unfortunate popular misconception is that homeschoolers are rather homogeneous, sharing common religious affiliations. To the contrary, there is a broad range of beliefs, lifestyles, and ethnic backgrounds within the homeschooling community. Somewhere within that range there is a niche for everyone. There are as many ways of homeschooling as there are homeschoolers--with no "right" way. At one end of the spectrum families use packaged curricula or follow a fairly structured plan, while those at the other end support their children's interests in a spontaneous way. Most fall within the many variations in-between.

Every family is homeschooling--including those who send their children to school--but some do it for more hours of the day. Reading about other families' homeschooling experiences in good books and magazines is very helpful in understanding the struggles, joys, and potentials in taking on the responsibility of your own children's education.

Allowing children to pursue their interests as a basis for education is a philosophy widely encountered in homeschooling circles. After awhile many parents recognize the wide, interrelated expanse of research and problem solving skills, as well as valuable knowledge, that can naturally grow from this approach. While the state of California does have general "course of study" requirements listed in the Education Code, there is enormous freedom of choice for pursuing your own priorities and interests, even when following a more traditional structure.

Parents thinking about starting to homeschool for the first time with older kids often worry about being inadequate as teachers, but there are some very helpful resources for empowering the teens to educate themselves. To name just a few, Grace Llewelyn, a former teacher, publishes a catalog of intriguing learning resources called The Genius Tribe, for older children, teens, and adults, as well as two books on teens: The Teenage Liberation Handbook, and Real Lives: Eleven teenagers who don't go to school.

Jeremiah Gingold, one of the teens featured in Real Lives, remarks "Homeschooling has opened up a virtually unlimited array of possibilities in my life. I've never felt as if there was anything I couldn't learn, couldn't do. I've often run up against practical limitations from living in a rural location, but I've never felt limited by my self, by my age or my abilities. Perhaps this is because I've always been free to explore and interact with the world on my own terms." This seems like a the kind of outcome that would please any parent, and homeschooling is one good way of pursuing that goal.


55 Reasons to Homeschool

The following are the results of a survey by the National Home Education Network.

  1. Spend more time together as a family.
  2. Spend more time with children when they are rested and fresh rather than tired and cranky from school.
  3. Avoid having to struggle to get children to do the tedious busywork that is so often sent home as homework.
  4. Allow children time to learn subjects not usually taught in their school.
  5. Allow children to have time for more in-depth study than what is allowed in school.
  6. Allow children to learn at their own pace, not too slow or too fast.
  7. Allow children to work at a level that is appropriate to their own developmental stage. Skills and concepts can be introduced at the right time for that child.
  8. Provide long, uninterrupted blocks of time for writing, reading, playing, thinking, or working so that the child is able to engage in sophisticated, complex activities and thought processes.
  9. Encourage concentration and focus - which are discouraged in crowded classrooms with too many distractions.
  10. Encourage the child to develop the ability to pace her/himself - this is prevented in a classroom where the schedule is designed to keep every child busy all the time.
  11. Spend a lot of time out-of-doors. This is more healthy than spending most weekdays indoors in a crowded, and often overheated, classroom.
  12. Spending more time out-of-doors results in feeling more in touch with the changing of the seasons and with the small and often overlooked miracles of nature.
  13. Children learn to help more with household chores, developing a sense of personal responsibility.
  14. Children learn life skills, such as cooking, in a natural way, by spending time with adults who are engaged in those activities.
  15. More time spent on household responsibilities strengthens family bonds because people become more committed to things they have invested in (in this case, by working for the family).
  16. Time is available for more nonacademic pursuits such as art or music. This leads to a richer, happier life.
  17. Children will not feel like passive recipients of subject matter selected by their teachers. They will learn to design their own education and take responsibility for it.
  18. Children will realize that learning can take place in a large variety of ways.
  19. Children will learn to seek out assistance from many alternative sources, rather than relying on a classroom teacher to provide all the answers.
  20. A more relaxed, less hectic lifestyle is possible when families do not feel the necessity to supplement school during after-school and week-end hours.
  21. Busywork can be avoided.
  22. Learning can be more efficient since methods can be used that suit a child's particular learning style.
  23. Children will avoid being forced to work in "cooperative learning groups" which include children who have very uncooperative attitudes.
  24. Children can learn to work for internal satisfaction rather than for external rewards.
  25. Children will not be motivated to "take the easy way out" by doing just enough work to satisfy their teacher. They will learn to be their own judge of the quality of their own work.
  26. Children will be more willing to take risks and be creative since they do not have to worry about being embarrassed in front of peers.
  27. Children will be more confident since they are not subject to constant fear of criticism from teachers.
  28. Peer pressure will be reduced. There will be less pressure to grow up as quickly in terms of clothing styles, music, language, interest in the opposite sex.
  29. Social interactions will be by choice and based on common interests.
  30. Friends can be more varied, not just with the child's chronological age peer group who happen to go to the same school.
  31. Field trips can be taken on a much more frequent basis.
  32. Field trips can be much more enjoyable and more productive when not done with a large school group which usually involves moving too quickly and dealing with too many distractions.
  33. Field trips can be directly tied into the child's own curriculum.
  34. Volunteer service activities can be included in the family's regular schedule. Community service can be of tremendous importance in a child's development and can be a great learning experience.
  35. Scheduling can be flexible, allowing travel during less expensive and less crowded off-peak times. This can allow for more travel than otherwise, which is a wonderful learning experience.
  36. Children will be less likely to compare their own knowledge or intelligence with other children and will be less likely to become either conceited or feel inferior.
  37. Religious and special family days can be planned and celebrated.
  38. More time will be spent with people (friends and family) who really love and care about the children. Children will bond more with siblings and parents since they will spend more time together playing, working, and helping each other.
  39. Feedback on children's work will be immediate and appropriate. They won't have to wait for a teacher to grade and return their work later to find out if they understood it.
  40. Feedback can be much more useful than just marking answers incorrect or giving grades.
  41. Testing is optional. Time doesn't have to be spent on testing or preparing for testing unless the parent and/or child desires it.
  42. Observation and discussion are ongoing at home and additional assessment methods are often redundant. Testing, if used, is best used to indicate areas for further work.
  43. Grading is usually unnecessary and learning is seen as motivating in and of itself. Understanding and knowledge are the rewards for studying, rather than grades (or stickers, or teacher's approval, etc.).
  44. Children can be consistently guided in a family's values and can learn them by seeing and participating in parents' daily lives.
  45. Children will learn to devote their energy and time to activities that THEY think are worthwhile.
  46. Children will be able to learn about their ethnicities in a manner that will not demean. Children will be able to understand multiculturalism in its true sense and not from the pseudo-multicultural materials presented in schools which tend to depict others from a dominant culture perspective.
  47. Children will not learn to "fit into society," but will, instead, value morality and love more than status and money.
  48. Children do not have to wait until they are grown to begin to seriously explore their passions; they can start living now.
  49. Children's education can be more complete than what schools offer.
  50. Children who are "different" in any way can avoid being subjected to the constant and merciless teasing, taunting, and bullying which so often occurs in school.
  51. Children with special needs will be encouraged to reach their full potential and not be limited by the use of "cookie cutter" educational methods used in schools.
  52. Low standards or expectations of school personnel will not influence or limit children's ability to learn and excel.
  53. Children will be safer from gangs, drugs, and guns.
  54. Parents will decide what is important for the children to learn, rather than a government bureaucracy.
  55. Family will not be forced to work within school's traditional hours if it does not fit well with their job schedules and sleep needs.



Homeschooling Vendors, Classes,
Curriculum, and Resources