The Truth About Homeschooling

By Sara Vigneri

Overcrowded classrooms. Teacher strikes. One learning style fits all. It’s easy to understand why parents might want to take their child’s education into their own hands. And while homeschooling was historically associated with religious movements, a growing number of parents are choosing to educate at home because they feel it better suits the needs of their child.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that nearly three percent of the school-age population are homeschooled, which means 1.5 million students were taught at home compared to only 850,000 in 1999. And the most common reason cited for homeschooling was “concern about the school environment.” That’s not to say that religion doesn’t factor into the decision to keep kids home, but it’s not the only reason and may not even be the deciding factor. Homeschoolers claim they produce well-rounded students who get into great colleges and are able to supplement their home-time with plenty of socialization. One study published in the School Community Journal suggested that whether homeschooled or not, the more involved a parent is in his child’s education, the better that child will do academically. This is especially true among high school-aged teenagers. The study determined that kids who are schooled at home tend to have highly involved parents who take an active role in their education, and that inherently translates to an education that competes with public school.

Homeschool — The Flexibility to Make the World Your Classroom

The term “homeschool” is a bit misleading because many students don’t spend their school day at home. “Over the years, we have only spent about two-four hours doing lessons at home per day,” says Angela Landis of Allentown who has homeschooled her two children for the past 13 years. “We do fun stuff like field trips and scouts. My kids get out there; we don’t just spend all day sitting in the kitchen.” When Landis’s son entered first grade, she felt a disconnect between the educational priorities of an overworked teacher and what she wanted for her son, so she made the decision to teach from home. For parents like Landis, homeschooling is really about creating a personalized education that fits the temperament and interests of their child.

Ask a homeschooler why they chose to take their kids out of the classroom and you’ll often hear the word “flexibility.” Another  Allentown mom I spoke to said she’s thankful to be able to teach her kids at home because her husband was recently diagnosed with cancer and she appreciates the ability to schedule school around his cancer treatments.

Taking on the education of your child not only offers the flexibility to make a schedule that fits your family’s lifestyle, but it means you can focus on the subjects that really motivate and inspire your kids.

“My daughter loves to write, but I noticed she struggled with writing assignments in the morning,” says Landis. “So we switched writing time to the afternoon and she has flourished.” When parents are in charge of their child’s education, they can cater the curriculum to maximize their interests. “Kids are natural learners,” says Landis. “They are curious; you just need to tap into that.”

Homeschooling — It Takes A Village

A main concern of homeschoolers is feeling isolated and lacking a social network. “When kids on my son’s sports team would ask what school he went to, it made him feel uncomfortable that he didn’t have an answer,” recalls Landis. So she decided to start Fireside Academy (homeschool-life.com/pa/firesideacademy) — a homeschool co-op where parents pool resources to provide instruction. For example, a parent with a degree in chemistry might teach a science class while a chef might offer a cooking class. The end result is a community where kids can socialize, parents can get support from other homeschooling parents and families are still able to maintain the flexibility of homeschooling. There are roughly 65 families registered for Fireside Academy, including newbies who are looking for help getting started with homeschooling.

Support groups and social networks have cropped up throughout the homeschool community, from small parent groups in people’s homes to Facebook groups to larger groups that get together to provide en masse what is difficult to offer alone at home. For example, Michele Buono who has been homeschooling for 20 years started the Homeschool Boys & Girls Club in Quakertown (quakertownhomeschoolers.bravehost.com) which organizes field trips and community service projects and they even hold a science fair in May. The group has 157 families, many of which are part of Valley Homeschoolers — a network of over 350 families that organized a prom in addition to other various social and academic activities. “Homeschooling is a big commitment,” says Buono. “So it’s important to be connected to other families. I always urge new families to join a few groups.”

Homeschooling — Embracing Technology

The prospect of taking on the task of principal and teacher all rolled into one can be intimidating. So programs like cyber school offer a great alternative to homeschooling — it’s a charter school so your kid is still part of the public school system, but you have more control over their schedule. “People who want to homeschool but don’t feel comfortable going on their own may find cyber school a good alternative,” says Fred Miller, communications coordinator for Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (pacyber.org). “We often get middle or high school-aged homeschooled students whose parent no longer feels qualified to teach courses such as world languages, calculus or physics.” Cyber Charter students are provided a laptop, high-speed internet access, a printer as well as an instructional supervisor who will provide guidance and mentoring — and since it’s a charter school, there is no cost. The supervisors are certified teachers who stay with the same family throughout their entire K-12 years, providing a unique, consistent relationship that is uncommon in the mainstream system.

“Our surveys have found that students choose cyber for three basic reasons: more curriculum options, flexibility of schedule and getting away from a negative situation at school,” says Miller. For kids who still like the structure of classroom instruction (albeit, a virtual classroom attended via computer), but prefer to have more input in their schedule, Cyber Charter offers a good mix of homeschooling with traditional public schooling.

In fact, school districts are catching on to the benefit of offering flexible online school. The Lehigh Valley Cyber Consortium already boasts the Parkland School District as well as Southern Lehigh and Whitehall-Coplay.

Homeschool — It’s Your Choice

As parents, we often feel judged about the decisions we make in raising our children. Making the tough decisions for your child begins the moment you decide to bottlefeed or breastfeed or whether you let your kid sleep in your bed or cry it out at night in a crib. Providing an education is one of the most important jobs of a parent, and your child may thrive in the public school system. But if not, homeschooling is a viable alternative that is definitely worth exploring.

Sara Vigneri, an experienced health journalist, has respect for parents who choose to homeschool, but has to admit she was thrilled when her kids went back to school after the long summer break.

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