Homeschooling: What You Need to Know

Homeschooling is about to go mainstream — two million kids are being Homeschooled this year. Growing at a rate of 7 to 15% per year, Homeschooling has lost the stigma of being the choice of religious fanatics and other extremists. In a few states, it remains completely unregulated, but most states believe Homeschooling to be an acceptable education option, for which each county is likely to have a Homeschooling office.

There is considerable variation among these states as to family accountability. New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have fairly stringent guidelines, while New Jersey has almost none. (At the end of this blog, you will find a guide to websites you will likely want to visit for more specific information.)

If you are seriously considering Homeschooling, a thorough self-examination will be wise:

Homeschooling is a fulltime job. Is your family financially secure enough to lose any income you could contribute?
A teacher needs mastery over the material to be studied — you will probably have to self-educate to some extent. Are you prepared to go “back to school”?
Homeschooling is a family affair. Parents and close family members all need to be on-board.

If you’re sure Homeschooling is right for your family, you’ll be pleased to discover that there are considerable resources available to you!

County Homeschooling offices — they require that you register your children that offers you the benefit of administering the standardized tests your public schools use each year. A certified teacher will assess the exams as to how your child ranks in his grade level. Increasingly, county offices are providing their curriculum online. Registering makes this tool available to you. Importantly, registering offers “Blending” opportunities: participation in sports is almost always a possibility. Art and music are opening their classrooms. Alas, only fulltime students may attend Prom. They can’t be cheerleaders either.

  • Umbrella schools — classified as private schools, they offer Homeschoolers the same curriculum as the local public school, maintain and house your child’s records and provide yearly assessment testing.
  • Curriculum-based schools — curriculum publishers work with Umbrella schools, charging a small tuition. There is more involvement, including records of your child’s progress, diagnostic feedback, end of year testing and report cards. (You may need to submit your child’s work on a pre-determined schedule.)
  • Support group based schools — like Umbrella schools, they are classified as private schools. Usually religion-based, they offer the same assistance as Umbrella schools, but include group activities and encourage social interaction among their member Homeschoolers.

Most educators agree that some degree of “Blending” is best — incorporate your own invaluable teaching, with online assets and public school offerings. You may choose to go it alone. As long as you register your child if required, the rest is up to you. Madeline and Nate chose this path.

Madeline hops out of bed when her alarm rings at 7am. Excited to start her day, she never bothers with the snooze button. Her husband, Nate, has already started his day as a hospital x-ray tech. His hours are long, but he’s well compensated and has a generous benefits package. Madeline doesn’t need to work.

Yet 8am finds her presenting a professional image: no sweats or jammie bottoms. She wakes up Hannah, 9, and Brooke, 7 and heads to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. At 9am the school bell rings. Lesson plans tailored specifically to each girl are on their desks in the classroom that was once the den. School is in session. Homeschool that is.

The day is structured exactly like a public school day, except Madeline has ample time to guide her girls through any rough spots they encounter or to expand a lesson that seems especially captivating. Madeline uses teaching guides and texts provided by her school district. The required basics for each girl’s grade level are clear and covered. If Madeline feels her girls might better understand today’s math by visiting the grocery store where Hannah can work on fractions by weighing out produce and Brooke see the shapes and sizes described in her text, off they go.

Maybe they’ll stop for a quick lunch, discuss what the market trip taught them and perhaps toss in a short tutorial on how to treat service staff — the waitress and cashier — with respect. Then it’s back to the home classroom to complete the lesson plans and dispense homework.

Along with preparing tomorrow’s lessons and tonight’s dinner, Madeline is free to catch up with friends on facebook, read the latest issue of Allure or watch “Ellen”. When Nate pulls in at 7, there’s time for a family meal and for Nate and the girls to read the next chapter in the “Whimpy Kid” saga both girls like. (Reading is believed to be the skill that profits most from homeschooling.) Then, he’ll spend time with his wife.

Is this your dream life? It’s yours if you want it, with all these benefits:

  • Your child’s individual needs will be met, one-on-one — a learning disability that requires special handling, the (almost epidemic) hyperactivity that needs tempering or the gifted child’s need to move on quickly.
  • Enhanced “family time” — your children will have more time with Dad…and so will you.
  • Your morals, values and beliefs will be emphasized.
  • You can bring your classroom outdoors. (Which may explain why California and Florida rank first and second as states with the most homeschooled children.)
  • You are also a student. You can’t teach what you don’t know. Learning (or re-learning) American History or solving math problems without a calculator (!) will keep your brain agile. Maybe you can finally take the time to learn French — together!
  • It’s time for recess when you decide it’s time. Studies show that students learn most efficiently when their developing brains are given breaks. Recess can mean doing a little gardening, emptying the dishrack or brushing the family dog. You also get to decide if it’s a two-recess day or even a three!
  • Freedom! As long as you are adhering to your curriculum of choice, your options are limitless.
  • You are in charge of the menu! You can offer healthy versions of the comfort foods ALL kids seem to love: add veggies to a frozen organic pizza, make sweet potato fries instead of the less nutritious french, use multigrain bread for sandwiches. Perhaps have your kitchen-curious kid hone his culinary skills by making lunch.
  • Field trips are east. No permission slips or chaotic bus trips. Just regular visits to the library, the local museum, even a visiting carnival.
  • Safety. Violence, drug abuse and bullying pose significant threats in both public and private schools.

Your home is a safe house. Teen pregnancy is almost unheard of among homeschooled kids.

  • You know your children well. As you watch them learn, you’ll pick up on their special aptitudes and be able to steer them toward possible career paths.

A bed of roses? Almost. Expert educators agree: Social isolation is Homeschooling’s thorn.

The lack of social interaction with other children — somewhat molified in the Support group setting — is a serious concern. Forming friendships with other children is considered essential in the development of social skills and overall emotional health.

Homeschooled children can develop feelings of inadequacy. They don’t know if they “fit in”. Social interaction levels the playing field. They also miss the experience of diversity, interacting with others from a variety of cultures and ethnicities. Diversity teaches compassion, acceptance and tolerance. Children need the company of adults as well — public school students interact with a wide variety of adults, bolstering their emotional health and aiding in the development of autonomy.

Awareness is the key. Involvement in religious groups is helpful, as is joining clubs or organizations like Girl Scouts. If economically feasible, send your Homeschooler on a teen tour. Sharing new experiences and adventures with peers is extremely valuable. Summer camp is another excellent opportunity to offset the dangers of social isolation.