In the 1980s Karilee Valeriano read A Way Home by Mary Pride and it planted the idea of homeschooling in her head. Years later, after she had married and moved just north of Livingston, she met a group of people who were homeschooling their children. So impressed by the homeschooled kids, Valeriano decided to teach her own children. Her five kids, ages 7-15, have been homeschooled throughout their entire lives. Like many homeschoolers, Valeriano sees it more as an extension of family life than a replica of a classroom.
Homeschooling may be the single fastest growing educational trend in the United States, and that trend is expanding worldwide. Dr. Brian Ray, a leading homeschool researcher, estimates that homeschooling has increased 15% per year over the past several years. While accurate statistics on the number of families homeschooling are difficult to come by, Dr. Rays estimates are supported by the U.S. Department of Educations National Household Education Survey program.
In 1999 the Department of Education estimated that there were about 850,000 homeschoolers nationwide and that number had increased to about 1.1 million by 2003. Ray estimated there were between 1.7 and 2.1 million homeschoolers at the end of that period, and that currently, there are between 2.5 and 4 million homeschoolers nationwide.
Every family has their own reasons for homeschooling their children, but there is one common thread with all homeschooling parents: public schools do not provide the learning environment that these parents want for their children. Some parents may want their children in a religious environment; others find that public schools are not meeting their kids needs. Some families wish to travel or have the flexibility to come and go without adhering to a traditional school schedule. Others find their children do not thrive in group settings.
The list of reasons for homeschooling goes on and on:
Parents are with their children all day.
Parents know and understand their children, and are influential in their lives, even as they enter the teen years.
Children are allowed to mature at their own speeds.
Parents and other adults are the primary role models for homeschooled children.
Homeschooled children are largely free from peer pressure.
Homeschooled children are comfortable interacting with people of all ages.
Family values and beliefs are central to social, emotional and academic development.
Family life revolves around its own needs and priorities rather than the demands of school.
Homeschooling promotes good communication and emotional closeness within a family.
Each child’s education can be tailored to his or her unique interests, pace, and learning style.
Like any major decision a family makes, there are many factors to consider. Can both parents work and homeschool or can the family afford to have one breadwinner? (In Bozeman there are homeschooling families where both parents work, one parent works and single parents.) Will a homeschooled child be able to get into college? (Many colleges are now courting homeschooled kids and have special applications to fit their unique schooling experience.) Will a homeschool parent go nuts spending so much time with their children? Will a parent know how to deal with a learning disability?
The number one concern that tends to come up is that homeschooled children will not be properly socialized. To this, homeschoolers argue that their children spend their days in the real world interacting with a variety of people. They claim this is a better way to socialize than to be in a room with kids of the same age and similar socio-economic background all day.
Kathryn Hainsworth has homeschooled her two children (ages 12 and 10) for their whole lives and is a member of the Bozeman Homeschool Network. She believes the family is a more natural setting than the classroom. My children interact with all ages from infants to 90 year-olds and they are very comfortable talking to people of different ages and different backgrounds, she says.
Additionally, many local organizations such as the Bozeman Swim Center, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and the Missoula Childrens Theater run programs geared toward homeschooled families that provide an opportunity for kids to interact with their peers. Of course, all non-school-associated sports teams are open to whoever wishes to participate. One of the biggest issues, Hainsworth says, is learning to say no. There are so many wonderful opportunities around here and there are always things going on.
Another concern parents may have is that they are worried they wont know how to teach. Hainsworth has a degree in education and found that she spent many years unlearning the things I learned in college. Instead she had to figure out her childrens learning styles. For parents who like a little structure or educational backup there are lots of homeschooling curricula available for purchase.
How to Homeschool
In Montana parents must file an intent to homeschool with the Superintendent of Schools and keep track of the hours they spend homeschooling each day. Everything else is up to the parents and the needs of their children.
The philosophies of homeschoolers vary widely. Some people are more comfortable purchasing a curriculum and running their household more like a traditional classroom. On the other end of the spectrum is unschooling: also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning, which is generally thought of as homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum and in which the child decides what how and when he or she wants to learn.
Most homeschoolers fall somewhere in between. Hainsworths children use a math curriculum and read everyday, but the rest of their lives is dictated by their farm. We live pretty cyclically, she notes. Valeriano uses a hodgepodge of curricula in combination with other real world experiences. Her children, as well as herself, all run home businesses where they learn about budgeting, sales and all the other aspects of running a business. Life skills are important, she notes, even if they arent taught in (traditional) school.
To find out more about homeschooling check out www.homeschoolfacts.com or google homeschooling. There are about a million resources out there.