Considering Homeschooling?

Originally Published in Carolina Parenting, October 2009

By Hal & Melanie Young

Every year as other parents put their children on the school bus to head back to school, more and more North Carolinians are sitting down at the table with their children to do school at home. The N.C. Division of Non-Public Education (DNPE) reports that 41,042 families homeschooled their children in North Carolina last year, a 7 percent increase over the previous year. With over 3700 families homeschooling in Wake County alone, it’s becoming common to have a neighbor, relative or friend teaching their children at home.

That close contact means a growing number of families will be considering homeschooling for the first time. Carlyn Canady of Clayton will be teaching her five- year-old daughter this year. “As my husband and I began to talk about having children, I met several families who were homeschooling their own children,” she said. “I was amazed at their openness to the world and the opportunities out there for children to learn.”

Other families are led to consider home education through changes in circumstances. Michelle Henline is a certified teacher and the mother of a kindergartener and a first grader. “After the private school where I was teaching this past year closed, I looked at several options for my children’s education,” she said. “Each one had benefits, but I finally decided that homeschool was the best option for our family this year.”

It’s legal and it works

The first question parents usually ask about homeschooling is, “Is it legal?” According to Home School Legal Defense Association, homeschooling is legal in all fifty states, and North Carolina’s law is about average. Here, parents need to submit a Notice of Intent to DNPE, administer a nationally-standardized test to their children each year, and keep attendance and immunization records.

I was very concerned about homeschooling my children because of the social aspect. However, I have learned that there are many activities available to homeschool families,” said new homeschooler Beverly Dixon, addressing the second concern of many parents. The Triangle area boasts nearly 100 support groups for homeschool families according to North Carolinians for Home Education, the state’s largest homeschool association. Area support groups offer 4-H clubs, history clubs, yearbooks, field trips, group testing, academic co-ops, and sports such as volleyball, swimming, basketball, and football.

Fewer families are concerned about whether homeschooling will meet their children’s academic needs. Every year research continues to accumulate showing the effectiveness of homeschooling, like the new report Homeschooling Across America, released by the National Home Education Research Institute. “Homeschool student achievement test scores are exceptionally high,” writes NHERI, with the mean scores for every subtest well above the norm.

Everything has its cost

The cost of homeschooling, both in time and money is a consideration, though. NHERI’s study found that the median amount spent on homeschooling was between $400 and $600 per student per year. Many families find this is not much more than they are already spending on back-to-school purchases, and it is considerably less than private school tuition.

The necessary time for teaching and learning is an issue, too. Usually one parent takes the teaching role for the family, and 81% of homeschooling mothers forego an outside income to do it. However, some parents find they can work from home, schedule alternate shifts, or run a family business to combine home education and career. Dr. Kathy Ward has made it work. “I’m the practice manager at our family’s veterinary hospital,” she said. “For us, homeschooling is a family affair, [and] both my husband and I participate in teaching.” She said careful time management is “an essential component” of their lives.

Even families with a parent already at home need to consider the time commitment. Anne Pythyon of Smithfield worried that she couldn’t keep up with the demands of homeschooling. “I thought there was something magical or special about families who homeschooled,” she said. Her son’s response to his preschool years at home convinced her. “While it could be overwhelming and frustrating to have JD with us all the time, we began to grow as parents, and realized that actually liked and preferred keeping him with us,” she said. “[He] seemed to be exploding in his learning and development by being with us all the time. This really made us begin considering homeschooling.”

Actually, the time commitment is not as daunting as first seems, either. Many families find it possible to complete formal schooling in the morning hours, then spend the afternoon on outside activities, housekeeping and family. That time spent together as a family is a benefit to homeschooling that becomes more obvious as time goes on. Samantha Bloom expects it will. “I think [it] will be great for our family,” she said. “I think it will give us an opportunity to be really close and have a great time making the world our classroom!”

Teresa Wirtz found that to be true; she’s a veteran homeschooler who now sells educational supplies to other families through her website, home4schoolgear.com. “Homeschooling has allowed us to have a greater positive impact in our children’s lives,” she said. “We know them better than we ever dreamed possible.”

These hopes for stronger families and a more creative educational experience are leading more families to decide for homeschooling every year. Anne Pythyon speaks for many parents when she says, “Ultimately, it comes down to a love of learning. I want us to raise loving, compassionate kids who will question the world around them. We want them to be capable of critical thinking so they can make morally based decisions that not only help them but their fellow man.”

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Hal and Melanie Young are the parents of six boys and two girls who have been homeschooled from the beginning. Hal is the former president of North Carolinians for Home Education. They are the authors of the acclaimed new book Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys. (www.raisingrealmen.com)

2009 North Carolina HOME SCHOOL Statistical Summary, North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education, http://www.ncdnpe.org/documents/hhh234.pdf

North Carolina – A Legal Analysis, Home School Legal Defense Association, http://www.hslda.org/laws/analysis/North_Carolina.pdf

Homeschooling Across America: Academic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics, Summary of Study, August 10, 2009, National Home Education Research Institute, http://www.nheri.org/Latest/Homeschooling-Across-America-Academic-Achievement-and-Demographic-Characteristics.html

Side Bar: Learning at Home for Every Parent

Hal & Melanie Young

The preschool years are critical for developing a love of learning and a foundation for our children’s education. No matter what educational system parents eventually choose, there are simple ways to enhance learning in their children at home.

Make the world your classroom. Talk to your little ones about what you are doing as you go about the daily errands of life. Do you realize how much you know about the post office? Stamps, airmail, mail delivery, Pony Express, anthrax, shipping packages and more. Now, imagine how much you could share when you stop to pay your light bill!

Household chores are great for learning. Maria Montessori developed her program to give children in nursery schools the benefits they would have at home. Teach colors when you sort the laundry and shapes when you fold it. Teach counting and one to one correspondence as you pull out the forks and set the table – one fork per plate! Teach as you go through your day.

Character lessons prepare children for school. The basic character training you do while your children are little prepares them for learning. A retired school teacher we know often speaks of how she could immediately tell which children had learned obedience, politeness and respect from their parents. They came to school ready to learn.

Become a book-loving house. Children who are read to learn to read more easily and enjoy it more. Take the time to read to your children and help them to become comfortable with text and anxious to understand it. Preschool children memorize easily and games like “Mother May I?” can be adapted to help teach them the sounds of the letters.

Live intentionally. When you realize that you are the biggest influence in your child’s education and you begin to intentionally take advantage of that, your whole family’s outlook will change. Learning stops being a chore for children and becomes an adventure we all share.

(These tips are adapted from Melanie’s workshop, “Homeschooled from the Beginning: What to Do When Your Children are Young,” available at www.youngandsons.com/store)

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