by Mary Becelia
Home schooling: it's for evangelical Christians. It's for back-to-nature types. It's too complicated for me to figure out. It's only for really brilliant, self-directed kids. It's tooisolating . . . Many stereotypes abound concerning home schooling, but in reality, homeschooling can fit a wide variety of family situations and is not the exclusive purview of any one "type" of family or child.
So, let's suppose you are considering home-schooling your child or children, but you aren't sure where to start. Having interviewed a number of homeschooling families in the Fredericksburg region, the consensus seemed to be, start with a Google search. I did just that, and found a number of useful resources:
www.home-school.com/groups/VA.html(Virginia Homeschoolgroups): This site includes links to 30+ Home schooling groups in Virginia, including some in our area, as well as www.vahomeschoolers.org: "The OldDominion's only fully inclusive, member directed, and volunteer driven statehomeschool association. VA Home-schoolers is neutral in matters of religion and partisan politics." This is the go-to site for all the basics, such as where to go to apply to home-school your child and information pertaining to legal matters.
There are many, many more sites, of course, probably hundreds, but certainly the sites devoted t oour area and the state would be the logical place to start. Once you've absorbed some of that information, you may want to delve in deeper and find sites of specific interest to you. A few that I found interesting included:
www.heav.org/ (Home EducatorsAssociate of Virginia): "Member-supported, statewide, nonprofit homeschoolassociation that operates from a biblical world view."
www.uuhomeschool.org ("Home schooling for Unitarian Universalists and kindred spirits"): this site is for those who are homeschooling but seeking a perspective other than the Christian one that does, admittedly, dominate many of the other sites.
www.montessori.edu/homeschooling.html (for families seeking ahomeschooling Montessori experience): this page is pretty brief and none too fancy, but does have a bit of information pertinent to using Montessori methods at home.
www.waldorfhomeschoolers.com/ (for families seeking home/unschooling information based on the Waldorf approach): I don't know much at all about the Waldorf approach, but this site might be interesting for parents seeking a slightly alternative approach to homseschooling.
www.midnightbeach.com/hs/ (Jon's HomeschoolResources): "a source of neutral, noncommercial Home schooling information." I really, really liked this site. The author is a Homeschooling dad and in addition to being very comprehensive, his approach is so down-to-earth that you feel like a trusted friend is guiding you.
Okay, so you've trolled the web and located pages upon pages of information about Home schooling. Still interested? How about curriculum and teaching guides? Talk about boggling! Here I have to tell you that you will probably need to do a some self-directed research. I know folks using everything from the Bob Jones curriculum ("Christ-centered resources for education, edification, & evangelism") to Oak Meadow ("providing lessons that meet the child in a developmentally appropriate and holistic manner"). There is no doubt a curriculum out there to meet almost every learning style and preference. Research and talking to other home-schooling parents are probably the best methods of finding one that suits you.
Now maybe you have a moment to sit back and wonder, "How did the whole Homeschooling movement, of which it looks like I am becoming a part, come about?" Was it radical hippies living out of their VW wagons who started it? Commune dwellers? Christian missionaries far removed from traditional schools? As with the misconcep-tionslisted at the beginning of this article, many misunderstandings exist about how the Home schooling movement got underway and grew to be the phenomenon that it is today. The best summary I was able to find of it was by Partrick Farenga, at www.hsc.org/professionals/briefhistory.php
To summarize, he says that the key year in homeschooling's history was 1970, when a brief volume called Deschooling Society was published. It recommended an abolition of mandatory school attendance laws and led to public debate and additional publications on the topic. John Holt, an education reformer, became them ovement's pivotal figure when he founded a magazine called Growing Without Schooling, the first magazine about Home schooling. In 1981, Dr. Raymond Mooreand his wife became popular advocates for home-schoolers, especially Christian ones. Throughout the 1970's and 1980's the movement was further publicized and gained more popularity, particularly in conservative and Christian circles. Today,"it is now becoming more of a mainstream choice than a radical move." For the entire article, and much more on the history of this trend, see the website listed above.
Finally, what about the personal side of this very individual choice: to homeschool your child. What do the parents who are doing it have to say about it, both positive and negative? I wondered this as well, and so I set out, in my interviews, to answer the following questions:
1. What were your reasons for Home schooling?
Parents offered a variety of reasons, including the following: large classroom sizes and lack of discipline in the public schools, a wish to impart moral and/or religious values, frequent moves around the country and the subsequent disruption to their child's education in a non-homeschool environment, the expense of private education, unsupportive teachers, and a child's specific request to be homeschooled.
2. What do you perceive as the benefits of Home schooling?
The response here was enthusiastic and resounding--families clearly find a number of benefits to Home schooling, for example, "...a child is able to learn in a one on one environment. The pace is set for that child. You can advance more quickly if your child understands the new concepts. Or, you can slow down and go into a more in depth study of a difficult concept. Your child can also study what they have an interest in. You have more opportunities to spend quality time with your children. You know what influences are affecting your child."
Another mom describedthe positive aspects as "The ability to let our children explore a topic,to change a curriculum to meet his/her need, and to allow a child to go ahead in a subject if they are able or repeat a subject if they need to without the 'stigma' of being 'left back'. The thrill of seeing your children love learning."
Yet another perspective was offered by this mother, "Closer relationships and more interdependence in the family...Being able to make learning a part of everyday living. More independence, initiative, and creativity in my kids. Not having children learn manners from other children. Not having my children dependent on their peers for emotional support or acceptance."
Several also mentioned the benefits to their children of being in mixed-aged groups as well as the flexibility to travel outside of traditional school vacations.
3. What do you perceive as the negatives to homeschooling?
Expense was certainly a consideration for some parents. As one mom put it, "Things aren't as easy for the kids and parents to do as they are in public schools.
For instance, if a child is really interested in art, drama, speech, or music then the parent must actively seek out homeschool classes and groups for the child to be in and be willing to take them to them and pay for them. Another negative is the expense. Although homeschooling curriculum and classes usually cost less than private school, they still cost."
Monotony and the struggle to establish and maintain boundaries also came up as potential negatives, "Sometimes it is hard always being around the same people all the time, sometimes it is hard when others see your work as expendable. It is like working at home and encountering all the problems that women who get paid to work at home experience. .. You have to set boundaries, like when friends can call or visit. I know some homeschoolers say you shouldn't do housework during school time and others who say that the laundry they fold while listening to a child's recitation is invaluable. Some people insist on a discreet time, some do bits throughout the day."
It can also be more isolating to be a homeschooling family who is not conservative or Christian. Fortunately, this is changing and sites such as the Heathen Homeschoolers (a part of www.vahomeschoolers.org/support/) exist to provide support. As their site states, "This group exists to provide support for homeschoolers who sometimes find it challenging, difficult or frustrating to be nonreligious or religiously 'different' within a broader homeschooling community sometimes viewed by insiders and outsiders alike as religiously homogeneous.
4. How would you describe the Home schooling community in our area...is it easy to tap into thisnetwork?
Everyone I interviewed answered this question in the affirmative. For example, one mom from Spotsylvania said, "I would describe the Home schooling community in our area as very supportive and very active. There are at least three homeschool support groups in the Fredericksburg/Stafford/ Spotsylvania area with numerous other smaller groups that specialize in things like literature or band."
To homeschool or not to homeschool? I can't answer that question for you (to be quite honest, I can't even answer it for myself at this point!), but the resources above will, I hope, help you in your quest to investigate this option more fully or just to learn more if you are curious. And if and when you decide to embark upon this form of education, it appears that the Fredericksburg community is a wonderful place to start.
Mary Becelia is a part-time employee at the University of Mary Washington and mother of two fromStafford County.