Making the Leap
No alumni interviewed for this article said they jumped into homeschooling with great enthusiasm. They had heard about the stereotypesthe disciplinarian parents, the antisocial kidsand they wondered how they would find the time or the teaching materials to give their children an adequate education. Whether to alleviate their doubts or confirm them, alumni attended local information sessions or consulted with other parents already teaching their kids at home. Many national and local homeschool organizations answer questions for tentative parents, provide support and resources such as magazines or online chat rooms, and sell curriculum materials designed to meet a wide variety of educational goals.
Nevertheless, deciding to homeschool is not easy. When Wyatt Webb 92 and his wife Stefanie were considering options for their son Davids education, homeschooling didnt initially make the list. But David has special learning needs related to his premature birth. New concepts must be presented to him in particular ways, and he grows distracted when confined too long to a chair. The Webbs, who live in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, OR, were also concerned about the prevalence of drugs and violence in the public school system. They looked into private schools but found they couldnt afford them. Then they attended an information seminar at their local library about home learning, going in with a more or less open mind. Wyatt says, We saw a few things that night that really convinced us that we should try homeschooling.
First, many of the parents they met had the same reasons for homeschooling that they did. Second, the Webbs discovered that sharing learning experiences as a family produced strong connections. Parent-child relationships were strong and deep. That was a very pleasant surprise, Wyatt says. Lastly, the high-school kids in attendance seemed like polite, well-adjusted teenagers who could carry on intelligent conversations with adults. The session also reinforced the notion that parents did not have to re-create classrooms in their homes. They simply had to find the right resources and be flexible. The Webbs decided to take the plunge and, if necessary, reconsider private or public school later. That was seven years ago. David is 12 years old now, and the Webbs have managed to provide him an education that suits his particular needs. They speed up material he grasps easily and slow down material that proves difficult.
For the first couple of years, the Webbs did what many homeschool newcomers do: they ordered a years worth of educational materials from a home-study provider. For fees ranging from about $500 to $2,000, these companies provide parents with textbooks, curricula, lesson guides, and phone and e-mail support. They also take care of legal requirements, reporting test results in accordance with state laws. Prepackaged curricula help parents set up a structured learning environment at home, which can be great for kids making the transition from classroom to kitchen table. After the Webbs got the hang of it, they began to mix and match curriculum materials.
Interestingly enough, the lesson plans take only a couple of hours to finish each day, compared to the six or seven hours of instruction a child might receive in school. Much of how school is organized is about having the student be manageable, says Diane Curtis 78, SM 79. She and her husband, Jim Bidigare 78, educate their four childrenDanielle, 14, Luke, 13, Hannah, 11, and Claire, 8from their home, which sits on 40 acres of farmland east of Columbus, OH. They use an Ohio charter school that offers a structured, time-saving educational experience over the Internet. I so value that [my childrens] school lessons dont take up too much of their time, says Curtis, who believes that playing is childrens most important formative experience. We need people who can think creatively. Our school structure works against that. Curtis says her children spend more of their free time reading and playing outside than other children they know, who prefer television and video games.
Once parents gain experience with prepackaged curricula, they often integrate components from different companies, as the Webbs do. Or they create their own courses of study altogether. Although many states require that children pass certain standardized tests, they also recognize a broad range of educational experiences. Often you can turn outside activities into credit, such as an elective, says Warshaw, whose son Keith is now 13. A book on tape during a car trip can become a literature lesson. A trip to the museum can serve as a history class. This is where seasoned homeschoolers seem to thrive, turning everyday activities into learning.