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Parenting: Growing in Good Health

A Homeschooling Primer

By Laurie O'Connell

"Many districts, even in small rural areas, offer some kind of home program, and if none exists, are often able to customize one to suit your family's needs."

An age-old tradition throughout all social strata, homeschooling has fostered many extraordinary minds, including Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln and Pearl S. Buck. But with the introduction of compulsory public, education in the early 20th century, most parents relinquished the responsibility of educating their children to the state. Now the tides are turning and an increasing number of families are choosing to homeschool.

There are as many approaches to homeschooling as there are homeschoolers. Some families use highly structured programs from prepared curricula; many pick and choose from a wide array of established educational materials; others "unschool," encouraging children to pursue their own interests with minimal adult interference.

In addition, resources and support groups for homeschoolers are plentiful on the Internet, and internships and volunteer opportunities abound for older children.

Home-based development

For the young child, especially, homeschooling provides unique benefits. In the early years, long-term separation from the home can be detrimental to development. Professor of art and educational consultant James Gilmore, M.A., decries the recent devolution of the home into "just a pit-stop in a mad dash from daycare to school to fast food to soccer lessons." This shift away from home-centered life to multiple activities, often with changing personnel, has diminished the home's previously focal role.

"Stability and stimulation are crucial needs that must be balanced," says Gilmore. "In the preschool and early school years, the child's attachments to both family and environment are of paramount importance, making home an ideal learning place--an individual pace and focus can engender great gains in learning."

But is it legal?

Legality is perhaps the most frequently voiced concern about homeschooling. Throughout the nation, punitive laws of the past are being eased in recognition of growing interest in educational options at home, and homeschooling is now legal in all 50 states, with varying requirements.

In California, the homeschooling family has two recourses: joining a school-district homeschool program or declaring itself a "private school" through an affidavit submitted to the state. And, as with private schools, no teaching credential is required.

Many districts, even in small rural areas, offer some kind of home program, and if none exists, are often able to customize one to suit your family's needs.


For most families, homeschooling is a difficult choice in today's economy. One parent staying home full-time can be a financialchallenge, but families can find various solutions.

Opportunities abound in home-based businesses, telecommuting, flex- or part-time work and teaching partnerships. As home-based work options proliferate, homeschooling will become a viable choice for more families. In addition, an older student who is committed to homeschooling may not require the full-time presence of a parent overseer.

Testing, testing, testing...

Testing, which is commonly used to ascertain academic achievement and skill level, varies depending on the method of schooling. Families who go the private school route can avoid testing by submitting portfolios of work for evaluation by college boards.

If a child is registered as a homeschooler through a public school district, individual subject grades are usually given by the homeschool coordinator, who evaluates a portfolio, and the student is encouraged to take state and federal tests. Though most colleges do require SAT test scores, an increasing number will determine acceptance solely based on evaluation of portfolios, personal interviews and essays.

Special needs

Homeschooling isn't just for gifted and average students--it can also benefit children with special needs, both academic and medical. The individual attention and customized pace of homeschooling are especially beneficial for children with ADHD and other learning disorders, who may be easily distracted by peers \or have difficulty keeping up with grade-level work.

Intensive Care Unit nurse David Henderson, B.S.N., notes that children with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and asthma, or life-threatening diseases, including cancer, are also well-served by homeschooling. "At home, the parent can provide necessary regular care, as well as immediate attention in medical emergencies that just isn't available in the classroom," he states.

Learning for the long haul

With the wealth of time that homeschooling affords, the older homeschooled child is often involved in significant projects in a field of special interest. Volunteer work, internships, working partnerships with other children and mentor programs are common options in the middle school and high school years, offering invaluable opportunities for real-world work experience at an early age.

And homeschooled children who choose to enter the school system usually do well. College acceptance rates indicate that the few who lag behind due to curriculum gaps that can arise from a self-directed learning program usually catch up before high school graduation. According to a study conducted by Dr. Brian D. Ray and the Home School Legal Defense Association, 69 percent of homeschooled graduates go to college -- only 2 percent less than public-school graduates.

All in all, homeschooling is an exciting educational alternative that can revitalize a student's interest in learning and produce a solid academic and personal foundation for college and professional life.

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