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Having always been someone who plans ahead, Nancy started thinking about our children's educations while still pregnant with our first child. We started with different perspectives about education. Nancy had lived practically all her life in the same house in Northern Virginia and attended public school where she was subjected to an "experimental program of the month" education during the 60's and 70's. She remembers starting school as an outgoing child who enjoyed reading to her classmates, but somewhere along the way becoming more shy and developing a fear of speaking in public. She did well academically, but just didn't enjoy going to school. Some of her strongest memories include the year that "mainstreaming" put older kids with developmental and behavioral problems in her class and one boy held her by the wrists over a stairwell and threatened to drop her. She also remembers the morning she felt sick and wanted to leave, but by the time the teacher finally acknowledged her raised hand and called her to the front of the room, it was too late and she threw-up on the teachers desk. Nancy just didn't think much of her public school experience!
Billy grew up as a Navy brat and attended about a dozen different schools. Like Nancy, he also did well academically, but unlike Nancy, he viewed his public school experience fairly positively, and wasn't as inclined to opt for private school for our children. Besides, he figured we were going to be such supportive parents that the actual school environment wasn't very important. Our involvement could supplement any of the shortcomings of the school. We started out evaluating and visiting lots of private schools and public schools. As we checked out the public schools, we found they weren't the same as when we attended. Classes were larger, students did more poorly, and weapons and drugs were much more commonplace. Billy's frugal nature rebelled against the idea of stretching our finances to pay thousands of dollars for a private school, but it seemed like our only option and so we visited several private schools. We liked many of the philosophies and approaches we came across, but we ended up feeling that there were major shortcomings at each school. For us, the perfect program would involve combining the best ideas from 2 or 3 different schools. We also realized that most private schools were based on the same model of the public schools, only "more" and "better." They had more computers, more hands-on activities, better student/teacher ratios, better discipline, etc. We slowly came to realize that we didn't just want a better version of a public school education, we wanted something completely different.
We had heard about homeschooling from various sources and decided we wanted to read more about it. We checked out a handful of books from the public library, including ones written by John Holt and the Colfax's Homeschooling for Excellence. Parental involvement and the ability to combine the best aspects of several different educational approaches were important to us, so home education seemed the natural choice. We were even more convinced when a careful self-evaluation made us realize that our important life skills, the activities we enjoyed doing for fun or as hobbies, and most of our job skills had all been learned outside of school! By the time our firstborn was a year old, we had decided to continue educating him at home. That was in 1989, and we haven't looked back since.
Back when our son was a baby and either of us mentioned homeschooling to someone, we were often met with a blank stare. What were we talking about?! Today, it is rare to meet someone who doesn't know a friend, relative or neighbor who is homeschooling; and library shelves have more than a handful of books available on the subject.
Indeed, the number of homeschoolers in Maryland is growing rapidly and has quadrupled since 1990. Current estimates range from 8,000 to as many as 10,000 homeschoolers. This growth in Maryland seems to mirror the trend nationwide.
While acceptance of homeschooling has grown, there are still many questions and misperceptions. Following are some questions that homeschoolers are frequently asked:
The reasons are as diverse as the homeschoolers themselves! In the past, the most common reasons were probably religious and philosophical. Today, more and more homeschoolers are worried about issues such as safety in the schools (guns, bullies, drugs), the negative socialization of peer pressure, or the quality of education. Some parents just want to spend more time with their children or may view homeschooling as an inexpensive alternative to private school.
Yes! It is legal in all 50 states and has been since the late 1980s. Each state has its own requirements.
In Maryland you are required to sign an assurance of consent form and submit it to your local school superintendent 15 days prior to the beginning of the home instructional program. Parents also must maintain a portfolio showing that they are providing regular, thorough instruction and the local superintendent will review it at designated intervals. As an alternative, parents may choose to enroll their child with a state-approved correspondence school or umbrella organization offering a homeschool program. Although parents must initially notify their local superintendent that they are choosing this route, they are then no longer subject to review by the local public schools.
Call the following numbers to request an assurance of consent form and guidelines for Home Instruction Comar 13A.10.01. One source indicated that they would send a list of Maryland-approved correspondence schools only upon request. Some counties will also allow you to purchase scope and sequence charts or even use the media center that teachers use. Each county is different.
Anne Arundel County: 410-222-5457
If you want information for a different county or state, start with the Department of Education listed in the government section of your phone book. Usually, they can give you the number of a home instruction coordinator for your county. The office you end up contacting may be called pupil services or the student support department. From experience, and from what others have told me, you sometimes have to search a bit to find what you need.
In Maryland, you do not have to be a trained, state-certified teacher to home educate. Research has shown that the formal training of parents is not a factor in the achievement level of home-educated students. In fact, many successful private schools do not require their teachers to be state certified in education. More important than formal training is the commitment, concern, and enthusiasm that you can bring to your child's education.
Remember, a parent does not have to "teach" all subjects. There are many outside sources who can share information and skills with your child, including tutors, mentors, and librarians. Additionally, your child can volunteer at many places in the community where learning takes place (science centers, animal shelters, and wildlife centers are a few that come to mind). Special courses are being designed or have already been offered by many community resources. The most important thing is to find out what your child needs and help them locate the materials to learn.
Some families feel homeschooling promotes a close family life and that children can continue the learning that they began as a baby in a secure environment. It can allow for the child's personal learning style, and they can progress at their own learning rate. More time can be devoted to the child's interests.
Other families feel they can provide a more challenging curriculum themselves, more up to date books, and better computers. Even staunch supporters of the public schools will admit that there are tremendous benefits to being able to provide direct one-on-one attention to students, and this is much easier to do at home.
This is probably the most commonly asked question of homeschoolers! (Most of us have come to expect it). Homeschoolers have ample opportunity for social experiences. Besides 4-H, scouts, drama classes, ballet, gymnastics, theater (and more); there are many homeschooling support groups that form special-interest clubs, activities and field trips. (In fact, our children went on more field trips in one year than I did in all 12 years of my schooling!) Studies have even shown that homeschooled children are at least as well-socialized as schoolchildren, and some people believe that homeschoolers have more realistic socialization because of their interaction with people of a variety of ages on a regular basis. This includes both the socializing of friendships and the socialization that is important when cooperating with a group of people.
Some families use a packaged curriculum, while others do not. There are many commercial curricula and textbooks available for homeschoolers, or you can create your own curriculum. If you want to have available the typical course of study in the public schools, you can sometimes obtain a scope and sequence chart for a small fee from the same office you obtain the assurance of consent form.
Homeschooling does not have to be expensive. A great source of learning material can be found in your local public library. Homeschooling support groups often have a group library from which you may borrow material. There are even sources within the community that sell used materials.
People who ask this question typically think that parents can homeschool younger kids, but at some point they need to be sent to school for more advanced classes. In actuality, children can be home-educated from birth until they move out of the home. As far as the school system is concerned, there are no restrictions and children K-12 can be educated at home. Of course, each family must decide for itself what works
Homeschoolers are a diverse group. There are many publications available that can address your specific needs, and you can find other people with your same interests/concerns in a local support group. Look for notices about meetings in local newspapers or parenting magazines. Ask a local librarian if they know of any groups, or check for listings in homeschooling magazines. There are more questions to answer than I have room to write about (yes, there are homeschoolers who have gone on to college), and a support group may help answer your specific needs.
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