Friday, February 17, 2012

Homeschool 101

Lately, I have fielded an enormous amounts of inquiries regarding homeschooling.  Understandably, it is that time of year when most private schools asks parents to make re-enrollment decisions. Other parents begin asking themselves if their child is in the best environment possible.  It is my opinion that twice a year, parents should evaluate what their child is learning and where their child spends 7-9 hours a day.   

There are nearly as many ways to homeschool as there are individual families.  That is the #1 reason most people will say they have chosen to homeschool - flexibility and freedom.  The flexibility and freedom comes from choosing the topics you will cover, how you will cover it, the pace in which you do so, the methods you choose, where you educate your children, and the schedule you keep.  The ability to speed up when your child is excelling and slow down when they are struggling makes learning less stressful on everyone.  Taking an impromptu field trip when the natives are getting restless or tired of the same routine is a joy.  Seeing your child discover a love for an extra-curricular activity because you have more time to explore it is another advantage.  Simply spending more time with your children develops your relationship with them - a true blessing while they are young.

Knowing a bit about how your kids learn and the subjects and topics they tend to enjoy covering are some of the first things you want to consider.  Are they auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners?  Are they very social?  Do they enjoy hands-on activities or do they prefer to spend time reading on their own?  If they are old enough, ask them their thoughts. What would they like to learn?  How do they see homeschool working out for them? 

Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses as a parent is another consideration.  Are you a
type-A planner or do you tend to procrastinate?  Do you want to be hands on, or are you more willing to check on progress, but not actually do the teaching?  Do you have the time and drive to spend on this endeavor.  While I know homeschoolers who work full-time, I know this cannot be the ideal when children are young and dependent in their learning. I tend to be an eclectic homeschooler.  This means that have picked individual curricula for each subject area, yet I stick to a structured and quite planned out schedule with my girls.

If you have made it this far, I suggest visiting your local library for books on homeschooling.  One I read early on was, So You Are Thinking About Homeschooling, by Lesa Welchel.  It is a quick look at how fifteen different families go about homeschooling.  It was eye-opening as to the various schools of thought on educating children.

Legal Issues:
Did you know that there are over 50,000 children homeschooled in NC?  Due to this, NC is fairly organized with their homeschool policies.  They set some very simple rules and for the rest, leave you alone.  There are only three things that North Carolina requires:
1.  Register your school with the state.  The link to do so is here:
2.  Keep an attendance record
3.  Take an end of the year standardized test.  The list of approved tests is on the above website and most homeschool groups offer this to its members.  You can also administer some of these tests yourself, while others opt to go to private testing centers.  You are not required to submit these test scores to the state, but you must have them available if requested.
They do state they have the option for a "drop-in" visit to check on your homeschool, but I have yet to meet anyone who has actually had this done.

State and Local Support Groups:
Here is where you can get a wealth of information, ask questions, find co-ops, playgroups, classes, hobby clubs, and sports opportunities.

North Carolina Home Educators is our state's main support group.  They also host the annual three-day conference in Winston-Salem around the end of May.  It includes many, many workshops and seminars with a book fair that will overwhelm you.  They also host a graduation exercise, cotillion-styled dance, and an all-star basketball game for girls and boys during this conference. 

High Point Home Educators:  Like most local groups, you must join in order to participate in their discussions, post discussions and to take classes.  HPHE offers classes on Mondays ranging from core classes (reading, math, etc.) to dance, drama, lego physics, cake decorating, sign language, etc.  Classes run a semester in length and course selection varies each time as well.  You can pay for one or up to 4 classes.  They also offer field trips, occasional parties, field day, sports teams for middle school and up, and spirit days.  They have a end-of-the-year Showcase while affords the kids to perform what they have learned on stage and display art projects. 

Other groups include:
Classical Conversations.  To quote their website, "Classical Conversations" programs model the three stages of classical learning—grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. Using age appropriate methods, children are taught the tools for studying any subject.  The Classical model emphasizes mastery of facts during the early years. This gives students a foundation on which to build later learning and a solid framework where ideas can be categorized and compared as students mature. (For more information on the classical education model, read Dorothy Sayers’ essay The Lost Tools of Learning.)
Classical Conversation groups meets once a week with a lead tutor and then complete all assignments on their own throughout the rest of the week.  Groups are located in Thomasville, Greensboro, and Kernersville.
FAITH Academy:Greensboror.  Contact Kathy Long at for more information.

EMMA classes:  Another group that offers classes once a week in Greensboro.  This is a fairly large group that offers a wide selection of classes, including AP classes for high schoolers. For more information, contact Hayley Saffer, Registration Coordinator, at
Piedmont Homeschoolers has a yahoo group which keeps people fairly informed of resources and opportunities.  I'll let you google some of these groups yourself.

Forsyth Home Educators and Greensboro Home Educators are strong groups that offer a wide variety of sports teams for middle and high school. 

Check with your local YMCA as they usually offer P.E. classes.  Nearly every sports organization also offers homeschool classes throughout the day, too.

I would take a look at Cath Duffy's 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child's Learning Style.  She has already weeded out a lot of material that might not be up to snuff and reviewed the rest.  She also has a comparison chart listing how much time is needed by the instructor, to what type of child would do well with the way the materials are done.  She also has a website, but I believe that it is overwhelming unless you know what you are looking for.
I buy our books from several sources:  Amazon, Rainbow Resources (which carries everything with  great customer service people who will answer all your questions, and has a huge catalogue which you can request), and straight from the manufacturer when I can't find it elsewhere.  I have also bought materials at the homeschool conference and at a bookstore in Winston-Salem called Guillions.  They have a used section of books, will buy back books for credit, and the ladies there are wonderful.

I also use the following book for reference when charting our course for the year:  The Well-Trained Mind:  A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer.  Her program is not for the faint of heart.  It is rigorous, but results are very well-rounded children with superior writing skills.

Finally, there is a tremendous trend in online classes of varying levels.  I do not have much experience with these.  It is my plan to investigate them quite thoroughly this summer.  I understand they can be pricey, but also allow your child to take some pretty advanced or specialized classes.

As your child enters high school, many community colleges offer classes.  The result of which means your child can earn credit hours for college while still in high school.

Final Notes:
You will find that the majority of homeschoolers are Christians.  Therefore, most groups reflect these beliefs and promote them as well.  There are secular homeschool groups, but you will need to do some research to connect.

We decided to homeschool when our middle child was struggling with behavior in school.  She is extremely bright, yet very active and impulsive.  My relationship with her was broken and I knew that if we continued down our current choice, we would never be able to repair it. We opted not to put her on medication and brought her home to see what we might accomplish here.  Now, she is able to sit how she wants, get up from her chair for a break when she needs, explore areas that captivate her attention, like raising chickens, and has thrived in this environment.  This year we brought home our youngest daughter.  She is a logic-driven, math whiz and she has been able to move through at her own pace, recently completing 2nd grade math in February.  Yet, we are able to take time with handwriting and other activities that involve fine motor skills, an area in which she struggles. The girls are each performing at least a grade above what they should be and sometimes even two grade levels above.  More importantly, I know that the over-all tension in our house has decreased, the amount of arguing has diminished, yet the trust level and respect has increased.

Homeschool is a journey.  Some days you will feel that you could win Teacher of the Year, and other days you will want to drop off your children at the nearest school doorstep and squall away.  Some days you will feel like you were always meant to do this, yet on others you will wonder why in the world you chose this torture.  There are days where I really, really don't like my children.  I think you have those days even when you aren't homeschooling!  As you journey along, however, the better days will out number the not-so-good days.  You learn how to switch things up to keep it fresh and enjoyable for everyone.

Recently, I read an acceptance speech given by John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, 1991, entitled, "The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher."  It is a very critical and thought-provoking look at the institution of school.  If my kids gain nothing else in homeschool, I want them to develop the joy of learning and desire to be life-long learners.

Good  luck on your decision-making process!

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