As many children head back to school, some go no farther than their own home. HER explores the reality of home schooling today and finds families succeeding at taking education into their own hands.
George Washington, Claude Monet, Thomas Edison, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Charlie Chapin, Winston Churchill and Sandra Day O’Connor…these are just a few of the many homeschooled “who’s who.” And there are millions of others in every walk of life, maybe someone sitting in the cubicle next to you.
In 2010, an estimated 2.04 million children were home schooled and since then that number has grown between 7 and 15 percent each year, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. There are 125 families in the Jefferson City Home School Educators, a co-op and support group offering social and educational development.
Yet even as home schooling is clearly the preferred option for some families, bring up the subject to a room full of people and it usually sets off a spirited debate. While the children’s lack of socialization is often cited as one of the downsides, the beleaguered public school system’s one-size fits all approach isn’t suited for all children either.
“Parents home school for so many reasons,” said Janet Roark who home schools all five of her children. “Their children are underachievers and overachievers and some don’t want their children in a public school classroom and exposed to teachings they don’t agree with.”
“I grew up going to Catholic school and my family is very involved in our Catholic church, but I wanted to home school because I liked the idea of our family doing activities together and being able to choose the curriculum,” she said.
A stay-at-home mom, Rachel Gilbert started thinking about home schooling after her first child was born.
“I went to public school here and had no issues with public schools, but I was impressed with the children I met who had been homeschooled,” said Gilbert. “I noticed they seemed to be confident and it was easy for them to have a conversation with an adult.”
“They were also outwardly focused and contributing in acts of service in their church and their neighborhood and they also seemed to have a strong sense of family belonging,” she said.
As she and her husband, Bob, a civil engineer, spoke to others who homeschooled they still weren’t sure if they were ready for what seemed like an almost “impossible task.”
“I remember people telling me to just take it one day at a time and if it didn’t work out, then we could just move on,” she said. “That’s how I ended up approaching it.”
That was ten years ago and she’s homeschooled all three of her children – Sam, 10, Sara, 9, and Ben, 5, who have excelled with the flexibility inherent in home schooling.
“We have a lot more freedom and we can also incorporate our religious beliefs throughout the day,” she said. “We studied evolution and the big bang theory but we also talked about what God teaches us in the Bible.”
A typical day begins with breakfast and Bible study with more structured studies in the small schoolroom upstairs.
“There’s no bell or reason we have to move on to the next subject, we do what works for us on any given day,” she said.
Even as research shows that physical activity is imperative for learning, many schools have cut back on recesses. That’s not the case for homeschooled children.
“If Sam is having problems concentrating, he can go outside and ride his bike and swing and then return to his studies,” said Gilbert.
During a recent visit to their schoolroom, the older children were studying Papa New Guinea. “Did you know the people there eat pigs liver, beetles and fruit bats,” asks Sam.
Meanwhile, Ben was learning math on an abacus.
Gilbert purchased books and lesson plans from Sonlight Christian Homeschool, but there are many different companies offering home schooling materials. She also complies with all the record keeping that must be kept for the Missouri Department of Elementary Secondary Education.
“We do history science and language arts together and then Sara and Sam do some review with Ben, which helps reinforce what they’ve learned,” she said.
Schooling all ages of children together harkens back to the one room schoolhouse of the past.
“We separate our children by age group in school, sports and Sunday school but often it’s best for them to learn together,” said Angie Lehman, who has spent 16 years teaching English in Moniteau County R1 and is the founder of the Aurora Montessori School in California, Mo.
A believer in the basic premise that children want to learn, she chose to home school both of her daughters until high school. Then they also attended Lighthouse Preparatory Academy, LPA, a non-profit university model. As one of the founding mothers of LPA, for Lehman it’s about developing students who can “think outside of the box.” and a belief that learning is achieved in many ways.
“It’s really a more hands-on philosophy where children aren’t sitting at a desk doing worksheets,” said Lehman. “Do you want to read how to fish or go fishing?”
The LPA only hires teachers of Christian faith, but parents are considered co-instructors and weekly assignment sheets come home with the children, much like public school.
Andrea Beshuk has been home schooling her youngest, Ellen, 12, for three years and her three other children attended public elementary school through the 5th grade before enrolling in LAP. Abby is a junior and Katie a freshman at LAP and her oldest child Austin graduated and attends Evangel University in Springfield.
“We’re really in partnership with the LPA teachers and there’s a real connection there,” said Beshuk. “We partner with a doctor for our child’s health and we feel the same way about cognitive learning. That’s not to say that all their teachers have clicked with their kids, but the parents can help buffer those negative experiences.”
The children attend LPA on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and are at home on Tuesday and Thursday.
“On the days the kids are at home, we work on their LPA assignments and we’re really just reinforcing that curriculum,” she said.
All of the children enjoy the arrangement.
“I like to be able to do my work at my own pace. I usually wake up very early and do a lot of my work,” said Abby. “I love LPA because I like the classroom setting and being around other kids.”
With a background in child development, education definitely interests Beshuk and she’s enjoyed homeschooling Ellen. “She has a love for nature and the outdoors so it has been great to study botany in science class and for her to have the opportunity to get outside of the classroom.”
“Sometimes in a public school classroom it’s about quantity and I’m able to plan activities and studies that compliment my child’s learning style as well as motivate her,” she said.
While it’s not a perfect school, each year she’s been more impressed by LPA.
“My daughters are part of the God’s Partnered Sisters (GPS) Girls Group from grades 6 – 12 and we like the interactions between the different grades, the older girls as leaders for the younger ones,” she said.
There’s also a group for boys, Towers Group, that do service projects and other social events, and her son was a member of JC Lighting the home school soccer team that competed against other Christian schools throughout the state,
All of her children also interact with others home school families as part of the Jefferson City Home School Educators, a cooperative Education cooperative where parents teach photography and other subjects. Roark’s children also attend different classes on Tuesday taught by a variety of parents, and this year her daughter will take a few English classes at Helias.
For Roark, it’s about options. “Kids are different and there’s no one right way to parent or for them to learn,” she said.
All the families’ children are involved in other activities through the co-op or their church. Gilbert’s children are involved in church activities on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. In the summer they go to camps and in the winter she attends an ice skating class for homeschoolers at the Washington Park Ice Arena.
“My children don’t have a problem being away from me or any separation anxiety,” she said.
Rigid schedules, where children go from one subject to another with 18 people of the same age, regardless of where they’re at in their development, is the downside of the public school system. Some schools seem more focused on young children having two feet on the floor while sitting or walking to get a drink without speaking, a militaristic type of environment that can easily kill any type of positive learning experience.
For Gilbert, she’s found that she’s a natural teacher. “I enjoy the spirit and joy of learning and passing that down to my children.”