With local stores already gearing up for back-to-school sales, the time has come for parents to start thinking about the school year ahead. However, one may be surprised to learn that not all families are pouring over school supply lists and stocking up on new crayons, calculators and clothes.
Many local families currently are engaged in, or are considering, an alternative to traditional public and private education: homeschooling.
What exactly is homeschooling and why do people do it? Homeschooling, as defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary online, means “to teach school subjects to one’s children at home.” Although teaching children reading, writing, and arithmetic at home has been around ever since children have been around, the modern homeschool movement in the United States began in the 1970s.
Educational theorists and educational reform proponents John Holt and Raymond Moore both made the argument that traditional schools’ focus on rote learning was oppressive and detrimental, especially for younger children. Their ideas struck a chord with many families who were disenchanted with the state of the American educational system.
Brave parents embarked on a journey to teach their children at home, giving them the educational, psychological and moral foundations that parents deemed important.
After nearly two decades of legal battles in the 1980s and 1990s, homeschooling in the 21st century has settled in as legal and legitimate in all 50 states, with statutes and oversight varying from state to state. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), the number of home-educated students has grown from around 13,000 students in 1973 to over 2 million in 2010.
The number one reason parents choose to homeschool their children? They want to provide their kids with an individualized education by customizing the curriculum and learning environment to suit each child’s strengths, interests and abilities.
This tailoring approach to education allows gifted students to accelerate their learning to cover subjects more in-depth and at a faster pace. It also allows special needs students, or those with learning challenges, to progress at a rate commensurate with their ability.
In addition to providing an individualized education and permitting students to learn at their own pace, other reasons families elect to homeschool include: offering a safe environment (away from peer pressure, drugs, alcohol, racism and bullying), allowing pursuit of the arts or athletics at a competitive or professional level, providing moral and worldview instruction, and building stronger family relationships.
One example from history of a homeschooled student is Thomas Edison. After attending his local one-room school house for a few years, young Thomas was labeled “mentally slow” by his teacher.
His mother Nancy knew her son was bright and capable but did not learn in the same way as his classmates, so she brought him home and taught him herself. She also gave him basic tools, a makeshift laboratory in the basement, and lots of encouragement. Edison went on to invent the phonograph, light bulb and motion pictures.
A more recent product of homeschooling is tennis pro Serena Williams. Both Serena and her sister Venus were home-educated in their elementary and junior high years to allow them to focus on their talent and passion for tennis. Practicing for six hours daily and competing on weekends, the Williams sisters were taught academics by their parents at times and places that meshed with their schedule.
Serena went on to become a top-ranked tennis player, and has won the Wimbledon Championship and Olympic gold medals.
Not all homeschooled students will grow up to invent something as monumental as the electric light bulb or win an Olympic gold medal, but they will have the opportunity to delve further into subjects that interest them, pursue something they are passionate about, and absorb information as quickly or as slowly as they need to.
Homeschooling families in California have four options to choose from in order to stay in compliance with state law:
- The first option is to establish their own “private school” in their home. California is one of 12 states in which independent homeschoolers operate as their own private schools. Families need to file a Private School Affidavit with the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- Option number 2 is for families to arrange for private tutoring done by a California credentialed teacher. The teacher’s credential must be for the appropriate grade level and teaching must be in the courses of study required in the public schools. Tutoring is required to be done at least three hours a day and at least 175 days a year.
- Many local families have chosen the third option, which is to enroll in a Private School Satellite Program (PSP) that is offered by an existing private school. PSPs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are composed of solely homeschooling families. Others are an extension of a brick-and-mortar private school, and some are affiliated with a church or religious institution. Membership in a PSP can vary from a handful of families to several hundred families.
- The last option is to enroll in a charter school or independent study program through the public school system. In this option, students are enrolled in public school and work under a written agreement that details requirements of how the school work is to be completed at home and what curriculum is to be used.
There are many places to turn for help if you are considering homeschooling. HomeSchool Association of California (hsc.org) is a non-profit, non-religious organization dedicated to supporting the entire spectrum of homeschoolers.
Christian Home Educators Association of California (cheaofca.org) is a non-profit ministry that provides information and support for Christian home education. Both websites are chock full of information and resources.
Once considered an oddity, homeschooling has become a viable alternative to traditional public and private education. As the new school year comes upon us, it is helpful to know all the choices available in the education of our children and to choose the one that suits them best.