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Thinking About Home Schooling? Read this.

August 6, 2012

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Home Schooling

In our current state of ever increasing class sizes and other repercussions of cuts to the education budget, more families are looking into homeschooling as an option for meeting the educational needs of their children. As a former home schooled student, a current teacher with a home school charter and a mother of a soon to be home schooled kindergartner, I wanted to address some of the more common questions about home schooling.

  1. How do I start home schooling?

There are two paths that most home schooling families take. One is to use a public charter school that focuses on home schooling. The other is to register as a private school. This is commonly referred to as filing an R4, deciding to R4 or even R4ing. An R4 is the form that you will submit to register your own family home school program as a private school. Both of these options have their advantages and disadvantages. A public charter school offers you free curriculum, the support of a credentialed teacher, and organized classes and field trips for social and educational opportunities. The downside is paperwork. You will meet with a credentialed teacher every month (or every 20 school days) and this teacher will review what you are doing, pull samples of your child’s work in all subjects and write up a report letting the state know that you and your child are on track and following state standards or that you need help in a certain area and how that help will be given. With a public charter school, your child will also need to participate in standardized testing, which, in California, happens ever spring for 2nd-11th graders.  R4ing allows you much more freedom.  There are no monthly meetings with a teacher. You don’t have to do state testing. You are a private school and you make the rules. The downside is that all the responsibility falls on you. You must buy your own curriculum and plan your lessons without the support of a credentialed teacher and you will need to seek out home schooling groups for social activities.

I have participated in both of these options. As a home schooled child, my family R4ed from Kindergarten through 7th grade. Our curriculum was limited for financial reasons and we spent a lot of time at the library. This was before the Internet. However, my education did not suffer. I loved to read and tested in the Gifted and Talented Program when I did enter a regular seat time program.  I attended a regular high school and university and had no educational problems. Now, I am a credentialed teacher with a public charter school and home schooling my son through this charter. I enjoy the social opportunities for my son and find a charter to be a good fit for both he and I. I also like the support and being able to bounce ideas off of both teachers and other home schooling moms. My charter is very supportive of parental choice in how the students are taught so I do not feel stifled by a charter school. Whether you R4 or go through a charter depends on your family dynamics and your personal preference. Do what works for you.

2. Do I need a teaching credential to home school my child?

No. It is your parental right to choose how your child is educated. Most of the home schooling parents that I work with as a teacher and my own parents do not have teaching credentials. This does not affect a person’s ability to teach. What you do need is time and a desire to help your child learn. Home schooling takes time, everyday. Even if you follow an unschooling, or child led, style of home schooling, this does not mean time is not involved. If you have no time, home schooling may not be for you. By time, I mean time to be with your child; to answer her questions and to help her explore her interests. If you follow a structured curriculum, you should allot 3 hours per day for K-5th grade and 5 hours per day for 6th-12th grade to studies. If you unschool, you will be doing school all day because living life is your school. You will need to slow down though and help your child explore; answer his questions and be able to take a day to go on a field trip if that is where his interests lead. The beauty of home schooling is in the time it allows you to explore our world with your child.  A parent with a limited education but a whole lot of dedication can do a better job one on one with her student than a teacher with a doctorate can do when thrown into a room with 30 kindergartners. Time is a precious gift and should not be under rated.

3. What about socialization?

This is a very valid question and I know some home schooled parents get offended or exasperated by this question since it is asked so often, but social skills are important and they do need to be taught. Will your child be weird if he or she doesn’t go to school everyday? Maybe. Let’s be honest, I have met home schooled children that have not been taught or been allowed to practice social skills on a regular basis and they do stand out.  Much of the opinion of those outside home schooling who feel that home schooled children are poorly socialized is based on meeting a home schooling family that may have neglected a social education, but the majority of home schooled children that I work with are no different than any other child on the playground. You would not know they are home schooled because they have no problem with age appropriate social techniques. This is an important topic to consider if you choose to home school and this also comes back to the time issue. Social skills are learned and need to be practiced. You need to allot time to allowing your child to have these opportunities as often as possible. Play dates, home school groups, enrichment classes, church activities, etc. are all great ways to help your child learn social skills. If you are a social person, you will model proper social skills for your child and this is a huge help. If you are not a social person, don’t worry. You will just need to make more of an effort but you can still home school your child. Learning to properly communicate and be social is as important in our society as learning to read. I highly suggest that you make a social education a priority and that you allow your child to practice her social skills with people of different cultures and religions. If you want your child to be properly socialized and able to function in our world without attending 5 day a week traditional public school, you can; you’ll just need to make an effort in this area.

4. How about religious education in home schooling?

I should put this under the R4 vs charter school section, but this is a big one, so I will address it here. If you R4 and are buying your own curriculum, you can use any curriculum you like, so religious curriculum is fine. If you go through a public charter school, your school will not be allowed to use state funds to purchase religious curriculum and will not be able to count your religious studies as part of your school day in the report to the state (unless some of what you are doing matches up with a secular class like the study of all world religions for example). In a public charter, just like in a regular public seat time program, religious education is done on your own time and you have the freedom to educate your child according to your family’s beliefs. In both R4 and charter school education, you can teach religion, but with a charter school, you will not be doing this on your own time and not reporting this as part of your documented school day or submitting religious samples. You do not have to hide your religious education and feel free to talk about it with your assigned credentialed teacher if you like, but he or she will not be able to count it in the report to the state. This line does get a little fuzzy. For example, I can, as a credentialed teacher reporting your work to the state, use your child’s essay that he wrote about the Exodus of Moses as a writing sample for Language Arts, but I cannot use it as a factual history sample unless your child is in 6th grade and studying ancient world history which does cover the religious beliefs of ancient cultures. See how confusing that is? Some teachers with charters refuse all religious based work just because the lines can get so hard to distinguish.  To be safe, it is best to have your child do some assignments that are not based on religion each month for samples if you are with a charter. If you R4, do as you please!

5.Is it worth all the trouble? YES! Oh yes…definitely yes. I taught for a year at a regular public high school and the needs of the students were overwhelming. I could look at each struggling student and think: “If I only had time to work with you one on one, I could help you so much with your writing skills or be able to get you to really love Shakespeare,” but I had 25-30 kids every 50 minutes and just the task of managing the class took up much of that precious time. One on one time with a student is amazingly valuable. Students that have parents at home who sit with them and help with homework are immensely more successful that ones that have little support at home. These successful kids are already being home schooled by their parents and that is where the real success is taking place. If you have time and you are willing to dedicate this time to your child’s education, you and your student are already winners.

Home schooling is a lot of work and there are a whole lot of rewards. Also there are so many options now for prospective home schoolers. When I was a home schooled child, all you could do was R4. Now you can do home schooling anywhere from 1 to 5 days a week depending on the charter school you choose. You can have as much or as little support as you want. You can adopt the educational philosophy of your choice. Your child can be busy all day with workbooks, classes and activities or you can use nature as your classroom and study erosion while walking on the bluffs, read books under trees, study plant and animal life first hand, and learn fractions in measurements by baking cookies. Home schooling is exciting and can be tailored to you and your child.

Are you ready to get started on your home schooling journey? Great! Whether you want to R4 or go with a charter, start asking around and meeting other home schooling families. They are such a great resource and support. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the philosophies out there (Montessori, unschooling, Charlotte Mason, etc). You will have plenty of time to research them and see which one meshes with your style. You may even find you pick and choose from several different philosophies, and that is fine too! If you are just starting out, a charter may be a good fit. You will have a credentialed teacher to help you choose curriculum and plan lessons until you get your feet under you and then you may find you prefer to R4. There is no perfect way to do this. You and your child are absolutely unique and you will have to find your own path to become lifelong learners. Just jump in there and try it. What your child needs is your time and dedication. If you have that, you are good to go on the home schooling adventure.

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