Date: August 1, 2012
We're fortunate to raise children during a time when kids have so many opportunities available — including educational choices. From magnet schools to religious and traditional curriculums, Triangle parents can often find a school setting and philosophy that fits their family's needs. One option, embraced by more than 48,000 registered families in North Carolina, is home schooling. If you're curious about home schooling — or considering taking the leap with your family — you probably have a lot of questions. Here's a primer with what you need to know.
Is home schooling right for your family?
It's definitely easier to make the decision if everyone's on board. After all, if your spouse thinks it's a terrible idea or the kids threaten to revolt if they can't go to the same middle school as their besties, you're in for a rough ride. Talk everything through with the other parent and, if old enough, with your kids.
"Many people start with this picture of a row of little desks with the kids doing their work independently while the mom stands by, beaming," says Greensboro mom Pat Ashley. "But more likely than not, that's not how it's really going to play out."
Ashley suggests parents realistically consider every possible angle: how well your kids get along with each other, what space you'll use in the house, your children's ages and learning styles, how active they are and other considerations. Keep in mind that the home schooling experience is different from family to family — but also from child to child, even in the same household.
"It's not always true, but generally speaking, home schooling is going to be easier for you with a quiet little girl who loves to read, has neat handwriting and loves worksheets than a with a little boy who would much rather be out in the backyard catching things and getting dirty," Ashley says. "You have to find a way to mix both those types of activities into your home school or they'll be unhappy and you'll be unhappy."
Each state has its own set of guidelines and requirements to legally home school. In North Carolina, you don't need to officially declare home-schooling intentions until your child is 7 years old.
At a minimum, you must have either a high school diploma or GED to home school. After that, Kristy Daughtry, education consultant with the N.C. Department of Non-Public
Education, says you'll need to register your home school via the online form at www.ncdnpe.org. (Registration begins in July.) The confirmation email is your official registration record. Keep it safe!
If your child is already enrolled in school, print that home school registration email and take it to the school to withdraw him or her.
To remain in compliance with NCDNPE guidelines each year, you'll need to maintain attendance records and test scores for your files. Visit hslda.org/earlyyears/testing.asp for information on available test options.
Choosing to home-school can be a daunting decision, but you're never in it alone. "If there are any questions or any concerns at all, we're available to parents," Daughtry says.
It's official. You now operate a home school. When that big yellow bus roars past your house, your feelings might range from excited to terrified. Fear not.
"There are plenty of Internet and in-person groups all around the state," Ashley says. "Once you find some, start asking questions. Find out what curriculum people are using, what kind of things they're doing and even what kind of problems they're encountering."
Co-ops, church groups, LEGO leagues, educational problem-solving competition groups, social events, volunteer opportunities, bands and sports, clubs and many other resources and groups are available to home-schooled students. Join a local in-person group and start asking questions and listening. And every year, more businesses get on board and offer programs and opportunities to the home-school community.
Also tap the online community. Try starting with The Well-Trained Mind forums at welltrainedmind.com/forums, especially if you aren't able to access other groups.
Keep in mind: You will encounter bumps in the road that will prompt you to question what you're doing. If you doubt yourself, talk it through with your spouse and home-schooling peers.
"When I first started, I got all sorts of workbooks and we never finished a single one," says Raleigh mom Yelena McManaman. "I felt so bad, but then I realized we didn't finish them because he was doing so many other projects and experiences and reading and such. I thought, 'He's been learning all this time!'"
And that's the heart of home schooling.
Kathleen M. Reilly is a freelance writer and mom who lives in the Triangle.
What if home schooling is not right for you?
If you do start home schooling, you're not locked into it for the next 12 years of your child's education. You can always plan on it for a year, or several years, or whatever works for your family. Amy Sherman, a Cary mom of four, home-schooled for a year before putting her kids back into school.
"There was a lot I really liked about home schooling," she recalls. "I loved how we could cover so much material in that one year, for instance. And we had a great time doing things like an Egyptian cuneiform project."
But they had a hard time feeling like they fit into any of the groups they tried to join, and her kids wanted more of the daily social interactions and structure that a traditional school setting provided.
Sherman doesn't regret the time spent home schooling, but feels her kids are better off in a traditional school setting. She still dabbles in home-school activities during the summer, too. After all, she knows there's no need to have an official "home school" banner to share in your children's education.