By Kerrie McLoughlin and Shelly Oritz
The decision to homeschool can lead to some overwhelming questions such as: How do you get started? What does a typical day look like? What about socialization? With something for every family, it’s not surprising that the number of homeschooled children has been on the rise for the past decade with more than one million homeschoolers currently in the United States.
If you’re considering homeschooling, research your state’s homeschool laws. Louisiana moderately regulates homeschooling and offers two options for parents who want to keep their children home. The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (SBESE) Home Study Program requires parents to complete an application each year for admission to the program. As part of the SBESE-approved program, families must offer a sustained curriculum equal to that offered at public schools, provide a physical space, and operate for a minimum of 180 school days.
Enrollees are also required to take state assessment tests such as LEAP and CAT, are eligible for the TOPS program (if enrolled in the Home Study Program by tenth grade) and can borrow textbooks from local public schools if extras are available (with a refundable deposit). Parents who desire less regulation can apply to the Louisiana Department of Education to be a Registered Nonpublic School (Not Seeking State Approval) by submitting an official, signed letter registering the school year, name of your school, contact information and the total number of students. This must be done by the thirtieth day after school begins.
After learning the homeschool laws, it is important to understand that there is no “perfect” or “right” way to homeschool. Homeschooling can vary from super-structured to complete freedom, with teaching supplies and methods as different as the families actually doing the homeschooling. There are currently several popular methods of homeschooling, and the following are just a few.
There are several packaged curriculum options, and the choices can be overwhelming. Some homeschoolers buy a packaged curriculum with lesson plans, which works well for parents who are unsure about what needs to be taught or where their child is on the academic spectrum. Utilize the Internet, join online groups and find local homeschoolers to discuss what programs and packaged curriculums they recommend.
ELearningk12.com is one local packaged curriculum option with core subject curriculums that adhere to state and national standards. Started in 1999 in Houma, LA, by educator Nancy Toups, eLearningk12.com offers an Internet-based curriculum for a $50-monthly fee that allows students to learn at their own pace. In addition to the online curriculum, they offer teacher services for tutoring and consultation as well as onsite instruction for one to five days a week at an additional cost.
Kelly Coreil is the owner and manager of the Baton Rouge based eLearningk12 set to open August 1st. “ELearningk12.com is about not just the child, but the family,” she said. “ELearningk12.com works to customize education for each family’s lifestyle, budget and interests.”
Homeschoolers referred to as “unschoolers” let their child lead the way (often called “natural learning”). “Science class” could include field trips to nature centers and zoos, along with nature walks. Children learn grammar by reading books and from real conversations. Similarly, history lessons involve stories and historical fiction.
“Our schedule is generally determined by our outside commitments (classes, work, coops, field trips, etc.), and when we are home we relax and pursue a variety of projects/interests,” said Jessica Mattingly, an unschooler.
Unit studies are a fun way for a child to cover every subject by studying one topic. For instance, if your child is a dinosaur fanatic, you would incorporate reading, writing, spelling, history, geography and math into a unit study about dinosaurs. Your child could use a map to learn where dinosaur fossils have been found. Then she could read a historical book about dinosaurs, followed by a written book report.
The “eclectic” method uses whatever works for a child at any given time. These homeschoolers choose from the different methods (classical, religious, secular, unit studies, etc.), incorporating lots of play time and field trips. “Grandparents are great about giving us workbooks for holidays and birthdays, which is great for keeping my costs down,” said Tresa Cope. “For reading I just make sure to read to the kids as much as I can. They help me in the garden for ‘science class,’ and grocery shopping is ‘economics.’ When they’re older, I’ll consider a prepackaged curriculum.”
Despite what some believe, a parent does not have to hold a teaching degree to homeschool their child. Nor are they required to homeschool for seven hours per day. But educating a child isn’t a walk in the park, and as Suzanne Andrews, mother of four, knows, there isn’t really a “typical day.”
“The closest we have is up, breakfast, morning chores, then at the table for school around 9 a.m.,” she said. “I juggle the ‘mom’s-help-needed’ subjects so while I’m working oral exercises with one the others are working independently. We lunch around noon, the kids help with prep and cleanup; and then we only have a little schoolwork left.”
Many homeschoolers must be able to handle the challenge of balancing younger and older children during the teaching day. Some use a special tub of activities just for the younger children for homeschool time. The tub could include blocks, play dough, puppets, coloring books with crayons, cards and snacks.
“While our ‘homeschool’ time is not separated from the rest of our life, balancing the needs of the younger children as well as those of the older children is a persistent challenge,” Mattingly said. “Sometimes one of the kids will play with the baby/toddler while I focus on one or more of the older kids. If we can involve the younger kids in the activity, we will do that.”
Socialization isn’t usually a concern among homeschoolers as many homeschool groups offer activities. It is easy to find social opportunities and extracurricular activities through local homeschool groups such as the Baton Rouge Homeschool Association, Alliance of Baton Rouge Area Homeschools, Holy Family Homeschoolers and Christian Home Educator’s Fellowship of Baton Rouge.
Karen White, coordinator for Holy Family Homeschoolers, a support group for Catholic families that homeschool, said some of their more popular activities include their Catholic feast day celebrations, weekly park days, virtue-based clubs, monthly field trips, monthly Middle School game nights, monthly High School teen activities and monthly Mom’s Nights Out.
Different institutions also offer educational programs. NASA’s Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi recently expanded its offerings for the homeschool community to consist of hands-on activities for students while parents/educators learn how to incorporate NASA’s lesson plans into their own curriculums. Other options include local library programs, parks and recreation activities, play dates and co-ops.
Pros and cons
As with any educational option, there are benefits and drawbacks. While homeschooling provides flexibility for parents by not having to adhere to a school’s schedule, parents’ time commitment is much greater. On the other hand, parents have more influence on their children’s behavior and discipline; and completing the majority of schoolwork at home throughout the day opens up the night to valuable family time instead of stressful hours of homework. Another benefit is that students can learn at their own speed, which means spending more time on difficult subjects or moving on when a skill is mastered quickly.
The homeschool price tag depends on the materials and program the parents choose. Coreil and Toups feel homeschooling costs are comparable to most private schools, but with a much smaller student-to-teacher ratio, giving it an added cost-benefit. But parents can make it as cost-effective as possible by finding used curriculums and texts and taking advantage of free or reduced-price extracurricular activities.
Homeschooling is becoming an increasing educational choice for families, so you will not be alone in your endeavors. Toups has seen consistent growth throughout the past decade for eLearningK12, so much so that she has opened four additional sites in Louisiana and has plans to open one in Houston later this year. Holy Family Homeschoolers has grown from seven families in 2000 to 101 families today.
Remember to do what works for you and your children, and keep at it. You’ll get the hang of it and will soon be mentoring others.