Homeschooling 101

A year before her son was going to start preschool, Heather Manahan began considering the option of homeschooling. Manahan, of Round Lake, prayed for a year and says she felt many Biblical verses helped her make the decision to homeschool her children, now 7 and 9.

She says she feels God entrusted kids to her so that she could teach them."There are lots of good teachers in classrooms, but I consider myself as the ultimate teacher for my kids,” Manahan says.

According to the National Center of Education Statistics, about 1.1 million students were homeschooled in the United States in 2003, the latest number available, a 29 percent increase since the previous study in 1999.

Exact numbers are not available for Illinois since homeschoolers do not have to register. However, according to Dorothy Werner, founder of HOUSE (Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience) and resource person for homeschooling for the Illinois State Board of Education, nearly 2 percent of school-aged children in Illinois are being taught at home.

“It is much easier to homeschool now than say in the’70s when it was considered more of a weird, hippie thing,” says Winifred Haun of Oak Park, who is unschooling her three girls, ages 10, 5 and 2.

But is it right for us?

Every family has different reasons for wanting to homeschool their children; your conviction in your reasons holds one of the keys to your success.

According to the National Center of Education Statistics, about 31 percent of parents expressed concern about the environment of schools as their most important reason for homeschooling. About 30 percent of parents were homeschooling primarily to provide religious or moral instruction and about 16 percent of homeschooled students had parents who were dissatisfied with the academic instruction available at other schools.

Families with children who have special needs also often decide to homeschool if they do not feel they have adequate programs in their public school system. Homeschooling parents also believe they have more control over their children’s social interactions and that the reduced peer pressure makes their decision worthwhile.

Disadvantages, advantages

Apart from the loss of income from one parent staying home full-time to teach, homeschools may also lack in the variety of science apparatus, musical instruments, sports equipment and art supplies available to a school.

Those who prefer the traditional classroom setting believe that accredited teachers have spent years training and are therefore more equipped to teach. They also feel that the exposure to children from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities in a classroom may not be able to be duplicated with siblings at home.

Homeschooling parents could also subconsciously focus more on areas they are familiar with, leading to more pronounced strengths and weaknesses. If you’re good with words and your husband with numbers, your child may write great essays and do algebra with ease, but may lag behind in science or art.

Lastly, parents underestimate the time it takes. Spending time researching a curriculum, preparing lessons, imparting that education and then coming up with supplemental activities is a full-time job that could lead to burn-out.

“Everyone loves their children, but everyone may not love spending all their time with them,” Werner says.

Many parents have come up with their own solutions to the challenges of homeschooling. One of the biggest challenges Manahan faced was over-committing and not managing time effectively. After four years of homeschooling, she has learned to say no to extra responsibilities. She also guards her time by not answering the phone between 8 and 11 a.m. She doesn’t try to be super-mom and hires someone to watch over her little ones a few times a week so she can spend uninterrupted time teaching her older two. Her advice: Take one day at a time and remember you can always catch up with Lesson 23 tomorrow.

That’s one of the benefits of homeschooling: you get to make the call on the curriculum. You can follow an established curriculum, choose a combination of teaching styles or join the many families who are unschooling their children. In unschooling, kids decide what they want to learn and how. A lesson could come from something the child heard on the news and then Mom or Dad could look it up on the Internet with them, come up with an impromptu craft project or even a field trip on the subject.

Unschooling was a‘no brainer’ for Haun’s husband, who is a physicist and hated school.

Experts say flexibility is crucial to the success of homeschooling. The more the line between home and school is blurred, the more rewarding the experience.

“One piece of advice that I would give is to try homeschooling before sending your child to preschool,” says Mary Borge of Western Springs.

Getting started

Many feel Illinois is one of the easiest states for homeschooling because a home school is regarded as a non-public school, which are virtually unregulated.

“The onus is on the parent to provide an education in the English language in the branches of education found at schools. Apart from that, only a judge can say that a parent is not doing it right and there must be probable cause for a truancy petition,” Werner says.

Kiran Ansari is a freelance writer living in Roselle with her husband and children, Yusuf, 5, and Hana, 2.

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