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Good to Go: Is home schooling right for your family?

Monday - 9/16/2013, 7:36am  ET

Many parents in the D.C. area choose home-school. But is it right for your family? A local expert shares the details. (Thinkstock)

Katie Howard,

WASHINGTON - September is the time of year when many parents put their kids on a school bus and settle back into a fall routine. But some parents never took a three-month hiatus from this schedule.

According to Jeanne Faulconer of VaHomeschoolers, "not back to school" is a commonly used phrase among home-schoolers this time of year.

"When everyone else is noting the season with back-to-school sales and school orientations, home-schoolers actually mark ‘not going back to school' with picnics and other events, to show that they embrace their freedom and their choice to home-school," Faulconer says.

The topic of home schooling has recently made local headlines when a Virginia man spoke out about receiving an inadequate education at home in rural Buckingham County.

But according to Faulconer, the educational concept of home schooling is growing. She says about 1.77 million students are home-schooled in the U.S., and about 30,000 students are home-schooled in Virginia.

She says parents choose to home-school for many reasons.

For military families, or families that move frequently, home schooling means fewer transitions for the kids. Other parents concerned about social or environmental factors in schools, such as drugs and bullying, may find that home schooling brings them a greater sense of comfort and control.

But one reason for home schooling that Faulconer hears most frequently is the issue of time.

"(With) school kids away all day and frequently having long bus rides and several hours or more of homework after school, there may be little time for children to spend with parents, sisters and brothers," says Faulconer, who adds that creating more specialized learning programs and more faith-integrated programs are other reasons parents choose to home-school.

Home schooling 101: Things to consider

If a parent and student decide to home-school, how and where should they begin?

Faulconer says there are two initial things to consider: the legal and the practical sides of home schooling.

Home schooling is legal in every state and in the District, but the laws vary, so potential home schooling parents want to find out the specific laws for their state.

When considering home schooling, contact the home schooling organization for your state for guidance on the legal requirements and nuances for your region.

"Public high schools in some states, including Virginia, do not have to accept home-school credit for high school work if a student transfers into a high school," Faulconer says. "This could affect when a student can graduate and what grade the school considers the student to be in."

Some states require end-of-year progress requirements that may be tied to grade level standardized tests or evaluations.

In addition to the varying state laws, there are also practical and logistical issues to consider, such as the best learning approach for your kids and the learning materials you plan to use.

Faulconer adds other questions to consider include:

  • If a parent is cutting back on paid employment to home-school, how will the family manage on less income?
  • If both parents are working or if you are a single parent, how will you split up educational duties?
  • If you are home schooling a child with a special need or talent, how will you address his or her specific needs?

"A parent probably has specific things in mind that she or he hopes to accomplish with home schooling," Faulconer says. "Thinking about the practical aspects of how to accomplish those things will help home schooling fit your goals."

Home-school doesn't happen at home

Home schooling parents don't have to "teach it all" at the kitchen table.

One of the biggest misconceptions about home schooling is a learning-to-teaching ratio of 1:1.

There are classes for home-schoolers of all ages in most communities, offered during school hours, at public centers, such as science museums, historical sites and parks and recreations departments.

Many home-schoolers also use private instructors, tutors and co-ops. Co-ops may be taught by parents sharing their expertise, or by instructors who are paid teachers. Typically, co-ops meet one day a week from September through May.

"What home schooling looks like tends to change over the years for families, as children get older and their needs change," Faulconer says.

Teaching to the test

Unlike students in conventional schools, home-schoolers do not take exams to advance in grade level, and many home schooling parents do not favor an emphasis on testing.

"They are home schooling because they want to emphasize reading great books, critical thinking, doing real science and engaging in academics through the arts and creativity, rather than taking tests," Faulconer says.

Parents do not have to earn any accreditation or be certified to home-school, and many home-schoolers pay little attention to the construct of grade level.

"The flexibility and nimbleness of home schooling can mean that the kids can learn at whatever level they are ready for. While it seems counter-intuitive, home-schoolers have found it can eventually lead to exquisite preparedness for college and work because needs have been met," Faulconer says.

Keeping connected

It's helpful for home-schoolers to be connected to both a statewide home schooling organization and home-school groups.

Many local home-school groups use listservs, email lists and Facebook groups to stay in touch and to plan events, such as field trips, class meetings and parties.

Because many home-school groups vary, Faulconer advises home schooling parents to try three or more home-school groups before finding the right one.

Editor's Note: WTOP's Katie Howard is a mom on the go. With two children under age 5, she's always looking for ways to provide her family fast and healthy snacks, meals and activities. Katie will shares her go-to food and family fitness tips on her blog "Good to Go."

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