- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Throughout the summer, we have been researching home-schooling options. What we're learning is a vast array of choices and opportunities is available. There is truly something for everyone, no matter what the personal circumstances of the family.

On one end of the spectrum are the correspondence-type programs. These are actual schools students "attend" as a long-distance pupil. Perhaps the most similar to institutional-type schooling, teachers give assignments, correct and grade the students' work, keep records and issue report cards. The teachers are usually available to answer students' questions by phone, e-mail or other communication.

In these programs, the family pays tuition, either per course or as an annual fee. Although the parents are expected to help the children in case of some difficulty with assignments, similar to helping them with homework for a traditional school, the teaching is supposed to be performed through the correspondence school, not through the parent.

This option is attractive to families who want the safety of home-schooling, but who don't feel comfortable being the primary instructor for their children. One caution: some of the programs will not send back the corrected tests, only notify the family of the grade received. This is a disadvantage for those who would like to see what material needs to be reviewed and where improvement is needed.

The correspondence-type schools usually provide a transcript of the student's grades and a diploma at the same levels as the corresponding grades in the public school systems. This again is comforting to parents who feel a need for equivalent structures to the school systems.

A second option for families is to purchase prepared curricula and materials from one of these schools, or from other producers. Here, the family buys the materials, workbooks, tests and teacher guides for a given course. The parent does the instructing and grading, based on the materials and curricula used.

The benefit of this type of system is students can proceed at their own pace. If they want to speed up their schooling, graduating early, it's easy. As soon as one course is completed, they can move onto the next level. On the other hand, if a child is a slow and careful learner, they can stretch out their studies to fit their own inner timetable.

Some parents use the co-op method of schooling. A group of families may work together, with each parent becoming a subject teacher for the group. One parent may teach science; another, history; another, math. Parents with special strengths, such as art or music or athletics, can support parents lacking those skills.

This method has a lot of benefits. Because parents are working from their strengths, they feel more confident with the level of instruction. Children enjoy learning with others, so there is a certain amount of excitement in the process perhaps more than in the single-family situation. It also helps people to get more structured with time and preparations; if it's just family, you might not be as diligent at making sure the day's schedule is implemented, but if others are involved, you tend to be more serious.

Another benefit is the freedom to go beyond the dry textbooks and work materials other methods depend on. The teacher/parent can draw from all kinds of resources to convey the information. We have done this from time to time with other families with very positive results.

Parents who work out of the home can still be a part of the teaching pool, by the way. If the parent has a job that utilizes a certain field of knowledge, such as math, he or she can do some classes on the job site. For instance, a surveyor or a pilot can teach aspects of trigonometry; an accountant can teach how to use formulas to build a financial report for a given purpose.

Another option is "unschooling," in which the parent and child explore the world of knowledge through curiosity and the discovery process. This is a huge area, and very exciting, especially for students who chafe under conventional learning methods.

The point is this virtually anybody can home-school. It's just a matter of finding the method that fits your circumstances and family structure.

You know, so many people tell me they would love to home-school. Most of them then tell me the circumstances that impede them. But what I have found is that when the desire to give the child a better education overcomes the natural timidity that precedes trying something new, they always find a way.

So, if you ever think about home-schooling, wonder what it would be like and say "If only I could," here's a suggestion. Go to the library and take out a few books. Get on the Internet and check out some information. Call someone who home-schools and ask questions.

Maybe you'll never decide to home-school. Or maybe, one day, some little (or big) event will coalesce something inside of you. All of a sudden, it won't be "How could I?" but rather "How will I?" From that inner conviction, solutions to all the obstacles will be found.

Remember, home-schoolers are not only winning national academic championships, but they also are attending great colleges, getting top jobs, and, most important of all, marrying successfully and raising wonderful families. This phenomenon is not because they are the rich children, or the genetically brainy or the hopelessly nerdy. It's a natural result of a very simple process. Good children, given lots of time, love and attention, grow up to be happy, contributing and powerful adults.

I wish you all great success in preparing for the coming school year.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer living in Maryland.

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