- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

As the new year begins, it is time to evaluate what has been done and develop new plans for the future, take a look at the things we are not satisfied with, and make adjustments in hopes of getting better results.

Perhaps this phenomenon of new-year evaluations accounts for the yearly increase in requests I get for information and suggestions about how to start home-schooling. For some reason, a lot of people seem to start thinking seriously about changing their educational situation during this time. Since I end up repeating the same advice to so many people, I thought I should put it all in a single list.

If you are contemplating home-schooling, here are my seven universal recommendations, whether you have preschool-, elementary- or high-school-age children.

• Do an Internet search. You will find thousands of links, each of which has a unique specialty. You can narrow your search to find specific items. For instance, you might look for distance-learning programs, Montessori programs, chat rooms, etc. By identifying sites that deal with the issues of concern to your family, you can find many solutions that you might not have imagined.

Home-school Internet sites also can give you ideas about materials, support groups, teaching methods and extracurricular activities.

• Go to the library. Most home-schoolers use library services avidly, and librarians are often aware of books, programs and resources that are helpful to home-schooling families. Our local library maintains a section of books, magazines and videos of interest to home-schoolers.

• Get in touch with people who home-school. Ask a few families how they handle the issues that you find interesting. Ask them about materials or programs they have used, and what worked well for them. By talking with families that have different approaches, you will gain valuable insight.

• Contact local and national home-schooling organizations. They may have specific lists of resources, advisers and programs to help you. They often have expertise in certain areas, such as state regulations, parents' rights and more.

• Check out educational software at a local computer store. There are programs available on CDs to teach everything from foreign languages to astrophysics. You may wish to invest in computer hardware and software that will help your family in areas that require specialized knowledge.

• Visit used bookstores, thrift stores and library book sales. Look for books that might augment your family library. My favorites: encyclopedias, atlases, literary collections, educational videos and usable textbooks.

• Contact your local school system and ask whether it has an office that deals with home-schooling. It may be able to send you forms, lists and information about coordinating home-schooling with the state and local authorities.

Try to keep notes on your conversations and discoveries. I use three-ring binders, because I can punch the printed materials I find, and I can write up my own notes on plain notebook paper. Even if the information you get may not seem relevant today, it may suddenly become important a year from now.

As you explore, you will find a vast array of possibilities for your family. Your family is unique, and there will be certain circumstances you must take into consideration. You may have a special-needs child, or an at-home business, or you may live overseas. Your educational plan will be tailored to meeting your family's circumstances.

One caveat: As you begin to consider the possibility of home-schooling, there will be resistance from others, including family and friends. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, "You can't please all of the people all of the time." Home-schooling is still new enough that many people are alarmed by it. They think you are destroying your children's chances, or that you are isolating them from the larger society.

Unfortunately, only time and exposure will resolve those fears. You may find yourself in an uncomfortable position of having to debunk a lot of myths held by folks you love. The reality is that you may not have their support as you transition into home education.

My best advice is this: Ask lots of questions, get the facts, weigh the pros and cons, and then make the best decision you can for your family. You are the parent, and you are the one who must take responsibility for your child's learning. If you really believe the child would do best in an institutional setting, then don't home-school. But if you believe you could do a better job at home, then ignore the naysayers and go for it.

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

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