- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

A former military family living in Anchorage, Alaska, has turned home-schooling into a centerpiece for an exciting life of learning, business and mentoring.

Wade and Laura Bankston have three children, Nathan, Ryan and Meagan, ages 12, 10 and 7. As owners of a professional cleaning business, they are active entrepreneurs. Laura publishes several books and Web-based services for home-schoolers based on her own breakthroughs as a home-schooling mom.

“When I was pregnant with my second child, my first was always cooking with me,” Laura says. “He was fascinated with it. I noticed that it was difficult for kids to read the recipes or instructions because of the vocabulary. I also saw the potential for real-life applications of math — quantity conversions, fractions, etc. — in the realm of cooking.

“So to accommodate independent cooking for small kids, we started the ‘Homeschool Cookbook,’ ” Laura says. This is a volume of recipes accompanied by vocabulary and lesson plans and step-by-step photos and instructions for early readers. It sells for $59.95 on her Web site (www.homeschoolcookbook.com).

Laura discovered that photos help learners understand the skills much better — a result of her own struggle trying to remember her grandmother’s gravy-making technique.

“You never remember as much as you think you will when you just watch someone cook. With step-by-step photos, you can always see exactly what is being done … exactly what it’s supposed to look like,” she says.

Laura also offers a membership Web site, the Kids Recipe Club, complete with new recipes each month and indexes of recipes by learning topic, holiday, age group and other categories.

Cooking isn”t the only skill the Bankstons impart to their children.

“One fun thing that home-schooling allowed us to do is have the kids go to work with their dad since we own our own business,” Laura says. “In fact, there was an article done by Cleanfax magazine for Nathan, who became an [Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification]-certified tech in water-damage restoration. As far as we know, he is the youngest certified tech in the world. He just wanted to see if he could do it.”

The Bankstons’ approach to education is both practical and inspirational.

“Our goals have always been to be in tune with each of our children’s learning styles, know their strengths and weaknesses, to allow them to pursue their interests, to teach them principles of thinking of entrepreneurs, and to be sure they are getting what they need educationally to pursue any career field they might choose in the future.”

Home-schooling in Alaska gives the family some great outdoor learning opportunities.

“One summer we had the opportunity to do some rock rappelling, which was fun,” Laura says. “The scenery is simply breathtaking. You can feel the tension and stress just melt away as you drive along this highway that’s really the base of a mountain hugging the inlet — ocean and snowcapped mountains.”

When then-8-year-old Nathan, following instructions called out to him, rappelled down a 50-foot cliff, Laura swallowed her maternal fears and cheered him on.

“When he unclipped himself, stood next to me, knees knocking and hands shaking, he wore a grin wider than the Grand Canyon and said, ‘That was fun! I want to do it again!’ ” she says.

The Bankstons have dealt with their share of learning challenges and health issues and often encourage other families, especially on their Web site. It’s wonderful to see how families can combine education, income and relationship-building and take advantage of their unique environment.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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