- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

With back-to-school season in full swing, many parents are reflecting on the educational choices they are making. Although the vast majority of parents still send their children to public schools, 10 percent to 12 percent of parents choose private education. One part of private education is the estimated 2 million children who are home-schooled, accounting for at least 3 percent of the school-age population.

For parents considering home-schooling, three questions often are asked. First, is it legal? Second, how do I do it? Third, will it ruin my kids?

The answer to the first question is straightforward. Home-schooling is formally recognized in all 50 states — although it wasn’t always this way. When the Home School Legal Defense Association was founded in 1983, 45 states required parents to be teacher-certified before they could teach their children. Through the advocacy of home-schoolers, in 1993, Michigan became the 50th state to recognize a parent’s right to home-school.

Today, due to the incredible growth of home-schooling, there are countless curriculum providers as well as home-school support groups available to help answer the second question. Two great resources to aid in choosing the right curriculum are Mary Pride’s “Complete Guide to Getting Started Homeschooling,” and Kathy Duffy’s “100 Picks for Homeschooling Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum for Your Child.”

While choosing a curriculum that suits the individual needs of your child is important, finding a home-school support group is probably more important. This can be done by searching online, contacting a statewide home-school organization, or visiting www.HSLDA.org. Speaking with veteran home-schoolers is the best way to discover whether home-schooling could be a good fit.

Another aspect of “how to home-school” is determining how much time it will take to teach each child. The answer is a lot less than you might think. In a traditional classroom, there are often distractions and discipline problems that waste classroom instruction time. The opposite is the case in a home environment where the child receives one-on-one instruction and can focus on the task at hand.

Consequently, many parents in the elementary years find that children often need only a few hours to accomplish their work for the day. This is also true when educating several children. Many parents arrange their schedule so older children work independently in the morning while you work individually with your younger children, and then while the younger children are taking time off in the afternoon, you can spend time with the older children. Again, because you are covering the material so much faster, you may still spend only three hours of instruction on a given day.

The third question that’s often asked is whether children will be “ruined” by home-schooling. In other words, what about socialization?

Veteran home-schoolers know the question has a false premise. It assumes children are better off spending hour upon hour with children their own age. Wouldn’t the next generation have more success if they spent more time with a range of responsible adults who can show them how to behave in the real world?

Home-schooling allows children to develop at their own pace in a world that most closely resembles where they will spend the majority of their adult lives. It’s a recipe for success and one that is also borne out in the research. The 2004 study “Homeschooling Grows Up,” conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute, shows that home-schooled children are more involved in their communities than the average public school child.

While all types of children benefit from home-schooling, this method of education is particularly effective for struggling learners. There is testimony after testimony of parents who have pulled older children out of public school special education programs and seen them thrive.

Gone are the comparisons, labels, social pressures and distractions a regular classroom brings. Parents can offer their children individualized education, flexibility, encouragement and support, which is ideal for any child, but especially for children who have learning disabilities, are medically sensitive or have attention deficit disorders.

Choosing to home-school is a big decision and requires a significant commitment, but the rewards are great because the overwhelming majority of home-schooled children grow up to be well-educated, and well-rounded citizens.

For more information on home-schooling, visit www.youcanhomeschool.org.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540/338-5600 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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