When Debbie McGregor first began homeschooling her children 16 years ago, she initially tried to approximate a traditional classroom setting in her home, complete with a study table, name tags for her kids, and a ringing of the school bell as they marched out of their bedrooms at 8 a.m. “That lasted three days,” she says.
It didn’t take the Burkesville mom long to realize that successful homeschooling would take a bit more out-of-the-box thinking than simply taking a traditional, classroom-based, textbook-centered school curriculum and applying it at home. Her best teaching moments would come snuggled up on the couch with her kids, reading piles of library books together, and not in front of a chalkboard.
Classroom without Walls
Across the state, approximately 12,000 students in grades K-12 are currently being homeschooled, according to Lisa Gross, spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education.
Parents’ reasons for deciding to homeschool vary widely—some hope to offer a more religiously centered education than public or even private schools can convey, others simply like the idea of the one-on-one learning process it invites. But those who stick with it agree: one of the best things about homeschooling is that it lets you tailor your kids’ educations to their own interests and learning styles.
McGregor’s son, for instance, loves history and reading biographies of famous Americans. So she stocks up on historical nonfiction from the library and plans field trips to historical re-enactments as part of their lesson plans.
“If you take what the child likes—it might be ballet, it might be horses—and apply it,” then “you can relate (all the lessons) back to their interests,” she says.
With a little practice, parents of homeschoolers come to see their whole world as a classroom, and everyday situations—cooking a favorite recipe as a science or math lesson or a trip to the local park to study pond ecology—as a chance to teach.
“I really like that with homeschooling, our learning takes us out into the community,” says Trish Smith of Lexington, coordinator of a Georgetown-based math and science homeschooling club.
Smith also appreciates that homeschooling lets her children become comfortable learning among different types and ages of people—from adult museum or park directors to younger students who participate in the same homeschooling club—rather than only their own age cohort, as they would in a traditional school setting, she says.
Learning together, regardless of age, also helps build sibling closeness, says Somerset mom of four Sharon Dills, who likes that with homeschooling her kids aren’t “compartmentalized and away from each other all day. They’re together.”
Dills’ daughter Kelli, a junior, loves the freedom homeschooling gives her to work at her “own pace, instead of having to wait for the rest of the class to finish,” she says. She also feels having her mom as her own “personal tutor” has helped her learn and understand tough lessons, such as aspects of algebra II, that she “probably wouldn’t have understood in a public school setting.”
But what about the need to socialize with other kids their own age, critics of homeschooling always want to know.
“Socialization is the main question I get,” admits Garna Donahue, director of Cumberland Christian Home Educators, a homeschooling cooperative that draws members from Cumberland, Lincoln, McCreary, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Russell, and Wayne counties.
Donahue points out that because it only takes her kids about four hours a day to complete their lessons—as opposed to six hours a day that same work would require in a traditional school setting—they have ample time in the afternoons to socialize with friends during all their extracurricular activities, from sports and horseback riding to guitar and piano lessons.
Still, the decision to homeschool isn’t one that should be taken lightly, parents agree. There’s the loss of an income as one parent stays home to teach. And it’s simply a lot of work, requiring tremendous organization—all those records to keep—and a huge time commitment.
Yet parents who decide the sacrifices are worth it point out that several national studies back up what they believe they’ve seen firsthand: homeschooling works. One 1998 study, for example, claims that, on average, homeschool students in grades one through four perform one grade level higher than their public or private school counterparts, while by the eighth grade, the average homeschool student performs four grade levels above the national average (see www.hslda.org/docs/study/rudner1999).
The test compared a national sampling of students’ scores on standardized tests, and while taking yearly standardized tests as a measure of learning progress is not required of homeschooling families in Kentucky, many choose to do so.
Tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which can be administered in the home, are a popular means of tracking homeschooled students’ improvement in various subject areas, says Connie Laffin, president of the Kentucky Home Education Association. Most high school students who are homeschooled also take the PSAT in order to be eligible for National Merit Scholarship consideration, and the ACT or SAT to meet college admission requirements.
“One reason homeschooling kids do so well” on standardized tests, Laffin says, “is that they are not bound by the sequence” in which subjects are typically taught in traditional school settings. Parents are free to introduce a biology course into their child’s curriculum, for instance, whenever they feel he or she is ready for it—rather than having to wait until sophomore year, when the class is generally offered.
Today, more than ever, being homeschooled also doesn’t have to mean giving up all the sideline perks of a traditional school education. Talent nights, science fairs, field trips, geography, spelling bees, and even yearbooks are available to homeschooling families who opt to participate in a local or regional homeschooling cooperative.
There are more than 70 such cooperatives throughout the state, Laffin says. Many are religious-affiliated, though several, like the Georgetown-based math and science club, are open to members of all faiths. (See sidebar below for how to find homeschooling groups in your area.)
Some larger cooperatives, like Cumberland Christian Home Educators, meet weekly during the traditional school year and offer classes such as art, chemistry, biology labs, and even P.E. that might be difficult to teach in the home due to the need for supplies. The Hopkinsville-based Pennyroyal Area Christian Home Educators of Kentucky (PACHEK) hosts monthly meetings offering tips to homeschooling parents and organizes science demonstrations and other special events for students. And even smaller cooperatives, like the Christian Homeschool Fellowship, which includes 15 families from Rowan and surrounding counties, meet regularly at their local libraries for study sessions, book reviews, and project presentations.
Co-op membership also offers a much-needed support system for homeschooling parents, who often use the regular group meetings as a sounding board for questions they may have—such as which geography or math curriculum to use or how to best tackle their children’s difficulties with spelling.
“Schooling begins at birth, when you teach your children to walk and talk, and homeschooling just continues that educational process,” says Kari Nelson of Cadiz, a PACHEK member. Still, being able to talk with other homeschooling parents who’ve been through the same struggles helps alleviate some of the fear that’s only natural when you’re new to homeschooling, says Kristy Bartley of Somerset.
“When you’re starting, if you don’t have fear, you’re silly. You should have a little fear. This is your child’s education, their foundation for learning all through their life,” Bartley says. “But if you write out your goals and your visions, and why you are homeschooling, then when you have days that you just want to pull your hair out—and you will—you can go back to that and say, ‘This is why I’m homeschooling,’” she says.
When she thinks back on the best moments she’s had as a homeschooling mom—the time her daughter finally learned vowel-consonant blends thanks to a ball-toss game, or sharing introspective conversations with another daughter about books of the Bible—Bartley knows why she’s chosen homeschooling for her family. It’s the chance to catch those “aha” moments in action when the lightbulb goes off and her kids get something new for the first time. “I love being there and seeing it,” she
says. “Otherwise, you’d just miss so much.”
HOMESCHOOLING WEB RESOURCES
www.khea.info—to find a local homeschooling cooperative in your area, check the member listings on both the Kentucky Home Education Association Web site and
www.chek.org—the Christian Home Educators of Kentucky. Homeschooling families can become members of either KHEA or CHEK for a low yearly fee; both groups offer support of local homeschooling cooperatives and monitor Kentucky legislation to ensure that homeschooling freedoms stay intact.
www.wildernessroadconference.com—CHEK sponsors an annual July conference and homeschool curriculum fair in Louisville, with vendors showcasing samples of their homeschool teaching materials. The Wilderness Road Family and Home Educator’s Conference has also recently been launched to serve southeastern Kentucky.
www.hslda.org—Home School Legal Defense Association offers in-depth information on research relating to homeschooling students’ academic achievements as well as legal requirements by state for families interested in homeschooling.
www.education.ky.gov—for specific details on Kentucky’s requirements for homeschooling families. Click “About Schools & Districts” then “Home Schooling in Kentucky,” “Kentucky Home School Requirements & Information,” and “Home Schooling Frequently Asked Questions.”
www.khea.info—for a comprehensive Home School Information packet, including valuable information on how to get started homeschooling.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: REQUIREMENTS FOR KENTUCKY HOMESCHOOLING FAMILIES
To learn more about what is required to homeschool your children in Kentucky and also about two Kentucky businesses that make products for homeschoolers, click on: homeschooling