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Frequently Asked Questions About Homeschooling

(From The Homeschooling Almanac 2002-03, (2d Ed) by Mary and Michael Leppert. Copyright, © 2005 by Mary and Michael Leppert. All rights reserved.

As homeschooling parents and disseminators of information about homeschooling, we are constantly asked questions by parents considering homeschooling their children, or by the just plain curious. Here we offer our responses to some of the questions that come up most frequently.

Q What about socialization?

A Because this is the most-frequently-asked question, we have placed it first. Parents need to consider that in the average school day of 6 hours, the child spends approximately 1-1⁄2 hours "socializing"— two 15-minute recesses and 1 hour at lunch. The rest of the time the child usually sits at his desk, separated from the other children by the invisible wall of "good behavior." Plus, as the school atmosphere becomes increasingly restricted and dangerous, the socialization that occurs is not particularly "social."

Homeschooling parents, on the other hand, often find their children have too much socialization — weekly park days, skate days, and field trips. Besides planned events, children who live in urban or suburban areas come in contact with people all day long. Most neighborhoods, which is where a child’s playmates usually come from (and always have), include children of varying ages, whether homeschooled or conventionally schooled (that is, attending public or private school). Families in rural areas have to take steps to ensure that their children — whether homeschooled or not — come in contact with others on a regular basis. The fact is, children taught at home have more time to socialize freely without being told what to play, when to play, and where to play. If organic, pure socialization is to take place, it is in the homeschool setting.

Q What about critical or skeptical family members?

A Usually, a skeptical family member is concerned about academic and socialization issues. (People who don’t live with your children may not see the positive spiritual and psychological changes they go through once they are no longer in an age- or peer-dependent environment.) Try inviting the skeptic to park days or field trips to let them see what your daily life is like.

This brings to mind Michael’s mother, who was very skeptical when she first heard our plans to homeschool. Before our son reached the age of six, she didn’t believe we wouldn’t send him to school. When school enrollment time came and went, and we didn’t change our plan, she was worried and decided to pay for our first-grade boxed curriculum. She also came out to Los Angeles from Chicago and accompanied us on our routine the first week of her visit.

We remember the week distinctly: Monday, a field trip to the J. Paul Getty Art Museum; Tuesday, homeschool gymnastics class (with about 15 families); Wednesday, Yamaha Music School (with 10 other children who weren’t homeschoolers); Thursday, park day (with 20 to 40 other homeschooled children, playing for approximately four hours); Friday, chorus at the Yamaha Music School (with 25 non-homeschooled children). Our son was occupied with trips to the library, doing his curriculum in the early mornings, and listening to Michael read to all of us in the evenings. She quickly realized that not only was her grandson not socially deprived, but he had a culturally and academically rich life, filled with music, chorus, gymnastics — training he would not receive in a school setting. After her visit, we heard from relatives that Michael’s mother spoke with much pride about what a great life Lennon had!

Q What if all my child’s friends are schooled and she feels "different"?

A Had you asked us this question five years ago, we would have answered differently. We probably would have said to do little things like buy a lunch pail and pencil and paper pads at the beginning of each school year and try to incorporate more "school-type" things into your lives. We would not have said with the pride we now have, how fortunate and privileged our son is to be homeschooled! We were squeamish in the early years and sometimes felt that we had to hide. Over these years, our son has taught us that we should be proud to be homeschoolers, that we should feel different because we are. We view his sense of pride in being homeschooled as righteous and healthy. In today’s society, there is constant talk about building self-esteem in children. If you knew that homeschooling your child would give her a tremendous sense of self-esteem — far beyond what she would gain in a school — would you do it? Foster the difference and be proud of it!

Q What if my child goes back to school? Will the school accept him?

A Children who are U.S. citizens cannot be denied public education unless they have been legally expelled or some other extenuating circumstance exists. Therefore, the question really should be: "What is the easiest way to get my child back into school after he or she has been homeschooled?" The answer depends upon which state you live in. If you declare yourself a private school, then keeping good records of daily activities and the subjects studied is crucial, should you eventually decide to enroll your child in school. If you enroll in an independent study program (ISP), either private or through a public school, you will have no problems transferring back into the system. (In some states, an ISP is called a "church school.") Call your state’s parent-run state organization for in-depth information.

Q What if my child does not want to leave his school friends?

A This can be a tough situation. That question comes up often when we talk with parents who choose to homeschool because of the negative peer pressure involved in school. We have seen repeatedly that most children, when removed from a negative situation, feel a sense of relief, as if the parents rescued them from something they were attracted to but were uncomfortable with. After-school hours and weekends allow plenty of time for children to continue seeing school friends who are a positive influence. Homeschooling doesn’t mean you are going to another planet! You will still live in your house, in your neighborhood, with the same phone number; and your child’s friends will know that

Q How will I know if a homeschool group is right for me?

A Fitting into a homeschool group is much like the dynamics between any human beings. You may know two completely opposite people who get along great. Or you may know of people with similar personalities and interests who don’t care for each other’s company. You’ll have to visit a homeschooling group to find out if you feel comfortable. For instance, I have met born-again Christian mothers who attend secular groups that feel just right. I have also met mothers who are not religious yet attend Christian groups because they like the structure and the organization such groups tend to have. Try many different groups, and then stick with the one that feels best for you, or join more than one!

Q My teenager wants to be homeschooled, but my husband and I both work. Is this a good idea?

A This depends upon your teenager and your relationship with him or her. Some teenagers seem relieved to be taken out of a peer-dependent environment and are pleased to do schoolwork while mom and dad are away, in order to keep this latitude. Other teenagers fare better working a part-time job during the day and doing their academic work in the evening and on weekends. Teenagers are at a perfect age to benefit from an apprentice situation or mentoring relationship. We know of one teenager who works 25 hours a week in a pet store and plans on becoming a veterinarian. Another works part time at a newspaper office, typesetting and learning about newspapers.

Q What will the neighbors think?

A Your child is the best example of the fruits of homeschooling. However, we admit that even we have sometimes felt uneasy when our son plays basketball in front of our house at 10:00 on a Monday morning, when all of the other kids have gone to school. What will the very active 85-year-old man across the street think? — that we are neglecting our son? But after the voice of fear whispers in my ear, my "brave self" quickly remembers my true opinion: Homeschoolers no longer need to be afraid of recrimination from those with incorrect and preconceived notions. We can express our pride in being homeschoolers and confidence in the certainty of our decision.

Q Should I let my children play outside while regular school is in session?

A Since homeschooling is legal in every state and province, there’s no reason to fear having your child playing on your block. If your child wants to play at the park and is under adult supervision, most communities will not bother him or her. Get to know your community’s attitude toward homeschoolers and, if it is unfavorable, work to change it. Some California communities have "curfew laws" that are being successfully challenged in the courts when they are not enforced with good faith and common sense by police departments or truancy-control agencies. Be open and honest about homeschooling, and help local officials be aware of homeschooling and its benefits to your community.

Q Is it harder to teach high school than the elementary grades?

A Most people who homeschool high schoolers don’t find teaching them a problem. Usually, study habits are already set up; the child is accustomed to completing a certain amount of "work." Also, students who have been in school usually enjoy finishing their schoolwork early, leaving enough time to work a part-time job, become an apprentice, practice a sport, or take college classes.

Parents of teenagers who have never been in school might have to be more involved in finding out how to teach algebra, chemistry, or other "difficult" subjects. Many families in both categories solve this problem by pooling resources and hiring a tutor to instruct a small group (often 5 to 10 children) in a particular subject once or twice a week. Usually, this type of arrangement is conducive to a positive learning experience: The children know why they are there and want to be there, so it works out well for all. With homeschooling becoming more popular each year, "help" is available to any family who wants it.

Q What if I can’t stand to be with my kids all day?

A People don’t ask this question often, but when they do, we are always shocked and saddened. We believe parents who cannot stand to be with their children don’t really know them. And if they don’t like their children, they are probably seeing a child who isn’t "real" but is a creation of marketing, school peer pressure, fear, low self-esteem, and alienation. When your child is home with you, person-to-person, these external forces can — and do — fall away over time.

Children are people in formation (still under "construction") and should be protected from what many adults today call "real" life—which translates into exposure to social horrors (news coverage of mass deaths, heinous crime descriptions, desensitization to violence) and personal "stylistic" degradation, such as pierced body parts, tattoos, and moshing (slam dancing), that would have made a sailor blush 50 years ago. Our American society has duped itself into thinking that children are short adults with adult sensibilities — mature enough to make intelligent decisions about all they do and believe. A few minutes of close observation of an 11-year-old or even a 15-year-old discloses that this "short adult" assumption is faulty.

Children are capable of making some decisions, but they have to be guided and steered in many others. We all learn progressively how to navigate life — to make choices, determine what we believe and who we are. To become skilled at such decision-making takes years. John Taylor Gatto, in his book Dumbing Us Down, comments that today’s public school children never get the time alone required to build a personality, but instead are constantly moved along the conveyor belt or bombarded with media stimuli. Homeschooling provides such private time. So it is no surprise that once your child has an opportunity to return to his or her appropriate age and stop being a reflection of the external forces, you are likely to find a pretty likeable person.

Q Are there African Americans who homeschool?

A Yes. Many African-American families are turning to homeschooling to ensure excellence in the education their children receive. An African-American homeschooling mom giving a workshop at a conference a few years ago was asked why so few African-American families homeschool. She stated that since the group fought so long and hard to be included in the full public school system, they were not in a hurry to leave it. The African-American homeschooling community is growing quickly as they, along with people of other ethnicities, choose homeschooling as a means of retaining their culture.

Q Should I get involved with the independent study program (ISP) with a public school?

A People who begin homeschooling often feel they need the warm hand of a certified teacher on their shoulder, guiding them along until they get the hang of doing it themselves. That is exactly what the public ISP appears to do. In most states, ISPs use the same curriculum that children at the local public school would use. If you choose such a program, you are assigned an ISP counselor, a certified teacher for the public school system who usually keeps track of between 100 and 300 families like yours. You are given the curriculum to follow and must report to the counselor weekly, bimonthly, or monthly. Most families find, after two or three months, that they love the freedom of homeschooling and want to be their own drivers.

Q I’ve never been a bookish person and did not like school. How can I possibly teach my children?

A We repeatedly hear that homeschooling has afforded many parents the opportunity to educate or re-educate themselves in certain subjects. For example, Mary wasn’t interested in early history or word roots and grammar because of the negative feeling she carried over from school. But upon reading about these to our son, she found herself becoming more interested as time went on. She also never considered herself artistic (in school she couldn’t sketch an apple even if she wanted to!). When our son was about seven, we obtained the Usborne How To Draw art series, which gives you the exact layout of different objects. Mary was so amazed at how well her rockets, spaceships, and buildings came out that she has actually considered taking drawing classes! Use homeschooling as an opportunity to learn new things and add dimension to your life!

Q Homeschoolers seem to occupy the far left or the religious right, whereas I am somewhere in the middle. Where or how do I fit into all of this?

A You are right on point. Possibly your perception of the political orientation of homeschoolers is left over from an earlier era. In the ’70s (and even earlier), most homeschoolers were of a religious persuasion or were leftist radicals who wanted to "drop out" of society. Since the late ’80s, however, homeschooling has become increasingly mainstream, attracting more and more professional or upper-income parents (along with lower- and middle-income families) opting to teach their own children at home — especially as they approach high school age.

Q Don’t teachers know something about "teaching" that we as parents should know to teach our own?

A No. A schoolteacher’s job is to present the curriculum chosen by the school administration to 25 - 40 children in a classroom setting, moving them through the school year on time. A homeschooling parent’s job is very different. You will be working with your child in a setting you choose and recognize to be what is right for him or her. You can adjust your focus at any time to meet the changing needs of your student and your family. You can work more during one part of the year, less during another (provided your state doesn’t require school-year-strict attendance records). You can spend more time on a "weak" academic topic and less time on a "strong" one. The list of reasons we are most qualified to teach our own is long and different for each family.

Q If I have three children I want to homeschool, do I have to teach three levels of math, science, and English each day?

A Probably not. One great thing about having two or more children in a homeschooling setting is that the younger ones want to keep up with the older ones. There is less total work when children are fairly close rather than far apart in age. Some families report that their children set up a natural, healthy competition among themselves. In the case of English, the younger child may have to catch up to be on a par with the older, but will do that on his or her own. A few subjects may require individual, separate teaching; but that is probably the exception rather than the rule.

Q When will my child ever use calculus, trigonometry, algebra, or geometry?

A As publishers of The Link, parents often ask us whether we think the higher math subjects are valuable. "Do my children really need algebra, other than to get into college?" The mathematicians we have asked about this say they can’t offer a valuable use except for students meeting college entrance requirements or pursuing degrees in math-heavy subjects such as architecture, engineering, or computer programming.

It’s not necessary for families homeschooling children in the early teen years to stress out about the higher math subjects.

Q I enjoyed school activities like the prom and the science fair. Aren’t we denying our children these things if we homeschool them?

A Homeschoolers tend to be very innovative. Most homeschool groups have science fairs and social activities, and some even have graduations for their students. The beauty of something so grassroots is that you can make it anything you want it to be. Parents whose children are in the public school system often comment that they like a particular activity — a dance or what-have-you — but they don’t like the music being played. In homeschooling, we can create these activities for our children in an environment that is in harmony with our beliefs and values. I don’t want to mislead anyone that you can have these things for your children without putting in work and effort. It takes all of the families in a group to contribute to the grand scheme. If you are not the do-er type, you can always join an ISP, and most of the planning and prep could be done for you. Such groups usually cost $160 to $800 per year and will advise you of the services they provide when you sign up. Be sure to ask, however; don’t assume.

Q Are we losing a sense of community when we remove our children from school?

A No. You are building a true sense of community when you decide to homeschool if you also choose to meet with other homeschooling families and participate in the field trips, park days or play days, and any special programs they do. Through programs like Goals 2000, the government is trying to make public schools into synthetic "village centers," so to speak. We think individual parents and families doing it themselves is better. If you are used to having community activity planning done for you, you may have an adjustment to make. It is not difficult, however; most homeschoolers have phones, many are on the Internet, and most have cars. You can communicate with them as easily as with someone in the PTA, Boy Scouts, or other community organization. It all comes down to this: You make the community — not homeschooling.

Q What about homeschooling an only child?

A As parents of an only child, we can answer, "Yes, it can be done very successfully." We won’t say it is easy; in fact, we believe it’s harder to homeschool an only child. (Most of our homeschooling friends have two to eight children.) Much depends on the type of child as well. If the child is incredibly social, it takes extra effort to plan a social life in which the child feels he or she interacts enough with other children. At least one parent must be the social type to plan a social life for the homeschooled child. Most homeschooling functions are not "drop-off" activities. If you are the parent caring for the child, you might find yourself spending hours on end with other homeschooling parents (mostly mothers). If you are not comfortable with this much socializing, it could be a problem for you.

From the academic standpoint, homeschooling an only child can be loads of fun. It is much easier to jump into the car and take off to the desert to see the wildflowers with one than with five or six children. One is also cheaper; you may be able to afford lessons that a large family might not be able to afford.

Another advantage to homeschooling one child is the closeness that develops between the parents and the child. For us, spending day in and day out with our son gives us hours to talk and get to know each other well. Mary has taken him along on many jobs to which she would not be able to take two or three children. She’s even attended college classes with him right alongside her.

Q Will my child have a high school diploma?

A Depending on your state’s laws, probably yes — if you choose to obtain one. But check first. Generally speaking, your child can acquire a GED diploma through your state, or you, as the principal of your own certified, private school (if you establish one), can create your own high school diploma. You may also use a nationally-recognized, certified correspondence school to obtain a diploma. Check with the parent-run organization in your state to find out firsthand your state’s requirements and guidelines.

Q How will I know if my child is "where he should be" in various subjects?

A Our son is a member of a choir comprising some homeschooled kids and (a majority of) school kids. When he was 11, he came home from a rehearsal asking, "What grade am I in?". He said that’s the first thing the school kids in choir ask. We reminded him that the last boxed curriculum we had used was fourth grade and after that we created our own curriculum using our own parental approach. We worried that his self-image would be damaged because he felt that he was not "where he should be." He seemed bothered by this because he kept saying that maybe we should "do grades." We wanted him to realize that we were living a different life than most families in the chorus.

Mary began thinking about "grades" and, to sort out our concerns about them, took out an old textbook from her first college English class. It was the type with short stories that measures comprehension at the end of each selection. She had Lennon read a story and answer the questions. He read the story aloud with perfect pronunciation and answered all the questions in the back of the book, 100 percent correct. We told him the next time anyone asked what grade he is in to tell them, "In reading and comprehension, I am in college." At that same time, Lennon had perfect penmanship for a seventh grade level, and he was doing math at a fifth-grade level.

The point is that homeschooling affords the student the opportunity to soar ahead in favored topics of study while spending more time on less-popular academic areas. Keep in mind, grades are used in school settings mainly to keep some children at one place and move others along. And the "school" we are talking about here is a for-profit business — BIG business at that! The school system is not a benevolent grandfather who has your child’s best interest at heart.

Q Should I use a prepackaged curriculum?

A If you are new to homeschooling and don’t know where to begin, then a prepackaged curriculum could be ideal for you and your homeschooled child or children. Prepackaged curriculums give beginning homeschooling parents a direction. Our advice is to try one and feel free to tailor it after your child’s own needs.

Q Why should I homeschool?

A There are two primary reasons to homeschool—one is social and the other, academic. In discussing both of them, it all depends on your point of view and what you are satisfied with.

Socially speaking, if you live in a small community where . . .

• the parents have autonomy in how the schools are run;

• the children are not exposed to inappropriate information and behavior — be it sexual, criminal, antisocial, disrespectful, or other; and

• the family is the main influence in each child’s life, inculcating their beliefs, standards, and philosophy in him or her and determining what sort of children the child socializes with . . .

then you would not need homeschooling for social reasons as far as we can see.

Academically speaking, the quality of public school learning varies widely from state to state. In California, which has one of the highest costs per pupil in the country, the school performance has been among the worst — consistently in the bottom three or four states. Homeschooling could not possibly do worse, could it? On the other hand, if your local school system does the following . . .

• provides parents with autonomy and produces academic results the parents approve of, and

• teaches a curriculum parents believe will mold their children’s minds to obtain work and make them well-rounded enough to enjoy life and its many advantages . . .

then your situation would not require homeschooling. I have not heard of such a community—have you?

Q Is there a "downside" to homeschooling?

A Hardships such as living on one income, learning how to be together day in and day out, and parents having to re-learn or learn certain academic subjects at first may seem like negatives, but if you give yourself the opportunity to discover that these negatives can be positives, homeschooling can lead to the greatest metamorphosis of your life! We are so happy and satisfied with our decision to homeschool that there has not been a downside that we consider worthy of mention. What at first seemed like adversity has grown into a new, freer, and much larger life than we dreamed of.