The number of homeschooling families in the United States has been growing at an estimated 15 percent a year in recent years, with interest in alternatives to public schools surging after the Columbine High School massacre two years ago.
Today, as many as 4 percent of all schoolchildren are being educated at home–almost two million children. Parents who already are homeschooling their children know what is involved and where to go for help, but what about a parent just starting to consider homeschooling? Where does that parent start?
The Internet offers a vast array of homeschooling resources, but they come with a blessing and a curse: They are numerous, but how is a parent unfamiliar with the field to determine which sites are reliable? The following two Web sites serve as rock-solid starting points for further explorations of the homeschooling landscape.
Home School Legal Defense Association
P.O. Box 3000
Purcellville, VA 20134
The Home School Legal Defense Association is an advocacy group offering legal advice and representation in homeschool court cases. The Web site provides news about homeschooling, answers to Frequently Asked Questions, a searchable “Issues Library,” a calendar of events, and links to a variety of other Web sites of interest to homeschooling parents. By selecting a specific state, parents can access a summary of laws affecting homeschooling in that state, updates on homeschooling court cases in that state, plus contact information for state organizations that support homeschooling. Membership in the Association costs $100 a year.
“Nothing really prepares you for having armed police officers literally break into your house,” according to home educators Robert and Maria Kennedy of Covina, California. “I don’t think anybody should home school unless they join HSLDA.”
National Home Education Research Institute
P.O. Box 13939
Salem, OR 97309
The National Home Education Research Institute produces statistics, research, and technical reports on home education, serving as a clearinghouse for home educators, researchers, and policymakers. Its mission is to educate the public about findings from research studies on home education. A paper on “Homeschooling Teaching Strategies” by Institute President Brian D. Ray is posted at the U.S. Department of Education’s ERIC Clearinghouse at www.ericsp.org/pages/digests/home_schooling.html.
These two Web sites provide access to a wealth of information about homeschooling . . . but the key decision every parent must make is: Should I homeschool or not? To make that decision requires more than surfing the Web, and the following two books are recommended to assist in that process.
To Homeschool or Not to Homeschool?
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Homeschooling
by Marsha Ransom
$16.95 Alpha Books (2001)
Although Marsha Ransom starts her book with a “Running Start Checklist” for parents who have just pulled their child out of school and want to know what to do next, she also provides a less frantic “Beginner’s Checklist” which assumes a one- to three-month planning period before a parent begins homeschooling. And, appropriately, readers are taken a third of the way through Ransom’s book before the issue of how to start teaching a child at home is addressed in the chapter “Taking the Plunge: What Do I Do Now?”
Ransom, the mother of four children who began homeschooling 12 years ago, has written the book she wishes had been available when she started–one that would not only provide a comprehensive guide to understanding the concept of home education, but also would tell what resources were available and explain how to use them.
“When I began homeschooling, I didn’t know that there were many, many reasons that parents chose homeschooling,” she says. “I didn’t know that there were a variety of different educational philosophies. I wasn’t aware of the scope of the legal problems faced by homeschoolers during that time. I didn’t know that each state had its own homeschool law, or that some people tried to comply with their state’s laws and others simply chose not to comply.”
The first part of Ransom’s book addresses those issues, explaining the different approaches to homeschooling and asking readers to examine their own educational philosophies before choosing a specific approach or curriculum best for the family and family member priorities. She emphasizes that parent and child should seek out a curriculum and approach that works for them and not to be afraid of personalizing an education program to better mesh with the family’s values and the interests of the child.
The balance of Ransom’s book is a very practical guide to home educating children of different ages and needs, keeping track of progress with tests and assessments, and–the perennial teacher problem–how to avoid burnout. She also provides a comprehensive guide to homeschooling resources, from curricula to cyber schools, from study programs to support organizations. While designed with the new homeschooler in mind, this book is likely to serve as a comprehensive resource for veteran home educators, too.
The Excitement of Homeschooling
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home
by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer
$35.00, W.W. Norton (1999)
Parents considering home education should approach this book warily because reading it is likely to turn them into avid–even rabid–proponents of homeschooling.
When the lists of books, poems, and stories provided for each learning segment are scanned quickly, they make little impression. For example:
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped or Treasure Island
- Edward E. Hale, “The Man Without a Country”
- Jack London, The Call of the Wild
- Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel
- Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling
- e.e. cummings, collected poems
- Walter de la Mare, Poems 1919-1934
- Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons
But when a parent takes the time to reflect on each novel or poem title, the titles often have the power to conjure up the excitement experienced when the book was read for the first time. And that parent eventually is struck by the realization that homeschooling one’s child would provide a wonderful opportunity to re-read all these novels, poems, and plays.
Mother and daughter Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer have assembled a comprehensive handbook on how parents can prepare their child to read, write, calculate, think, and understand by providing the child with an academically rigorous classical education at home. The book lays out a suggested curriculum for 12 complete years of study, built on the three stages of the Trivium: the Grammar stage, from kindergarten to fourth grade; the Logic stage, from fifth to eighth grade; and the Rhetoric stage, from ninth to twelfth grade.
“In its constant demand that the student read and then analyze and write about what she’s read, the classical education trains the mind to gather, organize, and to use information,” write the authors. “And the student who knows how to learn–and has had practice in independent learning–can successfully do any job.”
The book also contains extensive resource lists, a detailed schedule, and a section dedicated to issues that always arise when homeschooling is discussed in public: socialization, record-keeping, testing, sports and athletics, and getting into college.