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Home School: Considerations before the first class

Article by Karen Young Rokosz

Education – September 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

September has arrived and with it students everywhere begin once again that love/hate relationship with SCHOOL. For some, summer vacation has been a respite from the daily grind in school. It may have been filled with exciting vacation trips, swimming lessons, work, sporting events and unscheduled hours of time with nothing to do.

For some parents, however, this summer may have been a time for research and decision-making. They may have been in the process of deciding whether they want to continue using the public educational system or if they should begin home-schooling.

Today, many parents are dissatisfied with public education. Large class sizes mean less attention can be given to the differing abilities of individual students. The curriculum may not stress enough of the values parents deem basic, or may include topics such as sex education or atypical lifestyles which parents feel are better taught in the home.

In addition, home-schooling may provide an opportunity to reduce the undesirable influences and peer pressure that many children encounter.

Home-schooling can also offer an opportunity to chose a comprehensive curriculum that’s more relevant to the needs of the student. Although public education is trying to move away from the old-fashioned system, by using different methods and materials, it is often criticized for leaving the basics — such as phonics, spelling, and memorization of facts — behind.

Moreover, home-schooling offers an opportunity to bond more closely with the family. At home, time can be used more efficiently, and more can actually be accomplished in less time, since there are none of the interruptions and distractions found in the classrooms.

Finally, home instruction offers an unstructured day where activities can change in response to student interest and family participation.

But there are more things to consider before deciding to home-school. While a teaching degree isn’t necessary you must have the desire and commitment to carry out the instruction. State Law 22-33-104.5 outlines the definitions and guidelines for home-based education. There have been some wording changes in the law since then, but the basics remain the same. It requires 172 days of instruction averaging four instructional contact hours per day. The curriculum needs to “include but is not limited to, communication skills of reading, writing and speaking, mathematics, history, civics, literature, science, and regular courses of instruction in the constitution of the United States.” (Senate Bill No. 56)

A trip to the public library will help you find sources of text books, and curriculum plans that can be purchased. It may be a bit confusing to read through some of them, however, unless you have a good idea of what needs to be taught at different grade levels. But you can also find curriculum outlines that are helpful.

Perhaps the most important consideration is: who will do the instruction?

You do not need to be trained as a teacher or hold a teaching certificate. But you will need a desire on your part to provide quality instruction, a good working relationship with your children, and the time to devote to the process.

You may also use outside services to supplement your efforts, and home-school parent groups can provide support. (The group in Salida meets the first Thursday of the month.)

In addition to the requirements of time and curriculum, home-schooled students must be tested when grades 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 are reached. This is the state’s way of monitoring the quality of the education being achieved in the home setting. A standardized achievement test can be purchased and administered, or a qualified person can evaluate the child’s progress, and the results must be submitted to the local school district of residence.

If the results show a student ranks above the thirteenth percentile, the student remains exempt from the compulsory school attendance requirement. If the score is at or below the thirteenth percentile, the local school district will require the parents to place the child in a public, independent, or parochial school. Prior to this placement the child has the right to be tested with an alternative test selected from an approved state list. This process is explained in depth in Bill 94-004. Minimum records of attendance, test results, and immunization also need to be kept.

Many articles available on home-schooling also mention another important factor: learning styles. There are several different ways of categorizing learning styles. Some describe personality, perceptual, behavioral, or cognitive styles while others get very detailed including environmental factors such as light, temperature, and food. No matter what one you choose, learning styles need to be considered.

There is a saying in education “you teach the way you were taught”. This, however, is true ONLY if you actually learned that way. If a child’s learning style is different from the instructor’s, it can be a very frustrating situation for both of them. Some students learn best by doing, and require more hands-on materials. Others learn well by listening, or reading, or seeing. The differences abound, but there are formal and informal means used to discover learning styles.

Still, it should be understood that you can change a person’s style as easily as you can change a tiger’s stripes. And therefore patience is an indispensable quality required in home-schooling, especially if the child is very active.

In setting up your home-school you need to organize it as much as you can. Usually an established study area is needed, a place where distractions are minimal. One tool that you may want to consider buying, if you don’t already have one, is a good computer — especially one with a CD Rom. The newer models often come equipped with a multi-media encyclopedia which will enable the student access to information for research.

Moreover, the computer is also a valuable tool when it comes to writing. While students need to learn how to do cursive writing, the computer allows students to compose, revise and publish their writing. Students of all ages are capable of using the computer, and there are programs for other curriculum areas as well.

The advantages of home education are evident when one reviews why people consider it in the first place.

But sometimes the disadvantages aren’t as obvious. Perhaps the most significant one is that the parent often loses a special parent/child relationship when it turns into a teacher/child relationship. Nurturing is one of the key responsibilities of parents, and while teachers can be nurturing, sometimes they must be task masters who put learning first.

There is a developmental process that every child goes through. For example, not all children begin to walk at the same time. Unless there is a good understanding of where a child is in this process, adults can unwittingly cause that child frustration.

We CAN teach a three- or four-year-old to read, but all of the perceptual areas may not be well developed. For example, phonics is an important part of reading, but a child with an an auditory processing deficit (not a lack of hearing acuity) could have difficulty telling the difference between the sounds /t/ and /d/ or /b/ and /p/ which are formed in the same way in the mouth. Or printed b’s and d’s may be indistinguishable to a child who has not yet developed left/right body dominance. (Have you ever watched a young child try to do a jumping jack?)

Jim Trelease tells us that the single most important thing a parent can do for children is to read to them. And this should not stop after they learn to read for themselves. You are a model for them. From reading, children can develop comprehension skills, vocabulary, and a love for learning.

Some critics will say that children need to socialize with others their age. This may not be as big a deterrent as it was once thought to be. Most children are involved in activities outside of the home, and they often get together for trips and activities with other families. Children can also take part in the extracurricular or interscholastic activities in the public schools.

It is a big step to decide to home-school your child, but it can also be a very rewarding situation. Be certain to consider all of the facets seriously. Talk to others who have been successful in the process, and then make the best decision for your situation and your child.

Karen Young Rokosz, BS, MS, is completing her doctorate at the University of South Florida. She has been an elementary and university educator for 32 years and operates Young Educational Services in Salida, offering testing and tutoring for traditional students and curriculum services for home schooling.