Homeschooling: Is It Right For Your Family?
Source: Baltimore Times
May 20, 2005
Baltimore, MD -- According to the Maryland State Department of Education the number of families who homeschool their children increases each year. For parents who are dissatisfied with their child's progress in a traditional classroom, homeschooling can be an attractive alternative. However, there are many things to consider before making the decision to assume full responsibility for educating your child. This week Education Matters concludes its series of articles on the homeschooling experiences of Robin Winternitz. Winternitz is the mother of twin sons and has successfully homeschooled Jacob and Taylor for four years.
“Although I made the decision to homeschool Jacob and Taylor, at the end of the school year I spent the first half of the summer talking with educators, friends, family members and other homeschooling moms,” says Winternitz. I wanted to be certain that homeschooling was right for our family. Satisfied this was the way to go, it was now time to begin.
To start the process, I had to sign a form at my local school stating my intention to instruct my children at home. The school then notified the Maryland State Department of Education. [This intent form must be completed or at least verified for the continuation of the home instruction before the beginning of each school year.] Next, you should receive a packet with an ASSURANCE OF CONSENT form and the current state regulations. You are ONLY required to sign and date the Assurance of Consent form and return that back to your local school board. This is the only form to be signed and should be done at least 15 days before starting homeschooling. Please, do not set precedents by complying with requests that exceed the regulations.
The law requires that the homeschool instruction be regular, thorough, and in the subjects that would be taught to students in the public school at the same age. It should also be of sufficient duration to implement the program in the subjects of English, math, science, social studies, art, music, health, and physical education. The law further states that a portfolio must be kept of instructional materials and you are required to provide proof that the instruction is actually taking place. There must also be a review at the conclusion of each semester by the local school system. Usually, a pupil personnel worker conducts this review, which can take place at the school or in some school districts, at the student's home.
Maryland has three teaching options for homeschooling. They are clearly spelled out in the state regulations. One option is to do your own thing as I did. After signing the required form, we proceeded to put The Winternitz Family School in order. I established our curriculum, hours, and “school rules.” I was required to set up two visits [one at the end of each semester] with my assigned pupil personnel worker and “show evidence of learning.” This meant that I needed to have a portfolio of their work. My children and I would share with our “advisor” what we had done for the semester. It was not a grading or evaluation format, just a follow up to see if my children were actually being educated. It was a surprisingly painless procedure.
To do a little self-monitoring for our instruction, I reviewed the expected outcomes or objectives of my son's current grade as well as a grade above and below. I kept a log of all our classroom activities. Jacob and Taylor had notebooks or pocket folders for each subject. I used a lot of old schoolbooks, which I had accumulated over the years from closing schools, libraries and bookstores, as well as yard sales. To further supplement our teaching materials, I suggested the boys be given science kits, bookstore gift cards and educational toys for holiday and birthday gifts.
Although I planned ahead of time, it was serendipity that taught us the most. We all learned from the world around us. I was teaching my children the way I had envisioned learning to be when I was earning my degree in education. I sincerely believe children should be excited about learning and I think it can be a very rewarding experience for everyone. The sparkle was coming back. My boys wanted to know how to build a habitat for the gray tree frogs we found on our porch, they wanted to know how to write in cursive, and they even wanted to know how to multiply and divide multi-digit numbers. Our mornings were filled with academics. In the afternoon, we had gymnastics, art and music. We often took field trips to nature centers and museums and participated in outside classes for homeschoolers. Once we established our daily routine I even had time to cook, clean, do the laundry, and had more time to spend with my husband. For our family, homeschooling was a good alternative.
However, the truest test of success in our homeschooling experience was the interaction of my children with their peers. They were active with the scouts, which often met in my home. I must say I was a bit nervous when eavesdropping on their first conversation about school. Their peers were telling Jacob and Taylor what they were missing in school. Nevertheless, my boys responded by saying how much they enjoyed being homeschooled. I am pleased to report that before the end of that first semester all of the other scouts were begging their moms to homeschool them or to have me homeschool them. From what I could tell, there seemed to be no stigma to being homeschooled. They continued to interact with other children in scouts, church, and in the neighborhood. They were still invited to birthday parties and actually seemed to have a broader circle of friends than before.
Another homeschooling option is to purchase an approved correspondence school curriculum such as the Home Study International and the Calvert School. Both programs require a fee per student, roughly less than $800. These programs will provide you with a curriculum or at least assistance with a curriculum and a teacher advisor to assist you with homeschooling. This option also makes you exempt from meeting with your local school system for reviews.
The third option for homeschooling is a satellite school. Also known as an “umbrella” school, they are churches or religious groups that offer support and services to homeschooling families. Many of them offer field trip information with reduced fees, classes, and social gatherings. Their fees for classes and services range from $250 to $1000 per family. Being affiliated with an umbrella school also exempts you from public school reviews.