Living room learning: No missing the bus; Homeschooling making the grade
From left, Rolf Harding hands his son Max, 12, a homeschooling DVD to put in the computer while his wife Carol-Ann and daughter Amanda, 10, get ready to watch. The Harding children of Dover are two of more than 2,000 homeschooled students in Delaware. Delaware State News/Daniel Korup
By Jenny Maher, Delaware State News
DOWNSTATE – On a typical weekday afternoon, while most kids are sitting inside classrooms, Max and Amanda Harding, 12 and 10, of Dover, can often be found sitting on their living room sofa staring at the television set or a laptop screen.
But rest assured, they’re not watching mindless cartoons or playing video games.
Max and Amanda are two of more than 2,000 homeschooled students in Delaware.
They learn through educational DVDs and computer programs, as well as through more traditional avenues, like textbooks and workbooks.
“People think if you’re homeschooled that you’re relaxing all day, and that’s not the way it is,” said Carol-Ann Harding, Max and Amanda’s mother. “My kids work really hard, and I’m really proud of them.”
Mrs. Harding and her husband Rolf share teaching responsibilities at their homeschool, and they juggle those responsibilities with running their own home-based business.
They both gave up more profitable careers to homeschool their kids, and said they have no regrets about the decision.
Even before they started a family, the Hardings knew that they wanted to establish a homeschool someday.
They attended traditional schools when they were growing up and decided to offer their kids something different.
“We’re taking responsibility for our children and their education instead of throwing it in somebody else’s hands or the state’s hands, Mr. Harding said.
By homeschooling Max and Amanda, the Hardings said they’ve been able to offer them more individualized attention than could be provided in a typical classroom setting, and they have the luxury of repeating lessons that their kids struggle with.
“In school, if you fail a test, the teacher can’t go back over the whole curriculum for you,” Mr. Harding said. “But we can go back and go through the whole thing and find out what the problem is and take care of it.”
According to the Delaware Department of Education, there are 999 registered homeschools in the state with an enrollment of 2,484 students.
That’s a dramatic increase from a decade ago, when there were just 98 registered homeschools with an enrollment of 1,226 students.
“Home schooling has continued to rise not only in Delaware but across the U.S.,” DOE spokesman Ron Gough said.
He said all Delaware homeschools are required to register with DOE, but the department does not present them with curriculum guidelines or educational supplies.
There are two main types of homeschools in the state.
In a single-family homeschool like the Rolfs’, the parents teach their children at home and are independent from other homeschools.
And in a multi-family homeschool, parents also teach their children, usually at home, but they are part of an umbrella group that includes other homeschools.
Family Learning Academies Inc., based in Kent County, is a multi-family homeschool with approximately 100 families and 200 children.
Board member Stacy Lane, of Marydel, said the families teach their children independently, but they all join together for larger events held by the FLA, like spelling bees, science fairs and promotion and graduation ceremonies.
“It’s still parents teaching their kids in their homes, but we have just networked together,” she said.
Not confined to a desk
Mrs. Lane said she decided to homeschool her kids when her oldest son, Kyle, learned to read at the early age of four.
“I couldn’t see sending him to kindergarten when he was already reading,” she said.
Kyle, now in the sixth grade, had nothing but positive things to say when asked about his homeschooling experience.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I get to go places, and I’m not in a classroom all day long.”
Mrs. Lane said she likes to take her kids on nature walks and educational field trips to get them interested in the subjects they’re learning.
“We’ve really just fallen in love with homeschooling,” she said. “The world is our classroom. The kids aren’t confined to a desk.”
The Hardings echoed the sentiment.
Like the Lanes, they enjoy going on field trips and using real life experiences as a tool for teaching their kids.
“School doesn’t stop just because you walk outside of the house,” Mr. Harding said. “Just going to the store can be a monetary lesson.”
He’s noticed that his kids retain information well, because they’re interested in what they’re learning.
Mrs. Harding said that’s a lot different from her experience in a traditional school setting.
“For me, personally, when I was in school, I held onto things for six months or a year, but then I forgot everything I learned,” she said. “But for (Max and Amanda) school is a lot more fun and a lot more real.”
Although homeschooling has its pluses, there is a common worry that children who are homeschooled are not properly socialized.
Home-schooling-today.com – a Web site that explores the pros and cons of homeschooling – lists socialization as one of the biggest concerns facing potential home educators.
But Mrs. Lane thinks the socialization concern is much ado about nothing.
“That’s something we hear about all the time, and we laugh,” she said.
There are homeschooling support groups throughout the state that host get-togethers for homeschooled kids, and many homeschooled students are enrolled in community sports programs and other extracurricular activities, giving them opportunities to interact with other youths.
Max and Amanda, for example, participate in an English country dancing group for homeschooled students, and they regularly attend events, like skating parties, hosted by the homeschooling organization SHERD – Support for Home Educators and Resources in Dover.
They also go to community events with their parents, so that they are well socialized around adults, not just other kids.
“They learn to deal with a wide range of people,” Mr. Harding said, adding that he thinks they’re better socialized than they would be if they went to a traditional school.
Running a homeschool
Most home educators will admit that running a homeschool is a daunting task, but there are many groups in Delaware, like SHERD, that assist them in meeting their children’s educational and social needs.
By networking with other home educators, parents can learn what curriculums work best and where they can get teaching materials.
Mrs. Lane said she gets a lot of her teaching supplies at homeschool conferences, and the FLA also has a library in Dover that members can utilize.
Most homeschooled students participate in traditional studies, like math, English, science and history, as well as other studies of their parents’ choice.
Mr. Gough said homeschooled students are not required to pass state assessments.
And it’s up to their parents if they are tested at home or given grades.
Home educators also come up with their own school schedule, which Mr. Gough said could be more or less than the 180 days required of public school students.
Parents are required to submit an attendance report to DOE at the end of the school year.
DOE does not issue diplomas to homeschooled students, but most receive a diploma from their homeschool and some take part in commencement ceremonies.
Mr. Harding said he doesn’t expect his children to have any trouble getting into college with their homeschool diplomas, and said many colleges aggressively pursue homeschool students.
The Home School Legal Defense Association has been working to improve admission procedures for homeschool students at colleges across the country, and in 1998 it drafted federal legislation to place homeschool students on the same footing as traditional students regarding admissions and financial aid.
The legislation was included in the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998.
As homeschooling continues to grow in popularity across the state and the nation, the college and career opportunities presented to homeschooled students is expected to follow suit.
Mrs. Lane said she thinks homeschooling is becoming more commonplace because people have noticed how successful it’s been for other families.
Visit www.home-educate.com/DE/organizations.shtml to learn more about homeschooling and to connect with support groups throughout the state.
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Staff writer Jenny Maher can be reached at 741-8233 or firstname.lastname@example.org