Stay-Home Students

Workshops and networks help parents decide whether to teach their children at home

As local students gear up to go back to school, a growing number won’t make it past their front doors. Instead, they will receive their education right at home.

Homeschooling is the education of children under their parents’ general care and replaces full-time attendance in a public classroom. The National Home Education Research Institute notes it might be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States — currently numbering about 2 million home-educated students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, homeschooling has grown 7 percent per year for each of the past 10 years.

Over the summer, workshops were offered on the South Side — called “Taking Back Our Children’s Education” — for parents interested in learning how to take charge of their children’s education and how homeschooling could be manageable and affordable. The series ended in June, but the group will continue to meet monthly to sustain momentum and foster community.

Julia Cleghorn, left, longtime homeschooling parent, listens as Marcelle Haddix, one of the organizers of the Taking Back Our Children's Education summer workshop series, introduces her before she speaks to mothers about the homeschooling lifestyle May 22, 2010 at the Dunbar Community Center.

During the second workshop in the series, homeschooling parent Julia Cleghorn spoke about how she has made homeschooling work for her. For more than 20 years, she has homeschooled her four boys — none ever stepping into a typical classroom.

She chose homeschooling because she could not imagine giving her firstborn to a stranger to be educated. Cleghorn also points to research findings that boys pick up reading at a later age, but she notes that “society assesses them at a much earlier age.”

She shared a story that affected her. A female friend who has a twin brother told Cleghorn how both started school at the same time, but she took to reading while he had a much harder time picking it up.

“He fell way behind and was told he was slow,” her friend told her, noting that this poor start to school affected him throughout his entire life.
According to the National Assessment of Education Progress reading comprehension scores, females outperform males every year in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades.

“My sons did not begin to read until they were eight or nine,” Cleghorn said. “In school, they would be labeled slow and developmentally behind, but there are no labels when kids are homeschooled.”

By the time her sons became interested in reading, their skill level jumped quickly and the boys began to enjoy reading books.

“It’s about constructing an environment of learning,” she explained during the workshop. “Homeschooling is a lifestyle. It is not about feeding facts of useless information and then have them regurgitate it back out for a test. It is about creating lifelong learners who can learn to educate themselves.”

Barb Morrissey, head of LEAH, which stands for Loving Education at Home, echoed the idea that homeschooling is a lifestyle. “There is no typical homeschooling day, because as a parent you are free to create your own form of school in any way.”

Cleghorn agrees. “You’re not bringing the public school into your house. You don’t have to have your kids sit at a desk.”

A homeschool day can vary, but there is a structure Cleghorn follows.

Her sons — the oldest will begin law school at Syracuse University in the fall, and the youngest will start 10th grade — would wake each day at 6 a.m., eat breakfast, work at the farm next door, return to help with chores and then begin with their subjects by 8:30 a.m.

Cleghorn says sometimes they would work at a desk. “But if we were going to do reading, they would sit in the living room.”

After curriculum, her sons would have lunch and then participate in activities, such as sports. In the evening, while Cleghorn made dinner, the boys would review work or do math problems at the kitchen table.

Morrissey says some families follow the school year, but she homeschools year round. For her six children, she follows a schedule of three weeks of instruction and then a week off, when her children focus on projects and take a break. She notes that summers are much less structured. During the fall and spring, her children begin with independent work. In the afternoon, they do review work, make corrections and take lessons in music or sports.

As for cost, it depends on what a parent wants to do.

“The Internet is a great resource that can help parents explore curriculum before purchasing,” Morrissey said. “This can help you be thrifty. Also some parents rely on the public library to use the computer.”

Cleghorn said one way her sons saved money before starting college was to “CLEP out of courses.” CLEP — The College-Level Examination Program — allows students to save time and money and receive college credit. A CLEP exam cost $77, a fraction of the tuition and fees for the corresponding course at a community college or university.

And both agree having a strong support system is key. There are local co-ops of mothers, opportunities to play sports and homeschooling groups such as LEAH that hold monthly meetings.

“These are great outlets for socialization,” Cleghorn said. “The myth is that homeschooled kids have no friends, but my children have many. Also, I know the parents of their friends, I know their values and I know the kids and have seen them grow up. Within schools, you cannot know who is having an influence on your child.”

Such networks are helpful not only for students, but also for parents. The Syracuse LEAH group has more than 90 members, and the group holds monthly meetings to provide tips and topics that offer support for parents.

LEAH’s website offers resources for parents to get started. A monthly e-newsletter provides a list of upcoming events, tutors, lesson instructors and sports. The group provides field trips for its members and parents who attend meetings share ideas and strategies.

Facebook and other sites are another way local homeschooling parents stay in touch, says SU professor Marcelle Haddix, who helped organize this summer’s workshops and who will be homeschooling her own son this year.

“Parents can’t always find the time to make a meeting,” Haddix said, “but they can keep in constant contact online and pass along suggestions and advice to each other.”