Homeschooling is becoming more mainstream.
Back-to-school time for Heidi Pair of Milford means enrolling her two children in online classes, scheduling 4-H meetings, karate classes and Lego League, picking out math curricula and planning field trips. Pair, 40, is a homeschooler — one of an estimated 2.3 million in the U.S., a number that has doubled during the last 10 years, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.
With a sea of available resources and a ballooning network of supporters, homeschooling is becoming more mainstream.
“A lot of people will say to me, ‘Wow, your kids seem so socialized!’ ” said Pair, who attended public schools and graduated from Michigan State University. “Sure,” she thinks. “And they’re smart, too.”
Pair’s daughter, Jordyn, 13, is on track to finish three credits of high school science by spring. Jordyn and her brother, Carter, 11, are learning Latin and they are involved in activities with other children almost every day.
“I had a lot of misconceptions of homeschooling,” said Pair, whose children have never attended formal school. “I had this vision of mom sitting down with her children for 6-7 hours a day at the kitchen table. The more research I did, the more I thought how silly … that is.”
No place like home for school
Shirley Brown of Garden City is an accidental homeschooler.
She has gone from homeschooling one child part time to teaching Jay, 16, Shawna, 12, and Justin, 14, all of their courses at home. It was not a foreseen journey.
Her oldest son “was advanced in math in fifth grade but having trouble,” Brown said. “Things weren’t being properly explained. We were frustrated. … They just don’t have enough time to give to the students in schools. There are so many students in the school and only one teacher.”
Brown is part of a growing number of parents who have turned to homeschooling after more traditional education paths have presented challenges. “Our research shows that from about a decade ago until now, homeschooling has roughly doubled,” said Brian Ray, president of the nonprofit National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Ore.
Families turn to homeschooling for diverse reasons, Ray said.
“They want customized education, they want more time together, they want strong family ties and they want guided social interactions. Many also see it as their job to pass on social values, not the schools,” said Ray, who estimated that the number of homeschooled children is growing 7% annually.
The increase in homeschooled students, has given rise to two major things: more educational resources for homeschoolers and more support for their parents.
Several publishers, museums, parks and communities are capitalizing on the need for homeschooling curricula and programs. And parent-formed support groups that provide social interaction and opportunities for shared learning for homeschooled children are sprouting up in diverse communities.
Heidi Pair of Milford uses many different curricula for her two children, Jordyn, 13, and Carter, 11. She enrolled them in online classes conducted through chat rooms, e-mail and sometimes through a virtual, video classroom with homeschooled kids from across the country.
“The online is great because you don’t have to worry about a younger student being with an older student. They just work at their level, if you get a teacher who’s willing,” Pair said.
Pair leads a support/enrichment group for 70 families in the Milford area called Schoolers at Home, Achievement, Recreation and Encouragement, which brings in teachers to lead classes on various subjects. They use a room at a church as a classroom.
“I don’t want her to go to college and mom has been her only teacher,” Pair said.
Colleges are seeing a rising number of homeschoolers, too.
Jim Cotter, director of admissions at Michigan State University, processes the applications from homeschooled students. It’s a small pool — for 2009-10, there were 32 applications from students who had been homeschooled out of nearly 28,000. But 25 years ago, Cotter said MSU had only one or two applications a year from homeschoolers.
The homeschooled students that Cotter said he sees these days “tend to be very accomplished academically.”
Master the material
A report in the summer 2010 edition of the Journal of College Admission showed that homeschooled students had higher ACT scores, GPAs and graduation rates when compared with traditionally educated peers.
Cotter said that it might be because of the homeschooling mastery philosophy — with time and autonomy, students can keep at a subject or topic until they fully grasp it.
Although most of the past homeschool applicants have typically used a religious curriculum, Cotter said, the recent applicant pool of homeschoolers is split between religious and secular backgrounds.
“Many of these families don’t begin homeschooling for religious reasons,” said Kerry Jones, creator of secularhomeschool.com, a support site run out of Hendersonville, N.C. “So they can sometimes feel doubly overwhelmed by not only their new path, but the fact that they have a difficult time finding support that isn’t faith-based.”
Jones said many of her registrants are accidental homeschoolers, like Brown of Garden City, which Jones defines as families who never planned on it until a child’s health problem, a poor fit with a teacher or a lack of special learning resources led them to try it.
There are more than 200 secular groups listed on her site, and metro Detroit has at least one secular support group in each county.
Interest in homeschooling is increasing, but some parents feel that there is still a big misconception about how their kids are socialized.
Brown said her three children still see their old school friends in the neighborhood and they’re active in their church.
“We don’t want them to be like, ‘We don’t know how to talk to people,’ ” she said. “They’re complete chatterboxes. If you know how to balance it, you can get the best of both worlds.”
Pair said her kids are constantly around other children of all ages, from different backgrounds. They also are often out taking field trips and classes in the community.
“Teachers often work to create activities that teach kids about life,” Pair said. “Homeschoolers do the same — it is just easier for us because our kids are already in the real world observing adults in real-life situations. It is fairly easy to add in classroom experiences and test deadlines.”