March 12, 2020

Coronavirus Led Me to Homeschooling; Now What?

On March 11, 2020, coronavirus panic in the U.S. ramped up significantly - and just a day later, it was in full overdrive. As I write on the evening of March 12, there's no telling how long the hysteria will last or what its long-term ramifications will be. But what is undeniable is that - warranted or not - people are being forced to change many aspects of their normal lifestyles.

Among parents with school-aged children, no small number is dealing with the indefinite closure of their kids' schools. And "social distancing" recommendations - again, whether warranted or not - mean those children (and their parents) must remain largely at home. Some closed schools are activating online learning platforms, ostensibly requiring (though probably without long-term enforcement capabilities) that students log on and complete schoolwork virtually. However, not all schools have such capabilities - and many students do not have access to compatible devices in their homes even if schools attempt to mandate "attendance."

In response to this situation, it's entirely possible that a noticeably large number of parents may opt to entirely abandon institutional schools - public and private - and turn, instead, to home-based education, particularly private, independent homeschooling. At the risk of sounding like an "ambulance chaser," I must admit - as a sold-out homeschooler - that I see a possible increase in homeschooling families as a very positive side effect of an admittedly stressful, unfortunate turn of events. After all, parents choosing to take direct, personal responsibility for their kids' education is always a good thing, even if the impetus for doing so is something we wish would not have happened. And I hope that many parents who currently intend to homeschool only until this crisis abates will realize the beauty and benefits of home learning and continue long after school doors reopen.

I am ready to help any in my sphere of influence as they get going; contact me HERE if interested. And I call on other homeschoolers to likewise come alongside any "newbies" they might meet, in person or online.

If you are a coronavirus-driven homeschooler, let me first acknowledge that I know you're probably scared as all get-out. You may have been mulling over homeschooling before or it may never have crossed your mind. But now here you are. Your kids are home and you feel compelled to "do something" educational with them, hoping to avoid "screwing them up" in the process.

First, let me assure you that you will not hurt them. Any parent who chooses to become intentional about facilitating his or her kids' learning is perfectly equipped to do well for one simple but very powerful, double-pronged reason: you know your kids better than anyone else on the planet (yes, you do!), and you love them more than any other person ever will. That knowledge and love will motivate you to do your homework as you jump into homeschooling. And, spurred on by love, you will discover your kids' learning strengths and weaknesses, find good resources, and put in the necessary time and effort. Your homeschool "qualification" is your child's birth certificate!

Assuming you believe me, I know you're still wondering about the nuts and bolts of getting started. In fact, shelves and shelves of books have been written on the question of "how to homeschool." But you don't have time to find and read them; your kids are home now, and you've decided to jump on the homeschool bandwagon, ready or not. So let me offer a just a few "ground zero" tips to consider right now:

  1. Understand your state's homeschool law. I sincerely hope that no bureaucrats will come after well-meaning parents who decide to homeschool on the COVID-19 fly and inadvertently forget to cross some legal t or dot an i - but we can't count on them to exhibit grace and compassion even in crisis. So you need to follow your state's homeschool law from the beginning. If you do an internet search for your state's law, you'll find myriad sources - but some are more reliable than others, and it's impossible to tell at first glance which are reputable. So I recommend reaching out to an experienced homeschooler in your area - look for local homeschool groups on Facebook - to get you headed in the right direction. If you're in Wisconsin, ask me; I've even detailed various elements of the Wisconsin homeschool law HERE;
  2. I recommend that new homeschoolers take a period of time to "deschool," which I believe is critically important. However, deschooling often involves getting out and about in the community - to rebuild family relationships, give children (and parents!) time to decompress from school-style thinking, and enable a parent to begin seeing his/her kids as learners - and, sadly, the virus scare may preclude much of that for a time. But don't be discouraged. Partake in the wonderful, valuable deschooling activities that are currently possible, and save outside-the-home things for later. Deschooling activities are all educational - they can be easily categorized into school-style "subject areas" if you feel so compelled - so don't feel one ounce of guilt for spending time on them;
  3. When you feel ready to find curricula, realize that there's a plethora of options available to you - in all subject areas, for all learning styles, for kids of all ages, from multiple religious/worldview perspectives, at a wide variety of price points. If you're really interested in seeing all the possibilities, take a look at The Homeschool Resource Roadmap charts HERE ...or - if you want to avoid all connection to the common core standards - HERE. You'll be amazed - and perhaps overwhelmed - by all the options from which you have to choose...but if you're game for digging into the links, you can find something to meet the needs of each of your children;
  4. I don't pretend to know what resources are best for every child - remember that you alone are the expert on your kids - but I know that the prospect of pouring over the long Roadmap lists - or even my shorter lists of personal recommendations - can be very daunting for new homeschoolers (and for many veterans as well). So I'd like to suggest just a few (reasonably-priced, easy-to-use) basic options to consider trying for the next few months as you get your feet wet. Though you may not end up using these for the long term (homeschoolers often switch around several times in their first few years as they hone in on their kids' real needs and usually end up becoming "eclectic" - i.e., picking and choosing from different companies for different "subject areas" - along the way), all are solid and thorough such that you can feel secure in giving them a shot:

    Christian Light Education
    Fun-Schooling (The Thinking Tree)
    - Gather Round Homeschool
    Homeschool Share
    Master Books
    Monarch (Alpha-Omega Publications)
    Queen Homeschool Supplies
    - Robinson Self-Teaching Curriculum, The
    - Under the Home
    - Weaver (Alpha-Omega Publications)

Above all else, give yourself - and your children - grace. As with any new endeavor, beginning to homeschool means that you will face an inevitable learning curve and experience some bumps and obstacles along the way. Depending on your situation, the journey may be pretty rough at times. But the rewards - personal autonomy for yourself and your kids, freedom from the stress that accompanies institutional school schedules, deepened family relationships, the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing you've taken direct responsibility for your kids' academic learning - make the difficulties worth it in the end. The coronavirus situation is certainly not something to celebrate...but we can and should acknowledge and embrace good things (like more families choosing to homeschool) that sprout from it.

January 31, 2020

My Feelings about National School Choice Week: It's Complicated

This past week was designated as National School Choice Week (NSCW), an event held annually in January since 2011. According to the NSCW website, the sponsoring organization "is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical, independent public awareness effort" that is "not associated with any legislative lobbying or advocacy." It "recognizes all K-12 options, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling," and encourages supporters to hold local school choice celebrations to "raise public awareness of the different K-12 education options available to children and families while also spotlighting the benefits of school choice." The NSCW foundation reports that more than 40,000 distinct local celebrations occurred in 2019.

As an unabashed advocate of homeschooling, people have regularly asked me how I celebrate NSCW, assuming that I've been on board with the initiative since its advent. I did order a supply kit one year, though I didn't end up planning an event. The truth is that my honest answer regarding my feelings about NSCW is, "It's complicated."

On the one hand, I truly appreciate the NSCW effort that highlights a reality too few parents understand: government-sponsored, state schooling (i.e., public school) is far from the only viable educational option in this country. Non-government options actually have a long history of success - in particular, America was founded almost exclusively by homeschoolers of one sort or another - but the powerful, vociferous public school lobby has clung to its bully pulpit since the early 20th century, doing everything it can to marginalize every other option. As a result, many parents today still don't realize they have choices - but efforts such as NSCW help to dispel that myth.

I also appreciate NSCW's position of trusting "parents to make the best choices for their individual children." Indeed, I am a strong proponent of parental rights, holding unwaveringly to the view that no one other than a child's parents have a legitimate right to an opinion about how that child is educated. Loving extended family members (and, perhaps, a few very close friends) might - with a parent's express permission - offer their thoughts and ideas. But the ultimate authority for making decisions about a child's educational endeavors is in the hands of his/her parents (with the understanding - from my worldview perspective - that parents will answer to God for the choices they make). If friends and family disagree with a parent's choice, they must submit to the will of the parent and keep their mouths shut going forward. And it should go without saying that - absent a proven case of extreme neglect that results in a loss of custody - governmental bureaucrats have absolutely no right to an opinion.

Because of this, I really do agree that every parent is free to choose any educational path for his/her children - even when another parent's choice would never be my own. However, I'm uncomfortable giving full-throated support to NSCW since it does include government school options (especially traditional public schools, but also public charter schools and public magnet schools) among those it promotes. In my view, state-sponsored schooling - especially traditional public school - already has plenty of support by virtue of having forcibly muscled out most other options through the first three-quarters of the 20th century. It doesn't need anyone else's voice. And, in fact, it's not really a choice due to compulsory school attendance laws (i.e., unless a parent chooses another option, attending state-sponsored school is mandatory, not a choice). So efforts to promote choice should emphasize options that are not taxpayer-supported - or, at the very least, those beyond the conventional public schools - rather than giving equal weight to all.

My second concern rests in the fact that - though the NSCW itself asserts that it is "not associated with any legislative lobbying or advocacy" - discussions of school choice almost always morph into endorsement in one way or another of vouchers - i.e., an initiative promoting the idea that private schools and homeschooling parents should be given taxpayer funds to pay for non-public school options. Of course, government school advocates vehemently oppose vouchers, claiming that voucher programs (even those going to charter or magnet public schools) "steal" money from (traditional) public schools. That argument is nothing but a a red herring; in fact, it's the public school scheme as a whole which does the stealing. But I do know that the aphorism "he who pays gets the say" is true. Thus, if government entities "give" private schools and homeschooling parents "government money" (i.e., money that comes from other taxpayers), the government will have a legitimate right to regulate the use of those funds. In other words, if private educational endeavors accept voucher money, bureaucrats can (and will) begin to pass rules about how the money can be spent - i.e., what can and cannot be taught. Thus, the real problem with voucher money is that it is a governmental Trojan Horse, inevitably leading to a loss of academic freedom - a narrowing of real choice - for homeschoolers and private schools.

That said, I do understand why some who choose private schools and some homeschoolers find the idea of vouchers appealing. These good folks look at all the state and federal aid given to public schools (of all iterations), knowing that they were mandated to contribute (via taxation) to the funding despite their own kids not attending public schools and regardless of the fact that they often have moral objections to the content and/or approaches used in those schools. They pay on top of that to cover private school tuition or homeschooling expenses, so the idea of vouchers - "getting some of my money back" - sounds good. And they try to justify their position by asserting (all evidence about the nature of government to the contrary) that bureaucrats "would never" add regulation in exchange for the money.

The answer to the money problem is not, however, government "giving" money to parents or private schools. Instead, government shouldn't be taking our money to begin with, and it's time that advocates for non-public school options begin lobbying for a new paradigm. Rather than government taking money from us to "support public schools" and then "giving" some of it back (with strings) in the form of vouchers, it would be better if those who do not use public schools (i.e., any schooling option supported by taxpayer dollars) were simply exempted from paying school taxes all together (and this should apply as well to those who have no children). We could then use what would have gone to support government schools to cover our own children's educational expenses - without any regulation since government would never have touched the money.

The only people who should be mandated to pay into the school system are those who use it, with others contributing voluntarily if they so choose. This idea will surely make public school advocates' heads explode. They will scream that public schools will never have enough money if school taxes don't apply to everyone - but they already scream about not having enough now. The fact is that the way the factory school system operates means there will never be enough money in the eyes of its supporters. So we can't worry about that. What we need is justice - i.e., the ability of those who do not use and do not agree with state-sponsored schooling to opt out of paying for it.

My concern about open-ended school choice initiatives is that most people still aren't thinking outside the box like that. The furtherest some will go is talk of vouchers rather than true freedom - and I am too much of a realist about the nature of government to ever support that.

Hence the reasons my feelings about NSCW are complicated. I support parental rights even for those who choose differently for their kids than I ever would...and even though I urge anyone who asks to put private, independent home education at the top of the list. But I don't think public (i.e., compulsory) school really needs a seat at the choice table. I absolutely support the proliferation of options...but I absolutely oppose voucher schemes of all stripes and don't ever want my support of the former seen as endorsement of the latter.

I may at some point decide to host a NSCW event. I was watching a New York-based morning show this week and noticed a very large contingent of kids and adults hugging the outdoor rope line and holding signs promoting "National Catholic Schools Week." Clearly, they were using NSCW to celebrate their particular choice - i.e., for Catholic schools. So if I do hold my own event, it would geared specifically to promote private homeschooling - not all choice in general - in order to encourage those interested in learning more about what that means, and I'd be sure to explain my caveats to the larger initiative.

That said, I do encourage all parents to fully investigate all the options - to not default to traditional public school (or public school in general) just because it's the biggest and loudest kid on the block. Even though compulsory school attendance laws are abominable - that's a topic for another post - it is a parent's responsibility to see that his/her children are educated, not according to current state-school norms but, rather, in keeping with what the parent knows to be best for the children's ultimate good and long-term well-being. Whatever you choose, be absolutely sure - without compromise for convenience - that it comports with your parental convictions and values.

January 23, 2020

A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool: Limbo Land Version

Since she started, I've followed the Day in the Life posts that Jamie at Simple Homeschool compiles around this time of year; it's been fun to see the wide variety of ways in which even a small sampling of homeschool parents organize their children's home learning endeavors. And - via my former blog - I even wrote posts for the topic a couple of times and shared them on Jamie's link-up.

As I've read through this year's entries, it has, of course, struck me - as it has repeatedly since last summer - that this year is my last opportunity to chime in on a day in the life of our homeschool. The girls will graduate in June, and that will be that. I fully intend to stay engaged with the homeschooling community - locally and beyond - in several different ways. But after June 6, I won't be directly facilitating my children's learning activities anymore.

In fact, this "semester" is a time of transition for us.

You see, the girls wrapped up most of their formal academic studies in December - by design, to avoid last-minute stress in the weeks leading up to graduation - so a day in our lives right now is different than what has been the norm for the last few years. As a result, we all feel as if we're in a sort of limbo, hovering between the comfortable routines of the past and the new (exciting and somewhat scary) adventures of the future. Some days one or more of us wishes we could go back; other days, we anticipate the plans God has laid out before the girls so much that we wish we were already there.

Even though we could have arranged our learning environment any way we'd pleased, the girls had agreed throughout their high school years that they'd prefer to wake up somewhat early in order to complete their formal bookwork by early afternoon; this was a stretch for my night-owl daughter but she made it work. Thus, we'd start our days around 9:00AM with "morning time" - a group gathering during which we'd talk through the day's overall schedule, catch each other up on various thoughts and interactions with others that we'd had since the previous morning, drift off onto tangents related to current events and/or theology, and (eventually) wind our way back to a brief time of prayer. We'd wrap up by 10:00 or 10:30, after which the girls would each load up their bookwork and customized learning logs and retire to their rooms to address their individual studies. I remained available to help as needed - usually on math corrections or part of the writing process we employed for language arts and history - and kept myself busy with other endeavors when I wasn't needed. By 1:00PM, we set aside the bookwork and had lunch. And then at various times over the past few years, afternoons and evenings have included time for music lessons, dance practice, choir and musical rehearsals, art class, teen group activities, and (eventually) paid jobs, in addition to personal endeavors like sewing, knitting, crafting, writing, reading for fun, and (yes) watching some "twaddle" on TV.

In Limbo Land, though, things are a bit different.

For one thing, our schedules have diverged. My early bird would now like to complete her bookwork as soon as possible each day, and she's in the midst of changing jobs (setting her overall daily schedule in flux) and growing a relationship with the young man that God has brought into her life. My late-riser is relishing the fact that having limited bookwork affords her an opportunity to sleep in most days. Thus, Early Bird is often done with all of her academics before Night Owl has even had breakfast, and "morning time" has been on hiatus for the past couple of weeks, likely to return only intermittently over the next few months. And I've relaunched an old routine of heading to the gym right after I wake up, which has changed how my own morning routine proceeds.

Secondly, the girls' remaining bookwork now only takes about two hours a day, and sometimes not even that. They're both taking the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course as a sort of capstone "senior seminar," and we've determined that they can easily complete each week's work by devoting about an hour to it each day, Monday through Friday. But I've also decided to let them monitor their own progress, with the understanding that they may need to complete some assignments over the weekend if they choose to spend less time on weekdays; as long as they're both ready for each Monday night live class session, I'm letting them prepare as each sees fit.  Beyond that, Early Bird spends some time each day on personal finance, reader's workshop, Spanish, and piano, and likes to work out most days as well (contributing to her credits in "personal fitness"). Night Owl also does personal finance, reader's workshop, and piano each day and sometimes works out. And once a week or so, a new video launches on the app we use for world geography; the girls watch for new posts and view them as soon as possible after they're published. I help with personal finance and some of the Perspectives work - but that's it.

Beyond that, the girls do spend their free time in ways similar to before. It's just that they sometimes have more of it, and it's a bit more disjointed than it used to be.

But we also have some new endeavors to tackle over the next few months - planning a graduation party, getting senior pictures, contributing to preparations for both the homeschool spring formal and graduation ceremony, creating personal displays for the ceremony, sending out invitations for the ceremony and the party, finalizing transcripts, creating diplomas, and completing registration at each of the girl's chosen post-secondary institutions, to name the obvious. Oh, and I need to get caught up on the girls' scrapbooks so that I'm totally up-to-date by graduation on June 6.

All of this contributes to a type of new normal compared to how we've managed our days over the past several years. But this new normal is weird because it's destined to be very short-lived, lasting only until the beginning of June, when things will change yet again. And then, of course, we won't ever return to what has become business-as-usual. Instead, we'll move on to a whole new phase of life, with all its unknowns and promise.

There's a bit of parenting wisdom that I've purposed to hold onto since the beginning: Sometimes the days are long, but remember that the years are very (very) short. The years have, indeed, felt exceedingly short - I cannot believe I'm already in my last "semester" as an "official" homeschool mom - and I know these last couple of months will race by. I have completely mixed emotions about that - so happy for and proud of my girls as they launch into some very exciting endeavors...but still (and probably always) wishing for more time with them as children. And I won't ever apologize for that desire.

But who knows. Maybe at this time next year, I'll write a post about a day in the life of a newly "retired" homeschooler!

November 21, 2019

A Family Road-Tripping Tool

Even though The Homeschool Resource Roadmap is completely free and independent - so I'm not beholden to paying customers, advertisers, or share holders - I regularly consider ways to improve the site's appeal and functionality...just because I want to help my fellow home educators as much as possible. Originally, that meant aiming to list the common core stance for every resource I know homeschoolers use and/or that markets to us. Then I purposed to create detailed charts showing other important information about each provider and also added a section with additional helpful links.

Within that section, I've been working for many months on something pretty special: extensive lists of field trip and roadschooling venues. The lists link to dozens of educational destinations in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia, as well as every Canadian province, and also a few international opportunities. They include a wide variety of venues, including art galleries, children's museums, factory tours, farms and orchards, historical museums and sites, national and state parks, nature preserves, science museums, zoos, etc. These lists - which I compiled based on personal knowledge, my interaction with other home educators, and reference to the Homeschool Buyers Co-op resource pages - are thorough but not exhaustive; I know I'll become aware of and add other venues over time.

The lists can, of course, be used by homeschoolers when planning field trips of one sort or another. Additionally, they can be referenced by home educators who are roadschooling, either short- or long-term. And they're a beneficial tool for all parents - homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike - as a guide for planning family outings and vacations. As I visited all the websites, I couldn't help but think of the many wonderful, enriching experiences kids and their parents can have by choosing to visit some of the different options on the lists.

Click below to begin exploring the possibilities, and feel free to share this post or that link far and wide. And if you know of venues I can add, leave the site names and URLs (website links) in a comment.

Photo Credit: mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

October 9, 2019

A Letter to Teen Girls

One of my daughters, Rachel, loves to write and maintains two separate blogs. My other daughter, Abbie, has a lot to say, but doing so in writing is not her default. She dutifully completes the writing tasks I assign and does a good job with them but isn't generally passionate about written composition. Recently, though, she's had enough interest in a few particular topics to delve more intently into the writing process, and her latest narrative essay is something about which she feels so strongly that she wanted to share it. Thus, it's my privilege and joy to hand over this space to my precious Abbie today.


Dear tween, teen, and young adult girls currently struggling to find who you are and what you stand for:

This is a letter written to you in love from a fellow girl who has had her ups and downs throughout her tween and early teen years. At the time of this writing, I am seventeen and a soon-to-be high school graduate. Hopefully knowing where I am in my own life will put your mind at ease, as I am not far removed from the stress of being a teenager and I can truly empathize and understand your situations. I will be including my testimony also, so you can see my background. But, before I delve into what I really want to say to you, there are a few things I assume are true about you, your current state of mind and your situation; if one or more of these rings true to you, then I urge you to keep reading.

Number one: You are a girl between the ages of thirteen and twenty. Number two: You feel a disconnect with the world around you and don’t know how to reconnect. Number three: You have a generally negative outlook on life and are disinterested in most everything. And number four: There is no one around that you feel would understand your emotions and problems, so you bottle up everything. These are my assumptions because I have gone through these things and I can only speak from my own experience, which I suppose I should include.

I was raised in a Christian home, my parents were and still are happily married, I have one sister who doubles as my best friend, and I have been homeschooled for my entire life. I was a pretty normal kid up to the age of 13, when I “finally” became a teenager, a far off goal that I was all too happy to have finally reached. It was around this time that I started to express myself through my fashion, which at the time consisted of everything bright, glittery, or patterned. Around this time, I also started to get involved with teen drama. Many of the girls I hung out with had a generally snarky attitude towards parents and/or other young girls who, for one reason or another, “weren’t good enough” to be in the popular circle. These were the people who most molded my thoughts at the time and I became annoyed and distant with my own family, believing that everything they said or believed was wrong, simply because they were my family.

This phase lasted until I was about fourteen and then I moved into what my family and I now call the “goth phase.” After having a falling out with a few friends, I remember being very sad and in my own head about it for maybe a month. Then I went shopping for a whole new wardrobe and bought all black, white, and grey clothes. This was a rather drastic change from the bright neon colors from the previous year. I also experimented more with makeup and took to wearing a whole lot of very dark eye makeup, and I dyed my hair such a dark brown that it looked black. This didn’t all happen overnight; it was semi-gradual.

You may be asking now, “Okay, so you tried a look that didn’t work. What’s the harm?” And to that I will tell you this: At least for me, the way I dress reflects my state of mind and which emotions are in control at the moment, and this was especially true for the “goth phase.” I continued to distance myself from my family, especially my mom. I also backed away from spending time with friends. I always felt lonely, but I was disinterested in anything around me so I chose not to go to any event or activity. I became even more withdrawn and my inner monologue consisted of self-righteousness and self-pity for my “terrible life” and “awful, closed minded parents.” I wouldn’t say I “had depression,” but I was quite depressed.

The worst of my angst came, though, when I decided that the answer to fill the void and emptiness in my life was to set up multiple email accounts and join an online dating site. I was fifteen at that point and wanted to see what guys thought of me. I went back and forth in my head about whether I should or shouldn’t do it, but once I signed up for one, I was in. I faked my profile and said I was 18, as that was the youngest these sites allow. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that many of the people on the site could have faked their ages and profiles too, and for all I know I was talking to forty-something predators. I don’t remember how long I was on this site, but it was at least a month, and one day I started to feel very guilty about what I had done. This persisted for a few days and I finally deleted the account, or so I thought. Then about a month after I got off the site, an email from it came into my regular email - not the secret email I had set up, but the normal one. The normal account was linked to my mom’s email so she could actually see it. I am still baffled as to how it came to that address, but I am so glad now that it did. After she found the dating account, which I guess I hadn’t taken down correctly, my mom and I had a very open conversation about the sadness I felt. I remember my mom praying over me multiple times that day. I look back at that conversation as the turning point for me.

In the past fifteen months, God has been changing me. I have gotten a job, grown closer to my family, and made deep friendships with good people. I feel a general sense of peace and and contentment in my soul that I have never felt before. But, of course, getting out of that dark place was gradual. I am still a very private person and have to force myself to express my feelings to others instead of just waiting around for someone to literally guess what’s wrong. I still struggle with being honest and that is probably a tendency I will live with forever. But through the grace of God, I can get better at it. Sometimes I wonder where I would be in my life now if my mom hadn’t gotten that email. I think I would still be in a dark mindset feeling sorry for myself and blaming everyone around me for my own problems. God has blessed my so much by giving me a loving and supportive family to whom I can open up, and I hope that my experience will help me give advice to girls in a similar state of mind.

If you’re going through a rough time, I would greatly encourage you to talk to a parent. If you have a parent who you know will love you and stand by you no matter what you have done, please, please, please talk to him or her. It will be difficult to open up - I know I still struggle with it - but every time you push yourself to tell someone about your problems, it will get easier. Unfortunately, people are not mind readers, and you cannot expect your parent to come to you one day and guess every single thought you have had and every single problem you face. Sometimes you have to be the one to make the first move; you need to be the one to walk up to your parent and say, “Can I talk to you about something going on in my life?” Most parents will be concerned at this phrase, but they will also love you and be so happy that you trust them to help you.

I do understand that not all families are supportive and receptive. If you are going through a hard time and you have tried to speak to your parents but they are unresponsive, then your second option is to go to someone from an older generation who can help guide you through your emotions and help you pick yourself up. A good example of this type of person would be a pastor, aunt, uncle, or teacher. If you can’t find an older person, then the last resort would be to go to a friend. I list friends as a last option because I feel a person at your same maturity level might accidentally justify your feelings and sadness. It is absolutely okay to be sad if you are, but it is not okay to simply stay that way.

My last bit of advice to you girls is this: Open a Bible and read. When you do this, please pray that God will lead you to a passage he wants you to hear. Also, please keep your heart open to what God may be saying to you. You may not think he cares but he does, and when you read his Word with a desire to hear him, it doesn’t matter if you don’t find the passages applicable to your life or not. What matters is that you are in the Word and it is in your head. God loves you, and, if you let him, he will help you. But you must want to be helped, and - from someone who has been there - I know you may not think you need it. Let me tell you now, though, that you and your burden are in my prayers and, although I can give advice, I know you are the deciding factor. Only you can decide that you want to change. But please know that you are loved.


Photo Credit: Art Ranked

September 3, 2019

What is Legal Homeschooling...and Why Does It Matter?

Choice is a good thing. And, in contrast to the sad state of affairs in many other countries, American parents currently have a plethora of options when it comes to how and where they'll see to it that their kids are educated. I fully support parental rights in this regard...but we cannot forget that with choice comes responsibility. In this case, the responsibility to speak truth.

Homeschooling was actually the norm in America up until the post-Civil War era. At that point, political "progressives" teamed up with captains of industry and academics such as Horace Mann and John Dewey and - for less than altruistic reasons, as described in Milton Gaither's Homeschool: An American History and John Taylor Gatto's magnum opus, The Underground History of American Education - essentially outlawed home-based education and severely limited the reach of private schools. Thankfully, choice eventually returned, first for conventional private schools and then - beginning in the 1970s - for those who wished to educate their kids at home. It took too long, but by 1993, every state had again acknowledged parents' legal right to homeschool.

And our choices have greatly expanded since then, such that I've been able to identify 16 different approaches of which parents might avail themselves. Each option has its own perks, challenges, and legal ramifications, and parents must carefully vet them all to determine which best matches their values and will most effectively meet their kids' needs. The problem is that many don't understand the important distinctions between the different options. And some persist in blurring the lines between them - especially when it comes to referring to some non-homeschooling options as homeschooling - even when they do know better.

With that in mind and after spending years trying to help parents understand the various approaches, I decided (with the help of my graphic artist husband) to create this infographic with its accompanying explanations, below. For the sake of full disclosure, I admit that I advocate (not arbitrarily, but when asked my opinion) for one particular approach - i.e., wholly independent parent-directed private home-based education (i.e., legal homeschooling) - but my goal here is not to put homeschooling on a pedestal or convince everyone to homeschool. Rather, I aim only to share the actual legal reality for each option, taking "feelings" and judgment out of the equation, to explain the actual facts about the different options as they stand today. In so doing, I hope to help parents understand the objective, legal distinctions between what is actually defined as homeschooling and what is not, so they can make well-informed decisions for their kids and understand what the choices they make really mean.

Download a PDF version of this chart HERE.
As you can see, the chart has four quadrants - just like a punnett square - based on where funding comes from (public or private) and an entity's base of operation (brick & mortar institutional - i.e., a physical building other than a child's home - or home-based). These two important factual realities, coupled with a parent's level of authority over day-to-day instruction, combine to designate the objective and legal nature of each educational option. 

  • Conventional (Neighborhood) School: This is the sort of school that most readily comes to mind when someone mentions "public school." It is funded with "public money" (i.e., taxpayer funds collected at the local level as well as federal funds distributed by state governments to local districts) and operates out of a specific physical building. For the most part, kids who attend this sort of school are assigned to it based on living in relatively close proximity to the building; hence, its nickname of "neighborhood school." Parents do not influence the nature of daily instruction. Clearly, children who attend conventional public schools are not homeschooled.
  • Charter / Choice / Magnet School: A charter, choice, or magnet public school is also funded with public money and operates out of a specific physical building in a local community. However, this sort of school differs from a conventional public school in at least three ways: First, though it is funded by taxpayers, it is often operated by a private, for-profit company contracted by a local school district and, therefore, is usually not subject to collective bargaining agreements with teachers' unions. Second, kids who attend need not live in proximity to the school; instead, they apply for admission regardless of where in a community they live. Third, it often has a special focus (i.e., on the arts or STEM or by using alternative means of learning and evaluation) that differentiates it from a conventional public school. Because a charter/choice/magnet is publicly-funded, its students are still required to follow the state's public school requirements; they simply do so in ways that differ from their peers in a neighborhood school. Similarly, though parents may be more involved than is common in conventional public schools, they still don't have much influence over day-to-day instruction. Children who attend charter/choice/magnet schools are not homeschooled.

  • Homebound Instruction: Homebound instruction is typically reserved for children with chronic illnesses that preclude them from attending local neighborhood schools. A child in that situation is visited on a regular basis by a teacher employed with the local district who monitors the child's progress through the same lessons he'd receive if he were in the school. Though the child is at home and may be given modified assignments to account for his health needs, he is enrolled in the local public school district as a public school student, and the teacher's services are taxpayer-funded. A parent may help as a sort of teacher's aide but has no authority over the educational content. Those on homebound instruction are not homeschooled despite receiving instruction in the home.
  • Conventional Virtual Charter Public School at Home: A conventional virtual charter is what typically comes to mind when someone mentions public school at home (PSAH). In this scenario, a local district contracts with a for-profit company (K12 and Connections are the two most well-known entities) to provide online instruction for students whose parents want their children to receive a public school education while remaining in the home. The company is paid with taxpayer funds and must see to it that its students abide by the public school regulations of the state in which it operates; in fact, the students are counted for enrollment purposes as public school students. Families are given books and computers for "free" (i.e., paid for with taxpayer funds), and each must follow the schedule and procedures decided upon by the state-certified teacher assigned to work with them. A parent may act as a sort of teacher's aide but does not have ultimate authority over the content a child is taught or the pace at which he proceeds. Those enrolled in conventional PSAHs are not homeschooled even though parents of these kids "feel" as if they're homeschooling - because the children are counted (by law) as public school students and also because they are taking taxpayer funds and do not control their children's instruction.
  • Choice / Independent Study Public School at Home: In a choice/independent study PSAH program, a parent is given a generous (taxpayer-funded) stipend for each child with which she may purchase curriculum and resources and pay fees for community-based enrichment classes, and the parent directs the child's daily instruction. However, the sponsoring school district limits what may be purchased with the stipend (i.e., it may not be used for "sectarian" material or activities), and (in every state other than California and Alaska) the child is counted for enrollment purposes as a public school student. In every state, a child enrolled in a choice/independent PSAH must meet the same public school requirements as those enrolled in brick and mortar schools, and the parent must provide evidence of the child's progress to a state-certified teacher assigned to supervise the family. Ultimately, the family is under the authority of the sponsoring school district because of the public funds it is using. Thus, those enrolled in choice/independent study PSAHs are not homeschooled even though parents of these kids "feel" as if they're homeschooling (and despite the odd labeling situation in California and Alaska) - because the children are almost always counted (by law) as public school students and also because they are taking taxpayer funds and are bound by public school regulations.


  • Hybrid Charter School: As schooling options proliferate, one of the latest twists to enter the market is the public hybrid charter. A student in a hybrid charter attends a local public school - either conventional or charter/choice/magnet - two or three days a week and works from home the other days. He is enrolled as a public school student and is subject to all public school regulations; he is simply completing school-assigned work at home two or three days a week instead of going into the school. A parent may act as a sort of teacher's aide but has no authority over the content or pacing of instruction. Hybrid charter students are not homeschooled because they are counted (by law) as public school students and follow public school regulations.
  • Homeschool Partnership: A homeschool partnership is when a local public school district offers classes and enrichment programs within district buildings to groups of homeschool students. Such partnerships ostensibly resemble private co-ops, but the classes are taught by state-certified teachers (who use public school parameters within the classes) and districts receive taxpayer funds for providing the "free" or low-cost service. Parents do not have influence or authority over the content of the classes, but these children retain their legal status as homeschoolers if parents continue to direct and control the rest of their children's education beyond the partnership classes - unless a family is actually enrolled in one of the aforementioned PSAH options, in which case they're not homeschoolers to begin with. It's also important to note that districts collect a great deal of personal information about each child, usually far above and beyond that which is mandated by a state's homeschool law.
  • Part-Time Public School Enrollment: Under the precepts of some states' homeschool laws, homeschooled children may enroll in public school part-time - and/or participate in public school sports and other extracurriculars - and still be legally defined as homeschoolers; for example, in Wisconsin, those filing with the state as homeschoolers may take up to two classes per semester at a public school and/or join in on select extracurriculars. However, enrollment is not guaranteed - it is at the discretion of building principals, contingent upon whether or not space is available. And, of course, a family using such an option puts itself under the authority of the school and is obliged to follow the school schedule, calendar, and rules. Districts also collect a great deal of personal information on such students and may also require them to comply with public school regulations - i.e., taking standardized tests, reporting grades, taking certain coursework at particular ages - above and beyond the parameters of the state's homeschool law. And if a child enrolls in "too many" such classes, he will lose his legal status as a homeschooler and may then be subject to truancy charges unless he enrolls in the school full-time.

  • Faith-Based / Parochial School: A parent desiring a faith-based education within the structure of a conventional school building may enroll her child into a private religious school. Most such schools mirror the organizational structure of conventional public schools but integrate sectarian material and activities. If such a school does not take public funds, it is not subject to public school regulations; however, it must still comply with state laws specifically pertaining to institutional private schools. Parents who use these schools usually do not use taxpayer funds to pay a school's tuition; instead, they pay out of their own pockets. Because they pay the school directly, they have a bit more influence over the nature and content of the school's instruction. But de facto control over what a child learns is decided by the school administrators and teachers. Those attending faith-based private schools are not homeschoolers.
  • Non-Sectarian Private School: Other private schools do not operate from a faith-based perspective but, rather, have a "secular" approach. They sometimes employ the structure of conventional public schools but may also use "alternative" approaches. As with faith-based schools, these schools are not subject to public school regulations if they don't take taxpayer money, but they must comply with state laws pertaining to institutional private schools. And, as with faith-based schools, parents generally pay tuition out of their own pockets and may have some influence on the administration but do not have final authority over what the children study. Those who attend non-sectarian private schools are, of course, not homeschoolers.

  • Voucher School: In recent years, many states have instituted a program that provides taxpayer-funded vouchers for kids to attend participating private brick and mortar schools. Parents apply for one of a limited number of voucher slots at a school and, if accepted, the state will pay for a child's tuition. In return for being given public funds, though, the private schools come under added regulation - i.e., to be accountable for the use of taxpayer money. This may limit a faith-based school's ability to incorporate parochial material into its classes and activities and subject either sort of private school to other rules and restrictions. Obviously, those attending private schools using taxpayer-funded vouchers are not homeschoolers.

  • Hybrid / University Model School or Part-Time Private School Enrollment: As with public hybrid charters, those using private hybrid or university model schools attend classes in a designated physical building two or three days a week and work on school-assigned work at home the other days. A parent may act as a sort of teacher's aide when the child is at home, but she does not control the content or pace of instruction, And, though parents pay for these programs with their own funds, students enrolled in a private hybrid or university model school are not designated by law as homeschoolers. This is because the schools maintain a presence in a physical building and must register with the state as a type of institutional private school; thus, those attending such schools are counted as conventional private school students. In terms of part-time private school enrollment, states generally treat that the same as part-time public school enrollment. Where it is allowed under a state's homeschool law, students using that option - with parents paying tuition out of their own pockets - can be designated as homeschoolers if they follow the parameters of the law because parents direct the children's instruction at home when the child is not attending class at the school.
  • Learning Center: Private learning centers are another educational option available to parents, most notably for those who prefer an "unschooling" approach. These centers operate as either for-profit or non-profit community organizations, not as private schools, and, therefore, need not register with the state. For that reason, children who frequent the centers are not designated as private school students but can, instead, be legally classified as homeschoolers. Parents pay any fees associated with attendance from their own funds and kids go to the centers when they want to - not on assigned days or for a mandated amount of time. Some attend for several hours a day and others only visit now and then. While a child is at a center, its "learning coaches" or "facilitators" supervise his self-directed activities and sometimes help him develop and implement short- and long-term learning goals; when a child is at home, his parents direct his learning endeavors.
  • Co-Op Based Learning: A private co-op is generally an arrangement among a small group of private homeschooling parents to, in essence, pool their resources. They find a place to meet - in members' homes or at a local church, community center, or library - and parents take turns volunteering to teach group classes to all of their kids in particular content areas. They usually meet for part or all of just one day each week and, because homeschooling parents themselves deliver this group instruction for free for just a few hours a week (with parents directing their own kids' learning on non-co-op days) and pay for any costs associated with the co-op from their own funds, kids participating in these sorts of arrangements are legally designated as homeschoolers. This is a gray area, though, because some co-ops grow very large, begin to meet several days a week, and/or decide to pay non-parents to teach some or all of their courses. While kids in these programs will still be ostensibly labeled as legal homeschoolers, it's possible that the programs may draw the attention of city or state officials, who may question whether or not such a co-op is really operating as a private school and try forcing it to register as such. Parents utilizing co-ops should be mindful of this possibility in order to maintain their homeschool designation with integrity.

  • Private Pay Online School: Private pay online classes and schools operate in a way similar to the conventional virtual charter PSAHs described above: A student enrolls in classes taught online by teachers working for the program or (private pay) school in question. Those teachers - not the child's parent - control the content and pace of instruction for the online classes. If a child is enrolled in an online program on a part-time basis, the parent controls the rest of his coursework, but if the child takes all of his courses through the program, the parent doesn't actually direct any of it. The difference, of course, between private pay online programs and PSAHs is that parents pay for the courses themselves, not with taxpayer funds. This means that those using private pay online programs are legally defined as homeschoolers. That may seem odd since the parents don't direct their children's instruction. But the reason for this designation goes back to the fact that, when current state homeschool laws were written - between the mid-1980s and 1993 - the internet as we now know it had not yet been born. Thus, homeschool laws could not address the legal status of private pay online courses and have not been revised since then to take them into account. For that reason, the current consensus in every state is that children who take online courses delivered to their homes and paid for out of their parents' own pockets are classified under the law as homeschoolers.
  • Wholly Independent Parent-Directed Homeschooling: When modern homeschool laws were written near the end of the last century, they were drafted with wholly independent, parent-directed instruction in mind. These laws have not been changed in measurable ways since, so this model remains the "classic" definition of homeschooling. With this option, parents research and purchase with their own funds educational material they believe will best meet each child's needs. While they may utilize some community resources and occasional private-pay online classes and co-ops, they personally direct the vast majority of instruction, serving as their children's primary instructor/facilitator. And - importantly - they do not accept taxpayer/public monies. 

In addition to the infographic above, I've also created this summary chart of what I've just detailed, a PDF version of which is available HERE.
I know some folks will take issue with my explanations, continuing to insist that they "feel" like homeschoolers even when current legal realities say otherwise. But the truth we must speak is still there, like it or not. Though both are fruit, a pear is simply not an apple and never can be, no matter how much we might wish it so; likewise, an educational option that isn't legally defined as homeschooling is not homeschooling, regardless of our "feelings." Simply put, state homeschool laws were written - and have not been altered very much over time - to reflect an educational option in which instruction is led directly by a child's parents from a base of operation in the home, paid for the parents' own privately-held income and assets. Some gray areas have developed over time which, perhaps, need to be addressed legislatively. However, until/unless that happens, we have to accept reality as it really is.

That doesn't mean, though, that the non-homeschooling options are somehow less valid. As mentioned above, I'm an advocate for wholly independent, parent-directed education, but I'm also an advocate for parental rights - as every homeschooling parent should be. And that means I support every parent's right to choose an educational path he or she deems best - as long as those parents tell the truth. Thus, if you've decided to send your kids to one sort or another of brick and mortar institutional school, embrace your choice with confidence. If you're involved in some of the gray area options that are currently defined as homeschooling, own what that means in terms of both strengths and challenges. And if you've enrolled your kids in either PSAH option or a hybrid/university model school, celebrate the truth about your decision rather than insisting that you're homeschooling when (under the law) you are not. Be a proud PSAHer. Be a rabid university model school parent. Go all-in for what you're really doing, not according to your feelings but according to factual, legal reality.

Why does this matter? Why can't people self-identify as they want? Well, first, that would be lying; a pear is not an apple. Second, the homeschool laws in every state came to us after very long, hard-fought battles just a few decades ago, and we homeschoolers realize that activist legislators could sweep them away in pretty short order if they wanted. We must keep the lines between what is actually homeschooling and other educational options as firmly drawn as possible - not to be on guard with other parents but, rather, to protect ourselves from overzealous bureaucrats, who have demonstrated that they will take advantage of blurred lines to try stealing freedom from homeschoolers. We must be ever-watchful of them.

It's unfortunate when that necessary vigilance feels like a slam on parents using non-homeschooling educational options, especially one of the "blurry" ones. That's not our intention. We really do want to support your parental rights as much as we fight to keep ours. But the current state of affairs means that we homeschoolers must insist that we all keep the fruit in distinct piles as much as possible. So, if you're using one of the educational options that is not legally defined as homeschooling, please be proud of and tell the truth about your real choice, and please try to understand our position as homeschoolers. When we're honest and hold fast to necessary distinctions, we all benefit.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...