School shootings. Math scores at an all time low. Common Core. Full-time police presence in schools. Kindergarteners suspended for playing cops and robbers. Cursive no longer taught. Bomb scares. Science scores tanking. Boys and girls using any bathroom. This is the state of public education in America today.
Knowledgeable parents are concerned, both about the quality of education and their child's safety. But what choice is there? Private schools are expensive. Charter schools are either too selective or completely unavailable. So most parents, if able, move to the highest-rated school district they can afford and hope for the best. Those who can't live with the concerns and fears every day.
What many parents don't realize is that there is a viable, proven alternative – home schooling! Home schooling is legal in all 50 states. Although the requirements differ, any parent can legally home school their children wherever they may live in the United States at a cost that is workable for most any income level. How do I know? I home schooled my four children – two daughters and two sons – from elementary school straight through high school. Two of those children graduated from ivy league schools. One is currently serving in the United States Marines, and the last is pursuing a career in the arts. I'm not special and I didn't do it alone.
Most parents don't realize that home schooling isn't new; it's really a return to the origins of American schooling. Public schools weren't mandated until 1851. Prior to that time schooling was a family and community affair. We're all familiar with the one-room schoolhouse of colonial and pioneer days. What we may not realize is that those schools were created, funded and controlled by the community; attendance and curricula were at the discretion of the parents. Fundamentally they were home-controlled schools. Modern home schooling essentially returns education to its roots of being parent/community created, funded and controlled. The biggest difference with modern home schooling is that the community is a self-created community of like-minded parents rather than a purely geographical one.
So what does all this mean for your family? Fundamentally it means that, no matter where you live, you don't have to rely on public, charter or private schools to fulfill your child's education needs. The law recognizes you as an effective teacher even if you never graduated high school. Why? Although the law requires that your child be educated, it still recognizes your right to educate your child as you see fit, both in curricula and methodology.
But you may be thinking you aren't qualified to teach your children. Why not? Haven't you already taught them some of the most important life lessons they will ever need – how to dress themselves, wash and brush their teeth, behave in different social situations, be kind to others, share their toys, etc.? And when they get older who will they turn to to learn about dating, making a career choice, balancing their checkbook, going on a job interview, choosing a spouse, etc.? If you can teach your children those things, academics are a piece of cake! And academic courses come with an answer key!
Now you may be wondering about college. How does my child get a diploma? Will colleges accept a diploma from me? How will I know what to teach my child in order to prepare him/her for college? Home schoolers have been going to college for more than 20 years. Many colleges welcome home schoolers because they have learned that home schoolers (as a group) are excellent students, hard workers, independent learners and involved in campus life. According to an article found on onlinecollege.org, home schooled students enter college with more credits, do better on the SAT and ACT, have higher GPAs, are more likely to graduate, have higher acceptance rates, and are more often in honors programs. According to this same article, Boston University, Nyack College and Dartmouth actively recruit home schoolers because they are so outstanding academically. This article isn't unique and the same results have been found in many studies on college students who were home schooled for either part or all of their pre-college education. Most colleges, especially sought-after colleges, already have an acceptance process in place specifically for home schooled graduates. Preparing your student for college doesn't really begin in earnest until your student enters 6th or 7th grade, so relax. By the time you get there you'll already have learned the answers to all the questions from those in your support group who've gone before you. And if your student is already at that age level, relax because experienced home school parents will be delighted to show you the ropes.
A question that always comes up when discussing home schooling is socialization. Will a home schooled child be isolated and thereby stunted when it comes to getting along with others? The answer is an emphatic NO!! There are lots of home schoolers out there. Very few of them remain isolated. They enjoy getting together to share experiences, team-teach, have play-groups, go on field trips and share in extracurricular activities. Home schooled children are well-rounded, and their social interactions aren't limited to a small group of students their own age. Home schooled kids play with kids of all ages, learn to interact with many different kinds of people, and are more socially comfortable than most public school kids. Have you ever met a teen who can't look you in the eye, doesn't know how or isn't willing to have a conversation with you, or is reluctant to attend social events when none of their friends are present? That's usually the result of a life-time of being in class with and enjoying extracurricular activities with the same kids, the same age group. That's usually the result of a public school education.
If you are the parent of a child who is very bright, needs extra help, or has special needs you may be thinking that home schooling couldn't possibly work for your family. You couldn't be more wrong! I've known parents who have successfully home schooled children with Down's Syndrome, autism, and physical disabilities such as blindness and dyslexia. The fact is that the one-on-one attention these children receive from loving, attentive parents is exactly what they need to excel. By working closely with your medical professionals you can create the educational environment that is perfectly suited to your child's needs. No more concerns about whether your child is receiving his/her meds appropriately or falling behind in his/her therapy, or being humiliated or bullied by his/her peers. Home schooling also gives the family flexibility to make medical, speech and physical therapy, and other specialty appointments without fearing the child is falling behind in education.
Children who are either very bright or slow at learning fare well also. In home schooling there is no such thing as the all-or-nothing promotion approach that is necessary in public schools. Children can take extra time on a subject they struggle with while continuing to move ahead in the subjects they master. Those children who can learn quickly have no reason to slog their way through a subject in ten months. Instead, when they complete their textbook they can spend the rest of the school year getting a head start on next year's work! Interest in subjects often increases dramatically when the child is permitted to move at his/her own pace without peer pressure, thus improving retention and understanding.
If your interest in home schooling has been peaked, the first step in getting started is to research New Jersey law. This can easily be accomplished by visiting www.hslda.org which is the official website of The Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA is a non-profit association of lawyers who specialize in state law regarding home school rights. It watches new state and federal bills for any legislative effect on home schooling and notifies its members to contact their legislators as needed. On their website you can find all the information about New Jersey's home school requirements written in easy to understand common English. Actually, New Jersey is one of the best states in which to home school because it's requirements are reasonable and easily accomplished.
The next step is to find out if there are any home school support groups in your area. A quick Google search or a visit to HSLDA's website can find this information easily. A home school support group is an association of home schooling parents who have, formally or informally, banded together to assist one another in their home school efforts. All types of assistance can be found from co-operatives (where parents team-teach their children using curricula they've agreed upon) to community activities appropriate for home schoolers and even to extracurricular activities such as sports or fine arts. In these support groups you will find parents who are currently home schooling and who are an excellent source of detailed information about the practical aspects of home schooling. They can provide suggestions about everything from what time of day to start your school to how to motivate your child's learning or how to select a curriculum. You will find home schoolers very willing to share their experiences because they are passionate about what they do and want to encourage parents who are new to the concept. If you can find a support group in your area, get in touch with them and ask to speak to some experienced home schoolers. They will be a wealth of information!
The last step is to research curricula. The easiest way to begin is to contact the support group in your area and ask about a local curricula fair. These are frequently held once a year and allow vendors of curricula to showcase their material. Attendees have the opportunity to look through curricula and ask questions about its use from knowledgeable sales personnel. Frequently, vendors will discount purchases made at the fairs. Another option is to search the web. But the best way is to meet home schoolers in your area and ask them what they use and why. Ask lots of questions; find out if you can visit a co-operative and see first-hand how they operate and what curricula they use. Rainbow Resource Center has an excellent curricula catalog, or you can just search “home school curricula catalog” on the web.
At this point you are ready to begin. Join HSLDA, fulfill your state's legal requirements, join a support group, purchase your curriculum and enjoy being a part of all your child's academic milestones!