September 24, 2017
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As the school year approaches, homeschoolers opt for a more tailored education

By Lauren Abbate, BDN Staff
Updated:
Brian Feulner | BDN | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN | BDN
Evan Gerbi, 5, points out places on a map of Maine at his home in Orono. The Gerbi family homeschools their four children and practices "un-schooling," where they don't follow a curriculum, but rather look at teaching as learning through life and experiences.

Like every child, the reasons families choose to homeschool their children are unique. But regardless of the motivation behind wanting to homeschool, the common thread behind homeschooling students is serving the needs of the individual child.

“The one reason that stands out really is the child,” Kathy Green, co-founder of Homeschoolers of Maine, said. “Parents are concerned about their kids, that’s the bottom line, and that’s what drives parents to make a different [education] choice.”

In Maine, about 5,400 children are homeschooled by a parent or guardian, according to the latest statistics from the Maine Department of Education. Over the last 10 years, the state has seen a steady increase from year to year on the number of children who are homeschooled.

Green attributes the increase in homeschooling to the increasing awareness of the alternative education path, especially here in Maine where she said there is a strong homeschooling community.

“Everyone is aware of homeschooling as an option,” Green said. “When families are looking for options, or if something isn’t working for one child in particular or for the family, [homeschooling] is an option on the table that everyone knows about.”

The curriculum and routine that homeschoolers choose depends on their child and their family. But the first place to start is identifying your child’s learning style and needs. The Homeschoolers of Maine offers a Getting Started in Homeschooling workshop every six to eight weeks, which Green and other homeschoolers said is a good primer on homeschooling. One of these workshops is scheduled for Aug. 23 in Augusta.

Online research and books are also a good sources of knowledge for homeschoolers looking to identify which path to take with their curriculum or teaching style. According to Sharon Bulley, who has homeschooled six children, “The Way They Learn,” by Cynthia Tobias is a great starter book to familiarize yourself with the best education models for your child’s learning style. Bulley and another Maine homeschooler, Tracey Lopez, also said talking with other homeschoolers about resources they have used is beneficial, since there is an “overwhelming” amount of material on homeschooling available.

Common learning styles for children are auditory, visual, physical or hands-on, as well as traditional textbook reading comprehension, according to Green.

For Sharon Bosley and her husband John, homeschooling their two children was a way to ensure their familial values had a place in their children’s education as well as to offer their children the opportunity to learn in a format that was best for them.

The flexibility homeschooling offers in approaches to curriculum allows for a parent to choose a method of learning tailored to their child’s learning needs. Bosley said her son and daughter learn in vastly different manners. While Bosley’s daughter did well with the more traditional textbook-based curriculum, her son needed more hands on learning opportunities worked into his curriculum.

“My son would never would have thrived in [a classroom] environment because he’s definitely a hands on learner, a six [or] seven hour day was not going to work for him,” Bosley said. “[Homeschooling] offered us tremendous flexibility.”

Bulley is currently homeschooling three boys ages 4, 8 and 11, who are all hands-on learners. She has used a variety of curriculums, but the key with homeschooling hands-on learners is keeping them active and implementing breaks throughout the day to not exhaust their attention. One favorite tactic that Bulley uses to practice math problems, includes letting the kids jump on the trampoline and shout the answers in between jumps.

Bulley also has experience with auditory and textbook learners. Her daughter was a self-motivated learner who thrived using the traditional textbook-based curriculum, working longer days to get her work done and finishing a week’s worth of coursework in four days rather than five. However, one of Bulley’s sons was an auditory and verbal learner, meaning that until she sat down and talked through the work or problem with him, it wouldn’t click. This took more one-on-one time than with her daughter.

Deciding what curriculum will work best for your child and their learning style is a lot of trial and error, Bulley and Bosley said. Presently, Bulley said she is using a lot of the Teaching Textbook curriculum for math, which uses videos to keeps her children engaged. For reading and grammar, she suggests Logic of English.

Each spring the Homeschoolers of Maine puts on a curriculum sale and expo to give parents a chance to see the curriculum in person, and look through it with their children. Green and homeschoolers said this was a great way to see what is available.

However, even if you identify how your child best learns, that could change throughout their education, meaning your curriculum might have to change to reflect that.

“Some approaches work at one point during their school age years and then they don’t work, so you always have to be willing to adjust,” Green said. “The beauty of homeschooling is that you’re tailor making a program for your children. That is what makes it work, that is what makes it happen so successfully. You can be more eclectic in your choosing and choosing what will work for your child.”

The structure of a given school day is also something that varies based on a specific child and the family’s life. Lopez suggests thinking about a day in terms of a routine rather than a schedule, to allow for flexibility, but also to make sure things are being accomplished.

Lopez’s children are more traditional learners and their day typically starts around 8 a.m. But if the children are having trouble focusing, she’ll take them for a bike ride or do something to get them active so they can have a break.

“A routine, personally, helps us thrive. We know what to expect, but it allows for flexibility,” Lopez said.

Outside of the school day, both Bosley and Green say that having support within the community from other homeschoolers is helpful to making homeschooling work for your family. Homeschoolers of Maine hosts an annual conference, which brings homeschoolers from across the state together.

Additionally, Green said homeschoolers also get together in groups on a more community based level, whether it be for organized field trips, or to simply have a support system.

“Support is just key, because parents are obviously the ones that are most concerned about their kids,” Green said. “To help with your perspective and [provide] a sense of balance, you need others to tell you that we’ve been there too, we’ve been through this and here’s what we did and here’s how we got through this.”

While a lot of homeschooling preparation for the next school year is done before the previous school year ends, Green said a few weeks before resuming the school year, homeschoolers should be getting their materials and their space organized.

“Make sure your curriculum is in place and spend time reviewing it,” Green said. “Write down your overall goals and objectives for the year.”

Setting up an organizational system now, prior to the school year starting, will allow for a more fluid homeschooling process. Take this time to set up your home environment for learning, adding comfortable reading spaces and making sure you have maps, art supplies, learning games and videos, as well as basic school supplies on hand.

This is also a good time of year to make sure you have everything in order with the Maine Department of Education, including that you have sent in your letter of intent to homeschool to the department as well as your local superintendent at least 10 days prior to the start of school. Annually, students who are homeschooled must submit the results of an assessment via the results of a standardized achievement test, the results of a test developed by local school officials or the review and acceptance of progress by a Maine-certified teacher.

Having an assessment plan in place at the beginning of the school year is recommended, Green said.

Most importantly, Green encourages parents and guardians who are homeschooling to keep an opened mind going into the school year.

“No matter how well you plan, adjustments will need to be made along the way,” Green said. “Life’s unexpected turns and twists require an open mind, and a willingness to switch gears.”

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Kathy Green's name.


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