By E.S. Zagorsky Goldberg/Education
Friday, December 17, 2004
Reprinted with permission from Parents
and Kids: A Guide to Smart Parenting from Baby to Preteen
Justin, Melissa and Sarah Kellogg of Barnstable left their public school
for December vacation just like the rest of their classmates. Unlike their
peers, however, the Kelloggs didn't return to school in January. Instead,
the kids joined the more than 20,000 other children who are homeschooled
Dee Adams, the Kellogg children's mother, says she was unhappy with the
quality of education her children were receiving in elementary school,
adding that homeschooling would improve their education while "letting
us impart goals and values that our children won't receive out in public
But why now? Why not just wait until the school year ends? For some, it's
easier to make the transition while the school year is in process.
Nissa Gadbois, who homeschools her four children in Charlton while running
Navigo, a local support network for homeschoolers, says that families
"might have considered homeschooling over the summer, but hadn't
been entirely ready, physically or emotionally, to take the plunge at
the traditional start of the school year."
Gadbois, who began homeschooling midyear eight years ago, says a few extra
months spent gathering information and making a game plan can make all
the difference for families who, around January, "reach the final
For the most part, families seem to cope well with changing their schooling
midyear. Dr. Susan Lee, a psychologist in Arlington, suggests letting
children be involved in the decision to homeschool, and giving them opportunities
to say goodbye to the teacher and class.
"Parents should be aware that it takes some time for kids to get
used to not being in school. Kids in school have very structured schedules
and are used to being told what to do when," Lee says. Parents themselves
have to adjust to the new role of "teacher," which may feel
daunting to some new homeschoolers.
Lee says that it's normal for parents to be nervous at first about taking
on the responsibility for educating their children.
"Parents may be anxious to accomplish something or be productive,"
she says. Instead of going full-steam ahead, she encourages parents to
slow down and tune in to their child's needs. "Family members need
to respect each other's feelings, talk about their hopes and expectations,
and listen carefully to each other," she adds.
Lee says that there are many popular myths about homeschooling, including
the one that homeschooled children don't have ample social opportunities.
She suggests arranging for children to meet other homeschoolers shortly
before leaving school or immediately afterward. Parents also need to make
sure their child continues the social connections they have built through
Gadbois agrees, saying that "kids need to be assured that they will
be able to keep up with their old friends through community-sponsored
activities and play dates."
Each local school district in Massachusetts supervises its own homeschooled
students. Most districts require families to file a letter of intent,
and to then submit information at least once per year showing the child's
learning progress. Many parents submit portfolios of their children's
work, while others write up a narrative letter or show test results.
Homeschoolers, like students in private schools, don't take the MCAS standardized
test. Some districts allow homeschoolers to participate in sports, social
events and some classes. The Massachusetts Home Learning Association's
Web site contains a wealth of step-by-step information about homeschooling,
as well as a link to join their active e-mail discussion list.
Getting hooked into the homeschooling community is important for most
families. Lynette Culverhouse, a former teacher who started the Mystic
River Learning Center in Watertown, which offers supplemental courses
for homeschooled children, finds that many families use the learning center
as an entry point into the larger world of homeschooling.
"Especially for families who are just beginning to homeschool, the
whole process can seem mystifying" she says.
Children may attend from one class up to the three full days each week
the center is open. This flexibility allows some parents to homeschool
while working part time, and gives other parents an opportunity to "get
their sea legs" when starting to homeschool.
Another popular way of getting to know what's available on the local educational
front while also meeting other homeschoolers is through the Family Resource
Center, which offers hundreds of scheduled field trips and enrichment
programs around New England.
Homeschooling groups report seeing an increase in interest midyear. Leigh
Vozzella of the North Suburban Home Learners has found that attendance
by newcomers at NSHL support groups surges around the time of school vacations.
Vozzella and other NSHL parents now run homeschool information nights
throughout the year to help parents who are looking for guidance and advice.
Thirteen-year-old Sarah Lutvak of Wellesley, who began homeschooling in
January 2004, says that she was tired of being bored and uninspired by
most of her classes and by the "focus on clothes, boys and coolness."
The first assignment given by her mother was writing a "position
paper" that convinced her parents, relatives and local school officials
that she was making a well-informed choice.
Parent Cindi Lutvak, who began homeschooling her 11-year-old son last
fall, says taking her daughter out midyear "had a very positive impact
for her. She felt that she could have an influence on her own life and
Lutvak says that her children are "more relaxed, rested, happy, confident
"Homeschooling," she says, "is clearly the right choice
for my children now."
Joan Horowitz, formerly of Sharon and now living in New Mexico, took her
daughter out of public high school eight years ago after her daughter
became the target of a bully.
Looking back, her only regret is not taking her daughter out of school
sooner. Horowitz ended up homeschooling all four of her children, the
youngest of whom is 15 now, and working for years to help her daughter
overcome the traumatic effects of coping with the harassment the bully
"If your child is seriously unhappy or unable to learn in the situation
she finds herself and you can't resolve the situation by working with
the school, what is the point of continuing down that road?" she
says. "There's nothing magical about finishing up the school year
and sometimes, finishing that year will do even more harm to your child.
Why risk it?"
Family Resource Center
The Massachusetts Home Learning Association
Mystic River Learning Center
North Suburban Home Learners
( E. S. Zagorsky Goldberg, RN, MSN is a mother of three from Malden.)