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Homeschooling: When Going Back To School Means Staying At Home

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Homeschoolers from Plainfield, Barre and beyond meet at Plainfield's recreation fields to plan field trips and other co-learning opportunities. Photo by Emily Kaminsky.
Homeschoolers from Plainfield, Barre and beyond meet at Plainfield’s recreation fields to plan field trips and other co-learning opportunities. Photo by Emily Kaminsky.

By Emily Kaminsky-

Each year, over 2,400 Vermont children greet the end of August and the beginning of the traditional school year a bit differently: while they may shop for school supplies and take advantage of back-to-school clothing sales, they aren’t filling their backpacks with lunchboxes or getting up at the crack of dawn to catch the bus. In fact they aren’t “going” to school at all. They stay home for school.

According to Rebecca Yahm of Open Path Homeschooling Resources—who, while also a home-school consultant, home-schools her own seven-year-old daughter—educating one’s children at home is a growing trend locally and nationwide for a variety of reasons. “The more pressure put on teachers to meet standards, the less they can meet individual needs. It’s hard for kids who don’t adapt as easily to following directions, sitting at a desk and doing pencil-to-paper work for long periods of time,” she says. She also hears that parents are choosing home schooling because they want their children to enjoy greater creative outlets, they need more challenging work, or the traditional school environment just doesn’t work for them.

Jen Canfield of East Montpelier, a single parent, was inspired to home-school her two children to add more art, outdoor time, and sports to their lives. While her daughter is now back in public school and loves it, her son is a different story. Middle-school-aged Sasha has a lot of energy and a learning challenge. After an attempt at an alternative private school, she realized the school system just doesn’t fit him. “He didn’t thrive,” she says. “Boys with high energy levels often don’t have enough opportunities to move, and I found he was getting in trouble a lot.”

Home schooling is not easy for a single parent, but Canfield says she is finding her way. The schooling runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and Sasha checks in for additional mini-lessons at two to three other times a day. The school day includes a half-hour of meditation, an hour outdoors, some cooking, and a few hours of reading and math. Canfield warns that home schooling isn’t right for everyone. “You have to be committed and able to spend a lot of time with your children.” The upside, she explains, is that Sasha is learning and has discovered what he is really passionate about.

According to the state of Vermont, a homeschooling parent cannot necessarily do whatever he or she wants. “There is a dance between freedom and the requirements of the state,” says Canfield. The state requires parents to get its stamp of approval for proposed curricula annually for at least the first two years. The paperwork can be daunting to some, but the two-page curriculum form requirement is easily handled with some assistance from other home-schoolers and professionals like Yahm. “There are also lots of resources online that are free, even programs that you can enroll your child in,” says Canfield.

So how does a home-schooler prepare for the beginning of school? And is there really a beginning of school? “Some hold to a more traditional schedule,” says Canfield. “Some start after Labor Day. And many others continue projects through the summer, which has its own advantages.” Barre’s Lori Tremblay says she schools her two elementary-aged youngsters year-round. “I find it helps keep us on track and lets us take a little time off sporadically during the year without losing pace. My little ones love school and are usually happy to get back to learning.”

Contrary to what some assume, Yahm says, an abundance of opportunities exists for home-schoolers to socialize. There are homeschool collectives and co-ops comprised of parents and children that meet regularly to learn together, share work, take field trips together or simply socialize. “It just depends on how much driving you want to do, how to fit it all in and balance it.”

Canfield and Tremblay concur, citing many services that accommodate home-schoolers, such as outdoor experience programs like Roots or Earth Walk as well as libraries, museums, theaters and farms. Some children also continue to take classes at their public schools. State law requires public schools to share their programs with homeschooled children, provided that the public-school classes constitute less than 40 percent of the homeschooler’s curriculum.

And how are first-time home-schoolers greeting the new school year? Ania and Jeff Laughlin of Barre are first-time home-schoolers to their two children, a kindergartner and a preschooler. Ania, who grew up in Poland, says she reached the conclusion that U.S. schools offer the complete opposite of what young children need: sleep, movement, nature, a strong relationship with their parents, healthy food and free play. Her household gets along on one income, and she acknowledges the challenges. English is her second language; her children’s English, she says, is already better than her own. A new baby is coming in December, and it’s hard for Ania to find time for herself, but she remains eager. She expects to do a lot of learning herself this year.

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