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Homeschool Diaries: How 3 Families Teach Kids at Home

Nearly 2 million kids learn in the living room instead of the classroom. Find out why these families decided to homeschool -- and how they make it work.
The Watkins

Most kids hurry out the door, hop onto a big yellow bus, and spend the bulk of each weekday inside a classroom. But there's no morning rush for the nearly 2 million homeschooled children in the U.S. They work at their own pace and might spend their time studying in the backyard or at a museum instead of at a desk. And Mom (or Dad) is the teacher. Why opt out of traditional school? For some parents the goal is to make their religious convictions a central part of the curriculum. Others feel their local schools fall short academically, think their children require individual attention, or simply prefer spending more time with their kids. Meet three families who believe learning at home is best.

Kendall Watkins / Atlanta, Georgia
Kids Ansley, 9; Reese, 6
Homeschooling since 2003

Why we do it: I had planned to send my kids to private school. But after attending some open houses when Ansley was entering pre-K, I realized I could cover the same material -- with greater variety and creativity -- in a fraction of the time. Plus, I'd get to spend more time with my kids and save money. I bought a book on homeschooling, decided to give it a go, and I've never looked back.

Lifestyle advantages: It's nice to be able to decide when to start our day and what we're going to study. And if we're traveling, it's easy to pack up the books and teach on the go. When my husband had a business trip to Birmingham recently, we all came along. I taught the kids in the morning, and we went to museums and the zoo in the afternoon.

My approach to education: I follow a literature-based curriculum, but I'm not a slave to it. When we studied medieval times, the kids enjoyed it so much that we decided to explore the topic in greater detail than I'd planned. I call it "following the rabbit trails" -- wherever their interests lead, we'll follow.
The benefits of being flexible: I taught Ansley to read when she was 4 using a phonics-based system. I tried the same program with Reese, but he didn't respond. Eventually I found an approach that emphasizes music and games, and he's made a breakthrough with that. I try to find products that fit my children's individual learning styles. Teachers who have 20 students in a class can't always do that.

How we meet state requirements: We filed a declaration of intent to homeschool, and each month I mail in attendance sheets. The kids take standardized tests every three years, starting in third grade.

Dad's role: Brian jumps in whenever I need help. He also does a lot of informal teaching -- he'll build bows and arrows with the kids, or they'll plant a garden together.

Making sure my kids have a social life: We go on a field trip to a different location every other week with a group of friends. The kids also play organized sports, and they attend a local fine-arts academy once a week to study art history, music, and drama.

The very best things about it: I like the fact that we don't waste a lot of time studying things they already know. The kids are happy that they don't have homework. But the real beauty is that they're learning for the love of it. They're not doing schoolwork because someone tells them they have to.