The Homeschool Revolution

A Strong Community

Homeschooling is becoming increasingly popular as more and more parents are inspired by families who've made it work. After all, in the last few years, homeschooled kids who've won spelling bees, published books at an early age, and gotten into Harvard have been profiled in newspapers and national magazines.

However, longtime homeschooling parents say that a key factor in the boom is simply that it's much easier to homeschool now than it used to be. The Internet is incredibly helpful, says Tamra Orr, of Portland, Oregon, author of four books on home learning, including A Parent's Guide to Homeschooling. Orr, who began teaching the oldest of her four children in 1989, often felt very alone in those early years. "These days, at any hour of the day or night, I can go online to the more than 600 homeschoolers in my association and say, 'What do you know about this?' Or just, 'Hey! I'm having a rotten day!' It makes a tremendous difference."

Parents in local homeschooling groups often share the teaching of certain subjects like science and math-reducing the burden of having to master all the necessary academic material. They also join forces for physical-education classes and for field trips to museums, historical sites, and more.

There's a wealth of new academic material available just for home learners. Parents can purchase books and workbooks on a single subject, such as first-grade math, as well as a complete year's curriculum-either with religious themes or without, depending on the publisher. Homeschooling parents typically spend about $600 each year per child on these materials, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. Internet classes for homeschooled kids-whether they live in remote areas or not-are also proliferating. Some states, including Florida and Wisconsin, offer cyber schools, where children do their work at home but participate in group discussions online and get guidance from a teacher, to whom they also send homework and quizzes. Not all online schools operate the same way or are available for every grade level, but the number of state-supported and private online schools is increasing every semester.

Other communities have opened resource centers where kids can take a course or two but still do most of their learning at home. For instance, HomeSource, in Springfield, Oregon, located in a former elementary school, allows local homeschooled children to choose from about 200 classes, from grammar to piano. State funding-the same money the local public school would get if the kids were enrolled there-supports the project. Nikki Wenger has enrolled her kids, ages 13, 9, and 5, in a San Diego-area charter school designed for homeschoolers. The kids do their learning at home, but by "joining" the program, Wenger can select all the curriculum materials she needs. A facilitator visits her home school once a month to look over the children's lessons and answer questions.

For parents with young children, the trend toward online work may hold the answer to their most common question: "Can we keep doing this all the way through high school?" Many universities now offer long lists of fully accredited high-school courses; students often do work and take tests online.

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