For families interested in taking a more active role in their children's education, homeschooling is yet one more option on the school choice menu.
According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 1.5 million children were homeschooled throughout the United States in 2007. While a majority of these children came from white, middle class, two-parent families, homeschoolers come from all races, classes, and geographic regions, and they choose to homeschool for many different reasons. Some of the main reasons for homeschooling cited by these families are an interest in providing religious or moral education, concern about societal influences, dissatisfaction with academics as taught in the schools, an interest in nontraditional approaches to education, and a child’s special needs.
That said, all of the local families interviewed for this article mentioned the closeness that homeschooling brings to the parent-child relationship as either the primary reason for homeschooling or a major benefit of homeschooling. Eve Hoyt began homeschooling her daughters three years ago in order to spend more time with them. "I'm able to strengthen my relationship with them as I help them explore and learn about the world," said Hoyt. Evangeline Bragitikos, who homeschools her son, also feels that homeschooling promotes bonding. "It has and continues to be a rewarding and bonding experience for both of us," she said. "We both have learned a lot about each other and ourselves. Homeschooling has re-ignited in me and instilled in my son a passion for learning."
Another attraction of homeschooling is its flexibility. Homeschooling may take place anywhere: in a home-based classroom; in an unstructured setting that allows a child to explore and learn according to that child’s interests and pace; in the world-as-your-classroom, making use of the many cultural and educational resources in the immediate area; or even in cyberspace through one of many online programs. The stereotype of the lone parent-teacher sitting at a table for hours with a child and a stack of workbooks isn't the reality of the homeschooling parents interviewed. Homeschooling often involves parents, extended family members, private tutors, classroom teachers, public librarians, and educators at art, nature, and science institutions. Learning may occur year-round, shadow the local public school calendar, or follow some other pace that works best for the family involved.
Despite the attractions of homeschooling, it’s not without challenges. Critics point out the potential for isolation and the lack of consistency as major concerns. Other issues include the time and effort that goes into lesson planning, teaching, and evaluating a homeschooler, as well as the cost of materials, equipment, and supplemental classes.
However, homeschoolers in Mt. Airy have several resources available to help overcome some of these challenges. Mt. Airy parent Lisa Marchiano has been homeschooling her daughter and son for nearly four years. She calls northwest Philadelphia a “great place to homeschool” due to a large, friendly homeschooling community and the availability of resources.
The Mt. Airy Homeschooling Co-Op, run by parents on the premises of the Unitarian Society of Germantown in West Mt. Airy, provides classes and activities for homeschooled children and support for families. Talking Stick Learning Center in Whitemarsh Township offers enrichment programs for younger children, supplemental classes for older children, and workshops for parents and teachers. Playgroups for children of all ages can be found throughout the city. There are also several online discussion groups where homeschooling families may turn for advice and support, including the Northwest Philadelphia Homeschoolers, a free Yahoo! Group popular with families in Mt. Airy. The Free Library of Philadelphia has a significant curriculum collection for homeschooling families, as well as children’s librarians available to help identify material to fit an individual child’s needs and interests.
Many educational programs offered to the schools by area museums, arboretums, and other cultural centers are also available to homeschoolers. Awbury Arboretum, Schuylkill Center, Academy of Natural Sciences, Penn Museum, Franklin Institute, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Allens Lane Art Center offer or have offered such supplemental programming. And just like other children throughout Philadelphia, homeschoolers participate in organized sports, summer camps, and scouting.
When asked about the greatest misconception about homeschooling, Hoyt said that many non-homeschoolers believe that it must be extremely difficult. "It isn't," she said. "There are many different styles of homeschooling, from school-at-home to unschooling. I think once you discover what style of homeschooling works best for you and your family, it can be very enjoyable and a great experience." Marchiano added “If it feels important to try this, don't be intimidated! It is a lot of fun (most days).”
For families interested in learning more about homeschooling, our local homeschooling parents have several suggestions. Speak with other homeschooling families. Read as much as you can about the various forms of homeschooling. Join some of the online discussion groups to get a better idea of the advantages and challenges. Understand the legal requirements for homeschooling in Pennsylvania and know your rights. Explore the many free and low cost resources that our city has to offer. Finally, determine whether homeschooling is the best fit for both your child and your family because homeschooling is a partnership.