ST. MARYS - A greater number of Americans than ever before are choosing to homeschool their children, with over two million students receiving a home education. A group of area homeschool parents recently discussed their reasons for choosing the homeschool option for their children.
In a commercial building in downtown St. Marys, members of The Elk County Homeschoolers gather each month for a day of collective interaction and instruction between the parents and children. Most of the group does traditional homeschooling, which incorporates textbooks, workbooks, and provide instruction on a learner-centered but highly individualized basis.
As the children, ranging in age from 5 to 15 years old, each took turns pinning flags on a blank map of South America to identify its geographical features, a few of the mothers took time to discuss their experiences with homeschooling their children.
Bonnie Housler, of St. Marys, has had children successfully go through both the public and private school system. Housler said when her youngest, Holden, began having difficulties in kindergarten, she discussed the homeschooling option with her husband and decided in favor of it. Housler said that Holden showed rapid improvement through homeshooling to an extent even she hadn’t expected.
"We tried it at home and about January someone said, 'why don't you test him,' and they tested him in reading comprehension and they said he was doing good-- they usually like them to be on a level 13 and he is on a 33," Housler said. "I never expected that. I never thought that was going to come with homeschooling-- I'm not here to create geniuses, but if that comes with it that's fine," Housler said.
Housler said through homeschooling she is also better able to impart her values to her child.
"There is a wholesomeness to it. I'm protecting him from something out there in society," Housler said.
Academically speaking, Housler said The Elk County Homeschoolers group dynamic lacks the competitive aspect she associates with the public and private schools.
"Everybody is who they are, where they are," Housler said.
Other mothers like Pam Schrecengost, of Toby, who homeschools her four children, ages 9, 11, 13, and, 15, were introduced to the notion of homeschooling by friends and were drawn to the flexibility it offers the family and the tailored approach offered to each child.
The mothers cited homeschooling as allowing for a child to receive accelerated instruction as well as remediation when needed, as opposed to the sink-or-swim nature of collective pacing in a classroom.
"Each homeschooling family is unique in what they do. This works very well, learning can be tailored to the specific child. They can work at their own pace without having to 'keep up' with the others in their class. They can review the areas they need extra help on without missing that area or falling behind. They can also skim over the things that they already know and aren't that interested in. At times they can excel in areas that they enjoy and show some ability," Schrecengost said.
As the mothers explained, if a child is struggling with a certain subject or with remaining on-target at their grade level, they can be “caught up” by fast-tracking instruction into the summer and through the next school year, essentially doing two years' worth of instruction in one. They said this can be done without the learning-disabled or special education labels that would otherwise be affixed in a public school setting.
The women, all stay-at-home mothers, said while there are great rewards to homeschooling children, there are sacrifices as well.
"Homeschooling, you make a lot of sacrifices to be able to do that because at least one parent, usually the mother and sometimes the dad, too, has to be on hand to give instruction. So you sacrifice quite a bit. It's not like we stay at home and play all day, we actually do work," Schrecengost said.
Pick up a copy of the Friday, May 4, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.