It takes huge commitment andBy Stephanie Kendrick
lots of confidence, but parents
who home school their children
say it's worth the effort
Assistant Features Editor
MIYOSHI Walter has been home schooling her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter since quitting her full-time job four years ago.
In the process of looking for a preschool, she and her husband met some families who were home schooling. "I fell in love with the idea of a close-knit family and learning that didn't stop when they got home at 3 o'clock," she said.
But as attractive as that idea was, it was not an easy decision.
The lifestyle change was the biggest challenge, said Walter. Then came the fears and myths that are the biggest hurdles for home schoolers: preconceptions about their own weaknesses, concerns about socialization, and a belief that parents aren't qualified teachers.
"My biggest fear was, will I do them justice," she said.
While that fear is common among home schoolers, a study commissioned last year by Home School Legal Defense, a Virginia-based lawyers' group that works nationwide on behalf of home schooling families, suggested it is unwarranted.
According to the nationwide study, neither the academic achievement of parents nor the economic situation of the family had any bearing on the academic success of home schooled children.
It further found those children tend to perform at or beyond the level of their private schooled peers and beyond those in public schools. Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Homeschool Students was researched by Laurence M. Rudner, director of the Maryland-based ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation.
The number of home schooling children in Hawaii has remained fairly constant during the past few years, according to the state Department of Education, averaging 7,000 to 8,000 per school year.
The majority of home schoolers are Christian, and many of the parents interviewed said their children attended religious schools previously. While many see home schooling as a faith-based calling, the principal motivation for home schooling is not a desire to ensure a religious curriculum. Many home schooling parents use secular texts.
The decision to home school seems to be motivated by a desire to restrict peer pressure and to build a more close-knit family.
Stephanie Camacho and her husband decided on home schooling when their son, then in second grade at a private religious school, began to act out in ways that were out of character. It turned out some of his friends were having trouble at home and he was getting caught up in their behavior.
A lot of the same social problems found at public schools are found in private religious schools, said Arleen Alejado, president of Christian Home Schoolers of Hawaii, which has support groups statewide.
The recent academic standards controversy at St. Louis School may have taken some by surprise, but not her.
"I hate to sound cynical, but that's par for the course," said Alejado, who pulled her own children out of a private religious school years ago partly because there was no difference in the standards of behavior among students or faculty there than could be found at public schools.
For Camacho, home schooling offered a way out of those problems, as well as an opportunity to be a closer family.
Alejado home schooled five children; the youngest just graduated from college.
"We saw another family home schooling and we wanted the same kind of relationship with our children that they had with their kids," she said.
And while home schooled children typically socialize with their peers through church groups, community athletics and even community college classes, Alejado finds it ironic that parents who pull children out of school to avoid having their peer group become dominant force in their lives, immediately look for ways to get their children back together with peers.
Liann Mendoza, author of "Home School Hawaii" and home school teacher of two teen-agers, agreed there is too much of an emphasis on peer socialization.
"How can another child teach a child how to participate in society? They need to learn that from adults," she said.
Help availableAsked if she was in the middle of something at 10:30 on a weekday morning, Emily Laidlaw burst out laughing.
The idea of a photographer coming to her house to get a picture of what home schooling really looks like brought more mirth. "You mean the four loads of laundry on the couch? The whole thing?" she asked.
Laidlaw, mother of five children ages 1 to 15, has been home schooling for more than a decade.
While curriculum choices, legal protection and organized support for home schooling all have exploded in recent years, the task is still not an easy one.
"The first year you don't know what you're doing. The second year you decide you're going to quit. The third year you start to figure it out," said CHOH president Alejado. "It never gets easier, but you learn how to cope."
"One of the greatest resources is a support group," said Laidlaw, who leads the CHOH Windward chapter.
Even after a decade of experience as a home schooler, Laidlaw still bounces off ideas and problems other home school parents. Support groups also allow members to organize group activities such as lectures, book fairs, science labs and field trips.
Camacho is beginning her third year of home schooling and has just started attending a support group. She recommended home schoolers get into a support group from the beginning.
"I went in real confident, 'yes I can do this.' A year and a half later I was saying 'I can't do this,' " said Camacho, who has four children, ages 1, 3, 6 and 10.
"My husband's support is what brought me through the last two years," she said.
A conflict between her teaching style and and her eldest son's learning style motivated her to seek help from home school veterans. She now thinks she's found some materials that are going to get them through the problem.
Mendoza has been there.
She wound up using a videotaped math class to meet the needs of one of her sons. The subject had always come easily to her and it was hard for him. "It was clear to me and it was so unclear to him that I couldn't explain it to him," she said.
"When you run into problems there are other things out there to help the home schooling parent," said Mendoza.
In fact, sometimes it seems there are too many choices.
"There's so much to choose from, it's hard to know what to use. For first-time home schoolers it can be overwhelming."
Options for older children include university extension programs. Both of Mendoza's sons, ages 15 and 17, are taking Japanese through the University of Ala-bama and earning college credit.
Mendoza has been home schooling her children for about a decade. She wrote "Home School Hawaii" so local home schoolers would have a reference book on state laws and local and national resources.
"What I usually tell a new home schooler is that it's often best to start with a set textbook-based curriculum," said Mendoza.
Then with time and experience, many home schoolers create their own material.
The Christian Home schoolers of Hawaii has support groups statewide, 689-6398. Many of the groups are open to non-Christian home schoolers.
Curriculum reviews are available at support groups, as well as in the state libraries to help parents choose.
Hawaii retailers that offer a discount on educational materials to documented home schoolers include Barnes & Noble, Borders Books & Music, Rand McNally Map & Travel Store and The Nature Company.
Kaleidoscope Resource Group is a Waipahu business that offers standardized testing, as well as literacy and critical-thinking training. It also will help home schoolers plan interdisciplinary research projects, and organize book and discussion groups, 384-6908.
"Home School Hawaii," $16.50, is a reference book on state laws, as well as local and national resources, with periodic updates. Available through CHOH support groups as well as Write Image, P.O. Box 61471, Honolulu, HI 96839.
Bob Jones University Press of Greenville, S.C., offers standardized testing materials. Call 1-(800)-845-5731 or www.bjup.com/testing.
Home School Legal Defense in Virginia is a lawyers' group that lobbies for home schooling and helps families with legal issues. It has a lawyer dedicated to Hawaii. Call 1-(540)-338-5600.
Click for online
calendars and events.