September 'back to school' for home schoolers, too

Like their counterparts in traditional schools, many home-schooled children return to their regular school routines this time of year.

“Usually the norm is that Tuesday after Labor Day,” said Lashawn Wainwright of DeKalb, who home-schools her children.

For the many home-school families that model their year after the traditional school calendar, including a summer off, a spring break and a winter break, September signals the return to a structured learning environment.

But class time never really stops for home-schoolers, even over the summer. Home-school families may turn a family vacation into a learning opportunity by studying history, geography, art and culture during the trip. Many home-school families follow a summer routine that does not include structured school days, but still has plenty of reading, writing projects, math exercises, field trips, online courses and educational programs.

“My son keeps reading over the summer and we took a trip to D.C. with two other families,” said Lorri Thrower of Sycamore, who home-schools her eighth-grade son.

Most home-school families try to minimize the summer learning loss or “learning slide” that affects many traditional school students over the three-month absence from the classroom.

“Our summer was very busy,” said Jeff Lewis of Sycamore, whose wife Melissa home-schools their three children. “We tell them they get a summer vacation but it’s a scaled-down version. We give them some reading to do or some fun math exercises or fun geography puzzles rather than just doing nothing.”

The National Home Education Research Institute estimates there were about 2 million home-school students in the United States in 2010, and reports that the number of home-schoolers has steadily risen over the last 30 years.

Home-school families enjoy the freedom to adopt any schedule that works for them and their co-op partners, such as Labor Day to Memorial Day, a year-round schedule, a four-day-a-week schedule, or a six weeks on/one week off schedule. Longer break periods are scheduled around the family’s needs, usually with the goal of having about 180 days of structured class time a year.

In Illinois, families do not have to register with state or local school officials to home-school their children, although they do need to notify the local school district they are home schooling.

The Illinois State Board of Education stipulates home-schooled children ages 7 to 17 must be taught language arts, mathematics, biological and physical sciences, social sciences, fine arts and physical development and health.

In any subject, an important part of the learning process is the conversations families have about their experiences.

Lauri Stroyan of Sycamore, who home-schools her 5-, 8-, 9- and 14-year-old children, uses the Classical Conversation program, a nationwide co-op of families who incorporate Christian teaching into their curriculum. Classical Conversation focuses on teaching students the basic facts about a subject, then helping them to understand and analyze the subject through critical thinking, and finally to have thoughtful discussions about the subject with their teachers and peers. The method encourages students to become curious about the subjects they are learning and to develop that curiosity into a lifelong learning experience.

“That is the classical method of teaching children with grammar, dialectic and rhetoric stages,” Stroyan said.

About 20 families belong to the local Classical Conversation community, which meets once a week during the school year at the Evangelical Free Church of Sycamore/DeKalb.

Not all home-school families are faith-based. Patty Ruback of DeKalb recently co-founded a secular home-school support group called DeKalb County Home Educators. Group activities include weekly nature hikes, a science club, an art club and field trips. Members will soon have the option of including Spanish lessons in their curriculum.

“We are a secular group that is open to all families,” Ruback said. “We have members with a lot of different religious beliefs.”

Through word-of-mouth and through the website Meetup, she has organized about 18 families so far who share resources, ideas and tips for their children. But she is quickly finding out that home-schooling has its own learning curve.

“I am home-schooling myself on home-schooling,” Ruback said. “But I feel very fortunate to be able to do this.”

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