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Using the world as a classroom

Sheri Brewer works with her daughters, Victoria, 10, and Vanessa, 8, on their schoolwork at home in Johnstown. The Brewers are among area parents who have chosen to homeschool their children. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

For children who are schooled at home by their parents, the world is their classroom.

Home schooling “is a lifestyle–you’re learning all the time,” said Sheri Brewer of Johnstown, who teaches her two children, ages eight and 10. For instance, a family trip to Niagara Falls was an opportunity to learn about the falls in several ways.

“I hate textbooks. Textbooks are boring,” said Erin Richards of Stratford.

She said she uses novels and other books to teach her children in a holistic way, so, for example, the study of American history can be blended with literature, science and math. By learning about the ways people used waterwheels and simple machines, they “have a little more insight into the ingenuity that is part of the American spirit,” said Richards, who works part time as a respiratory therapist.

“My husband and I want to shape our own kids,” said Laura Terry of West Galway, who was home schooled as child herself. “I just want to be around my [three] kids.”

Homeschooled children play at the YMCA. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

Resources for home schooling are abundant and need not be expensive, she said. Events can be learning experiences, such as orchestra concerts, ballet, Shakespeare in the park, scouting and clubs, and lessons to play musical instruments. The Johnstown YMCA offers physical education experiences, including team sports, every Tuesday for home school children. “I like meeting new friends,” 8-year-old Vanessa Brewer said of the YMCA program.

Terry said podcasts and YouTube programs for children are abundant. “We use the library so much,” she said.

Sarah Beck of Amsterdam said her family is going to France for 10 days and her two children are studying about that country to prepare for the experience.

Her children, ages nine and 13, “get to choose what they read,” following their own interests. Her 13-year-old, Regan, reads “thousands of pages per week,” Beck said.

“I just like the flexibility of a lot of school one day and be free for the rest of the week,” Regan said.

Brewer’s husband works full time, while as a registered nurse, she works part time.

As with other home schooling parents, the flexibility of children learning at home is important. Learning can work around the schedules of family members and can be out in the fresh air. “The flexibility is the big thing for me,” said Brewer, who can work around her RN schedule.

Diane and Chuck Phippen are Adirondack-Albany representatives for Loving Education at Home, a Christian-based home school organization.

Diane said parents don’t have to be trained teachers to be home schoolers. Phippen, who lives in the Hoosick Falls area, has 12 children and has already home schooled six of them. “I have an education degree, but I don’t feel that helps me,” she said.

Phippen said she teaches her children from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sometimes the children learn lessons together or separately, depending on their ages. Because lessons and instruction are tailored to each child’s age, needs and interests and they get the one-on-one attention they can’t get in a larger setting [a traditional classroom], “learning doesn’t take nearly as long,” she said.

Phippen said the reasons parents choose home schooling varies greatly–“more family time, more tutorial experience, opting out of public schools for whatever reason.”

Richards said public schools “are teaching kids some values I don’t want taught to my children,” such as evolution, sex education, homosexuality and transgender bathroom use. Plus, in the schools, they encounter “mean kids, bullying and bad language,” she said.

“I can give my kids a better education at home,” she said. “We can dive deeper and learn a lot more.”

She said New York state has more testing and parental paperwork requirements than most other states.

Even so, Phippen said that while parents are required to teach specific subjects, such as New York state history, how they teach and what they teach is left up to them. “It’s the parents’ right and responsibility to direct the education of our children,” she said, adding that she feels unbiased education does not exist anywhere.

Home schooling parents are frequently asked if their children get enough socialization. They say that just the opposite is true because their youngsters are not so segregated by age, interact with other home schooled children, belong to various clubs and groups, and have a lot of contact with adults.

Home schooling parents are involved formally or informally with other home schooling parents to offer socialization and educational enrichment.

“My kids are not intimidated by adults,” said Richards. “Probably my kids talk to adults much better than most kids.”

Nationwide, home schooled children make up an average 2.70 percent of students, according to an estimate of the A2Z Homes Cool organization, based on states’ data and statistical methods. New York state was estimated to have 89,097 home schoolers out of 3,163,022 students overall in 2016-17, about the same percentage as the national average

Some studies of home schoolers’ academic success put them on a par with all students or better. A Feb. 18, 2012, USA Today article, “Do home-schoolers do better in college than traditional students?” says home schoolers do slightly better on SAT and ACT tests, have higher freshman-year grade-point averages in college, and are more likely to graduate college. But those type of findings are still debated by researchers, including how much student achievement is influenced by parental educational and socioeconomic levels.

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