Homeschool families share experiences

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Clayton County homeschool families include, back row from left: Tate, "River" and Dean Schultz; Marianne Moore and her children, Isaak, Naomi, Temperance, Gideon and Abby; Eleanor, Daisy, Holly and Audrey Dickson, and Aiyana, Audra and Rowan Janes. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

A worldwide pandemic ushered in the most rapid rise in homeschooling the United States has ever seen. Even after schools reopened and vaccinations became widely available, many parents have decided to continue directing their children’s education.

According to data obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press, homeschooling numbers dipped this year from last year's all-time high, but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels. 

Four Clayton County homeschool families have offered to share their collective years of knowledge and experience as at home educators. Each of them has a unique approach to homeschooling that benefits their family. Their perspectives appear in alpha order. 

Holly Dickson

Holly Dickson has been home schooling her children for the past ten years. "When my children were young I was inspired to be involved in their daily environment," Dickson began. "I read aloud to them and took them to the zoo so they could see the creatures we were reading about, and exposed them to more art and music than the school could provide." 

Dickson teaches a classic education model. "Early on I began to follow the classical education model that emphasizes learning through grammar, logic, and rhetoric phases of development," she explained. "There are guidelines set by the state that homeschool families must follow that include periodic benchmark level assessments and high school core credits." 

This past spring Dickson's oldest daughter, Eleanor, was awarded a Gold Medal rating after taking the National Latin Exam. "There is a wide variety of curriculum available online," shared Dickson. "We try to attend at least one Homeschool Convention a year to see what curriculum has been improved or added to the market. Convention offers workshops for beginners and pros. The best part is the encouragement you receive from other homeschool families.  

Dickson's children also participate in extracurricular activities. "We have felt very welcome by the local school district," she told The Press. "Our kids participate in sports at the junior and high school level at Clayton Ridge."

Holly appreciates all the advantages of homeschooling.  "Exposing my children to a wide variety of individuals and different cultures has been a wonderful advantage," says Dickson. "This has afforded us the opportunity to have conversations about truth, love, reality, lifting one another up, using your gift of kindness and asking for help when you need it." 

She went on to say, "I have been able to fill their tool boxes with tools of conversation, perspective, and patience. This is a powerful base for them to work from as they move toward adulthood. Homeschooling has provided me with this invaluable opportunity to influence my children without distraction."

Audra Janes

Audra Janes, mother of two, has been homeschooling her children for nearly nine years. 

"It is my personal conviction that one of my responsibilities as a parent is to be the primary caregiver and educator of my children," Janes remarked. "I have been blessed to be in a position to do so. My reasons for continuing to home school grow more numerous every year – I never dreamt what a gift homeschooling would be for our family."

  Janes listed the following statistics. "According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percent of households nationwide with at least one student homeschooling full-time more than doubled between 2020 and 2021. This increase has held fairly steady as of spring 2022," she noted. "My hope is that families who always wanted to try homeschooling were able to take that opppotunity during the pandemic and have found that it works for them." 

The Janes family uses a curriculum that has 180 lessons per level, and have recently started schooling year-round. "Options for curricula are virtually endless and are as diverse as homeschoolers themselves," says Janes. 

Requirements for standardized testing and grading vary between states. "Most homeschoolers that I know do not get caught up with 'grade level' so much as focusing on making sure the student grasps a concept before moving forward," she commented. "Each child is able to advance at a rate that works for them, which often means they will have some subjects they are able to move through quickly and some that they need to spend extra time on."

Janes pointed out, "Homeschool educators come from a multitude of demographics and educational backgrounds. You do not have to have a teaching degree or certificate to homeschool your children – and this is true in every state."

There are three homeschooling options in Iowa that allow students to dual enroll and participate in public school extracurricular activities. "Homeschool students also take part in activities through homeschool groups, community groups or privately," she added. 

Janes shared the advantages of educating her children at home. "The longer I homeschool the more advantages I see. Being able to provide a one-on-one education for my children that encompasses not just academics, but also their interests, practical life skills and character development. Setting our own schedule and having time to really get to know my children as individuals. Socializing my children in a more real-world setting with a variety of different age groups rather than mostly with other children. Allowing my children to work at their own pace without constant comparisons to their peers, and canceling school for ‘sun days’ instead of snow days,” she listed. 

“We are fortunate to live in a country and state that recognizes and supports the rights of parents to decide how to best educate their children – whether that be public, private, or homeschool. Regardless of how we choose to educate our children, their success is heavily dependent on how much we as parents and educators invest in them,” she said with conviction.    

There are many excellent resources both online and in person for homeschooling families.  Homeschool co-ops, local groups, tutors, conferences, blogs, mentorship programs, and more are available. “I am part of a homeschool mentorship group and have mentored parents from across the United States and even as far away as Ethiopia,” shared Janes. “Homeschool Legal Defense Association - and Homeschool Iowa - are both great places to go for information and support. There are also many groups available to join on Facebook, including our local homeschooling group- Guttenberg Iowa Area Homeschoolers. “

The Moore family

The Moore family  of Guttenberg has been homeschooling their children for the past five years. Their primary purpose for homeschooling their children is to provide them with a Christ-centered education. They also find it important to be able to address the individual needs of each of their children, while focusing their attention on each child’s personal learning style. 

“Every child is unique, and every child should be educated in the way that best suits their needs,” shared the Moores. “Homeschooling allows us the flexibly to give extra attention to each child allowing them to advance at the pace that is right for them. Let’s be honest, no two kids are the same! They all have a different learning style, learn at a different pace, and have their own beautiful personality.”

The at-home educators chose a curriculum that includes the basics such as math, science, reading, spelling, English grammar, history, and geography. “We also choose to incorporate extras such as Scripture memory, piano, Latin, sign language, and Tang So Do,” she listed. “We even have the kids work on memorizing a history timeline so they can better understand the historical order of events starting from Creation through to present day!”

The freedom to customize educational requirements for each child has worked well for the family. 

“We use a curriculum which has a recommended 28-week program. As stated earlier, kids are unique, and no two are the same,” she reiterated. “We have kids who need more than 28 weeks to get through a years’ worth of math. We also have kids who finish the recommended grade level for an entire school year before we get to Christmas break. Our children are able to advance at their own pace, when they are ready, but not before.”

The Moores enjoy teaching their children, watching them learn and grow, working through their struggles, seeing them achieve a goal that may have initially seemed unattainable, and celebrating with them when they realize they are enough. “It is such a delight! Home schooling is a commitment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!” 

The Moore family also enjoys the local support they receive. “There are multiple home school groups who meet weekly, for a ‘community day,’” she told The Press. “Some communities have a very structured gathering. The families who attend use the same curriculum and review the work done at home the previous week. Other activities can include music, art, science experiments, writing papers, and presentations in front of the class from each child who attends.”

Dean Schultz

Dean Schultz  of Clayton home-schools his grandson. He cited the Covid-19 pandemic, and his 27-year career as a public school teacher in Iowa as his incentive to begin educating at home.  “It just seemed like the logical thing to do,” commented Schultz. 

The at-home educator enjoys the flexibility home schooling can offer, but prefers a more structured program. “Because of my teaching career, and personal educational experience at the University of Iowa, I chose to work with math, science, English/writing, reading, and history/social studies,” he shared. 

Schultz did his homework and investigated Iowa Home School Laws before diving in. “I explored more specifically what Iowa requires for home schooling” he noted. “My research found that 148 days of classroom fundamentals are required.”

Schultz sticks to the basics when it comes time to awarding grades. “I assign grades each quarter on an A, B, C, D, and F basis, just as I did in my teaching career,” he told The Press. “These grades are recorded in a teacher’s record book and saved to be used at college admission.  I also administer ITED and COGAT tests of basic skills and growth and development, but doing so is not required.”

Although no teacher training or certification is needed to home school, in Schultz’s case it has proven to be helpful. “I am not a spring chicken at age 74, and the challenge of doing this with a middle-school student is as large as my middle school student is tall, which is considerable,” he said with a smile. “That being said, home schooling has allowed me to once again ‘teach up a storm.’  After all, isn’t that the best reason of all to become a teacher – regardless of the setting.” 

There are five options for home schooling in Iowa. Two or three of them allow for participation in extracurricular activities. “My home-school student participates in two or three of these activities,” he noted.

A flexible schedule is an added bonus. “Typically, students get four to five hours of learning time in a traditional school setting” says Schultz, “I have a schedule, but I also have the freedom to adjust as day-to-day demands require.  Another advantage I call ‘engagement by the learner,’ allows my student to actively engage in reading, writing, thinking, thought processing, and expression of learning through speaking and writing. Because I can minimize interruptions I am able to provide a quiet, interruption-free environment conducive to a higher level of learning.”  

He went on to say, “Another advantage is more free time in our daily lives.  I can streamline daily learning by eliminating time consuming activities related to traditional learning centers. If we wish to take advantage of a beautiful day, we simply adjust our class schedule for the day and head outside.”

Dean’s student also participates in “life chores” that create opportunities for engaged learning, and enjoys many field trips that may not be possible with larger groups.

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