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Families in a Class by Themselves


The first time Julie Smith heard her oldest son read on his own was a very special moment. Although all parents are proud of this accomplishment, Smith was especially pleased because she's responsible. She had been his sole teacher since he was 5.

The thrill of being there for such important educational moments is one reason Smith, 35, and her husband, Craig, 34, decided to teach all of their children in their Orange home.

Today the Smith's oldest son is 9, and they have just started teaching their second son, who is 5 1/2. Their 2-year-old son and baby-on-the-way will one day join the Smith school.

For the Smiths and a growing number of parents, the benefits of schools in the home include one-on-one, individualized instruction, increased family closeness, enhanced communication between age groups, development of independent thinking, fostering a love of learning, flexible scheduling, training in all areas of life and academic progress.

"When the parents are home schooling because they feel it's in the best interest of their children, the one-on-one training can be ideal," says home educational and clinical psychologist Don Smith, whose offices are in Orange. "Home schooling can establish a positive relationship between the kids and parents, enables the children to immediately get feedback and gives young people an opportunity to work at their own pace and level."

Problems arise when parents keep children at home because of some need of their own, Smith says.

Home schooling also isn't for everyone.

"Very few parents are suited to home school their children because it takes a major commitment on the part of the parents," he says. "The parents must also be educated enough to be able to understand and relay concepts to their children."

In California, home schools fall under the private school section of the education code, which means that lessons must be taught by someone capable of teaching between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. in the English language. The home school must also be affiliated with a private school, or the parent must file an affidavit to become an independent school. California has the most lenient laws of any other state regarding home schools.

All home-school educators must keep thorough records that document education is taking place, including attendance and the teaching performed. No testing is required for home-schooled children, although many parents gauge progress with regular achievement tests.

Home schooling has become popular in recent years, says Susan Beatty, co-founder and communications director for Norwalk-based Christian Home Educators Assn. of California, which is the largest home-schooling organization in California. CHEA offers assistance and information to anyone interested in home schooling their children, regardless of religious beliefs.

"When I began home-schooling 12 years ago, there were just a handful of other people educating their children in the home," she says. "Now a rough estimate says that there are 40,000 to 50,000 home-schoolers in California and a half-million to a million in the United States. Home schooling is also increasing in other parts of the world."

Beatty says "studies have shown that home-schooled children test at or above the 80th percentile on national norms for standardized achievement tests."

Although many people feel that a lack of socialization for home-schooled children is a problem, it doesn't have to be, says psychologist Smith. "If kids are involved in other activities outside of the home with other children, they will socialize just fine," he says.

Julie and Craig Smith began considering home schooling when Julie was pregnant with their first child. At the time, they worried about socialization, until they watched some friends' home-schooled children.

"The children had respect for each other and others, a great deal of maturity for their age and a total lack of selfishness, which their parents attributed to home schooling," Julie Smith says.

"Although initially we worried about socialization, we also began to see the disadvantage of too much peer interaction," Smith says. "It's better to learn manners and morals from Mom and Dad, rather than other children their age. Our children are learning to cooperate with children and adults."

The Smith children participate in many social activities with other children. Every Friday afternoon during the school year they get together with a group of home-schooled children for field trips that coincide with what they are learning.

They also have community action days when they do things such as glean corn from fields for the homeless. They've also made a quilt and dinner for an AIDS hospice and regularly visit senior citizens at a convalescent home.

Julie Smith teaches her children during the traditional school year and keeps to a set schedule. After dressing and eating, at 9 a.m. they go to the dining room, which serves as a schoolroom.

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