Homeschool families describe their diverse methods and motives

Homeschoolers Penina Finger and her 12 year old son.
Homeschoolers Penina Finger and her 12 year old son.
Photo by Margalit Ward

Homeschooling has been rapidly gaining in popularity for decades. Now, more than 2 million K-12 kids are homeschooled in the U.S. and their numbers continue to rise. Parents cite a wide range of reasons for choosing home-based education - a desire to provide religious or moral instruction, concerns about school safety, and dissatisfaction with the one-size-fits-all approach to academic instruction, among many others. One thing that hasn’t changed are the many preconceived notions about who homeschools and why. Stereotypes about fundamentalists, left-wing radicals and socially awkward kids abound. But homeschool families are incredibly diverse. They are secular, religious, multicultural, married, single, rich and poor. The one thing that seems to unify this impossible-to-define community is a deep and abiding love for their children and the hope that through this very personal style of education those kids will grow up to be thoughtful, happy, engaged, active members of their community and the world at large. Here are stories of people who have shared their homeschool experiences through our online questions: Scott Zeise, 26, former homeschool student: Scott was homeschooled by his mother until he entered college at the age of 15. “News programs love to show the ‘hick homeschoolers’ who use homeschooling as a way to keep their kids out of the government’s clutches! But realistically, every kid has curiosity. The parent just directs it and buys the admission passes/is the chauffeur,” wrote Zeise to KPCC. “At 15 I started taking 15-18 credit course loads at our local junior college... I eventually transferred to a four-year where 55 of my 105 credits transferred over with me, allowing me to get a four-year degree in 2.5 years. Yay, no student loans!”

Ann Zeise, 63, CEO of A to Z Home’s Cool Inc.:

Ann Zeise is an active member of the homeschool community. She has not only homeschooled her own son, Scott, but regularly advises other parents who teach their children at home. A to Z Home’s Cool became her family business. Ziese says the fluidity of homeschooling leads to all sorts of interesting opportunities: “One summer night there was a meteor shower. We camped out in the backyard to watch. We had a sky chart so we could tell each other where to look. That brought up an interest in the stories behind the constellation names. That led to an interest in Native American, Greek and Roman history. Learning that the Romans planned their cities, our son started playing SimCity, which led to questions about how our town was planned... Then our neighbor decided to run for mayor, so to help build a better city, we spent days helping his campaign. When he won, he appointed our son to the Youth Advisory Commission.” Craig Connally, 66, retired engineering/product design manager: Craig’s wife Susan is an executive with a large media/entertainment company. Susan works full-time, so Craig is primarily responsible for teaching their 8-year-old daughter JohannaKate. “When JohannaKate was a toddler I sought out play opportunities for her; that soon put me in contact with homeschoolers,” Connally told KPCC. “Homeschooling was an option then because I was qualified to teach and out of a job, while my wife's career was taking off. JohannaKate rocketed ahead so well that at age 7 I had her assessed. I then realized that homeschooling was an imperative, no longer an option, as she tested profoundly gifted. Our local elementary school is weak, and our district's very limited GATE program is canceled. Schools are highly resistant to acceleration, so there is simply no suitable alternative, even at private schools. Kate enjoys a full-time, one-on-one tutor focused on her total education. Kate is nominally in third grade, but she is doing 6th/7th grade science and math.” “I’m frequently asked by instructors at the ‘after school’ activities my daughter attends with schooled kids if she is homeschooled. ‘How can you tell?’ I ask. The answer is always the same: ‘They look you right in the eye, they show you respect and they expect you to respect them, and they can stand on their own two feet. You can spot a homeschooled kid.’” Carol Doose, 61, administrative assistant: Carol homeschooled her son as a single mother. Doose told KPCC that following her son’s natural drive to learn led him to develop a love of reading at his own pace: “My son’s best friend insisted that my boy would never learn to read unless he went to school. As it was, my son had little interest in reading, although he loved being read to and listening to recorded stories. He began reading on his own at age 11.5 years. The first ‘Harry Potter’ book was a turning point for him... He has just this December, at age 22, graduated with honors from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon with an English major. He reads more than anyone else I have ever met. Books are his addiction. Go figure.” Jennifer Jones, 41, self-employed: Jennifer is one half of a biracial couple, with two sons, Corey and Crystov. “There is no typical homeschool that I'm aware of, other than the parents' belief that they can do it better than a school,” Jones told KPCC. “My boys are with mom and dad all day, as we both work from home. I've witnessed a feminizing of boys who are at home with mom all day, even down to long hair and effeminate attitudes. My boys (6-and-a-half and 8 months) are engaged with their dad throughout the day.” Like most homeschoolers, Jones and her husband list many reasons for choosing to teach their children at home. “I want him socialized across ages, not isolated with his own age group all day five days a week. I want to help him discover his interests and teach the subjects from that perspective. I can teach him to be entrepreneurial rather than to be an employee forever in the rat race. I’m not leaving his self-esteem up to chance.” Penina Finger, 51, graphic and user interface/user experience design, product development: Penina is a single parent “unschooling” her 12-year-old son with a mix of home-based education, outside classes and participation in co-ops. “Neither of us is a fit for the school systems,” Finger told KPCC. “I don't adapt well to institutionalized anything. As for my son, he spent two years at two different schools working hard to contort himself to fit into school culture, and I just couldn't watch him do that to himself anymore.” Finger admits there are some challenges to homeschooling. “My greatest experiences of failure have to do with areas at which I excel. I made this connection recently: when I believed ‘This is something I know,’ my son and I found ourselves struggling, at odds, and missing the most important shared goal – joy in discovery.” Skylar Lenox, 25, program coordinator of “Reading to Kids”: Lenox was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. She later graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a 3.74 GPA. “When I was younger the two most commonly asked questions were, ‘What will happen when you get into the real world’ and ‘What about socialization?’ I found these to be the most ridiculous questions of any someone should ask,” Lenox told KPCC. “I was in the ‘real world.’ Today, I'm the person who splits the check and figures out tips when I'm out with my friends. I was the person who taught my friends in college how to balance their checkbooks. I was learning the skills I needed for the real world in the real world. As for socialization, see the previous question. I was never short of friends... When I was little I was surrounded by 100+ families and kids of all ages. I went on a ton of field trips, attended community classes, went to Hebrew school, participated in 4H, was a member of a competitive dive club and traveled.” Shari Rosenman, 49, homeschool administrator: Rosenman is a former lawyer and history teacher and her husband Shep is an entertainment lawyer and, in his spare time, a musician and Jewish educator. Their children are Maya Rosenman, age 14, and Eytan Rosenman, age 12. “We are typical in that we use a variety of homeschool methods, including online classes, in-home classes, private tutors, community classes, community college and self-study. We are typical in that we regularly attend local park days to socialize with other homeschoolers. We are unique in that we are one of very few Orthodox Jewish homeschool families. We are unique in that we can afford to send our children to private schools, but have chosen not to for the past three years due to our belief that homeschooling represents a better education,” Rosenman told KPCC. “Before we began homeschooling my children had no exposure to Shakespeare. Since homeschooling, we have been preparing for and attending two to four Shakespeare plays each year. My children talk about how much they love Shakespeare plays... my teenage daughter sneaks Shakespeare plays to read after hours in her bed for fun!” Lynda “DeeDee” Varner, 52, former high school teacher/assistant children’s choir director: Varner and her husband Clifford have three children, Keil, age 15, Heidi, age 13, and Reilan, age 9. “After spending a considerable amount of time in pubic schools as a teacher, it seemed obvious to me that ‘mass education’ is not without its inherent and considerable risks, especially in the realm of peer influence. Given that our family is one of faith, we were hesitant to consider the idea that our children would spend the 'lion's share' of their day under the tutelage and influence of those we didn't know well: teachers and peers. In a nutshell: statistically, their young adult years would most likely find them unwilling to participate in organized religion,” Varner told KPCC. “Our children are quite proficient in musical ability. All three of them play harp, and each of them plays an orchestral string instrument. They are charter members of our church’s active and traditional children’s choir. The oldest two received scholarships to study the pipe organ, in addition to their piano Certificate of Merit course.” Stephanie Paris, 41, freelance writer: Stephanie and her husband David are the parents of two gifted children. One has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. From hybrid centers - or schools that offer some classes at home and a more organized, group setting - to playgroups, they’ve found a myriad of ways within the homeschool community to keep their children’s lives full of creativity. “We like to take a lot of field trips, do hands-on experiments whenever possible, research our interests in depth, follow the ‘teaching moment’ whenever and wherever we happen to be, and generally look at the entirety of our existence as an educational romp,” Paris told KPCC. Paris added that both kids and adults in the homeschool community support self-expression. “Kids are accepting, grown-ups are helpful. Quirky wasn’t a stigma and no one expected them to walk on the playground or follow other arbitrary rules for insurance purposes. Kids are encouraged to take reasonable risks and explore and become self-reliant. Adults are there to help, but not to control every aspect of behavior. One of my daughter’s best friends who has Asperger's wore Spock ears. No one teased her!”