Friday, September 14, 2007

More homeschooling in our local news

From the

Homeschooling makes the grade for some families
Staff Writer

Eight-year-old Nnamdi Iheke of Bothell walks just a few hundred feet to school each morning.

His classroom is the family kitchen, a place where he can learn in full-dress or pajamas, whichever suits him.

The Ihekes are one of about 450 Northshore-area families that have chosen homeschooling as their preferred form of education.

Some work completely solo. Others partner with co-op groups, private educators or even school districts to get the job done.

“There are as many ways of homeschooling as there are homeschoolers,” said Marna Marteeny, who teaches her two children, ages 9 and 12, at their abode in unincorporated King County.

Likewise, there are multiple reasons that parents embrace these methods.

Homeschooling puts the student-adult ratio at roughly one-to-one, allowing each student to get an individualized education that fits his or her unique pace, interests and learning style.

It also turns the world into a classroom, where field trips become a regular part of the learning regimen. Trips to the aquarium and even family vacations become a part of the educational experience.

“We took our kids to England,” Marteeny said. “Is there anything you can do in England that isn’t historical? It’s all educational.

“This year, we’re going to Yellowstone. We’re hoping to find wolves.”

Bothell resident Kalisa Fraser says that homeschooling will give her the flexibility for an extended visit with family in Brazil. Her kids will come along and immerse themselves in the culture while learning Portuguese.

And they won’t have to play catch-up after returning home.

“I’m definitely excited to have more control over how we live as a family,” Fraser said. “We’re big advocates of public education, and teachers have all my respect in the world. They do a really hard job, and they do it well, but it was a matter of doing what’s right for my family by controlling our time and the curriculum.”

Despite its touted benefits, homeschooling has its skeptics.

Nnamdi’s father was one of them at first. He grew up in Nigeria, where homeschooling is far from the norm.

“He wasn’t keen on it,” said Nnamdi’s mother, Gina. “We chose to give it a try for a couple of years and decided this was just working for us.”

The more unwavering doubters say that homeschooling stunts social development.

Advocates counter by pointing out that children educated at home typically attend group activities each week.

The Northshore School District even partners with the YMCA to offer art and physical-education programs that allow homeschool children to play with peers.

Proponents also note that homeschool kids aren’t segregated into age-specific classrooms.

“The kids learn to talk to adults like people,” Marteeny said. “There isn’t that separation between the kid world and the grown-up world, so they learn to interact with everybody.”

Homeschool parents do acknowledge certain challenges associated with opting out of a formal education. Most eventually run into subjects that they don’t feel comfortable teaching, for example.

Gina says she found it difficult to explain why multiples of 10 sometimes need to be carried over when doing subtraction. She bought a DVD to help Nnamdi understand the concept.

And when her son asked to learn about spiders — a topic that grosses Gina out — she signed him up for a class about insects at the zoo.

The goal, according to homeschoolers, is for parents to act more as learning facilitators than actual teachers.

That’s when networking groups come in handy.

“List serves are really important because you learn what other people are doing, and you learn about the resources that are available,” Marteeny said. “That mom-to-mom information is the best you can get.”

Several dozen networks and organizations in north King and south Snohomish counties are dedicated to the field of homeschooling.

Parents can also hire outside help or send their kids to classes through co-ops and private schools.

Marteeny’s 12-year-old son, Benjamin, meets regularly with groups that are studying Mandarin, applied government and environmental activism, as well as invertebrate biology.

The Northshore School District also provides enrichment classes and consulting with certificated teachers through its Home School Networks program, which began in 1997 and now serves nearly 600 students a year.

In addition, teens between the ages of 16-18 can take college courses on the state’s tab through the Running Start Program.

Homeschooling requires structure and time commitment, according to parents.

“It consumes you,” Gina said. “It’s a part of my life, like a full-time job. I divide myself three ways, between my house, my family and homeschooling.”

That hasn’t kept working parents from homeschooling.

Marteeny, a former nuclear engineer, tutors math part time when she’s not busy teaching her own kids and running a household.

Fraser works full time with the Microsoft Corp. sales and operations team.

“If I can do it with my schedule and the demands on my time, anyone can do it,” she said.

Washington law states that students who participate in homeschooling must learn 11 subjects — ranging from math to art — and participate in annual testing, which can be done in the form of an analysis by a certified teacher, or by way of a standardized exam.

Those who participate in the Northshore School District’s Home School Networks program must pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exams, just like traditional students.

Parents wishing to homeschool must meet one of four requirements: either earning 45 quarter units of college-level credit, attending a parent qualifying course, working with a certified teacher or receiving approval from the superintendent of their school district.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Zoo day

We went to the zoo today! The idea came to me last night after the kids had gone to bed. The weather is supposed to be fantastic for the next week or so, and we avoided the zoo for most of the summer due to the crowds, so it was high time we head down there. It was a great day, and N. commented that it was nice to have the zoo to ourselves without big fieldtrip groups milling around. I had to agree with her!

We went to the animal encounter show, which is basically a chance for the handlers to give the animals a dress rehearsal in front of an audience. They had four different animals in various stages of training, and explained how they use a clicker and food rewards as part of their positive reinforcement. This was right up N's alley! Especially when they brought a rat out to practice it's run up a fake rock, across a rope, and through a small door in the "cliff face" (ie. back wall of the stage). Now she really wants to go out and buy a clicker ASAP to train her rats to do something, anything, but she's sure it will be really cool. N. and I talked to the handler about what her background is, and how she got into this line of work. She has a degree in zoololgy, and started at this zoo as an intern ten years ago. She highly recommended participating in 4-H as a good opportunity to learn more about animals and animal training. This is something I've been considering, so I now have more incentive to investigate it further.

Next we went over to the Rocky Shores area, where we were surprised to see two zoo employess with a giant hornbill waiting to get on the elevator as we were getting off. Not what I was expecting to see as the doors slid open!
After getting off the elevator, we wandered over to the walruses who were being fed. Man, they are HUGE! There was one keeper for each of the three walruses, and one keeper who was talking about the animals and answering questions. Conversation turned to walrus breeding, which was kind of interesting. Breeding season is January to March, and the only way to determine whether a walrus is pregnant is through a blood test to detect progesterone levels. Problem is, their progesterone levels are naturally high all through the summer, so they won't know if either of their two females is pregnant for another month or so. Gestation is 15 months, so they'll still have plenty of time to prepare if it turns out there was a successful mating. Apparently there have only been 5 successful breeding attempts of walruses in captivity (offspring surviving longer than one year), and there have been 6 live births that didn't survive the one year mark. At this zoo, one of the walruses has given birth twice - one died during the birth, and the other died at four days old (believed to be the result of aspirating meconium in utero). I'm telling you, it was fascinating stuff!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Local Homeschooling Article

This is another group in the area, over on the westside.

Parents and children who are part of an informal network of about 200 homeschool families gathered to eat, talk and play Tuesday at Wallingford Playfield. (Andy Rogers / P-I)
Celebrating home education
Membership in informal Seattle group has soared in past four years

Last updated September 4, 2007 11:51 p.m. PT


Kids from toddlers to teens raced around the Wallingford playground Tuesday to celebrate not going back to school, the day before most Seattle youngsters are preparing to go back to class.

But that didn't mean the kids on the playground weren't pumped about their education. For the kids, who are part of the Seattle Homeschool Group -- one of the largest secular groups of its kind in the area -- every day presents an opportunity to learn.

"I like it because I can play and learn at the same time," said Hanz Hosler, 8, taking a break from playing Capture the Flag with about two dozen other kids.

The Seattle Homeschool Group, a loose-knit network of parents who are teaching their children at home, has grown from about a dozen families four years ago to more than 200 families today, said Elizabeth Davies, who is homeschooling her two children. The group meets informally each week to share ideas and resources.

Dissatisfaction with schools is probably the biggest reason people begin homeschooling, said Kathy Woodford, who pulled her two children out of schools in Bellevue to begin teaching them at home in January.

Jennifer McDowell-Wood, a civil engineer and mom of two, elected to homeschool her two children -- who she said were "on the gifted side" -- out of a desire to escape what she saw as the "one-size-fits-all" approach offered through traditional education.

Homeschooling has grown beyond the stereotype of the conservative, religious family teaching their kids around the dining room table, said McDowell-Wood. Today, home schoolers embrace a variety of philosophies -- some religious, some not -- and employ a variety of teaching strategies, from the completely unstructured "unschooling" approach, to a more structured use of curricula.

The parents who choose home schooling come from a variety of backgrounds. They are teachers, engineers, photographers, tech workers, filmmakers, lawyers and farmers. One described herself as "your basic Seattle knee-jerk liberal" who believed in public schools and never imagined herself a homeschooler.

"It was not even on the radar," said Jennifer Thames. But when her son, Nick, now 11, started school, she saw his love of learning start to plummet. So she made a different choice.

What all the parents shared, however, is a common belief that kids learn best with the individual attention of their parents, and the opportunity to guide their own educations by what intrigues them.

For Angelo DeLaurentis, 10, that's Greek mythology at the moment -- and reading. "I just finished 'The Two Towers,' (part of the Lord of the Rings series,)" he said.

For Alaina Woodford, 12, it's writing that has captured her imagination. She just submitted her first piece of fiction to an editor.

Homeschooling is a lifestyle as individual as each family that tries it, McDowell-Wood said. Some take summers off. Some don't. But for all of them -- everything from trips to Hawaii to trips to the grocery store can offer up lessons.

Washington law requires kids to get an education, but doesn't dictate how they get it. Children who are homeschooled are required to take an approved annual exam to chart their progress, but otherwise there are no formal requirements for how they get to graduation. Many progress faster than their "grade levels" and start community college early, parents said.

If parents need extra help, they can turn to outside sources, such as math-tutoring centers -- or each other. The Seattle Homeschool Group regularly taps the talents of other parents, or pools resources to create opportunities for the kids, such as hiring a coach for the chess club.

Many parents said they treasured the education they were getting alongside their kids.

"I'm constantly learning stuff from them," said Maggie DeLaurentis of her three homeschooled children, ages 10, 8 and 5.

One son's recent interest in medieval swords has introduced her to a whole new epoch in history and culture. "There's a lot of stuff I don't know apparently."

While homeschooling apparently appealed to the kids, a few do ask to go back to school.

Cynthia Heckman's 15--year-old son will start high school this year -- his first time in public school -- in part to play baseball and to socialize with his friends.

"It was his choice," she said. "He has a ton of friends there already."

That made Tuesday her first not "not-back-to-school day" picnic. "I'm a little freaked out about it," she said.

But she and the other parents said raising kids independent enough to make good choices was part of the reason they undertook homeschooling.

And the other reason was to ensure their children loved to learn.

On the playground Tuesday, it appeared to be working.

"Learning shows up everywhere," said Bailey Smart-Zimmerman, 11. "If you do it all the time."

Not Back To School

Yesterday was our homeschool group's annual Not-Back-To-School Picnic at a nearby park. It had poured down rain for most of the morning, but then let up about 30 minutes before we were scheduled to be there. As is usually the case for homeschoolers, most folks arrived at least 45 minutes after the scheduled start time. :P FOUR HOURS LATER most of us were still there, and I finally had to call it a day and gather the kids up to make a stop by the library.

While we were at parkday, one of the moms thought she saw deer in the wetland area that's fenced off next to the playground. Sure enough, we went over and there were two of them nibbling on the grass. Most of the moms and kids eventually made it over to go watch these deer from a distance of only 25 feet or so away. What a great way for all of us to spend the first day of school! ;P

Last night I survived my first meeting as president of our homeschool group. It seemed to go okay for just winging it, though next time I'm planning an open discussion, I'll actually prepare questions ahead of time, just in case! I was nervous for most of the meeting - first nervous that we weren't going to fill up all our time, then nervous that we were going to go over before everyone had a chance to talk. We ended right when we were supposed to be out of the room, which meant we were over by about 5-10 minutes. If I'd started on time, it would have been perfect! ;P