With a little effort and research, Tom and Cheryl Littlejohn have found ways to give their children a well-rounded education and avoid the homeschool stigma
Although homeschooling certainly has a longer heritage than formal education, it remains a sticky subject in crowds. The phrase often conjures visions of hyper-religious families worried about the indoctrination of their children or socially awkward pre-teens sleeping in until noon, sitting at a table with barely competent parents and doing homework in their PJs.
Not so — at least not for the Littlejohn family. Derek, a high-school senior, and Carrie, an 8th grader, may be allowed to sleep about an hour later than most teenagers, but part of their homeschooling schedule requires showering, dressing and eating breakfast before school starts — and it begins at 9 a.m., sharp. The structure, their mother said, makes all the difference, and it’s one of the two keys to the success they’ve had.
Cheryl Littlejohn and her husband Tom have been homeschooling for five years. Before that, Derek and Carrie were attending a local private Christian school affiliated with their former church. When changes in the church and school made them uncomfortable with the children’s educational situation, they began looking into homeschool programs.
The parents had two major questions: Would homeschooling be an effective choice in their education, and would they miss out socially? In the end, they decided to give it a try. “When considering our educational choices, in light of the changes in our lives, we felt that homeschooling was best for our family,” Cheryl said.
At first, the children were a little resistant. Both Carrie and Derek missed their friends. Because both children were active in sports, Carrie continued to play soccer with St. Francis, and Derek immediately signed up for a homeschool basketball team. Cheryl and Tom pictured a few parents with whistles, but were pleasantly surprised and impressed when they showed up and found a highly professional organization and a great coach.
» By The Numbers
2.2% of total student population is homeschooled
- U.S. Department of Education, 2003
48.9% of homeschool parents believe they can give their children a better education at home
38.4% homeschool for religious reasons
11.6% believe school does not challenge their children
- National Center for Education Statistics, 1999
SEEK Southside Educators Encouraging Knowledge
Homeschool Wildcats Basketball
After they’d been homeschooling for a year, they were introduced to the SEEK program, or Southside Educators Encouraging Knowledge. With SEEK, about 120 homeschooled children meet weekly for what they call a “co-op.” The socialization her kids get at the co-op is the other key to the Littlejohns’ homeschool success. Each Tuesday, the kids gather at a space rented from a local church, eat lunch together and then take classes — Drama, in Carrie’s case — that would be difficult to experience at home. Other co-op subjects include Physics, Chemistry, Speech, Spanish and Health. The classroom facilitators are parents and friends willing to volunteer their time to the program; some are certified teachers, and some are not. Cheryl, for instance, facilitates a high-school composition course. Incidentally, families are encouraged to have a year of homeschooling under their belts before joining SEEK, so the kids hadn’t missed out. And between sports (Carrie also captains a cheerleading squad), work (Derek is a part-timer at Chick-fil-A), other activities (piano lessons, volunteering and church youth group activities) and co-op, the kids are far from solitary. They are busy until bedtime most nights and interact with other teenagers daily. Co-op days are especially demanding. “Tuesdays are crazy,” Cheryl said.
Their solitary time involves watching video lectures, taking quizzes and tests and doing projects until noon or 1 p.m., then doing homework until 3 or 4 p.m. The teachers on the recorded lectures often mention how long a certain assignment or project should take, but — as with the beauty of homeschooling — the kids can move at their pace. If one of the kids gains understanding of a concept in half the allotted time, he or she can move ahead. If one of them is having real trouble with something, it’s OK to spread it out. Because of their association with SEEK, the Littlejohn kids know someone in every subject that they can call with questions.
While Carrie’s schooling comes only from the video lectures and the co-op, Derek takes intermediate Spanish and Pre-Calculus at Franklin College through Running Start, a dual-achievement program for high-school-aged students. He has received early admission at a few schools, but is currently deciding between state schools and military academies to pursue his career goals in nursing.
All of this activity must have a price tag, of course, but the Littlejohns’ homeschool situation doesn’t set them back anywhere near as far as private school did. Each May, materials for the next school year are ordered.
Books are theirs to keep, but the DVD lectures are rentals. To keep up with technology and our clutter-reducing society, the videos are currently making the transition from DVDs to computer files.
Curricula for all grades in the lecture program are based on state qualifications. This semester, Carrie is studying Pre-Algebra, Grammar, American Republic (history and political science), Space and Earth Science and Bible. With the exception of her Bible elective, her workload is comparable with 8th graders in public school, only most of them don’t get to take Drama.
Five years later, all worries Tom and Cheryl had about their children’s socialization and academic progress have been dismissed. Their resources are plentiful, their schedule is flexible, and they can customize the curriculum. They plan field trips with other homeschooled families — an IMAX movie about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and a trip to a feline rescue center in Clay County are examples — and vacations rely only on Tom’s work schedule, which allows them to do things like take an extended off-peak trip to Europe. “As a parent, it can be quite demanding and time-consuming, but the benefits are well worth it,” Cheryl said. Aside from teaching the co-op class, she serves as a grader, but she doesn’t look over her kids’ shoulders. Having teenaged children means she can go about her day while they’re learning.
And she’s not worried about her kids’ future any more than any other concerned parent. The education they’re getting is sound — Derek is the president of the local branch of the National Honors Society for Homeschoolers — they’re well-developed socially, and they’re tuned into college preparation. Five years ago, she was afraid of the stigma, but the accessibility of the SAT and ACT levels the playing field. Even if parents did inflate their kids’ grades, the proof would be in the pudding when it came to standardized testing.
“Our decision to homeschool is in no way a statement on other people choosing a different course for their kids,” Cheryl said. “We have friends whose kids have done quite well in the public school system, and others who have been successful in the private Christian realm. At this time, we feel that homeschooling is best for our family.”
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