Home-schooling becoming more popular

Education approach gets high marks from parents

Ben Stewart, a high school senior, is a member of the math club, president of National Honors Society and lead cotillion at Social, an etiquette and ballroom dancing club.


His sister, Samantha, an eighth-grader, participates in drama, tutors Latin and plays point guard on her middle school basketball team.

Both teenagers are home-schooled.

A typical stereotype holds that home-schooled kids sit inside all day studying. Shelia Stewart said her children have always had a full schedule of pursuits outside the house.

"We are probably a more active family than most. It's just a matter of personal choice," Stewart said. "As a matter of fact, we sometimes have too many things going on and we have to pull back so we have enough time to learn."

The Stewarts add extracurricular activities to the kids' week by participating in church groups, community organizations and personal hobbies.

For the kinds of social experiences found uniquely in school -- field trips, academic and sports teams, prom -- the Stewarts rely on the CSRA Home Education Association, a network of 400 families that home school.

"Twenty or 25 years ago, the greatest need for home-school families was fellowship with other families. Then, our association was your lifeline," said Sydney Shepherd, a CSRA HEA board member. "But now home-schooling has exploded and there are a lot more resources."

CSRA HEA sponsors a yearly spelling bee, geography bee, high school math team and Science Olympiad team, standardized tests and a high school graduation ceremony. The network also organizes families into smaller "care groups," which sponsor social activities such as field trips, park play dates and parties.

Ben and Samantha recall field trips they've enjoyed, such as a scavenger hunt at the Columbia zoo and exploring a North Augusta stream with a wildlife expert from the Savannah River Site.

Families can also participate in a number of co-ops through CSRA HEA, each with a focus on a particular group activity, such as sports, arts or academic enrichment. Samantha attends a co-op that has advanced language and science lessons.

"We could do it at home, but it's a lot more fun with the other kids," Shelia Stewart said. "We definitely do a lot more hands-on science experiments than you see in school, even a private school ... Samantha has dissected a pig heart, cow eyeball, you name it."

The Stewarts began home-schooling when Ben, an exceptionally bright second-grader, told his parents he was bored and wanted to be taught at home. Today, Ben is enrolled in science and math classes at Augusta State University. Next year he will study engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Shelia Stewart said home-schooling has let her be more engaged with her children.

"For me personally, I have really enjoyed just getting to be with them," she said.

An old belief held that home-schooled kids would miss the social experience of school. But Shepherd said home-schooled children have many opportunities today and home-schooling has simply become a lifestyle choice.

Samantha said she she's had every group opportunity she ever wished for. Ben attended Augusta Preparatory Day School freshman year, so he saw what he was missing.

"It was very different. Different types of people, getting a rigid schedule for class, having a locker," he said.

Certain school social experiences, such as foul language and the presence of illegal drugs, are things he didn't mind skipping.

"There's plenty of stuff that goes on in the world. We've been a little more sheltered, but that's not necessarily a bad thing," he said. "Why stand out in the rain if you don't have to?"

2.04 million

Home-educated students in the United States in 2010. There were an estimated 1.1 million home-schooled children in 2003.


According to the National Home Education Research Institute, here are some reasons parents give for home-schooling:

- The curriculum and learning environment for each child can be customized and individualized.

- More can be accomplished academically than in schools.

- Relationships between children and parents and among siblings are enhanced.

- There are guided and reasoned social interactions with youthful peers and adults.

- Home-schooling provides a safer environment for children and youths, because of violence, drugs and alcohol, psychological abuse and unhealthy sexuality associated with institutional schools.

- It teaches and imparts a particular set of values, beliefs, and worldview to children and youth.


PERFORMANCE: The results of a 2009 study support the large, existing body of research on home-school academic achievement and show home-schoolers, on average, scoring 37 percentile points above public school students on standardized achievement tests. The study also found that the achievement gaps common to public schools were practically insignificant in the home-school community. The study was conducted by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute.

EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: The home-educated typically do above average on measures of social, emotional and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service and self-esteem.

Sources: National Home Education Research Institute and Home School Legal Defense Association