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2018 Apr

A Homeschooling Primer

On a typical weekday, most kids go through the morning rush of getting dressed, eating breakfast, grabbing lunches, and hopping in the car or bus to head to school. But for a large contingent of kids, their day begins in their living room or kitchen table, studying with a parent alongside siblings. As the day progresses, these kids may also attend a program at a library or museum, take an extracurricular class, volunteer in the community, or play a team sport.

Welcome to homeschooling in Tidewater!

At eight in the morning, Solomon Ashby, age 15, and his 13-year-old sister, Leah, start their day with prayer and Bible reading in their Portsmouth home. Their routine includes reciting a Bible verse or poem or Shakespeare verse that they are memorizing. Every term, the Ashby teens study a poem by a specific poet. Presently, they are studying Seamus Heaney. Their mother, Adrienne, teaches a grammar lesson to both kids simultaneously even though they are two years apart. Next, they study an artist or composer; currently, the Ashbys are studying Duke Ellington.

Sherene Silverberg, a Norfolk homeschooling parent of 16-year-old twins, became interested in homeschooling due to her dissatisfaction with schools as a child. Raised in a small town that struggled to maintain teachers, “I didn’t have teachers for half my classes,” Sherene explained. She essentially had to teach herself through textbooks. In addition, Sherene liked the idea of having control over her children’s education, according to their needs.

Other reasons that parents choose to homeschool include quality family time, the ability to impart religious values, and providing for kids’ individualized educational and health needs where it is often difficult for schools to do so. “Homeschooling our children gives us the opportunity to pass on our black heritage and black history to our children,” Adrienne said.

Both of Sherene’s children are gifted. Her son has giftedness complemented by ADHD, auditory processing disorder, and dysgraphia. For Sherene, having children with these challenges made her feel more strongly about her decision to homeschool. “I knew that my son would be in trouble if I sent him to school,” Sherene said.

Sherene manages a Facebook group, “Homeschooling in Hampton Roads.” On this group, prospective homeschooling parents can peruse the resource guide that covers the laws, homeschooling philosophies, co-ops, tutors, extracurricular options, and so much more.

“It’s a one-stop shop for the beginning homeschooler,” Sherene explained. “The group is a good place to start because it contains not only the resources I put together, but many experienced homeschoolers who are more than willing to help newbies.”

Homeschooling parents have various teaching philosophies to choose from. Sherene follows a classical education curriculum, The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. In this approach, her children learned how to absorb facts in their early years. In the middle grades, her children learned how to think through arguments. Now, in high school, they learn to express themselves.

Adrienne uses the Charlotte Mason curriculum with her children. This approach is primarily marked by the lack of textbooks. Instead, Adrienne’s children learn from “living books,” or “books with a high literary content, often narrative in nature and usually written by one author who is very committed to the subject,” Adrienne explained.

Homeschooling parents need not feel confined to being their children’s sole teachers. High schoolers can take community college classes. Sherene has found many online programs for her children including the Lukeion Project (www.lukeion.org) for Latin, Aleks.com for math, the Homeschool out of the Box (hsobx.org) co-op for science, and Scott Powell of History at Our House (www.historyatourhouse.com), to name a few.

 “Online classes allow us to give our kids a world-class education that only a few prep schools can offer,” Sherene explained, “The trick to finding out about good resources is belonging to the right groups. For me, the right groups have been those that cater to homeschooling parents of gifted children.” Currently, the Silverberg teens manage the bulk of their own learning, with their mother serving as their educational consultant.

These days, homeschooling options abound. Adrienne describes this as “decision fatigue. Once you’ve chosen [a curriculum, extracurricular activity, online class, or co-op], it is hard not to keep looking over the fence to see if the grass is actually greener,” Adrienne said.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tossed a curriculum because it was a bad fit for my kid,” said Sherene, who has the challenge of ensuring that her gifted children have stimulating learning opportunities. Currently high school juniors, her children started dual enrollment at Old Dominion University in ninth grade, maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

Museums, historic sites, and libraries offer programs specifically targeting homeschooled children. Colonial Williamsburg, Nauticus, Virginia Living Museum, and Norfolk Botanical Garden are among some of the local places where homeschooled kids go for enriching activities. For instance, Slover Library in Norfolk recently hosted a science fair for homeschooled students, and Nauticus has been hosting homeschool days for over twenty years. The majority of local homeschooling programs are listed on the Homeschooling in Hampton Roads Facebook group.

Parents considering homeschooling need to consider finances. Sherene feels fortunate to have the financial means to pay for various courses for her children. “I have a friend who spends every night re-learning pre-calculus in order to teach her son the following day,” Sherene said. “She’s done a spectacular job with her sons, but in order to give them the outstanding education that they’ve received, she’s had to work much harder than I have had to.”

When Adrienne started considering homeschooling, she spent four years researching it and thought carefully about if her family could homeschool while still bringing in an ample income. Both she and her husband are attorneys. Currently, Adrienne practices elder law part time.

It is very easy for homeschooling parents to fall prey to burn out. Sherene believes that having what she describes as “the world’s best husband” has been integral to her family’s successful experience with homeschooling. As a busy pathologist, he is not directly involved in educating their children. However, when her children were younger, Sherene’s husband would enable her to go away alone for a weekend in order to recharge.

In the early years, Sherene and her children would take a two-hour quiet time in the middle of the day, during which her children quietly self-entertained. Adrienne agreed that having down time is key to maintaining your sanity.

Through the wide plethora of co-op classes, extracurricular activities, and homeschooling events, homeschooled children have no shortage for social venues. And unlike in a regular school environment, children of various age groups interact with each other during these programs. In fact, Adrienne felt drawn toward homeschooling from her positive impressions of the homeschooled children in her congregation.

Sherene describes her children as “really good conversationalists, across all age groups.” Her son, Ben, volunteers as an educational program presenter at Nauticus. Because of his communication skills, “visitors and fellow volunteers...generally think that when he says that he’s a junior, he means a junior in college,” she said.

Adrienne has been homeschooling her two oldest children for six years starting when they were in third and fifth grades. In order to give their youngest child, age 8, a similar experience, he currently attends regular school. The Silverberg twins have never attended regular school.

Both women noted that homeschooling resources have expanded since they first began homeschooling. “When we started homeschooling, the pioneer spirit was still there to a large extent,” Sherene said, “If we wanted a class or activity, we had to make it happen. Now the libraries and museums are actively catering to homeschoolers.”

Abigail Perry is a Norfolk-based writer who writes on a variety of topics including education, special education, health, and lifestyle.

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