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In Chesapeake, the Everett family—Mom Heather; Isabel, 12; Gabriel, 14; Janelle, 4; Nathaniel, 4; and Michael, 10—enjoy a nature walk. (Photo courtesy Everett family) In Chesapeake, the Everett family—Mom Heather; Isabel, 12; Gabriel, 14; Janelle, 4; Nathaniel, 4; and Michael, 10—enjoy a nature walk. (Photo courtesy Everett family) Everett Family
2023 Mar

Homeschooling is Thriving

Discover the freedom and flexibility homeschooling offers.

Chesapeake resident Heather Everett never saw herself as a homeschool mom. She had friends who homeschooled, but she never considered it an option for her five kids, now ages 4 to 14, because she just didn’t understand the concept.

That changed about 10 years ago.

“Homeschooling has provided a strong sense of family identity and stability in the face of uncertainty and challenges of military life,” said Heather, 40. “Over the past nine years, we have had two more children, experienced three major moves, gone through two deployments and transitioned into military retirement. These are all significant life events. What has been constant through it all has been God, our family, and homeschooling.”

Heather said she and her husband had drastically different school experiences. She learned how to get As and just did it, not for the love of learning but to achieve “success.” For her husband, public school was a train wreck of social, educational, and developmental needs colliding with a system that wasn’t prepared to meet them, thereby leaving him feeling “unsuccessful.”

“We now redefine success around a love of learning that isn’t attached to grades as much as it is to growth,” she said.

Heather, who works as an instructional designer from her home in Chesapeake, is not alone in her fondness for homeschooling. There are almost 60,000 homeschooled students in Virginia’s 132 school districts, according to the Home Educators Association of Virginia. Nationwide, homeschooling has particularly increased among minority families. At the onset of the pandemic, 3.3 percent of black families were homeschooling, and that share increased to 16.1 percent by fall 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The thriving homeschooling culture in Hampton Roads is a big part of why we moved here,” Heather said.

Let’s meet a few Hampton Roads families who like the freedom and flexibility that homeschooling provides. Their children can pursue their passions without the confinements of classroom walls, and parents can tailor learning to each child’s individual needs.

“Homeschooling suits me because I am able to decide when and where to do my assignments and reap the consequences, good or bad,” said Gabriel Everett, 14.

Liburd Family Sees a Spark in Kids’ Learning Curve

Varies Activities Build Lifelong Learning Skills
Liburd Family
In Norfolk, the Liburd family is preparing a backyard garden for spring. (Photo courtesy Liburd family)

Jeane Liburd transitioned her three children, ages 8, 6 and 5, to homeschool after the Covid lockdowns. It was then she began to see a spark in their learning curve.

“My husband and I began to realize our ability to meet our children’s unique needs was through home education,” said the Norfolk resident.

Jeane and the kids use outdoor spaces as much as possible for learning experiences. Indoors, they have a playroom/school room that holds materials along with a learning cart that can be wheeled to wherever the kids want to study. The cart goes back in a closet on weekends.

“We are currently preparing a small plot in our yard for a spring garden,” she said. “We love the garden. So many subjects in one. I also think it’s good for the soul. I’m always happier after digging in the dirt.”

Lenore, 6, shares mom’s passion: “I like to hike and garden,” she added.

The Liburds’ daily schedule includes Bible study, math and language arts, and block scheduling for subjects like science and history. Weekly, they have play dates, piano lessons, library day, and a homeschool co-op that provides social times and field trips. For art study, they visit The Chrysler and Hermitage museums; for nature study, they frequent local trails and the beach. Plus, Jeane says, there’s always something interesting for kids, as well as special home school days, at the Virginia Living Museum, Virginia Air and Space Museum, Virginia Aquarium, and Virginia Zoo.

“It’s important to assess what works for you and your children and then stay the course,” Jeane said.

At the beginning of each year, she creates goals and reassesses them as they move through the curriculum, using state standards as a guide.

“Every home school is as unique as your fingerprint,” Jeane said. “Families should find the resources and support based on their students’ and family’s needs.”

Robinson Family Says Homeschooling Suits Military Life

Find a Curriculum That Works for your Family’s Needs

Robinson Family
In Newport News, the Robinson family—Mom Jessena; Andrew, 8; Jonathan, 10; and Claire, 6—gathers around the dining room table for lessons. (Photo courtesy Robinson family)

In Newport News, the Robinson family finds homeschooling best suits their military life. During a move to California in 2016, they registered their oldest child in a hybrid public school program where the school provided a curriculum that was done at home. Students attended school once a week for enrichment classes such as art, music, and nature.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” said mom Jessena, 42. “But I was still intimidated to try it on my own. A military spouse on our street who had been homeschooling for years invited us to observe her homeschool day. It was relaxed, enjoyable, and yet still had academic rigor. I was so encouraged and motivated.”

Nowadays, Jessena homeschools Jonathan, 10; Andrew, 8; and Claire, 6, using their dining table for most lessons. Reading, however, is done on their parents bed, where it’s cozy to cuddle with Mom while enjoying favorite books.

School work is done for several afternoon hours Mondays-Thursdays with Fridays reserved for nature walks, museum visits, or time with friends.

“I like not being in school for six hours a day, and I like to travel,” Jonathan said. Andrew and Claire also like the shorter school days, as well as the fun parts of learning.

Finding a curriculum that works for your particular needs is important, Jessena said, and sometimes the choices can be overwhelming. She prefers book-based programs instead of digital resources. Curriculums that are multi-sensory and all about “the why” are their favorites, including All About Reading and All About Spelling. Jessena particularly likes the Institutes for Excellence in Writing, which is taught in a co-op setting.

“My student went from struggling and complaining about writing a sentence to writing paragraphs in a few weeks,” she said. “We read great literature and other good books to learn about history, science, and the arts. We love to travel to local and out-of-state museums.”

To meet the state’s homeschool requirements, she provides proof of progress by giving standardized achievement tests or by having a licensed teacher review their coursework and interview the students as part of an evaluation that’s submitted to the superintendent.

If you’re on the fence about homeschooling, Jessena suggests trying it short term and then decide.

“You do not need to know right away if you will do this for their entire academic career or even if you will homeschool all your kids,” she said. “Just take it year by year and child by child. I’ve known families where one child went to private school, one to public school, and one homeschooled. You can curate your family’s education in a way that best works for all of you.”

The Walker Family Love the Fluidity of Homeschooling

Homeschooling Groups Provide Support and Enrichment
Walker Family
In Hampton, the Walker family, Mom Amy and daughters Abigail, 12, and Grace, 14, spend time together reading. (Photo courtesy Walker family)

Amy and Eric Walker of Hampton have successfully homeschooled their four children since 2006. Sons Josiah, 20, and Levi, 18, are students at James Madison University and Virginia Tech, respectively. Grace, 14, and Abigail, 12, will follow in those footsteps.

“We started as our children were entering the preschool phase and have seen the beauty and fluidity that homeschooling provides,” Amy said. “Our children can devote free time to their passions in educational pursuits, volunteerism, and leadership.”

The Walkers follow a Charlotte Mason educational philosophy that focuses on learning new ideas through classical literature rather than mundane textbooks, she said. Communication, math, and other lifelong learning skills are built through written and oral presentations, word-based math problems, and critical-thinking applications.

“We focus on understanding, mastery, and integration of information over certain test scores or grades,” Amy explained. “However, we do use tests with formal texts as learning and assessment tools. Each course has a description with goals and expectations, including rubrics to measure grading.”

The Walkers also rely on homeschooling support groups such as HERE (Home Educators Recreation and Enrichment) for fun activities, as well as the co-op Williamsburg Classical Academy. Participation in First Lego League and First Robotics Competition taught the students teamwork and leadership skills.

“It is a challenge to be solely responsible for your child’s education,” said Amy. “However, there are many resources to guide you through.”

Sometimes after a difficult lesson, tensions arise. “[Then] we take a break, regroup, and come back later.” Amy said.

That flexibility appeals to Grace, a ninth-grader. “I can go off the curriculum and expand on another topic so I have more understanding,” she said. “Homeschooling suits me because I can pretty much teach myself by following the curriculum.”

Homeschooling 101

  • Relax. There are no educational emergencies.
  • Ensure you create a rich learning environment where your children are exposed to as much information as you possibly can provide. This will allow them to find passions.
  • Give your children lots of free time so that they can follow their passions
  • Create space for boredom. Do not keep your kids occupied all day. Give them time to get bored and start investigating things on their own
  • Under 10, keep them on a media diet. Use paper, books, hands-on games. You don’t want marketers to own your children’s minds
  • Have an end goal for your homeschooling? What type of adults do you want your children to be? Work back from there.
  • Don’t compare your homeschool to anyone else’s. You will always find others doing more/better than you. Realize that you are enough.
  • Spend as much time on the emotional health of your children as you do on their education. Teach them to delay gratification, to be able to withstand peer pressure, and to be confident.
  • Homeschooling doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You don’t even need curriculum. You just need a library.
  • Take time out for yourself. When Mama isn’t happy, no one is happy.

Source: Sherene Silverberg of Norfolk, who homeschooled her twins, now graduate students at the College of William and Mary and Washington University Law. She moderates the Facebook page Homeschooling in Hampton Roads.

Homeschool Resources

  • Virginia Beach School of the Arts … vabeachsa.com
  • On Facebook, Hampton Roads Black Home Educators, Homeschooling in Hampton Roads and Homeschooling in Virginia.
  • Stories of Color with a catalog of more than 1,600 titles on multicultural living at storiesofcol-or.com.
  • Raising Critical Thinkers” by Julie Bogart.
  • Learning With Friends, hands-on science studies by Nicole Paitsel, a former Newport News Daily Press newspaper columnist and Hampton Roads resident, at learningwithfriends.com.
  • Moore Expressions, used and new book store in Virginia Beach, specializing in homeschool materials at mooreexpressions.com.

Check our calendar for homeschool-themed events such as special Home School Days at Norfolk Botanical Garden on March 14 and The Virginia Zoo on May 31.

Kathy Van Mullekom

Kathy Van Mullekom is a retired journalist, whose beats included gardening, women’s issues, restaurant trends, and fashion. Formerly a York County resident and master gardener, she now lives in southeastern Virginia Beach, where her leisure hours are spent golfing with husband Ken and exploring parks with her two grandkids, Mattie, 9, and Grady, 7.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/kathyhoganvanmullekom

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