Forty years ago, my husband Ed and I were looking forward to starting a family.
We knew we wanted to raise our children according to our religious and social values, and there was no reason to expect a public school system to do this. We agreed that we would home school our children to start with.
I got a teacher's certificate, which in those days was the easiest way to legally teach your own children. I also acted as a certified teacher for other people who were teaching children at home, including people from various religious groups and others who were teaching their children because of their social values.
We were drastically different in the goals we were raising our children toward, but what we did have in common was that we felt they would get there better under our tutelage rather than through public or private school.
So, the first place to start on a decision-making process about homeschooling is to write down a value statement about your family. What are you aiming for?
One way to do this is to write a statement in the present tense about what you would like to be able to say about your children when they are 18. Such as, "My children know how to run a household. My children are academically capable. They are honest and hard-working.
"They are good members of our family community (religion, neighborhood, country). My children are good decision-makers and problem-solvers. They are courteous and helpful to other people."
These are just a few example sentences of such a value statement. Your value statement will share much with many others, as well as reflecting your unique beliefs.
Next, consider your options: public school, any private schools, home schooling. There are pros and cons to each of these choices.
Here are some of the arenas to consider as you look at your choices:
• Values: Will this choice help me promote the values we want our children to learn?
• Control: How much control will this choice give our family? Do we trust the people outside of our family who will have control over our children's learning?
• Learning styles: Will this choice match our child's learning style well? For instance, will very active children have enough hands-on learning and movement to allow them to pay attention?
If we are aware of a learning difference on the part of our child, will this choice work well with our preferred approach (for instance, to use medication or not)?
• Location: Is this choice in a good location for our child and family? Does it entail a great deal of time on a school bus or commuting by car? Does the building affect our child's health in any way?
• Your time, energy, attention and material resources: What will be required of us as a family in terms of these things? What will we need to invest for our children's education?
• Socialization: What do we hope for our children in terms of contact with other people?
Do we value intergenerational and wide age-range socialization, or do we want our children to be with others their own ages? Does our child thrive in more structured or less structured environments?
• Legal issues: What are your state laws about homeschooling? If you are asked to work through a school district, what is the experience of others in the area who are working with the same district?
You can begin your online research in New Hampshire at http://nhhomeschooling.org and in Vermont at http://education.vermont.gov/new/html/pgm_homestudy.html.
• Support: For any of the choices, what kind of support will you need? How does your community of family, friends and other social groups view your decision?
This is not to say they have to approve your decision to do what you see as best for your children, but it will affect your energy level if they actively disagree with your choice, and it might mean you need to seek out other people for support.
I loved homeschooling my children and helping others do likewise. It awakened me to a great deal of creativity, trust in a natural learning process and exploration of local educational, natural and human resources.
We now live with my oldest daughter and two grandchildren, and we have discussed possibilities for homeschooling them with, so far, a different answer.
They have attended a private preschool and a public school from kindergarten on, based on our family's time, attention and economic situation.
There is no one answer that is right for everyone; each family needs to decide what fits best with its values, child's educational needs and time and material resources.
If you are considering homeschooling, and would like to research this option, visit http://americanhomeschoolassociation.org/.
Kate Kerman runs Talk It Out, a private mediation and facilitation business. She taught her children at home through 8th grade, and has assisted six teenagers from other families to graduate from high school with homeschooling programs.