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A day in the life of a homeschooler

May 27, 2013 by

Sydney Ginnel tugs on the loop of her work boot to secure it and leisurely strolls the old wooden floors of her farmhouse kitchen in search of breakfast before heading out to do morning chores.

Her younger sister, Molly, with unabashed enthusiasm runs past while pulling her hair taut with a colorful bandana.

Although it’s a Wednesday, the girls, ages 14 and 7, aren’t rushed to catch the bus or get to class before the bell rings. They aren’t arguing about who gets the bathroom first or worried about what outfit to wear. The morning feels calm.

Sydney and Molly, like thousands of other Georgia children, are home schooled.

Each morning they rise and spend the first hour of their day tending to the many animals the family owns on a 5-acre farm in Auburn. “I love being home schooled because it means I get to spend more time with the animals,” Sydney said as she softly strokes her 11-year-old Great Dane, one of multiple dogs on the property. “When I went to (public) school I barely ever got to spend time with them. Now, I see them first thing in the morning and then again after I’m done with my school work, and then I get to ride the horses.”

Their mom, Cara, has been home schooling the duo for nearly four years. Sydney is in eighth grade and Molly in second.

Their day typically starts leisurely with breakfast, morning chores around the farm and then a couple of hours of book work.

“Sydney was struggling with focusing in school, and with testing, and they wanted her to take extra classes,” Cara Ginnel said. “I felt she didn’t need all of that, so when Christmas break occurred we decided to go ahead and pull her out. I just wasn’t happy with the school system.”

Like many parents, Ginnel said she felt like she was forced to make a decision about whether or not to allow her daughter to continue in public school.

“In (public) school, everybody has to do the same thing and the assignments aren’t tailored to what the (children) really need,” she said. “I can also develop them spiritually at home.” Ginnel has chosen to incorporate a Christian-based curriculum. Her youngest daughter, Molly, has never attended a public school.

According to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, the number of home schooled students in 2007, the latest year with statistics available, was about 1.5 million, an increase from 850,000 in 1999 and 1.1 million in 2003.

The majority of those students received all of their education at home, but some attended outside schools up to 25 hours per week.

Georgia Home Education Association (GHEA) conference coordinator Charlene Peavy said about 80,000 children in Georgia attend school at home.

Because kindergartners are not required to go to school, they aren’t counted.

“Parents who homeschool fill out … attendance reports,” Peavy said. “They used to do it monthly, but this year the law changed and now they are only sent in once a year.”

Lesson plans, daily school work and projects are not monitored by the state, although parents are encouraged to keep some of their children’s work on file.

The GHEA works as a liaison of sorts between the state and parents of children who home school.

“We are available to any parent who needs help. Our main goal is to keep the support groups and co-ops connected,” Peavy said. “(We’re) kind of the cement to keep home educators together. We keep leaders connected and there are hundreds of support groups (in Georgia).

“Some co-ops do classes and others do extra-curricular activities such as music appreciation and field trips. The reason we like it is because you are intermixing with all ages, so the older children learn to love on the younger ones and the younger can look up to the older.”

While some parents such as Ginnel choose to home school for religious or academic reasons, others opt for the nontraditional route for varying reasons.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the most common reason parents gave in 2007 was a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.

Followed by religion were concerns about school environment and a dissatisfaction with academic instruction. Other reasons included family time, finances, travel and distance to school.

Parents of about 7 percent of home schooled students cited the desire to provide their child with a nontraditional approach to education as the most important reason for home schooling and the parents of another 6 percent of students cited a child’s health problems or special needs.

Ashlie Johnson, of Winterville, has been home schooling her four children for about eight years.

“For me, it wasn’t necessarily about academics or religion,” Johnson said. “It was more about a lifestyle. … There’s a lot more distractions for kids nowadays, so (home schooling) keeps us grounded. Its more about slowing down the pace.”

Johnson has four children spanning first through seventh grades. She said she doesn’t fault the public school system. Keeping her children home was more about the desire to know them better.

“When my boys did go to (public) school we got up earlier for them to leave and be gone for seven or eight hours,” she said. “Then they would come home and have hours of homework and I can’t even imagine what it would be like if they had played a sport back then.”

Johnson also feels that home schooling gives her children more discipline than a public school atmosphere.

“It seems ironic, but it makes them more independent,” Johnson said. “What I mean by that is … the kids who are home schooled get more sleep and learn more home responsibilities, such as home chores, doing dishes or helping with younger siblings. If they are in school all day, they just don’t have the time or energy. When kids are in home school, all of those things get taken care of.”

Johson said she believes it’s a misconception that home schooled children have less socialization skills.

“Sometimes we make assumptions about things we don’t understand. People think that just because children are schooled at home they lack social skills, but that’s just not the case,” Johnson said. “We have a home school group called Kudzu that meets in my house every week. I have a daughter involved in a drama group, my sons play baseball at the Recreation Department. My kids are some of the most outgoing kids you’ll ever meet.

“They are very hospitable and I think that comes from having home as a place we learn from and a place where we want people to come to.”

The Kudzu group incorporates multiple teachers versed in history, science, geography and literature. Each subject is broken into two classes based on grade. One class caters to first through third grades and the other, fourth through sixth.

“We try to incorporate experiments or fun crafts,” Johnson said. “Every school situation has its pros and cons and this is just the path we’ve chosen.”

A typical day for the Johnson family includes breakfast, chores that are scheduled on a rotating basis and then school work.

“After breakfast we all gather in our home school room and discuss the week. My older daughter goes off to do her work independently on the computer,” said Johnson. “I just stick close to answer questions and go over it with her. The two boys take turns doing math on the computer and do their reading. I work with my youngest while the boys are doing their work. She’s so young I have to be by her every step of the way. We are typically finished for the day by lunch.”

Ginnel also has her girls in a weekly class outside of the home and feels they benefit from the social aspect.

“I think that my kids are better socialized (than children in public school) because we have more opportunities to build relationships such as field trips or small classes like the American Heritage class we do weekly,” she said. “And we are really involved at our church.”

The American Heritage Girls class has about 54 girls enrolled in grades K-12. Activities include camping, history lessons, cooking, outdoor and other life skills.

The group also incorporates community service projects such as food drives and bake sales.

“We are currently studying the Civil War and a lot of Georgia history,” Ginnel said. “That means going on field trips with friends. We are currently planning a trip to Andersonville (National) Cemetery in Macon and we recently went to Kennesaw Mountain.”

Georgette Bruce, co-leader of Athens Area Homeschoolers, is a firm believer that home schooled children receive more real-life skills than children enrolled in public school.

“My personal opinion is that it is a myth that the best way to socialize children is to put them in groups of children the same age for long periods of time. This seems artificial compared to real life,” Bruce said. “For that reason … the socializing opportunities for home schooled children are higher in quality and as frequent.”

Many home schooling parents use field trips, co-op classes, park days, sports, church and other activities as a way to socialize their children.

“There is much more flexibility to make time for these opportunities,” Bruce said. “Since their schedule is not determined by an outside source (such as) public or private school.”

A day in the life of a homeschooler | Online Athens.

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