Wednesday, March 30, 2005


I’m only partly kidding when I say that as a mother, I’m a farmer. I’m growing a “crop” – a precious child, who I want to help to be the best she can be spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.

So what “field” do I plant her in so that her “roots” to support future learning will grow the strongest?

Public kindergarten?

Private kindergarten?

Or here in my own home, where I can be the one to cultivate and apply the “fertilizer” . . . which, my friends will tell you, is in plentiful supply.

Yes, I’m thinking about homeschooling our 5-year-old next year. It comes highly recommended. Homeschooling seems to be the best way to ensure that Maddy has freedom as well as order, to learn to read so that she can keep building a big knowledge base and a big vocabulary, the prerequisites for productivity and creativity.

It makes sense to me that if you start off with a 1:1 “staff” to child ratio in kindergarten and maybe a grade or two afterward, a child will be equipped to pretty much teach himself or herself on down the road. A child who can read well, and who has modeled his or her behavior and manners after an adult rather than other little kids, is bound to flourish in a classroom of any size.

I’ve known quite a few parents who homeschooled their children from K-12. They are in my Holy Moly What a Saint Parenting Hall of Fame, that’s to be sure. Their kids just have a “glow” about them. I’ve gotten thank-you notes from one set of kids from a family like this who came over for dinner, and I was amazed at how beautifully and thoughtfully they wrote. Wow.

I’ve known several more parents who homeschooled their children as far as high school, and then sent them to public or private schools to be polished, and to benefit from good college contacts and scholarships, though the bulk of the academic firepower was put in place by Mom and Dad, not the school. Two in particular stand out: one was a National Merit scholar alongside my daughter at Westside in 2001, and the other had so much time for sports as a homeschooled child from K-8 that she is en route to being All State in not one but two sports now that she has come to a public high school.

Now, homeschooling as a multi-year commitment may be out of the question, practically and financially, for many families today. That’s true of me, at least right now.

But homeschooling a child for at least kindergarten and maybe a year or two afterwards is absolutely doable . . . and an exciting and growing trend.

It’s because of that farming metaphor. Everybody knows that a good crop depends on a good start in good, well-cultivated soil. It’s the same thing with an education. Think of it as a solid start to a long-term investment . . . or as a vaccination against disease.

You read statistics like the one from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which reported that 42% of American fourth-graders read at a level defined as “below basic.” That means they DON’T read, despite tens of thousands of dollars already spent on their educations . . .

. . . and a child who is behind in reading at the end of first grade has a 90% chance of being behind at the end of fourth grade, and a high probability of dropping out of high school (Jerry Silbert, University of Oregon) . . .

. . . and 30% of the kids who enter third grade are not reading at grade level and have little or no chance of ever catching up with their peers . . .

. . . and 80% of the kids who are labeled as “learning disabled” or in special education are only there because they can’t read – not because they are mentally handicapped or have any other physical problem that’s medically discernible. They just can’t read.

Nobody wants their child to be in those stats. But reading disability and underachievement are realities in the rich ‘burbs just as in the inner cities – maybe not to the high degree, but real enough to be a worry. I’m saying it’s because of what’s not happening in those early grades, because teachers are overwhelmed with the diversity among kindergartners, are not allowed to ability-group, and are using the wrong methods of teaching reading in the first place.

So smart parents are left crossing their fingers and sending their kids, anyway, or becoming “educational do-it-yourselfers.”

I’m not saying it’s easy. You can’t homeschool on a lark, or teach your child to read in the first five minutes. Of course, it takes a huge amount of planning and lots and lots of effort and quality time.

But it sure can be done – and increasingly, it is being done.

Here are some resources in Nebraska and beyond to pass around to anyone you know with an incoming kindergartner. It’s food for thought – for those with the will to become a farmer in the garden of children.

Nebraska state regulations for homeschooling (Rule 13):

April 1-2, Statewide Conference, Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association, Indian Hills Community Church, 1000 S. 84th St., Lincoln:

Omaha Home Educators Network (July 23 annual conference):

National groups:
Home School Legal Defense Association:

National Home Education Research Institute:

Encouragement for beginners:

The curriculum I’m investigating look terrific for the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy:

Texas Alternative Document, English Language Arts and Reading goals and objectives for Kindergarten:

Spalding Phonics Kit, $119, plus various supplemental materials:

Open Court Reader:

Saxon Math, kindergarten, $63.50 for teacher’s manual and book, and $64.50 for manipulatives:

The reading and math portions are the centerpiece, of course. But there are lots and lots of choices and resources for science and history and music and art and cooking and P.E. and gardening and dance and field trips and Latin and Spanish and French and. . . .

Whoa! This is fun! I’m just like a gardener with a seed catalog in the early spring. I’m ready to do whatever it takes . . . to make someone I love grow and flourish.


THURSDAY: Innovative private-sector alternatives

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