Kitchen table teaching

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 26, 2001

Friends Dee Horton and Jodie Wright felt God leading them to do it.

For Betty Blanton, the turning point was when personnel at a local private school told her she could never expect her oldest daughter to make above a &uot;C&uot; in school.

Gary Moph-ett chose it because his daughter was bored with the slow pace of her lessons, and because his son needed one-on-one attention.

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For Beverly Laurant, it was not only God’s guidance, but her daughter’s weak math skills and a stutter little Jehannah developed in kindergarten.

&uot;I believe it was the pressure,&uot; Laurant said.

So they joined more than 100 other Adams County parents and almost 50 Concordia Parish parents – and a growing number of parents throughout the two states – in deciding to homeschool their children.

Reasons and reactions

Some parents who homeschool do so because they want to integrate religious beliefs with their children’s lessons, have more control over what they learn and get to know their children more.

Others point to homeschooling curricula they believe are superior to those found in public, private or parochial schools.

But almost all parents interviewed said they were met with at least a little skepticism when they first tried to explain those reasons to friends and family.

&uot;It’s hard. You want people to approve of what you do,&uot;&160;said Bullen, a mother of four who has homeschooled her children for 17 years. &uot;They narrowed their eyes and smiled like, ‘Oh … you think you can do that?’ &uot;

Beverly Laurant, a single mother who has homeschooled 13-year-old Jehannah for seven years, said some people could not believe that a black parent was homeschooling her child.

&uot;They said, ‘Blacks don’t do that,’&uot; Laurant said, shaking her head. &uot;But I’ve never been one to follow the crowd anyway. Still, my family thought I&160;wasn’t doing the best I&160;could for my child.&uot;

But like Bullen, Laurant said critics have changed their minds about homeschooling as they have seen the results.

&uot;Those who know me know I’m the hardest teacher my child will ever have,&uot; said Laurant, who works afternoons as a tutor for local students – with Jehannah in tow.

And despite criticism, Laurant notes that &uot;God was the one to tell me to do this, and he’ll be the one to tell me to quit.&uot;

Besides calming critics, the next order of business for parents who are planning on homeschooling is finding the curriculum they want to use.

Curriculum options

Many local homeschooling parents use the Christian Liberty Academy curriculum, at least at first. Others start out with materials from sources as varied as A Beka, Alpha-Omega, Bob Jones University – even an Amish curriculum.

The cost can run from about $320 for CLA materials for one year to $890 for a video series Laurant ordered for her daughter’s more advanced courses.

But Bullen pointed out that once such materials are bought for the oldest child, the others can reuse almost every book but consumable workbooks.

Homeschooling parents often network with each other to share teaching ideas and materials, including books, either selling them or giving them away.

Wright, who teaches her 11-year-old son Glenn at home, uses a variety of books from different curricula, from Saxon Publishers to A Beka.

Almost all parents agreed that technology, from the Internet to satellite broadcasts, has given parents many more options in teaching their children.

Bullen described walking into an annual homeschooling curricula show held at Mississippi College. &uot;There are so many different things to choose from there that it can almost overwhelm you,&uot; she said.

Teressa Reynolds of Vidalia, who homeschools daughters Keisha, 15, and Rebecca, 11, will use satellite courses from Bob Jones University starting this school year.

The satellite program costs $300 a year plus books, but courses can be videotaped and used again – as long as they are used within the family.

Homeschool subjects are basically the same as in-school classes.

Becky Blanton – at 18, the youngest of the Blantons’ children and the only one still in homeschool – will take biology, math, English literature and grammar in her upcoming senior year. She will also learn Spanish from compact discs.

In most, but not all, homeschooling situations, a child’s mother does the vast majority of teaching.

But when the Johnsons homeschooled their children, their father, the Rev. Billy Johnson, would teach them math, science and geography, while their mother Harriet Johnson, would teach other subjects.

And Mophett, whose children now attend Trinity Episcopal Day School, homeschooled his children for four years while his wife worked outside the home.

The kitchen – and the world – as a classroom

Some curricula come complete with lab equipment for science experiments for older children. But Blanton – who has homeschooled her four children, with 18-year-old senior Becky now the only student – said &uot;kitchen science&uot;&160;is superior.

&uot;Kitchen science is the best science there is,&uot; said Blanton. &uot;We’ve studied chemical reactions and dissected animals.&uot;

With the aid of protective goggles and a long enough fuse, Blanton’s boys even went outside to &uot;reinvent gunpowder.&uot;

And local homeschoolers have an annual science fair to show off their science projects, she said.

Besides, she added, when children are homeschooled, every trip to the store, vacation or other outing becomes a lesson.

&uot;If you go to the store, it becomes a lesson in bargain hunting and comparing prices. If you have to take animals to the vet&uot; – the Blantons have two dogs, five horses, a parakeet and other assorted animals – &uot;it becomes a lesson in animal care.&uot;

Like many other homeschoolers, the Blantons’ children have also learned a variety of other life skills, from basic auto mechanics and plumbing to the finer points of cooking and doing laundry.

Few state regulations

In Mississippi, the only thing the state requires parents to do to homeschool their children is fill out a form each year stating the curriculum they will use. The form is turned in to the attendance officer for the Natchez-Adams School District.

In Louisiana, a homeschooling parent must only send to the State Department of Education a letter that states that he or she will be operating a private school for at least 185 days this year. The letter must also state the number of students in the &uot;school&uot; – even if it will have only one student.

And that lack of regulations suits homeschooling parents just fine.

&uot;It would be a terrible mistake for the government to be involved,&uot; said Harriet Johnson of Natchez, who homeschooled her son and daughter for seven years before sending them to Adams County Christian School. &uot;There’s too much regulation as it is.&uot;

Mississippi and Louisiana do not even require homeschooled students to take standardized tests, although some parents still order the tests through their curricula companies and administer them on their own.

Betty Blanton said she began questioning such tests when she heard one of her sons describe a question on a test he took in his early days in school.

&uot;They had a frog, a boat, a helicopter and a fish and asked you which of these things didn’t belong,&uot; she said. &uot;The correct answer was the helicopter. But he chose the fish, because it couldn’t survive above water.&uot;

Class days, holidays and sick days

Yearly schedules for homeschoolers are much the same, with many taking the same days off for holidays as students in public or private schools.

The exceptions are that they usually start the day after Labor Day – and some, like Bullen, keep classes going until her students have made their way through the textbooks.

&uot;If they haven’t finished the book, we’ll go through June or July if that’s what it takes,&uot;&160;Bullen said.

Daily schedules for homeschooling vary from parent to parent, with most starting classes by 8:30 a.m. and finishing by 1 p.m. When she taught her children at home, Johnson taught from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. &uot;We’re not morning people,&uot;&160;she explained.

Admittedly, that is less time than their children’s at-school counterparts spend in class. But parents said they save time during the day because they do not have to divide their time among a larger number of students.

&uot;And there’s no running to classes,&uot; Kent Blanton said. &uot;That’s 15 minutes you lose between every class that you’re not using to learn.&uot;

And what happens if the children are sick? &uot;They’ll watch the Discovery Channel and write a report on it,&uot;&160;Betty Blanton said.