By Clare S. Richie

My daughter’s soccer teammate is homeschooled. One evening, her mom explained their family’s approach to homeschooling and why they made this choice. It was really eye-opening.  How we educate our children is a family decision, and I expect many of us are satisfied with the path we’ve chosen. But how much do you really know about homeschooling? Three families were kind enough to share their stories to illuminate this alternative.

Georgia state law says children age 6 to 16 must attend school or be homeschooled. Each year, parents who homeschool submit a declaration of intent and an attendance report showing their children completed the equivalent of 180 days and 4.5 hours per day of school. Their home study program must provide basic academics, such as reading, language arts, math, social studies, and science. Even though the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) is not required, homeschool students must take a nationally-recognized assessment every three years, staring in 3rd grade.

But how does it really work? The answer varies because homeschooling is a spectrum, ranging from “unschooling” to structured curricula. Each family I spoke with represent three different approaches along this spectrum.

Tama McGee follows the “unschooling” approach, with learning directed by her children, daughter Quinlan, 9, and son Ewan, 7. It’s not hands-off for her just because it’s child-led. Tama explained, “our job is to provide opportunities for our children to learn based on their interests – signing them up for classes/lessons, helping them research online, taking them to museums or local events, reading to or with them, playing games,  etc…” When Quinlan was curious about fashion design, she learned to sew and took a course at Learners and Educators of Atlanta and Decatur (LEAD) – a secular organization that provides social and educational opportunities to homeschoolers.

There is no typical day for the McGee children. Sometimes they are in a classroom, but other times they play in a creek, drop objects off of a balcony over and over, explore with a compass, or play Minecraft with friends. Tama says this may look like playing but learning is happening.  At age 5, Ewan understood the basics of fractions by measuring ingredients. The McGee children approach math in every day terms, like counting stitches or following a recipe.

Dayna Holbel’s approach is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the McGees. Emilia, 9, and Riley,12, generally start school at 9 a.m., follow established curricula, and complete a daily assignment list. “Specials” like computer animation & design, drama, and kitchen skills are pursued at LEAD and Japanese language instruction is taught by a teacher who comes to their home.

Dayna and her husband moved into the Morningside neighborhood because of its quality public schools. When Emilia, with an October birthday, was not allowed to skip kindergarten and Riley’s 3rd grade instruction was more focused on the CRCT than independent thinking, Dayna thought, “I can do this better.” At home for what would have been first grade, Emilia completed 1st and 2nd grade course work.

Angie Graver follows a hybrid approach that combines coursework with self-direction. She decided to homeschool Colin, 15, and Naomi, 13, after her son, then a 5th grader, complained that instruction time was wasted re-teaching material and disciplining students. Now, the Gravers hand-pick teachers and class size. For example, for chemistry they have interviewed four teachers and his math teacher previously taught at a prestigious private school. And there’s time for self-directed learning. Colin, who has a passion for cycling, engineering and woodworking – recently spent more than 40 hours constructing a functioning bicycle entirely out of wood.

Colin has his eyes on high school graduation and college. Last year, he took a debate course that counted toward his social studies credit. He’ll need 23 course credits to earn a high school diploma and, like traditional students, will follow college application requirements. But, Colin is developing a portfolio instead of using a transcript, so he can fully describe his educational experience, like his language immersion trip to Greece.

Despite their differences, all three families agree that their children:

  • Have more time and flexibility to learn deeper. “The bell doesn’t ring every 50 minutes” so students can focus on a topic for a day or a week.
  • Are independent. Homeschoolers have more time for experiences that teach life skills. Angie’s children do laundry, cook dinner, buy groceries, and build spreadsheets to track vacation expenses.
  • Benefit from Atlanta’s resources – parent networks, LEAD, libraries, parks, museums, etc.
  • Have opportunities for socialization – through classes and activities, like talent shows and science fairs at LEAD as well as extracurriculars in the community.

If nothing else – these moms wanted you to know:

Tama: “Parents who consider homeschooling shouldn’t feel they have to take on this HUGE job of “teaching” their kids everything they’ll ever need to know. As unschoolers, my husband and I do what we can to help our children follow their passions, feeling confident that they will continue using the skills they are learning now in the future.”

Dayna: “This is doable for all sorts of people. What is curriculum but a group of people getting resources together and planning what children should be learning. You can do that too, and you don’t have to go it alone, from complete curriculums like Calvert to classes to private teachers you can make a curriculum that works.”

Angie: “For us, homeschooling provides our children with the opportunity to dig deep, feed their curiosity, follow their passions, think for themselves to solve real-life problems, and create what they want for themselves; it provides them the freedom to be self-reliant and intrinsically motivated in a world where others are doing for children what they are mightily capable of doing themselves”

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.