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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

The Homeschooling Journey: Connecticut Resources and Options

Feb 02, 2016 05:34PM ● By Ariana Rawls Fine

Curriculum? Activities? Cost? Time? These one-word questions are just the tip of the iceberg when parents contemplate homeschooling for their families. It can be daunting to break down your child or children’s needs, family beliefs and restrictions, time and monetary constraints, parental work limitations, the area in which you live and the amenities that surround you.

Although still a small percentage of the total number of students nationwide, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of homeschooled students. From 2007 to 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics found that the number of homeschooled students increased from 1.52 million to 1.773 million, a growth from 3 percent to 3.4 percent of the entire elementary through high school student population in the United States.

Many parents choose to homeschool for the flexibility and autonomy it can offer when compared to school systems with large class sizes, a heavy focus on standardized testing, and more structured environments. Others may prefer to offer their children a more religious-based education. Regardless of motivation, the decision can be daunting and there are many aspects to consider. Where does one begin on this journey with their children?

“Having a sense of one’s own philosophy is definitely key ... and know your why. Why have you decided to homeschool? Filter your decisions through those two things. It’ll be less daunting to make decisions on curricula, to co-op or not and more,” explains Kim Mariani, a homeschooling parent. “It’s important to remember to not compare but do what’s best for your family. The best way to keep that in check is to know your ‘why’, your philosophy and how you view education.”

Since homeschooling options change according to where you live in Connecticut, contact CT Homeschool Network (CHN), a local homeschooling support organization for parents for up-to-date information. Other resource groups include The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers in Connecticut (TEACHCT.org), Growing Seeds of Faith (Facebook.com/GrowHomeschoolCT) and Great Ways to Home Educate (GWHE.org).

If you have already made the decision to homeschool, what is the first logistical step? If students are already registered in public school, a letter of withdrawal must be sent to your local school district’s superintendent to be delivered to the school, according to CHN. As an already enrolled student, the child is subject to truancy laws until they are officially withdrawn. A school district may ask for a notice of intent; however, this is not a statutory requirement, explains Diane Connors, founder of CHN. In addition, if the notice is not filed, you are not required to participate in a portfolio review at the end of the school year. If a child is transferring from another district, you will need to withdraw them from that district but do not need to file with the new school district. If a child has never been enrolled in a school district, you are not required to file paperwork.

Curriculum Choices

The types of curriculums range from traditional to classical to unit studies to unschooling or child-directed learning. Each offers its own set of considerations to evaluate for specific children and family needs. One of the advantages of homeschooling is the ability to alter your curriculum combinations based on your child’s age, changing interests and learning needs. To learn more about the different methodologies, CHN offers a comprehensive resource list at CTHomeschoolNetwork.org/Home-Schooling/Methodologies/.

Based on your formal curriculum choices, institution memberships, learning and crafting materials, and travel, your annual cost can vary greatly. Once you have chosen a curriculum, check with local and state groups’ used curriculum marketplaces first. Local and regional curriculum fairs, online vendors and Home School Legal Defense Association offer sales and used books and teacher’s manuals as well. Local libraries provide free resources and books and a non-home space to study if needed, as well as the information expertise of the librarians. In addition, CT State Library’s recently renamed researchIT CT (ICONN.org) offers access to its vast online database of research, news articles, and downloadable audio and books.

If accreditation is important to your family, check out distance learning programs. “We work with our [program] adviser teacher each year to develop our learning plans and we, the parents, establish which resources/curricula we’ll be using,” says Maura Jo Lynch, who has been homeschooling for five years.

Resource Access: School Districts, Field Trips, Co-Ops

Each school district has different levels of involvement with homeschooling families. Some districts offer online learning options to students or other services, including for those with special needs. It is important to familiarize yourself with your local school district’s offerings to take advantage of opportunities while creating your curriculum. As an example, Hamilton County Schools in Michigan partners with homeschooling families for art, physical education, music and computer classes. Looking at the homeschool students’ needs, the school system even adjusted a core science course into two separate classes so homeschoolers could have access to the high school laboratory with the public school students while studying theory at home.

Since schooling time is now based on your family’s needs rather than a school schedule, free or low-cost field trips can be incorporated based on your lessons or child’s interests. Look into what is offered through your local tourism office, libraries, museums, bookstores, nature and science centers, gyms, historical societies, art studios, national and state parks and first responder companies. With the growing number of homeschooling families in Connecticut, an increasing number of museums, centers and businesses are creating classes for children during the school day. Common Ground (New Haven), Sticks and Stones (Newtown), Mystic Seaport (Mystic), The New Children’s Museum of West Hartford, Lyman Allyn Art Museum (New London), Connecticut Science Center (Hartford) and The Discovery Museum & Planetarium (Bridgeport) are a few that offer interesting ways to enhance your curriculum.

“If they have a flexible learning environment, they will frequently express that they are ready to tackle more,” Connors says of homeschool students. As your child gets a little older, cooperatives can be found throughout the state, offering the expertise of parents and teachers and enabling students to choose the courses that interest them. New Haven’s Nutmeg Co-op is academic-focused with science, writing and creative programming for ages 5-13. Southbury Homeschool Co-op, which launched in September 2015 and had a waiting list after five months, meets on a weekly basis for four hours. The group is looking at expanding their offerings to three days a week in the fall, says co-founder Heather Alexander Eberlin. Middletown’s Green Street Homeschool Coop, a group of more than 50 families, offers weekly programming geared towards teens and tweens with limited programming for younger siblings. As with many cooperative structures, parents are asked to teach a class, be involved with administrative tasks, or volunteer several hours each semester. 

There are a plethora of reasons why parents choose to not have their children enrolled in a formal public or private institution. Investigate your reasons to make sure this is the right decision for your family; but, at the same time, realize if homeschooling is not the right fit, you always have the alternative of enrolling your child in school.

Ariana Rawls Fine is editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County. She resides in Stratford with her family.