Home schoolers use summer to advantage

The Education Beat

Reading: With a steady supply of books and few distractions, many children are able to improve their skills.

July 09, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ON THEIR 98-ACRE farm near Thurmont, Bambi and Thomas Horvat aren't particularly worried about the "summer slide" - the academic loss experienced by many children during the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

The Horvats' problem is just the opposite: They teach their seven children at home, and the challenge in summer is to limit reading time. "This time of year, we need help in the garden once in a while," says Thomas Horvat, 46. "It's a half-acre."

The Frederick County parents, like the majority of home schools and nearly all public schools, suspends formal study in summer, but they keep a steady supply of books on hand. The children, nicely spaced from pre-kindergarten to post-high school, tend to be expert and enthusiastic readers, says their father, and there's no television to distract them.

It's a profile common to home-schooled families. Last year, the largest independent study conducted of home-schooled children - more than 20,000 were surveyed and tested in all 50 states - found that these kids perform better across all academic subjects than children in public and parochial schools. The home-school advantage increases over time, and it's inversely related to hours of television-watching.

And the subject on which home-schoolers do best is reading.

So how do they do it?

Phonics is a common theme across religious and secular home schools. "You teach the sounds first, rather than the names of things," says Eileen Stein, a former home teacher in Shrewsbury, Pa., whose daughter was reading at the age of 3.

Many home schoolers buy commercial packages such as "Hooked on Phonics," and several publishers compete for their dollar with curriculum that is tightly paced, moving through the vowel and consonant sounds with color-coded teacher instructions easily understood by noneducators.

Four of the Horvat children learned to read with "Sing, Spell, Read and Write," a popular program among home and public schoolers alike. In "Sing, Spell," children learn to read and write with a 36-step regimen of songs, games and phonetic storybooks.

A Beka Book, a publisher popular among Christian home schoolers, is a major marketer of phonics-based materials, including a boxed set of 55 readers designed "to maintain reading interest during the summer break."

Summer is a good time for home schoolers, says David Smith, director of the Cedar Brook Academy in Columbia, a hybrid of private Christian schooling and home-based instruction. "Weaknesses that have been spotted during the standard school year can be addressed during the summer. And if children need tutors, since so many of them are public school teachers, they're easier to find in the summer."

Parents who teach their children at home are naturally unsure, even frightened, when they set out, says William Lloyd of the National Home Education Research Institute. "They'll buy a cake in a box," Lloyd says. "That's buy curriculum, add kids and stir. But after the first couple of years they get tired of the paperwork, and they realize they can create their own curriculum. They get more relaxed and more eclectic."

Joyce Lloyd, who has helped educate the couple's three children on an Upper Marlboro street she says is lined with home schools, says a few hours a day with one of the scripted programs "gets a bit tedious. Children burn out. So do adults."

And home schoolers are not a deadly serious lot. Titles of some of the most popular programs and materials demonstrate that: "Phunny Phonics," "BOB Books for Beginning Readers," "If You're Trying to Teach Your Kids How to Write, You've Gotta Have This Book."

Lloyd says a reporter once asked her what time instruction began in the morning. "I said I had no way of knowing. Usually right after breakfast."

Mom keeps sharpshooter for BayRunners in books

Baltimore BayRunners guard Kurk Lee dropped by The Sun on Thursday to help employees raise money for the United Way. Lee's specialty is free-throw shooting. He led the International Basketball League this season with a 93.2 percent completion rate.

Lee, it turns out, has a personal librarian. His mother, Christine Wright, keeps him supplied with books for the team's long road trips. "I read all the time," says Lee, 33, a Dunbar High School and Towson University graduate. "On trips it helps the time go by."

His favorite book? John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men."

Best sellers

Home schoolers buy many of their books online. These were the 10 home-school best sellers in the six months between October and March, as tracked by Books4HomeSchool.com, an Internet service.

1. "My First Dictionary," by Betty Root; a beginner's dictionary also popular in public schools.

2. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," C. S. Lewis' classic.

3. "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons," Direct Instruction tailored for home schools.

4. "The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook," by Raymond S. and Dorothy N. Moore.

5. "Homeschool: Taking the First Step," by Borg Hendrickson.

6. "Bob Books for Beginning Readers, Set 1," by Bobby Lynn Maslen and John R. Maslen. The Bob Books help young children to read through repetition and warm, humorous stories.

7. "Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days," by Nancy Lande.

8. "Reading Reflex," by Carmen McGuinness and Geoffrey McGuinness. Subtitle: "The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read."

9. "English for the Thoughtful Child," by Mary Hyde. Originally published in the early 1900s, revised.

10. " If You're Trying to Teach Your Kids How to Write, You've Gotta Have This Book," by Marjorie Frank

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