Home-schooling branches out

Variety: Educational enrichment and social contact for home-schoolers are available through a growing number of programs.

February 20, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Hectic schedules are a reality for many families of school-age children. Some parents have set limits to ease the busy pace, allowing their kids to choose only one activity outside of school.

But other families have opted for a different lifestyle. Their children often have time for extracurricular activities, and Howard County home-schoolers are seeking teachers in a variety of areas to round out their kids' education.

Jen Aversa, director of Kinetics Dance Theater in Ellicott City, reserves Friday mornings for her home-school classes. Pupils are grouped by age, from 3 years and older, into three classes exclusively for home-schooled children.

"Parents aren't expecting me to just teach them steps, but to feed their minds. I'm learning a lot in teaching them," said Aversa, one of several local instructors who tailor classes to the estimated 900 home-schoolers in Howard County.

Carolyn Marin of Columbia teaches four levels of home-school-only Spanish classes. Although her daughter attends public school, Marin is known to Howard County's home-school community. Pupils come to her through word of mouth. She now has more than 30 students.

"They're very interested in what they're doing," said Marin, who has been teaching for more than 20 years.

She often asks parents why their child wants to take her class. "Many times, it's the child who says, `I want to learn Spanish,'" she said. "They've been exposed and the child is expressing an interest" in learning more.

The interest in educational enrichment specifically for home-schoolers is so great that Home Schoolers Emporium Inc. has begun organizing classes and events for children in the county. The nonprofit group, based in Columbia, opened last summer. It advertises everything from trips to the Baltimore Zoo and a "Peace Discussion" to workshops in traditional subjects such as math, science and business.

Michelle Doyle, spokeswoman for Home Schoolers Emporium, said the nonprofit group plans to keep a year-round curriculum of educational activities led by volunteers, many of whom are professional teachers. This week, Emporium is taking 40 home-schoolers to the National Aquarium, where they have made arrangements to dissect squid.

Columbia parent Lisa Dean said that home-schooling gives her children the freedom to participate in daytime field trips and classes. Her 6-year-old daughter studies dance with Aversa, in addition to taking violin and gymnastics lessons.

"You want your children to be well-rounded and exposed to lots of different experiences," she said. "We can have more time [for] that enriching part of their education and their lives."

While many people assume that home-schooled children lack social skills, their teachers insist they are no different socially than children who attend traditional school.

"They come in and start chatting with each other," Aversa said. "I also find them more creative because they're not stuck behind a desk for six hours. There's less pressure to conform to everybody else." Marin said: "These guys are all buddies. There's a very strong network in the home-school community."

Both Kinetics Dance Theater and Home Schoolers Emporium support the social aspect of home-school life. Kinetics sponsors swing nights for home-schooled teens. Aversa said about 25 teens come to learn swing and salsa and then have time for free dance. The Emporium sponsors social clubs for home-schooled kids.

Tailoring field trips, classes and social activities to the needs of small groups of children is one of the benefits of home-schooling. When Aversa began the home-school dance classes last fall, she worked closely with parents, planning a specialized curriculum that goes beyond dance steps.

"We decided to incorporate different things such as history, literature and anatomy" into the class, Aversa said. They also learn dance vocabulary in French.

"This is what I was trained to do, to use dance as part of a curriculum," she said. "It's not extracurricular, on the side. This is a part of their education."

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