Since school bells rang their last dismissal for the start of summervacation two months ago, there's been little change from the daily routine in our household. Our children have continued with their studies all summer. That's because my husband and I -- and 70 other families in Harford County -- have chosen to educate our children at home.

We embarked on home schooling our children two years ago after feeling frustrated and disillusioned with the public schools. It was scary stepping out of America's mainstream. Rather than go it alone, we joined the Learning Community Network, a private, non-profit, religious-based service that provides curriculum guides and other support for home-schooling. We received county public school approval to home-school two of our children, Justin, 12, and Holly, 11.

We then began searching for books and materials to meet our children's needs. Once we got going with their schooling at home, we discovered our children were able to complete in two hours what had taken six hours of their day in school. With the additional time they addedsubjects of interest to them not offered in public school. After a few weeks of working with Justin and Holly at home, we began to wonderhow much we were preventing our children, Fawn, 10, and Lance, 9, from learning by keeping them in school. So, we started home-schooling them, too.

Taking "control" of our children's education gives us the flexibility to allow them to follow their interests.

Justin, now almost 14, pursues naturalist studies, calling on local experts -- veterinarians, archaeologists, taxidermists -- to augment his book learning. Holly, 12, enjoys psychology and social studies. Her shelves are filled with books on case studies. Fawn, 11, concentrates on history, law government, geography and archaeology. Fawn was labeled "shy" by her former teachers. They'd be pleasantly surprised now.

We thought home-educating our children would be frightening and time-consuming. It isn't. Our day begins at 7 a.m. with family prayer, scripture study and chores. We eat breakfast and then the children get to their school work. On most days, the children are finished their studies by 11:30 a.m., sooner if they did them the previous night. Then we're free to go on field trips, art lessons, music lessons, or pursue special interests. We organize trips, literary clubs and "fun days" for our children and other Harford home-schoolers to get together.

The question we get most often from skeptics suggests we shelter our children from reality: How will they be able to function and survive in the "real" world?

We don't worry about this because while most children spend their days inside a school building, ours are in the "real" world sharing experiences with an ever-changing variety of people.

Some suggest our children are missing the "superior" socialization offered in our public schools. To the contrary, the evidence we've seen points toward a "negative" socialization in public schools. Look at the programs recently instituted in our local schools: "Just Say No," "drug-free school zones," "peer counseling," and help with baby-sitting so unwed teens can finish school. We think that given the choice, most parents would prefer their children to emulate the socialskills and values of mature, caring adults, rather than adopt those of less-informed peers.

We were lucky -- we knew families who werehome-schooling. The Busey family of Bel Air and the Baumgarners of Darlington have been our friends for years. Between the two families there are eight children, ages 4 through 13, in home-schooling. They're all bright, eager, caring, and articulate children. Watching them grow over the years encouraged us when we decided to look into home-schooling.

There are sacrifices when teaching your children at home.All of the families we know have two parents in the home, with only one working full time. It costs us about $300 a year per child. Parents should have the best interest of their children in mind when considering the option of home-schooling.

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