Many parents eventually face the problem of a child not doing well in school, for whatever reason. When that happens, most parents go to the school, talk with the teacher and the child, and work something out.
But when Judi Johnson of Eldersburg faced that situation three years ago with her first-grade daughter, Emily, she came up with another solution.
"I had one child having a difficult problem with her self-esteem in elementary school," she said. "I had to help her with her homework at a very stressful time of the day, and I thought that if I had to teach her like this, I might as well teach her at better times" during the day.
That's when Mrs. Johnson decided to "home school" Emily, now 10 and in the fourth grade of the Calvert School curriculum from the private school in Baltimore.
"She's a really quiet, shy child who needed the extra help," Mrs. Johnson said. "Now she's doing well, feels good about herself, talks to people and isn't afraid to state her opinion if it's different from someone else's."
Emily is just one part of the Johnsons' story. Judi and her husband, Gordon Johnson, have eight children, five of them home schooled by Mrs. Johnson.
"Two others jumped in on it and decided on their own [to be home schooled], and it surprised me because they were doing very well in school," Mrs. Johnson said.
The two were Brook, 13, in the ninth grade, and Andrew, 8, in the third grade. In addition, Adele, 17, a senior, decided last year to pull out of Liberty High to be home schooled. This year, Hilary, 5, chose to start kindergarten at home.
The couple have three other children: Lara, 23, married and living in Nebraska; David, 15, a sophomore who decided to stay at Liberty High; and Linnea, 7 months.
Mrs. Johnson said she let the children make up their own minds about home schooling and supported their choice, thus David's decision to stay in public school.
"I can't force them to do something; that way they have the motivation to do it," she noted.
To home school their children, parents must file a consent of assurance form with the school superintendent stating their intentions. The parents must select a program of study from an accredited school or church, or they can make up their own curriculum, said Steve Kelly, a pupil services worker with the Carroll County public school system.
"It's a tremendous amount of work. The parents must teach the child themselves; they can't hire a tutor, except for a special subject like music," Mr. Kelly said.
The parents must keep a portfolio of the child's work for the school from which the program of study comes or for the county system, which monitors nonaccredited programs.
For Adele and Brook, Mrs. Johnson chose a program from Brigham Young University in Utah, which is not accredited through the Maryland State Board of Education. The teens meet with a county pupil services worker twice a year to make sure they're getting the required subjects and to see how they're progressing.
Emily, Andrew and Hilary take their lessons from the Calvert School, whose program runs through eighth grade. Calvert monitors its own students, Mrs. Johnson said.
Mr. Kelly, who worked with the family when the home schooling started, described Mrs. Johnson as "doing a marvelous job. She's a capable person to do the home schooling. The Johnsons do a real good job of keeping the children active socially. They're involved in a lot of activities in the community, and that's important."
Although a lot of work, home schooling has many advantages for parent and child, as the Johnsons have discovered.
"We work through the year. That way we can take time to enjoy things along the way, like at Christmas or for Andrew to be in 'The Music Man' with September Song," Mrs. Johnson said.
Family members also can take a day when it suits them for educational field trips. Most of all, the home school setting creates less stress for the student, who can work at his own pace and can explore a unit in more depth.
"Before, they'd all come home from school with different expectations from all these different adults and they'd say, 'No, mom, not that way,' " Mrs. Johnson recalled. "Now, if I see they're having a problem, I can slow the pace a little until they get it."
The children are happier, too. Adele said she is now getting all A's, as opposed to "not doing that good in my classes [at Liberty]." Easily distracted, she is able at home to take her lessons to a quiet room by herself and do her studies.
Brook, though doing well in school, decided to stick with home schooling after a year's trial. She likes not feeling pressure to keep up with others, has time for dancing and piano, and has kept her friends and does things in the community.
Andrew, like Emily, is a little shy and afraid to ask questions, so he's more comfortable at home with his mother, where he can work at his own pace and focus on things of interest.
David decided against home schooling, saying he liked being with his friends and wanted to play lacrosse, which he couldn't do from home. He also wanted to keep taking masonry at the Career and Technology Center.
"It's most important to me that the kids be happy. They're well rounded, happy, they're listened to with a respectful ear, and they listen to me, probably more often than they'd like," Mrs. Johnson said with a laugh.
Beyond learning, she said, she and her children have become friends.
"I always had the fear that they wouldn't get the education with home schooling, but now that I've seen how close we've gotten, I don't think they can get that in school," Mrs. Johnson said. "I'm educating the whole person, and the thrill to see them learning something."