Parents share ideas at home school fair Support: Arundel parents look for used curriculum items and new ideas, and attend workshop seminars.


THERE'S A LOT to like about home schooling.

By definition, home schools are everything the big public schools aren't. They're small, they aren't tied up in regulatory knots, parental participation is guaranteed. (So is homework.) By necessity, they're resourceful.

I saw an example the other night at the Arundel Homeschoolers Support Group workshop and used curriculum fair, held at a church on the outskirts of Annapolis.

While some parents attended seminars with titles like "Developing Biblical Gender Roles in a Politically Incorrect World," "The Joy of Teaching Science at Home" and "Help for the Struggling Reader," others crowded around tables to barter in previously owned curricula.

"It's like a yard sale," said Michelle Boss, a home schooler selling the textbooks her children had "grown out of."

"They're beyond that now," she said, "so I'm selling those books, and I'm on the lookout for books for older children. What we can't find here, we order."

Parents representing about 500 of Maryland's estimated 10,000 home-schooled kids attended the fair. You couldn't find a place in the parking lot. They discussed the things that teachers talk about over lunch: discipline, merits and demerits of a new reading textbook, homework, how to teach dyslexics.

Billy Greer, whose children Glen, 10, and Lane, 6, are taught at home, has started a small business in Pasadena that sells "books for life" and other learning materials to home schoolers.

"Home schoolers lean toward phonics in reading instruction," Greer said. But he warned against stereotyping. "My business specializes in books that are fun and entertaining. With phonics, you'll get kids who are able to read, but will they want to read?

"You have to use a combination of approaches, and you have to do a lot of reading to children. One program won't work for every kid."

Good heavens, I said (I was in a church), that sounds like Chapter 1 of the Whole Language Bible. Greer laughed and replied, "I guess it does."

At the next table, Angel Thompson boasted that her home-schooled daughter Ellee, 9, had been tested at the seventh-grade level in reading. Christian home schoolers, she said, use a combination of religious and secular texts. One of the most popular Christian textbook publishers is A Beka Books of Pensacola, Fla.

But most mainstream publishers and authors are tailoring curricula for the home-school market. Home schooling is the fastest-growing segment of education.

At the fair, I spotted Random House's "Step Into Reading" series; a used copy of "Helping Your Child at Home With Math" from McGraw-Hill; "Sing, Spell, Read & Write," a public-school staple; and "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" by Siegfried Engelmann.

Engelmann is the crusty founder of "direct instruction," a highly structured and heavily phonics-oriented program used primarily in inner-city schools.

Engelmann's book is popular among home schoolers, I was told. What instruction is more direct than a parent teaching a child?

Another book favored by the home schoolers is the late John Holt's "Learning All the Time: How Small Children Begin to Read, Write, Count and Investigate the World, Without Being Taught." Holt is the father of home schooling, and his ideas are as fresh today as in the 1960s.

A few days later, I read in another newspaper that Holt's followers, tiring of home schooling, have launched a movement called "unschooling." Home schooling, they said, has become too structured.

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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