“Everything in life can be a learning experience if we choose to see it that way.”
Nineteen-year-old Rachel Cisewski’s comment sums up the essence of homeschooling, a centuries-old practice that has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as more families “opt out” of conventional school systems. For homeschooling families, learning becomes more a part of everyday living, and the world becomes a classroom without walls.
John and Debbie Cisewski of Plymouth decided to homeschool their eight children after being impressed with the results they saw from other homeschoolers who belonged to their church. “We really liked the way their kids turned out,” Debbie says. “We became strongly convinced we were the ones who should be training our children.” Their oldest, Rachel, has graduated from high school and is helping teach her younger siblings.
How many homeschooling families are there in Plymouth? It’s difficult to arrive at an exact number, because Plymouth is divided into four different school districts. In the Wayzata district, for example, there are about 140 children being homeschooled.
Nationwide, homeschooling has been a growing movement for a number of years, among families who want a self-directed alternative to public and private schools. In 1993, it became legal in all 50 states. The number of homeschooled kids reached 1.5 million in 2007, up 74 percent from when the department of education’s National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36 percent since 2003.
Obviously, schooling kids at home requires a significant time commitment. But some local homeschoolers say the benefits to kids and families make it worth the effort. Parents say one of the most appealing benefits is the ability to customize curriculum and teaching methods to fit each child’s individualized needs, aptitudes and learning styles to a degree that is typically not possible in an institutional setting.
Debbie Cisewski is currently homeschooling six children, ages 6 to 18. What might seem an intimidating challenge is actually quite manageable, she says, especially as she has gained experience. Junior high and high school-age kids need less supervision, so her work with them mostly involves curriculum planning and correcting work. “I spend more time with the younger kids—from middle school on down—interacting with them on an hour-to-hour basis,” she says. “The planning process is the biggest challenge: deciding what each child is going to do this year, and how we’ll accomplish that.”
Rachel Cisewski looks back on her homeschooling experience with fondness and would like to homeschool her own kids someday. Josh Cisewski agrees: “Homeschooling is great because you can learn in a way that best fits you. You have the freedom to pull ahead in your studies and work on your own time. You also have the potential to have lot more free time, because school all depends on how quickly and diligently you get all your work done.” Josh is spending his senior year taking PSEO (Post-secondary Enrollment Options) courses at two local colleges.
Jill and Brian Mount have been homeschooling their 8-year-old son Dean and 5-year-old daughter Leilani. “We love being able to customize the curriculum to my son’s learning style and also the flexibility to travel as a family,” Jill Mount says. “He’s a typical boy, constantly going from one thing to the next; we’ve figured out how to maximize the time we spend on each subject.” Early on she discovered that her son has a gift for memorization, and she has taken advantage of that in teaching him reading and languages. “He’s been growing by leaps and bounds academically, now that we know what works.”
While homeschooling 15-year-old Katherine and 13-year-old Michael, the Husemoller family has brought history and other subjects to life by taking trips to educational sites. Taking advantage of the fact that John Husemoller works remotely as an IT consultant, in the past five years they have traveled to 14 countries and 36 states, often in their 22-foot RV.
They spent a month in Key Largo, Fla., studying marine biology and scuba diving. While the kids were studying prehistoric man, they took in the mammoth ice age archeological dig in South Dakota. Studying glaciers, they walked on the massive ice fields near Banff, Alberta, Canada. “As we studied more and more history, we found more cool stuff,” Donna Husemoller says. They’ve also visited Mexico, Honduras and a number of Caribbean countries.
“I love the Wayzata schools,” says Donna, who was PTA president at Oakwood Elementary the year before the Husemollers made the decision to homeschool. But she considered public school “not a good fit” for her talented son, who is working on a novel he plans to enter in a national fiction contest.
For parents, some of the most valuable assistance and support is provided by fellow homeschooling parents, both informally and in groups such as homeschool cooperatives, where parents volunteer their time. They provide classroom settings where students can participate in group-learning activities such as science experiments, art projects, speech classes, spelling bees, discussions and other activities—and get that much-heralded social interaction.
And what about the extracurricular activities that are such a vital part of growing up? Most public schools allow homeschooling kids to participate in sports, band, theater, clubs and other activities. Many homeschoolers utilize educational opportunities offered by museums, community centers, churches, parks and other community resources, along with cooperative activities. For example, the Cisewskis’ oldest sons have played high school baseball and, for the past seven years, all participated in Homeschool Story Stagers, the amateur theater group for homeschoolers that stages plays each spring at United Methodist Church in Plymouth.
Linda and William Bell of Plymouth are well-qualified to homeschool their two children, 9-year-old Sarah and 5-year-old Daniel. Both are career public-school teachers; Linda is a former music teacher and William is the current Hopkins High School band director.
About five years ago, “our daughter was going through Robbinsdale district preschool,” Linda explains. “Class sizes were getting bigger and bigger, and we started thinking about different options.” The fact that they are both educators, coupled Linda’s personal interest in educational philosophies, made the homeschooling decision easier, “and, we thought it would be a great opportunity to have fun with the kids” while providing a classical curriculum,” she says.
Linda Bell considers the annual testing required by the state to assess students’ progress helpful in assessing her own effectiveness as a curriculum planner and teacher. Along with covering subjects such as languages, science, reading, phonics, math and health, Bell enjoys giving her children an in-depth education in history and making it fun for them. “Right now we’re studying the Middle Ages, and they are really into it—knights, castles, Vikings ... and we're reading Beowulf.”
It’s all part of the “the world is a classroom” ethos of home-schooling.
The following organizations and websites can provide more information on homeschooling: