Home is where the class is: A look at the homeschooling option for military families
Homeschooling can seem like a daunting task for any parent. Many parents may be considering homeschooling their children, but are unsure of how to start or if it’s worth it. But homeschooling can provide some added perks, such as spending more time with your children as they grow up. Just ask Deanna Melin. The Camp Yokota mother of two sons has seen both sides of it. Her oldest son has experienced a traditional schooling his entire life, while her youngest only knows of one teacher – mom. She sat down with Stripes to discuss what’s involved with teaching her son.
Can you tell us a little about your kids?
I have two boys. My youngest son will be turning 10 in a couple weeks and has been homeschooled since he was 6. My oldest son will be turning 18 next month and is a senior here at Yokota High School. He has actually been in public schools and charter schools his entire life. So, I actually get to see both sides of the spectrum.
My youngest actually started his schooling in a British school system while we were stationed at RAF Lakenheath. He attended a Waldorf-style nursery where I also worked. He then attended a British primary school for his first year. In Britain they start the children in school a year earlier than we do in the U.S. As my son started his second year in the British school system, we realized things were not working in that environment for our son.
How did you decide to homeschool?
My husband and I had talked about homeschooling before and had started to think about it being an option for our boys. With moving around so much in the military, homeschooling was starting to look like a good idea.
However, we have never been the kind of parents to push things onto our children. With our older son, he seemed to be doing very well in the DoDDs system since we were stationed in England at the time. He was also coming up on attending high school. So, when we sat down and talked to him about homeschooling, he chose to just stick with what he knew and stay in the DoDDS system. With that said, I am the kind of parent that is always an advocate for my child. I am always meeting with my son’s teachers, checking his grades, asking what homework he has, what test and events are coming up, etc. My son knew when the decision was made that if there was ever any problems in school with his grades or with him causing issues, he would be pulled and homeschooled. The choice was his, but I could change that at any moment. Since then my son has been an amazing student. As he prepares to graduate here at Yokota, he is an all A student who assistant teaches band. I have been so blessed with a great child.
With my youngest, he is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He LOVES homeschooling and public school is a threat to him. My youngest has a very different personality from his brother. They are similar in many ways but, also so different.
As my youngest started his second year in the British system he had a brand new teacher. She was a very young teacher with her first teaching job. She had many students that she couldn’t seem to connect with or keep track of. My son seemed to slip through the cracks. He was a very accomplished reader. Instead of letting him enjoy his books, she just kept adding more work to his homework pile. My son would come home tired and crying at the age of 5/6yo because he had so much homework and he just wanted to play and be a child. While at school he was being bullied. He was being bullied so physically bad that he came home one day with bruises on his leg where I could see the impression of the brand of shoe from the other child. When I confronted the school I was told children this young don’t know what bullying is. I was told my son couldn’t switch teachers, he wasn’t being bullied, and pretty much nothing could be done. I trusted these people to keep my son safe and teach him.
After just a small amount of time, my husband and I started talking about pulling our son out of the school. We thought about placing our son on base in the DoDDs school. However, we had already heard not so good things about the elementary schools on base. So, we began the talk of homeschooling more seriously. We did lots and lots of research, we talked to local homeschoolers (both American and British), we found support groups on-line, we found FB groups, we looked for local homeschooling groups, we talked to our son, etc. In the end we all seemed so excited about the thought of homeschooling. So, we made the decision and did it.
What is the process you went through in order to homeschool?
Being stationed overseas there is not much you are required to do in order to homeschool. What I did is let my son’s school know our intent to withdraw him and homeschool. I then requested all his school records so that I could keep them on file at home. What many people don’t know is that once you withdraw your child, those schools are required to give you those records. Thanks to the SOFA agreement, there is nothing else you need to do with your host country. There is also nothing you are required to do with the base. What I do advise to people is keep good records. As with anything, keeping good records is always important. With homeschooling, keeping records is just a matter of samples of your child’s work or samples of test our child may take. I have added some links below that will give you the actual notices that came out from the AF for homeschooling. That way you have the facts for the article.
If you are stationed stateside you are required to go by the laws and regulations of the state you are in. Each state has different laws. This can be confusing to families. Because of this I highly recommend a group called HSLDA (home school legal defense association). This group is run by lawyers and gives support to homeschoolers around the world. They can be found at www.hslda.org. They provide information on laws by state, they provide curriculum, the provide diplomas, they go to court and support homeschoolers in need at no cost, they fight for homeschoolers rights at all stages, they provide benefits, and so much more.
What would you say are the biggest benefits to homeschooling?
There are SO many benefits to homeschooling that is hard to pick just a few to say are the best.
The flexibility is a big one. When we are in the middle of a PCS it is nice to be able to move and not worry about missing school or trying to get to our next base before the school year starts. When dad goes TDY or has a day off, it is nice for my son to be able to spend time with him as well. Changes in schedule that happen with the military may leave my son seeing very little of his dad. With homeschooling he doesn’t have to worry about staying up a bit later and getting up late. We can also change the times we do our school work. If we want to go on vacation, it is nice for us to be able to just pick up and go. If my son is sick or just having a rough day, we don’t have to worry about missing days at “school” or worry about too many days off school and hitting a days off limit.
Another cool thing is I can allow my son to choose what he wants to learn. Of course we do all the “core” subjects. However, if we come upon a subject that he seems to be very interested in, we can take extra time on that or delve deeper into that subject. On that same idea, if my son is having a hard time with a subject, we can take more time on a certain area.
With homeschooling the children are exposed to children and people of all ages. In school, the children interact with a group of peers their same age all day. When they go out into the world they will not have that environment. We do not work in an environment like that nor do we have any other environments like that (gym, home, clubs, etc).
With having young boys, they can have times when they need to release some energy. With homeschooling we have realized it is nice to be able to just take breaks when we need to. Also, instead of making my son sit in a standard chair, I have allowed my son to use things like exercise balls. This has allowed him to bounce and move when he feels he just can’t sit still. Sometimes you just need to release a little energy to focus.
Are the avenues for home-schooled kids to interact with other children on base?
There are SO many avenues for the children to interact on base. I am actually an admin for the base homeschool group. We have a Facebook page that we invite everyone to join and keep in touch on. You can find us at Yokota Homeschool Group www.facebook.com/groups/yokotahomeschoolgroup/. We have weekly meet ups for the children. I try to schedule field trips/outings at least once a month, as well. It is also a place to share ideas, curriculum, questions and so much more. We’ve had game days at the library, park outings and picnics, holiday parties, and tons of fun. We would also like to get some co-op classes going in the near future.
Another way for the kids to interact on base are the “Specials” available to homeschoolers through the DoDDs system. These are the extracurricular classes within the schools. These classes are Art, Music, PE, Language, Culture, and more in the older grades. My son is currently enrolled in Art, PE, Culture I and II. He has an assigned homeroom teacher that he loves. He is also allowed to use the library at his school (Mendel) along with attending school field trips. My son has another homeschooler in his class and walks into “Specials” with several other homeschoolers he knows. This is a great benefit the homeschooler enjoy overseas.
There are a couple programs on base that include homeschool programs. I happen to run one of them. I am the owner of Taffy the therapy dog. I do homeschool hours for the Tales for Taffy program. One of the other homeschool moms runs the family yoga and does homeschool hours on Wednesday at the Natatorium from 2-3 p.m. The Natatorium also does homeschool swim hours and lessons during the day. Also, a lot of the homeschool families use the YC and TC to social after school hours. A lot of our kids do sports after school hours. We have a lot of our homeschool kids that do Jiujitsu at the Natatorium. Some more of our kids are musicians. My son plays violin and one day of his lessons is group lessons. So, as you can see, these kids are very social. I tell people, my son is more socialized now than he was when he was in school. He knows how to hold a conversation with an adult and actually gets bored talking to younger kids about trivial things.
What would you say to someone considering homeschooling their kids?
I tell people considering homeschooling the best advice I was given...
“JUMP!” Just do it and jump. The only way you will know if it is for you is if you just try it. I hear a lot of people say that they could never do it. A year before we started homeschooling if you would told me I would be homeschooling, I would have said “NO WAY, YOU ARE NUTS!” My boys were always grumpy and tired after school because of homework. We fought over school work and homework. I just couldn’t find my harmony with them. They were good students, but it was a battle. Even though my husband and I knew our school systems were failing us and we wanted to homeschool, I still couldn’t envision it.
Next, you need to find support. With that support you need to ask questions. No question is a dumb question. However, know that every homeschool is going to be different. Research, research, research. Look up all different kinds of curriculum. Look up all kinds of groups on Facebook, blogs, websites and more.
Next, give the schools notice and request their records.
The next part is the best. Take some time off! Don’t be afraid of taking time off to get to know your child again. You need to get out of the routine. You also need to learn how your child learns. Talk with your child and let them research with you. This is going to be your adventure together. You are going to learn together. I have found I have learned more with my son than I ever did in school.
Once you have chosen your curriculum or you have pieced together a curriculum, you can decide if you will school year round or follow a traditional schedule. Also know that you can stop and start a curriculum at any time. If something doesn’t work for you, try something else. No one is your boss and is standing over your shoulder. Also know, there is always help. Some curriculum programs come with teachers of support. Also, you can find support on webpages and Facebook pages. There is always help and never feel like you are doing your children a disservice.
Do you think homeschooling a military family differs in any way from non-military?
I absolutely think homeschooling in a military family is different than a non-military family. Just the fact that our families have to deal with TDYs, deployments and different scenarios that our counterparts just wouldn’t understand. While in England, I was part of a homeschooling group that included the British nationals. There were several times that we were scheduled to go on field trips and we had to back out or reschedule a get-together because of something that had come up with my husband’s schedule and my son wanted to see his dad before he left. Our friends were very understanding and they always said, “I don’t know how you do it.” Whenever my husband is deployed I get the same response from non-military homeschoolers, “I don’t know how you do it.” That is really when get that response. Then they don’t see how I juggle it all on top of trying to keep a school schedule going. To me it is just something I am used to doing.
So yes, most of the time I would say our non-military members have two adults holding the fort down along with maybe making that homeschool work. Sometimes military families are a one-man circus making that show work including a homeschool.
Will you home school your son through high school?
What we do is take it year by year. We sit down as a family to see what is going to work for our family each year. At our last base, our oldest son intended on homeschooling because of the rating of the high school he would be going to. Then he found out it had an A+ program that would pay for his college if he got decent grades. The school was also known for his music program. Since he is a musician and A student, he ended up attending the public school. This was a decision that was made by the family and in his best interest. Our younger son loves homeschooling and has decided to continue to homeschool each year. A couple years ago he overheard my husband say that in high school he felt my youngest son may want to attend public school. My son got very upset. He told my husband “NO! I always want to homeschool. I even want to go to the University of mom!” So, each year we see where we are at as a family and make a decision if homeschool is still the best decision. Homeschooling has been the best decision we have ever made. I will always want to homeschool as long as it is in the best for my son.
Is there anything you’d like to add about homeschooling?
Homeschooling is not for everyone. However, don’t be afraid of it. Don’t think you can’t homeschool your children. Don’t think you are too dumb to homeschool. Don’t think you have to have a degree to homeschool. I hear so many people say, “I wish I could do that.” YOU CAN. Don’t be afraid to try it. You are not going to mess up your child. They can catch up in school. I love to ask people, “When you applied for a job, did they ask you what grades you got in 3rd grade? Do you remember what you learned in math in 2nd grade?” Yes, once you get into high school you need to focus more and make sure your child is up to standards and taking required classes. Elementary and middle school are important. However, people are stressing things that don’t need to be stressed. Enjoy the learning process and enjoy your kids. Schools are teaching our kids how to test and just teach them towards those tests. We need to teach them so much more. Don’t get me wrong, I love our teachers and what they do. We have some amazing teachers out there that are gems.
We learn every day with everything we do. So many parents don’t realize that or take the time to show their children that. Learning is not just within four walls.
Support from DODEA
DODEA-Pacific schools offer auxiliary services to eligible military families who choose to home school their children. Auxiliary services include use of academic resources, access to the library of the school, after hours use of school facilities, and participation in music, sports, and other extracurricular and interscholastic activities.
Eligibility is limited to students who are designated as space-required (mainland Japan, Okinawa and South Korea Districts) or DOD dependent students eligible to enroll in DDESS on a tuition-free basis (Guam District). Home schoolers using or receiving auxiliary services must also meet the same eligibility requirements as dependents enrolled in DODEA schools who use or receive the same auxiliary services. Eligible home schoolers are not required to attend a specific number of courses to receive auxiliary services, including participating in extracurricular and interscholastic activities.
DODEA encourages DOD sponsors who wish to home school their dependents to communicate the desire to their commanders in order to determine if there are any command policies or other rules ensuring that home schooling practices meet host nation, state, commonwealth, or territory requirements. Sponsors are responsible for complying with applicable local requirements. Contact your local School Liaison Officer or command representative to learn more.”