The ABC's of Home Schooling

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As a blissfully unattached single devoid of responsibility for anything (except my rent) and anyone (save my bevy of blissfully unattached friends), I've always found nothing more frightening than the prospect of having kids of my own to feed and shelter. Recently, though, I've been dwelling on something far scarier: educating them — myself. With an estimated two million kids from all economic classes now schooled at home, this isn't just idle worrying on my part. And considering I will surely never make enough money to pay for private schools — and fancy myself always living in hip urban centers with shoddy public schools — somewhere down the line home schooling might actually prove the most attractive option. After all, I do write articles every week on how to fix the nation's schools. How hard would it be to actually do it?

   My actual knowledge of home schooling was rather limited, mainly to those geeky kids who year after year win the national spelling bee with words I can't even pronounce. To find out more I spent last weekend at a home schooling exhibition at a Denver Holiday Inn, a 5000-strong confab of parents, children and education experts who got together to purchase curriculum, take seminars and talk shop. My first lesson: these people rise with the sun. When I arrived at 7:30 am on Saturday morning, a swarm of parents had already staked out the still-shuttered exhibition hall. When they finally opened the gates and I scanned the panoply of products now geared for home schoolers, I realized why they allowed the extra time. You name it, you could buy it: day-by-day lessons from kindergarten through high school, $600 state-of-the-art microscopes, fiddle lessons, membership in home schooling bowling and sewing leagues, natural oils meant to purify young minds. "Mom, look, they have owl pellets," one boy squealed over the crowd. I followed to find a biological supply booth ready to outfit those parents who'd delved into dissection. Also on sale: preserved sharks, sheep brains and frogs.

   As much as I love formaldehyde, I was more drawn to the informational seminars. They promised to enlighten home school parents on, well, the very topics just about every parents everywhere obsesses over. What to do if your kid has ADD? How to discern your child's learning style and resolve conflicts? What kinds of foods help children concentrate — and keep them from bouncing off the walls? Unsurprisingly, the "Designing a College Preparatory High School Program" was bursting at the seams with parents. They probably made a beeline there from the vendor doing brisk business selling Princeton Review and Kaplan SAT  prep software.

   With support systems like this in place, home schooling certainly wasn't the lonely endeavor I'd imagined it — long days chained to the kitchen table with a couple of library books and low-tech science experiments of my own making. And after an exhausting day in Denver, I'm at least willing to admit home schooling to the realm of the possible — even the doable — provided I can ditch the lesson about the sheep's brain.