We can all learn from home schooling

home school convention

Parents and student browse curriculum in the exhibit hall at a home schooling convention in Orlando.

This weekend, thousands of families are gathered in Orlando for a yearly home schooling convention that organizers say is the largest of its kind.

The gathering, organized by the Florida Parent Educators Association, draws an estimated 17,000 attendees, including home-school parents and their children. A sizable portion come from outside the state. (It might help that Disney World is just up the road.)

It’s worth paying attention to trends in home schooling. For one thing, like other forms of educational choice, it’s growing and becoming more diverse.

It also offers lessons that, arguable more than ever, are relevant to the education system as a whole. The recent push for policies that support customized learning owes much to the home-school movement.

Virtual schools, course access, microschools and education savings accounts all either have roots in home education, have been influenced by it, or offer tools that make parent-driven education accessible to more families.

Consider the mantra offered by Sonya Shafer, a parent and writer who is leading several workshops this weekend: “Teach the child, not the curriculum.” Home school, she said, doesn’t necessarily have to mimic a traditional school.

She walked parents through what she calls the “five flavors” of homeschooling. They range from traditional, textbook-based education to child-directed “unschooling.” She said she’s seen each of the methods produce well-adjusted college graduates, but parents should pick the approach that works best for them, and feel free to mix and match depending on the subject, their child’s age, and other factors.

“Have you ever heard of a smorgasbord? You can do that with home schooling,” she said. “That’s one of the beauties of home schooling. You can customize it to benefit you, and your family.”

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