By Patti Zarling
KEWAUNEE — Laurie Neverman never intended to home school her two boys.
“My brother did that for two years in Colorado, and I thought it was sort of crazy,” she said. “It definitely wasn't my life's mission.”
But when her oldest son, August, learned to read at 3 and she couldn't find a kindergarten to accept him, she broke out the books herself.
Then she just kept going.
Now as fall approaches and many other kids head back to the classroom, August, 7, and his kid brother Duncan, 5, need only move to the comfort of the kitchen table to prepare for another year of lessons.
Oh sure, they have two abandoned desks sitting in the basement of their rural home. But these active boys tend to learn hands on.
They study science as they make homemade root beer or learn geography as they place quarters on the U.S. map traced in their coin collection. Colorful posters containing information about the scientific elements, U.S. history and world geography adorn the kitchen walls.
“We tend to work on things all year,” Neverman said, as she asks Duncan to identify letters in alphabet-shaped cookies. “Most of our work is done at the kitchen table, a lot of what we do is active.”
Right now, things aren't always structured. If the boys are interested in a particular math or science lesson, Neverman will keep on going.
“Of course they do have to study things they're not that interested in, too,” she said. “And I think once they get a little older, like nine or 10, things will get more structured.
“But it just gives us such flexibility. I've seen (August) sit down and read a computer manual.”
Families that home-learn in Wisconsin are given quite a bit of freedom. Under state law, home schooling families must file a form of intent with the Department of Public Instruction and then meet two major requirements each year:
- Provide 875 hours of instruction each school year.
- Provide a sequentially-based method of instruction where children build on previous knowledge.
Programs must include a curriculum of fundamental instruction in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.
The Nevermans rely on a network of other learn-at-home families, and belong to several organizations for home schoolers, Neverman said. She said nearly 200 families in the Green Bay area home-school.
These groups, such as the North East Wisconsin Home Learners, give kids a chance to interact with other kids, Neverman said. They can put together yearbooks, discuss lessons and even host teen dances. For Neverman, lack of socialization is not a big issue.
There is debate among educators about the social impact on children who are home-schooled.
Michael Apple, a professor of education policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has studied home schooling extensively, has been quoted as saying home schoolers are cutting themselves off from people with different backgrounds.
He says home-schooled kids are missing out on the more subtle lessons that public teach about interacting in a diverse society.
“Public schools are important to democracy,” Apple said. “They teach people how to work with others across political, religious, class and racial lines. It would be a disaster to give up on that.”
Neverman refutes that. “People say, “How will they handle it when they're older and people are mean to them?”, she said.
“I figure they'll learn about that soon enough. There will always be people who are mean to you. I don't want to shelter them.”
“But when you think of it, everyone's experience of school is different. Mine was completely different than my husband's. So that's how I think of this, just one of many different experiences.”
She most struggles with determining when enough is enough.
“You always want to do more”, she said. “You always worry, “Are they getting enough math, are they learning enough history?”
Teaching has taught her how shallow her study of many subjects was, Neverman added.
“I want my kids to have a deeper understanding of things,” she said. “I would like them to have fewer deeper relations than lots of shallow ones.”
Click on the following link to read more home schooling in Wisconsin and its growing popularity.