Amy Thomas had never intended to home-school her children. Seven years later, she knows she made the right decision.
Thomas made the decision to home-school after her daughter, Josie, now 14, completed kindergarten in the Keller school district. Josie’s birthday is in late August so Thomas and her husband, Cory, debated whether to start first grade as a young 5-year-old or wait until she was 6.
“I didn’t want her to be the youngest children in her class,” Thomas recalls.
So the couple chose to hold her back and wait until she was 6 to start her in school. During that year, Thomas worked with Josie on reading and other types of academics so she would be well prepared.
“It was an academic mess,” Thomas says. Josie was ahead of her class and was languishing in school. “I realized that I could do this myself.”
Like other home-schoolers, Thomas was a little overwhelmed by the vast curriculum options, resources and opportunities and activities available for home-schoolers.
Thomas settled on a classical curriculum for Josie and younger brother, Drew, 10. Thomas never enrolled Drew in school at all. “We’ve gotten into a rhythm and we don’t use a lot of the resources out there anymore.”
But one resource that Thomas relies on regularly is the Keller Public Library. She and her kids check out stacks of books regularly to supplement her curriculum. The library is also a resource for home-schoolers to connect with one another through a monthly Roundtable program that offers simultaneous educational programs for parents and fun-filled learning activities for their children.
At a recent Roundtable get-together, youngsters were dissecting owl pellets and trying to identify parts of the prey that the owl ate and regurgitated.
“I found a whole skull,” 9-year-old Mateo Villalobos said excitedly as he picked through the pellets to identify bones. “I’ve never done this before.”
His mother, Adrian, says she seeks out activities for home-schoolers all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Mateo and his older brother, Diego. The Grand Prairie family likes the opportunity for experiences like participating as a junior zookeeper as the Dallas Zoo that are possible only with the flexibility of home schooling.
Although there is no accurate data on the number of home-schoolers in the Keller area, Cheney says the community continues to grow and thrive with more and more programs and activities being created to meet their needs.
Keller Library Services Manager Rae Cheney, who has developed of home-schooling resources to help families get started, says that Texas is one of the easiest states for home schooling because it has limited requirements compared to other states that bind home-schoolers to operate under the umbrella of a regular school and follow other stringent rules.
“Families actually move here because home-schoolers have so much more freedom,” Cheney says.
The Texas Home School Coalition, an advocacy organization for home-school families, estimates that 150,000 Texas families have chosen this path and are educating more than 350,000 children at home. Those numbers may be conservative, since parents are not required to register with any agency to home-school, according to the organization.
In a 2015 national report from the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 1.8 million youngsters 5 to 17 were home-schooled in 2012, the latest data available. In 2003, about 1.1 million children were educated at home.
Home schooling in Texas dramatically increased after a 1994 Texas Supreme Court ruling upheld lower court rulings in favor of allowing parents to home-school their children. Home schooling had been banned in Texas in 1981 and parents who home-schooled were prosecuted for violations ranging from truancy to child abuse, according to the Texas coalition.
Besides not having to register their children, home-school parents are not required to administer standardized tests and they may choose any curriculum they wish to follow. The only requirements are that the instruction must be bona fide, curriculum must be presented in visual form through books, workbooks or other media, and children must be taught a minimum of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics and good citizenship.
The growing popularity of home schooling has led to a network of activities such as athletic leagues in nearly every sport, choir programs and speech and debate organizations that sponsor enormous tournaments. There are even proms and homecoming dances for high school-age home-schoolers.
College-style schools, where students attend classes a couple of days a week in subjects like chemistry or comparative literature, have also entered the market to support home-school families.
Museums like the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science also offer weekday classes and programs for home-schoolers. The Fort Worth Zoo offers similar opportunities.
“There’s so many resources out there that you could keep busy all the time and barely have time for academics,” says Keller home-school mother Robin Groninga.
Cheney and some local home-school parents say the vast majority of those who choose to home-school do so for religious reasons and want to incorporate biblical teachings in their children’s education. But there are other parents who choose this route for reasons such as protecting their children from bullying and social issues and avoiding overcrowded classrooms and to achieve individual attention, freedom from the standardized tests and flexibility.
“My husband had a business conference to attend in San Diego so we were able to go along and make a little family vacation out of it,” Thomas says.
Like many home-school parents, Thomas says she re-evaluates the situation every year before deciding whether to continue. She is contemplating enrolling Josie in Keller High School next year because she is worried that building a high school transcript and adequately preparing her daughter for college might be too daunting.
Josie already attends Trinity Preparatory Academy in Keller two days a week to take science and other challenging classes.
“I am nervous about her not being able to get into college,” Thomas says.
Jennifer White, a Keller mother of five, including two teenagers, ages 15 and 16, has been home-schooling for 10 years and sidestepped the high school issue by sending her teenage daughters to Trinity Prep.
“It has worked well for us,” White says. “Both of my daughters are working on their lessons independently because we told them they need to take ownership of going to college. They are both planning to go.”
Groninga, a Keller mother of a ninth-grader and a second-grader, also sends her older son, Jake, to Trinity Preparatory two days a week to take biology and world history. Because he is heavily involved in speech and debate, the hybrid approach gives him more time to devote to his activity and still have plenty of time for academic work.
Thomas understands the tradeoff and may continue to home-school her daughter.
“We volunteer together a lot on weekdays,” Thomas says. “We run a Meals on Wheels route and we volunteer at our church homeless shelter running the clothing closet.
“This is something we could not be able to do if the kids were at (a traditional) school all day,” she says.