For ten years, Michelle Daniels packed lunches and kissed her children goodbye before they climbed onto the school bus. It was not until her eldest son, now 18-year-old Cameron, was a sophomore that she decided to educate him at home; the results of which were so positive that she followed suit with 11-year-old Justin and six-year-old Ann. "We love it so much, we can't imagine going back," says Daniels.
Homeschooling goes beyond academics at home. It's about being part of a broader community that nurtures all aspects of a child's life, she says. Many homeschool groups in and around Fairfield County create a social and scholastic network for the homeschooled student. Homeschool Day at local museums, parks, and ski mountains are just some of the ways homeschool children and their families grow, learn, and play in a cohesive and supportive environment. "You can register for lots of classes and programs just for homeschooled kids," explains Daniels. The Connecticut Homeschool Network is an independent, non-profit online organization that fosters community among those who homeschool.
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The morning of our interview, Daniels and a group of homeschoolers saw a show at The Ridgefield Playhouse. Upon my arrival, three Daniels children were unwinding from their busy morning. Justin was creating energy circuits (this year's science curriculum), and Ann was reading and rocking one-year-old Brian to sleep. Big brother Cameron was working at a local deli in Ridgefield. Daniels admits that while homeschooling is a full-time job, it is a labor of love. It was a tough decision she and her husband, Don, made together. "It's no different than working, and it's fun," she says.
While the state of Connecticut does not require homeschoolers to follow a curriculum, Daniels likes the accountability, support, and instruction you get by utilizing a comprehensive course of study. She has chosen a classical curriculum accredited through Stanford University called The Kolbe Academy. It includes the basic academic subjects as well as Latin, religious studies, and geography.
"Geography is six-year-old Ann's favorite subject," says Daniels. Kolbe provides students at each grade level with advisers who assure goals are met. "They have dialogue with their advisers and get feedback and guidance," explains Daniels.
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Kolbe is just one of many curriculum's that parents can choose from; and they can mix and match curriculums, books, and methodologies to assure that the instruction coincides with the child's learning style. "There are things I like about the curriculum I chose and things I don't like, but I'm not handcuffed. I didn't like the vocabulary unit so I changed it and now use The Well Trained Mind," explains Daniels. What about cost? "It's under a thousand dollars for the whole family for the whole year."
In addition to academics, the kids are involved in other activities. For Justin it's a book group, filmmaking, and trumpet. Second grader Ann is part of a homeschool knitting group, plays the keyboard and dances at Enchanted Garden. Cameron, a high-school senior who will attend Catholic University in the fall, creates his own course load; choosing to take evening classes Norwalk Community College so that he can fit in a few hours of work during the day. "Cameron designs his own schedule and turns in his work to Kolbe," says Daniels.
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Daniels is one of six Ridgefield parents who homeschool. According to a report by USA Today, 1.5 million children in the United States were homeschooled in 2007, a jump of 36 percent since 2003 and a 74 percent increase since 1999. Last year, The National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) estimated that 2.04 million children were homeschooled in the US. "I thought the children would drive me nuts," Daniels admits. "But, I know my kids so well. The more they're home, the more I want to be with them."