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Published October 28, 2013, 04:05 PM

Home-schooled and happy: Fargo mom gives glimpse into growing education trend

FARGO - While Lindsey Lien sits in her small school desk, sounding out words as she learns to read, her brothers study at a nearby table. Andy is working on spelling, handwriting and math, while Josh researches a science project.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO - While Lindsey Lien sits in her small school desk, sounding out words as she learns to read, her brothers study at a nearby table. Andy is working on spelling, handwriting and math, while Josh researches a science project.

The boys quietly move from one subject to the next without prompting or cajoling from their mother, who is also their teacher.

Jen Lien of Fargo started home schooling her children four years ago, and in doing so, joined a growing number of parents who educate their children at home.

One corner of her family room looks like a classroom. A globe perches on the window sill, academic posters adorn the walls, and a computer sits in an adjoining room where Lien’s kids learn Spanish through a software program.

Her kids work independently while Lien helps a sibling, but she insists they aren’t always so quiet and well-behaved.

“Sometimes we’re silly,” she said during a recent school day.

“Like when you leave the room,” her 6-year-old daughter Lindsey, a first grader, added.

Then chaos might erupt, similar to what sometimes happens when a teacher leaves a typical classroom, Lien said.

But unlike a conventional classroom, third-grader Josh might stop what he’s working on to let their dog out, or Andy, a sixth-grader, might take a break to make his family lunch.

TAILORED CURRICULUM

The Lien kids don’t have homework outside of their school day, which is shorter than in a public or private school, and they can spend as much or as little time as they need to on their subjects, depending on how quickly they grasp the concepts.

Lien can also choose curriculums based on her kids’ learning styles. They read history books formatted like novels, for example. And she includes religion in their school day.

But she most values spending time with her kids and watching their relationships with each other grow, Lien said.

“It’s better than I imagined,” she said. “I’m so glad I did it.”

There are some drawbacks. They can easily spend $1,200 a year on curricula, not including the school materials they need, Lien said.

When she started, Lien worried she would fail her kids.

“There’s always that little voice that wonders if they’re getting what they need,” she said.

But she quickly realized how much more she gives them.

“I don’t regret it,” she said.

While home schooling has become a more socially accepted form of education, some still scorn it.

Critics argue home-schooled kids don’t socialize, but Lien said they have more opportunities to get together with other people than they have time for.

Part of the stigma might stem from people regarding schools as the heart of the community, said Theresa Deckert, North Dakota Home School Association office administrator.

“The families that have chosen to pull their kids out, they’re seen as anti-community,” she said. “It doesn’t mean they’re anti-school, it just means they want to be more involved in directing their children’s education.”

Deckert of Devils Lake actually broke the law when she started teaching her children at home 26 years ago. The practice didn’t become legal in North Dakota until 1989, and families were prosecuted for homeschooling their kids, she said.

“I’m so thankful I went that route even though it was terrifying when I began,” Deckert said.

It’s come a long way since when she started, Deckert said.

Schools work with parents who homeschool. Kids can take classes or extracurricular activities through public or private schools. There’s even a gym class for home-schooled kids at Courts Plus Fitness Center in Fargo. And support groups have popped up all over the state where families can get together for things like sports, music and field trips.

Parents can choose their own curriculum, but they need to make sure they comply with state law, said Deckert, who teaches workshops for homeschoolers. Home educators required to teach 175 days for four hours a day. Deckert said it’s a little bit less than public school requirements because home-schooled kids get more one-on-one attention.

Deckert said homeschooling doesn’t hurt the college application process. Instead, admissions offices just put more emphasis on the ACT test for homes-chooled kids.

The only time home schooling doesn’t work is when one parent doesn’t support it, she said.

The numbers of home-schooled students in the state are steadily increasing.

Approximately 1,878 students are being home-schooled in North Dakota this school year. That’s up 6 percent over last year’s numbers and a 37 percent increase from five years ago. The numbers are an estimate because parents only have to report home-schooled children between the ages of seven and 16, said Annette Tait, ND Department of Public Instruction public information specialist. Also, since some students take classes at home and in public or private school, they are partially figured into the estimate.

In the 1989-90 school year, 357 kids were home-schooled, Deckert said.

The same year, 3,538 kids were home-schooled in Minnesota, according to learninfreedom.org, a website about alternative learning options. And last year, 16,081 students were enrolled in a home school, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

Parents have a variety of reasons for homeschooling their children.

Liz Jost of Fargo decided to do it out of convenience, she said.

One of her children was having issues with potty training and wasn’t physically ready for kindergarten, even though he was intellectually ready. Another child attended private school and Jost found she spent too much time shuttling her kids to various programs.

“My youngest would have been in the car two hours a day,” she said.

She has home-schooled her kids for three years but will likely send them to private school next year, she said.

“I don’t have anything against homeschooling, obviously, but it’s not something that I ever saw us doing long-term,” she said.

Jost taught eighth grade before deciding to home school her kids, so she was never intimidated to teach, but she said you don’t need an education background to teach your kids at home.

“I think just about anybody could,” she said. “People think that they have to know everything to teach their kids. The curriculum is not designed for the parent to be the expert in all the subjects that they’re teaching. There’s a lot of support.”

While many parents who home school do not work outside the home, Pam Mork of Moorhead is a part-time Concordia College professor and has home-schooled her kids for 15 years.

When they were younger, her husband helped teach them. She also hired Concordia education majors to help out when neither Pam nor her husband could be home.

The older they grow, the more independent they become, she said.

“It’s one of the big advantages,” Mork said. “With one kid in your grade, you can begin to hand the work off to them and give them the responsibility for learning. That’s a wonderful gift, even if they don’t go to college.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

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