Liz Sue came from a long line of public school teachers. But, when it came time to send her own children to school, she decided to teach them herself. Sue has homeschooled all three children, ages 19, 17 and 15, from preschool through high school.
She is among a growing number of guardians looking at homeschooling as an alternative to the public school system. Families like the Sues say homeschooling their children has allowed them to have a more tailored educational experience than would be possible in a traditional classroom setting.
In 2016, the number of homeschooled students in the U.S. was about 1.7 million, increasing from 850,000 in 1999 according to the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
Sue said her family members voiced concerns about her decision, especially how her children would learn good socialisation skills.
“My family had a tough time with the idea of me homeschooling – the majority of my family members are public school teachers,” Sue said.
Sue also observed that some public school students might be overlooked by a teacher doing his or her best to get to everyone in the classroom. Teaching her children manners was also part of her decision to home school, she said.
“[In the public school] that one teacher works really hard to give them an education, but he or she can’t possibly hear all those conversations that go on throughout the day,” Sue said. “Home school parents can train and teach their kids and say, ‘I’m sorry, but that wasn’t a nice way to talk to [that person].’ It’s much more difficult for kids to hide something from you when you’re working one on one.”
Jeanne Cygnus and her husband, Marc, decided to home school their children Kyla, 17, and Christian,15, from kindergarten through eighth grade. They felt they could give them the one-on-one attention students might not get in classes with 20 or more other students.
“We are both very academically oriented, and we noticed that sometimes the teacher goes at the pace of the slowest student in the class,” Jeanne said. “We knew both our kids were well ahead of that.”
As most 5-year-olds carried around their favourite blanket or teddy bear, Kyla clung to her favourite book, Jeanne said. She and her brother also did homework at Jeanne’s business, Cygnus Lactation Services, in Mundelein.
“They were with me all day and got a really interesting perspective,” Jeanne Cygnus said. “They saw the real world while learning in an academic setting. When we went to the store, they learned how to count change – there are so many things you can teach them in everyday life.”
Jeanne laughed as she recalled fielding questions from outsiders about the impact of homeschooling on her kids’ socialisation.
“Just because you’re homeschooling doesn’t mean you have to stay at home,” Jeanne said, adding that the library was like their second home. “We did a lot of things, and my kids were involved in a lot of activities.”
After their children finished eighth grade, Jeanne and Marc gave them the option to attend public high school or continue homeschooling – both chose to attend public school to prepare for the classroom setting they will encounter in college.
Both Kyla and Christian are in honours classes and have good grades. Kyla is interested in pursuing art at the college level and already has a college offer. Christian is a straight-A student and is involved in various clubs, including Future Business Leaders of America and the high school’s broadcast team. Christian can recall starting as a freshman and being nervous. Still, as he begins his sophomore year this month, he’s more comfortable about where he fits in.
“I was just nervous about the new schedule,” Christian said about his first year of public high school. “Having to do homework, getting used to the teachers and the whole environment and learning with other kids. It proved easier than I thought to get acclimated.”
The Sue family homeschooled their children through high school, which allowed their children to take classes at the College of Lake County and get a head start on their college education.
Liz’s eldest, Charlotte Sue, is now a sophomore at Milligan College in Tennessee and has a full-tuition scholarship. Charlotte is pursuing a double major in art and psychology and plans to attend graduate school to study art therapy. While growing up, she enjoyed frequenting museums in Chicago with her mom and others in her local home school group. Those early experiences influenced her desire to pursue art therapy, she said.
“When I took an interest in art, it was something we put more time into,” Charlotte said about how her mom was able to curtail the curriculum to her interests. “My mom was always really supportive. But, it didn’t take away from studying other subjects.”
Liz also believes that because she homeschooled her daughter, she discovered that Charlotte needed corrective glasses.
“My daughter didn’t like math from the time she was 6 years old, and I’d tried lots of different curriculums and methods,” Liz said. “When she was in high school, one of the things we discovered was that she needed specialised lenses. Within a week after visiting the vision therapist, she was able to do the math and didn’t have any more problems.”
Oliver Sue, 15, who is homeschooled, said isolation isn’t an issue for him. He has friends who attend public school and friends that are homeschooled like him. He plans to take classes at the College of Lake County and said he enjoys working on computers and studying history. He said that sometimes, kids who attend public school think homeschooled kids are “sheltered,” but that’s not true.
“I’m experiencing new things,” he said, adding that homeschooling allows him to work at his own pace and spend more time with friends. “You also get to be more in touch with your mom or dad or whoever is teaching you. I like that.”
Liz said it’s vital for those who decide to homeschool to network with other home school families. She said being able to troubleshoot with other parents can make a huge difference when having a bad day.
“You don’t feel as isolated when you’re in a group setting,” Liz said, adding that she is a member of the local home school group Hearts and Minds in Christ. “We are a Christian-based cooperative. Home school groups provide resources, and we help each other. The kids socialise with kids of different ages.”
Liz and Jeanne Cygnus agree that regardless of a family’s reasoning for homeschooling, the most critical element to a successful experience is passion.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been trained or you just want to do it; but, if you’re passionate about giving your kids the best education you can, you’re going to do a great job,” Liz said.
“If you’re willing to do it, there are so many resources out there,” Jeanne said. “There’s no one way to home school.”
Lake County resources for homeschoolers abound
In addition to local networks of home school families, homeschoolers can find support in Lake County’s libraries and Forest Preserves. Janet Brakel, a volunteer associate with Lake Villa District Library, knows first-hand the vital role libraries play in home school families. Brakel homeschooled her three children, now 29, 26 and 24, from elementary school through eighth grade. Her eldest chose to be homeschooled through high school, while her younger two transitioned from homeschooling to public high school. Brakel has lectured about ways librarians can help homeschoolers as the library’s home school advocate coordinator.
“[The library] is essential to their whole effort,” Brakel said. “There are books about everything, and now we have CDs, DVDs and programs that anyone can go to. A homeschooler can come in [to the library], spend the day and do research.”
Brakel said home school families in the area become regular library patrons, and she has come to know them on a first-name basis.
Kerry Reed, head of the youth department at the Lake Villa Library, said the library hosts an annual orientation program for home school families.
“We highlight our services, children’s programs, and resources,” Reed said. “We have a Homeschooling Resources binder available at the Adult Services Reference desk, which includes information on local support groups, curriculum providers and flyers from private tutors. We continually purchase and maintain a collection of books and journals that address the needs of homeschooling families.”
Cindy Lobaza, head of youth services at the Fox Lake District Library, said the library offers a remarkable collection of literature geared toward home school families year-round.
“We have six big shelves of stuff for homeschooling and parenting books nearby,” Lobaza said. “We have a lot of parents that come in and are interested in homeschooling.”
Lobaza said ongoing youth and teen programs engage home school and public school students and offer an opportunity for students to network, such as the library’s chess club.
“A big concern for a lot of home school parents is feeling isolated,” Lobaza said. “We have a lot of programming, and we gear it toward all families.”
Families can also turn to the Lake County Forest Preserves for programs designed for homeschoolers, said Nicole Stocker, museum educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves.
To learn more about online resources for homeschooling, visit Lake County’s Regional Office of Education at www.lake.k12.il.us/roe_home_sch/.
National Center for Education Statistics – Fast Facts: Homeschooling ‘How many children are homeschooled in the United States?’, [https://nces.ed.gov/programs/schoolchoice/ind_05.asp]