It’s not every day that a 12-year-old makes a hotel reservation, or calculates how much gas money his family needs for a road trip.
But Caleb Norris is doing that, and he calls it just another school day.
He’s one of the many students in Elkhart County who are home-schooled. There’s no way to know for sure how many home-schooled students live in our area, because Indiana doesn’t require home schools to register with the state department of education. But local families who choose to teach their children at home say that home-schooling is more common that people may think.
Making the decision
Goshen mom Carrie Norris and her husband, Todd, are in their first year of home-schooling their four children — Caleb, 12, Hannah, 10, Samuel, 6, and Elizabeth, 3.
They decided to home-school when they realized that their children were exhausted after most public school days.
“They used to board the bus at 7:15, in the dark,” Carrie Norris said. “It felt like the whole morning was rushed and not full of love, and then they were gone for seven hours. And they would come home tired, mentally and physically, and then they went to bed and the day was gone.”
The Norris’ also wanted to teach 10-year-old Hannah, who has some learning and developmental disabilities, at home where she didn’t face pressure to be on the same level as others in her class.
“With Hannah it was sort of a no-brainer,” Carrie Norris said. “She had a lot of great love and teaching at public school. But even with the best intentions, they couldn’t meet all of her needs.”
Jeff and Rebecca Cooper of Goshen first thought about home-schooling when their 3-year-old daughter, Katherine, started reading on her own.
“There was just no way to stick her in a public school, and we couldn’t afford private school,” Rebecca Cooper said.
The Coopers also wanted to make sure their children learned about the Bible as part of their education. Katherine, now 17 and a freshman at Bethel College, started kindergarten at 4 years old and finished high school at 14 — all at home. Her younger brother, Chase, 12, is currently learning at home with the help of his mom and an online curriculum.
Carrie Norris said she’s learning that her children’s education doesn’t have to come entirely from a book or even from a curriculum at all.
“What I’ve discovered is that education and learning is not just the typical public school subjects,” Carrie Norris said.
Her children are learning what Carrie Norris calls “life skills” along with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Caleb’s recent project is to organize a trip for the family to visit Chicago and see some famous paintings that they’ve been learning about.
Carrie Norris stressed that she and her husband aren’t against public schools. In fact, Caleb still participates in band at Northridge Middle School, and Carrie hopes that he can take Spanish there next year too.
“I thought that the public school would have a bad reaction to our choice,” Carrie Norris said. “But I’ve had many public school teachers say really encouraging things. The public school has been very supportive of our leaving it.”
Katherine Cooper spent several years writing and recording music after she finished high school at 14. Even though she’s now occupied with college work, she’s grateful that her flexible home-schooling schedule gave her the chance to pursue music.
Her younger brother Chase has picked up on more advanced subjects simply by being in the same room when Katherine was working on her school work, said their mother, Rebecca Cooper.
Rebecca Cooper said there’s plenty of opportunities for home-schooled children to get out of the house and spend time with their peers. Katherine and Chase did 4-H, church activities and music lessons.
“When they were little, we were home, but now I wish there was one day a week where we didn’t have to go anywhere,” Cooper said, laughing.
A typical day for the Coopers involves sleeping in and starting school work around 10 a.m. Chase does most of his work on a computer.
“We are pretty laid-back so we try to get as much done before lunch as possible,” Rebecca Cooper said. “Then we kind of barrel ahead until we get done what’s assigned for that day.”
Carrie Norris said that when she first thought about home-schooling, she thought her children would end up with a lot of free time.
“I guess I thought my kids would be done with school and they would just be sitting around,” she said. “It’s not like that. We have had to turn down social invitations because we have too many. There’s chess club, 4-H, ballet ... there’s even a sledding club.”
Finding out more
Both moms said that the best way to find out more about home-schooling is to ask a veteran home-schooler.
“Look for other home-schoolers and talk to them about their experiences and what has worked for them,” Carrie Norris said.
Rebecca Cooper said simple word of mouth helped her figure out where Katherine could take the PSAT.
“The big thing is, try to connect with other families,” she said.
What does Indiana law say about homeschooling?
According to the Indiana Department of Education, parents who want to home-school their children are required to do these three things.
1. Home schools should be in session for 180 days each year — just like public schools. The length of each day, and which days school is in session, is not mandated by the state.
2. Home schools should keep attendance records. But only a local public school superintendent can ask to see the attendance records, to verify that the student is indeed attending a school.
3. Home schools should teach similar subjects that public schools teach. But a specific curriculum or program is not required.