March 14, 2012
New York Times: The Home-Schooled Don't Just Stay at Home
By Jill Carol Weiner
In June 2010, Lenora Todaro was looking for ways to build on her home-schooled 8-year-old twin boys’ interest in knights, castles and other aspects of medieval history. “I thought of architecture,” recalled Ms. Todaro, who then reached out to the Center for Architecture, a public gallery space in New York.
In August, Ms. Todaro brainstormed with educators at the center’s foundation about a new class. “Students would build a scale model of a medieval European city,” she said of the course. Then she contacted other home-schooling parents online. “I posted a course description to the home-schooling Listservs, so other families studying medieval history could enroll their kids.”
The foundation offered to host the students on-site, at an off-peak afternoon time when its instructors would be in less demand at schools, where they usually conduct the foundation’s residency programs. The class began in November 2010 with 15 children and some parents observing, the first of several at the center arranged by Ms. Todaro.
As the number of home-schooling families grows, museum programs for them are springing up all over the country. Museums and the families are thrilled. It seems like a perfect match: treasure-filled institutions with an abundance of resources and slow, off-peak hours welcoming eager children with schedule flexibility.
But the relationship is not without challenges, or at least a learning curve. While parents are hungry for educational resources, they have varying philosophies, children with different learning styles and their own vision about the delivery of services. Some want an in-depth experience with a mixed-age group, entire families learning together and a large number of parents participating, while others seek different options. Some parents are of limited means with larger broods and need discounts to visit museums and participate in programs.
For their part, museums are accustomed to working with one organized classroom at a time, with systems set up by a teacher that usually require hand-raising and keeping questions to a minimum to move a lesson along; home-schoolers often value questioning and child-led discussions where students set the pace.
According to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, 1.5 million children were home-schooled in 2007, up from 1.1 million in 2003. The National Home Education Research Institute, an advocacy group, reported that 2.4 million students were home-schooled in 2010. Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback, and the children of Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate, are among those who have been home-schooled.
At museums on the radar of the home-schooled, demand for programs has grown markedly. The Jamestown Settlement in Virginia began its “Home School Days” in December 2002 as a two-day, discounted field trip and attracted 632 visitors. By last September, the program, now a week long, brought in 6,358 for in-depth classes, tours and other entertaining educational activities.
The South Carolina State Museum serves around 200 home-schooling visitors a month. Many rely on “Home School Fridays,” a monthly program that includes two classes aligned with state educational standards, each an hour long, in subjects like natural history, science, art and cultural history. Families are kept together, and classes can have toddlers as well as teenagers. Teachers and docents have been trained in teaching mixed-age groups.
“This is a group with a high customer-service standard,” said Kit Wilheit, a director of youth and family programs at the Science Museum of Minnesota. “They want input into how programs are developed. They want really high-quality programs at a low cost and they want engaging teachers. All parents want this, but they advocate particularly strongly for their kids.”
Elizabeth Escamilla, the senior manager in the Education Department of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, said home-schooling families “will use a field trip to a museum as both an educational and an appropriate social experience.” The Getty puts no restrictions on the composition of its tours. “We can have 15 kids and 15 adults, a very wide range of age groups, but our gallery teachers that take groups through are well trained and make accommodations for differences.”
In Manhattan, the New-York Historical Society offers two series of classes for home-schoolers, one called “The American Musicals Project,” which combines musical theater with items from its collection to instruct pupils in topics like the American Revolution and slavery. Chris Whitford, a home-schooling mother on the Upper West Side, teaches the class of 11- to 14-year-olds and publicizes it through a newsletter for the New York City Home Educators Alliance as well as other home-schooling groups.
The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City is doubling its offerings for the home-schooled. Starting in July, the center will have four home-school field trip days a year, up from two; there will be eight multiday lab workshops instead of four. Educational standards in science can be especially difficult to meet in home-schooling. In focus groups, parents requested comprehensive classes in earth science and biology that meet state standards.
Elsewhere, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, uses online advance ticketing to plan home-schoolers’ lessons, prepare materials and organize staffing for them. And to elevate the quality of its program, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore changed its format from large-scale open houses to smaller monthly workshops.
Some parents, particularly those not trained in art, prefer the expertise and guidance that museums offer in their home-school programs, which by their very existence confirm that “home schooling” is an elastic term.
“There is no rule that says my child must be sitting at the kitchen table, reading everything out of a book given to her by me,” said Pia Williams, who home-schools her 11-year-old daughter, Erica, and started the Web site HomeSchoolLA.org. “Home schooling is really providing the most individualized educational opportunities for my child — no matter where that is, or by whomever I choose to have teach her. Museums bring the world to us.”
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