LIMA — A timeline of historical events spans one of the walls. Above that, a string holds up a model solar system along with a paper skeleton, complete with paper pulmonary and digestive systems inside the rib cage. Books on history and science cover a side table, while art and science projects line the shelves near the ceiling overlooking shelves filled with school supplies.
One would expect to find rows of desks filling the room. However, in this room, the central piece of furniture is the dining room table. The setting for this scene is the home of Dan and Jennifer Beck, a home which also doubles as the school for their two youngest children, Grace and Abigail.
The Becks began home schooling in 2001 with their older daughter Hannah, who has now graduated. For Jennifer Beck, there were just too many things pointing them in that direction.
“I was a television news anchor for TV-35 and I couldn't get home schooling out of my mind,” she said. “Dan had come home and talked about some good friends of ours who had home-schooled their three boys through high school and how impressed he was with how well they were doing and their skills. Then we had a 5-year-old kindergartener who came home from school and asked if we would home-school her.”
Faith is frequently a factor for families considering the home-school option, including the Butterfields, a local home schooling family. Amanda Butterfield, the mother, has educated her two children, ages 5 and 8, ever since they began school.
“We weren't thinking about doing it until our oldest was 2 or 3 years old,” she said. “We just felt led to keep him home so we could be sure of what his influences were and what he was being taught.”
While a Christian faith can be a major motivator for those considering home schooling, it is not the only one. For Ladene Byrd, of Lima, her decision to pull her son out of public schools came out of a frustration she felt as her son lagged farther behind in his studies.
“In my case, my child just wasn't getting help and was falling behind, and the teachers weren't doing anything about it because they didn't know how to help him,” she said. “I kept hearing, 'I don't know what to do,' from kindergarten through second grade because he was struggling in reading.”
For the Becks, while Jennifer Beck had stayed at home for many years, Dan Beck, formerly the Allen County sheriff, is now a stay-at-home father and teacher for the two girls, a challenge he is more than happy to take on while Jennifer Beck works at WTLW television.
“I could be doing consulting work all over the country,” he said. “I do it periodically for a couple of large corporations. I could do more of it, but I don't market it because my priority is my children.”
The Becks are not alone in their decision to home-school their children. While firm numbers have never been tabulated, recent estimates point to more than 20,000 Ohio children now being educated at home. As the Becks and the Butterfields have discovered, there is a wide variety of methods when it comes to how those children are educated.
“I'm sure there are more models of home schooling than I'm even aware of,” Butterfield said.
“Not everybody does it the way we do,” Dan Beck said. “There are as many different home schooling patterns as there are families.”
Having worked at the national level in promoting and developing home schooling, the Becks have been able to learn about some of the dominant formats that have emerged in developing home-school curricula.
“There is the textbook style of curriculum that looks much like the school system, where you use the same textbooks that schools use,” Jennifer Beck said. “There's the Charlotte Mason style. There's a classical type of home schooling that has two forms, the Hebraic style and the Greco-Roman style, and the final one is unschooling.”
The Charlotte Mason method involves combining experiential learning and moral and character development. The Greco-Roman classical educaton format stresses learning facts and figures, while Hebraic education focuses on learning through family relationships, stressing religious education and occupational skills. Unschooling does not stress learning a variety of subjects, focusing instead on the child's interests.
“It may say, 'My child is really interested in science, so we'll go very in-depth into, say, rocket building,'” Jennifer Beck said. “It ebbs and flows with the child's interests.”
While each style is different, home-school families often incorporate elements from many different methods to create their own educational experience.
“We use a combination of classical and Charlotte Mason-style home schooling,” Jennifer Beck said.
The Butterfield family uses a faith-based curriculum titled, “My Father's World,” and they receive the entire curriculum by mail.
“Our kids get every subject that a child in a public school would get,” Butterfield said. “We supplement with activities outside the home and we have a home-school group that we do field trips with together. We do have a schedule we write out with set times for each subject. There's a break time after so many subjects, a 'recess' time, if you want to call it that.”
For the Byrd family, the decision was made to use the Ohio Virtual Academy, an online public school.
“I kept seeing the Virtual Academy advertised, and I talked to my husband about it and he said, 'Well, if you think you can do it, go for it,'” Byrd said.
Along with other online school alternatives, such as ECOT, or the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Ohio Connections Academy and others, the Ohio Virtual Academy employs licensed teachers to work with pupils online, with the teachers creating the curriculum.
“It's more structured,” Byrd said. “They actually plan it out. If the kids need help, there are teachers to help him. They actually pay Sylvan for tutoring. It's not all online. There is bookwork. They make what they call an individualized learning plan.”
Any doubts the Becks may have experienced when they started home schooling their children were quickly put to rest as the children's test scores came in. The Becks use the California Achievement Test to gauge their daughters' grade levels as they complete each year.
“Last year for Abigail, under reading and vocabulary, as a second-grader, was reading at a 5.3 grade point level,” Dan Beck said. “With mathematics and computation, she was almost at a fourth-grade level. Grace was in the fourth grade and in mathematical concepts, she was at seventh grade. For language usage and structure, she's over a year and a half into college.”
The Becks are hopeful their daughters will actually complete high school early.
“Lord willing, they will probably finish high school at 16, and I will have two years to enroll them in a public school for advanced college credit and let them get college classes for nothing,” Dan Beck said.
Byrd has also seen improvements in her son's studies since he started online, including reading.
“It used to be a fight getting him to school,” she said. “It's a different experience when he gets up and wants to get started at school.”
Some of the concerns the public has shown with home schooling has involved fears that the students will be stunted socially, not having the chance to interact with different children.
“I find the idea that they are not socialized or able to get along in groups very far from being true,” Butterfield said. “I see well-behaved, social kids. They are able to thrive. They get along with adults as well as children.”
“They are also on the swim team at the YMCA,” Dan Beck said. “Hannah was taught the piano and flute. Grace is learning violin and Abigail is learning the trumpet. I sometimes worry that if they socialize any more, I won't be able to teach them.”
Others worry that the children are denied the memories that come with the public school experience.
“When it comes to high school, Hannah feels that the only things she missed out on are the things you shouldn't really be doing in high school,” Jennifer Beck added.
Others worry that the quality of education that children receive at home will not match up with what is offered in the public school system.
“All it takes is for one home schooling family to do a poor job and people on the outside will attribute that to every home-school family,” Jennifer Beck said. “In reality, colleges are now competing for home-school graduates because they recognize that these kids have independent learning skills, they are less likely to walk in and be party animals, and a lot of them step onto campus with a tremendous amount of college credit already.”
Must everyone do it?
Many home-school families would say that any decision to go into home schooling must be approached carefully.
“It's definitely a calling from God, and I encourage people to pray about it,” Butterfield said. “It's important for every parent to have peace about what kind of schooling their kids receive.”
“I would recommend it for everyone, but only if the family is willing to make the commitment to see it through,” Jennifer Beck said. “It takes a lot of self-discipline.”
For those who do commit, however, these families see many benefits.
“It's been amazing and a totally different experience,” Byrd said. “You can work this in any time of the day. It doesn't have to be the standard 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
“Home schooling is one of the best gifts that God ever gave me,” Jennifer Beck said. “I never anticipated the relationship that I would be able to gain with my children or the friendships our kids have with one another. There are so many extra benefits that we never anticipated.”