Anna Stephens
Anna Stephens is a 16-year-old homeschooled student who lives in Midland, Michigan.

Many people were surprised when home-schooled children took first, second, and third place recently in the national spelling bee. If you were one of those people, perhaps you like many Americans have a mental picture of home-schooled students as kids who sit around the house being taught academics by a mom who doesn't know a whole heck of a lot and is mostly busy with housework anyway.

But as a 16-year-old who has been home schooled since the first grade, I would like to describe for you my typical day and show how utterly different my home-schooling experience has been from that unfair and negative stereotype.

A day in the life

A home-schooled student's days are never dull. After getting up around 6:30 a.m., my 13-year-old sister Rebecca practices the piano until breakfast at 7:15. Meanwhile, I get up, and after breakfast, I also practice the piano. Mom and Rebecca get started on the day's lessons and I join them after about a half-hour.

At 9:15, we drive Rebecca to band class at the public middle school, and Mom and I go for a walk at the local Chippewa Nature Center. After an hour, we pick Rebecca up from band, go home, and have lunch.

After lunch, I finish practicing the piano and get the rest of my schoolwork done. My course load this last year was algebra II, biology, Spanish II, English, world literature, and American history.

Around 2 p.m. I leave home for different activities. Mondays I have high school co-op with a group of other home schoolers. In the co-op, several parents volunteer to teach a class such as algebra, literature, history, or grammar for other parents' children. Tuesdays I volunteer at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, where I help with what needs to be done in a professional office environment. Wednesdays I catch up with school, visit friends, and go to concerts and plays. Thursdays I have piano lessons and tutor at a local elementary school, and Fridays I usually have a once-a-month activity such as the home-school service club.

After dinner, I get my homework done and then enjoy free time.

Educational advantages

There are many advantages to this way of learning- advantages that a more traditional school simply cannot offer due to structural restraints. One of the greatest of these advantages is being able to vary the pace of study according to my needs. In a traditional school, a median pace must be maintained: The faster students must wait for slower ones, and the slower students must stumblingly endeavor to catch up. In a home school, I can spend more time in a difficult subject and move quickly through the easy subjects.

An individually tailored curriculum is another advantage of home schooling. Each student's learning style can be taken into account in the presentation of material. Visual learners can use more textbooks, auditory learners can be read to and listen to lectures on tape, and kinesthetic learners (learners who respond to touch, smell, and taste) can do many hands-on activities. At the same time, however, home-schooling parents can ensure that their children learn to use the other methods as well, so that the visual learner can use lectures, the auditory learner can get information from textbooks, and the kinesthetic learner can do both.

Home schooling is also more easily adaptable to children with learning disabilities. Parents are often the most concerned for their child's progress, and they are the ones most familiar with their child's problems. Thus, home-schooling parents of a developmentally slow child are often best able to accurately judge how quickly their child is capable of learning a particular lesson and proceed accordingly.

High society

The most commonly heard criticism of home schooling is that home-schooled children don't receive sufficient "socialization." Contrary to this myth, home-schooling parents don't lock their children in dungeons or chain them to desks. In fact, home-schooling parents usually go the extra mile to assure that their children get maximum exposure to other children in their neighborhoods and surrounding communities, attending events and participating in activities sponsored by local private and public schools. At the same time, home-schooling parents are better able to protect their children from negative experiences, such as violence, until their children are ready to handle such experiences with understanding and compassion.

Home-schooled students also often find more opportunities to interact with people outside their age groups and social niches. We don't spend nearly all our time with people of the same age, so we gain a broader perspective beyond the stereotypical labels in traditional schools, such as "preppies," "jocks," "nerds," and so forth.

Increasingly popular

If the stereotypes about home schooling were actually true, the movement wouldn't have been gaining momentum for decades. Thousands of families across America are proving that home education is a viable option for those concerned about the lack of quality in the public school system. Home schooling parents, using the vast teaching-aid and curricular resources now available, can equip themselves to fully meet the academic and social needs of their children and, in many cases, can exceed in quality what more traditional education can provide.

Home schooling is not for everyone. But parents across the nation are beginning to remember that they are the ones primarily responsible for their children's education, and many are taking matters into their own hands. As they do, laws are becoming much more home-schooler-friendly, and home schooling is increasingly becoming an appealing option for parents who want to be more involved in their children's journey into responsible adulthood and maturity.

by Anna Stephens

Anna Stephens is a 16-year-old home-schooled student who lives in Midland, Michigan.