Lifestyle

Kitchen table is families' classroom of choice

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

Terri Rosengreen isn’t worried that her two teenage daughters will fall in with a bad crowd, and she doesn’t lose sleep wondering how they are progressing in school.

The Rosengreens, along with nearly 200 other Federal Way families, have made the decision to take control of their children’s education by teaching them at home.

Using “a little of this and a little of that,” Rosengreen spends her days around the kitchen table teaching eighth-grader Cassi, 13, and 10th-grader Tara, 15, everything from history and math to Web design and art.

Now on disability leave from her job in the grocery industry, Rosengreen originally made the decision to homeschool when Tara was in third grade and Cassi was in kindergarten. With the girls’ school changing to a later schedule and her ailing mother living in their home, Rosengreen was overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible demands of work and family.

“They would’ve been getting home right when I left for work, and I didn’t think I’d ever see them,” Rosengreen said of her daughters.

Both girls say homeschooling has been a positive experience.

With a schedule packed with church, dance classes and 4-H activities, and much of their homeschool courses taught in a small-group homeschool co-op, the girls have never missed the traditional classroom interactions with their peers. Rather, Rosengreen says the pitfall of homeschooling is that “you have a tendency to want to do everything. Every sport, every lesson, every ballet class.”

Since the arrival of baby Angela seven months ago, Rosengreen has another reason to homeschool and another education to plan.

Using the Internet, annual homeschool conferences and the help of the Washington Home School Association, Rosengreen customizes the curriculum she uses to each of her daughters’ personalities. For Cassi, “the artsy one,” Rosengreen focuses on hands-on learning and artistic expression. Tara is more of a book-learner and shares her father’s interest in computers.

“She’s the techie. All I can do is point and click. She has fun designing Web sites with her dad,” said Rosengreen.

The opportunity to tailor curriculums to childrens’ individual learning styles is one reason many parents have made the decision to homeschool, according to Cheryl Dunning, Federal Way Homeschoolers’ Support Association chairwoman.

In schools, “you’re expected to follow a certain schedule. At home you can adapt to your child’s learning style. That’s a huge plus of homeschooling,” said Dunning. “Some kids learn better in the afternoon. Some kids learn better doing summersaults in between math problems –– literally.”

Although reasons for homeschooling vary, concern over social interaction and academic quality are primary reasons local parents are making the difficult decision to teach their children at home.

“If you really want your child to be brought up with certain religions, you can’t do that in the public schools. Some families want religion to be a part of every day, closely tied-in,” said Dunning. “Parents feel their kids are safer. They have more control over who they are hanging out with and spending their days with.”

With most families relying on dual incomes simply to pay the bills, homeschooling is often a financial sacrifice. Dunning herself quit her job to stay home with her children, Elise, 3, and Kyle, 1.

“It’s full time, usually for mom. It’s a huge, huge commitment from the parents,” said Dunning. “I get the feeling most of these families are making the conscious decision to have mom stay home. and it is far worth it.”

Although her children are not yet in school, Dunning began researching alternatives to public education when Elise was 1 year old.

“My first reaction was there’s no way I’m doing that. From there, I started talking to more people who homeschool and learning more about it,” said Dunning. “I learned that I could give them academically a far superior education homeschooling than a public school.”

With students participating in homeschool co-ops comprised of two or three families, taking field trips and enrolling in high school and college courses part-time, the term homeschooling is a misnomer, Dunning says.

“Even though you call it homeschooling, a lot of kids aren’t at home,” she said.

Still, it is the time parents spend with their kids that makes homeschool the right choice for some families.

Rosengreen, hugging Angela tight, said she isn’t ready to think about what she will do when all three of her daughters have finished their education.

“It’s going to be a while,” she said.

Staff writer Jody Allard can be reached at 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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