When it comes to a child’s education, parents have a lot to think about. Should their child go to a public school? Which one? Or maybe they should attend a charter school or private school?
Many in the West Valley are doing something different: homeschooling.
While homeschooling is hardly a new concept, many homeschoolers in the West Valley are banding together to support one another and offer more opportunities for their children.
One homeschool group, Estrella Mountain Homeschoolers in Goodyear, is made up of 102 families. They get together regularly and do group events. From spelling bees to volunteering in the community, to field trips, concerts and even yearbooks, the students in this homeschool group are getting a unique educational experience at home, while at the same time taking part in many of the traditional perks of being part of a big group.
Another homeschool group in Verrado similarly bands together to help one another accomplish their education goals. This group has 55 families and meets up for park days, science fairs, holiday parties, Moms’ night out, picture day and co-ops, which are classes taught by moms in the group or people they hire outside of the group.
Many Arizonans may not realize just how many homeschoolers there are all around them. The Coalition for Responsible Home Education estimates around 37,000 children in Arizona are homeschooled. It helps Arizona is a homeschool-friendly state. And when it comes to a child’s education, parents appreciate options.
Kirstin Conlon, of Goodyear, has homeschooled her kids for 14 years and leads the Estrella Mountain Homeschoolers. She said there are as many reasons to homeschool as there are families doing it.
“Everybody has their reasons,” she said. “I was going to teach my child everything and then some and I worried things in kindergarten would be off.”
Many of the homeschooling families she knows appreciate homeschooling allows parents to gear their child’s studies toward the child. And there are other families, she added, with no other choice but to homeschool. For example, if a child has severe developmental delays and a school can’t accommodate them, then homeschooling allows families the flexibility to tailor lessons to their child’s needs.
Outsiders’ perceptions of homeschooling families can be challenging, Conlon said, as some people assume her family gets up when they want to, studies whatever they feel like it, and goof off some of the time. While there are “Unschoolers” who go the less structured route, Conlon and her family approach learning at home similarly to the structure of school.
“We keep a schedule,” she said. “Outsiders think it’s a free-for-all, but there are requirements.”
Another challenge is she’s mom and teacher, so the lines get a little blurred at times as to who the kid is appealing to.
“If they complain, I say, ‘Take yourself to the principal,’ who is also dad,” she joked.
Despite the challenges, Conlon said there are many blessings with homeschool. It’s easier to leave town, as homeschooling travels wherever they go.
“I also love the one-on-one teaching,” she said. “We have grown together, struggled together, and learned together.” As her kids grew older, this time together became more and more precious and she realizes they’ll soon leave the nest.
Conlon loved school as a kid, especially the extra activities. She worried her kids wouldn’t get the same types of experiences she did since they chose to teach their kids at home. This is why she appreciates being part of a homeschool group.
Verrado Homeschool Group
Deedee Brown leads the homeschool group in Verrado. Like Conlon, she also believes being part of a homeschool group makes the experience for the parents and the children better.
“When you’re walking through life, it is always great to have like-minded people in your corner. Homeschooling is not only a choice—it’s really a lifestyle. We go to our homeschool group for camaraderie, support and all of the socialization vital for children.”
She added another benefit is her kids don’t only socialize with children their own age, but peers from babies to adults. This interaction helped make them well-rounded, she explained.
“My children have always been able to adapt and communicate and play in any situation regardless of the age of the child,” Brown said.
Brown didn’t intend to homeschool her kids at first; in fact, she began homeschooling when her oldest daughter, who is now 24 years old, was in second grade.
“It was never really on my radar—I hadn’t even thought about it. My husband and I both attended private school and school was a lot different when we were kids.”
But when she felt the school system was giving her kids the attention they needed, plus she realized she wanted to focus more on her kids being at home, then she fully converted to the idea.
She appreciates how simple it is to make the switch—you basically file an affidavit with an intent to homeschool. How to teach is really up to each family to choose. Some families are looser with their schedules, other families do mostly computer work, and still other families teach from textbooks or other methods.
“In the West Valley being in Verrado, there is a large homeschooling group of people here. You would be surprised in regards to how many people homeschool—all for different reasons, and all homeschool in different ways.”
Now being a homeschool mom for 20 years, she’s been able to see the fruits of her labors as her children have been leaving home.
“It’s really afforded them a lot of opportunities I don’t think they would have gotten if they were in school,” Brown said.