Hays USD 489 students say goodbye to summer and start back to class Wednesday. For some families, however, back to school means simply walking from their bedrooms to the kitchen table.
Families choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, but the education they want their children to receive can be similar to and different from those who attend school outside of the home.
Driving up to the St. Peter home southwest of Russell is picturesque. The two-story farm house has a wraparound porch. Kittens and dogs lie about the farm, soaking up the morning sun.
Inside, Avry St. Peter and her four children gather around their kitchen island every day to complete their school work.
St. Peter’s oldest son, Jace, 11, went to kindergarten and first grade in public school before they decided to homeschool.
“We weren’t sure what the future of schools in Kansas would look like,” St. Peter said. “We felt like we wanted to give our kids a Christian-based education, and we didn’t have that option in Hays at the time.”
St. Peter said that’s what led them to look into homeschooling. She and her husband, Mark, believed homeschooling would allow St. Peter to cater to each child’s educational needs.
“Nobody loves your kids more than you do, and nobody cares about their education and future more than you do,” St. Peter said.
When St. Peter began homeschooling that first year, she bought a curriculum online, which was expensive but also helpful to her as she tried to navigate teaching for the first time.
After that first year, she began hand picking materials as she grew more confident in the process and could decide what her children needed.
Through online research and information from other homeschool families, St. Peter now pieces together what works for each child.
The family took time off from school to do mission work at an orphanage in Haiti for three weeks, which St. Peter said is one of the best parts about homeschooling — the flexibility.
“We can take trips or field trips whenever we want to,” St. Peter said. “We don’t have to wait for a school break, and we can pack our school in the car with us when we travel.”
St. Peter did acknowledge that keeping the routine can sometimes be the challenging part. When her children get up in the morning, they eat breakfast, do their outside and inside chores, sit down for Bible study and then start on their school work. After lunch, they finish any school work that didn’t get done in the morning, and their afternoons and evenings are filled with activities.
“They do everything that every other kid does, except for where they sit from 8 to 3,” St. Peter said.
Jace, 11, plays for the Hays Soccer Club; Max, 8, is on the swim team; Owen, 6, plays soccer; Emry, 4, is involved in dance classes.
St. Peter said they also are involved in two homeschool groups, which allows them to meet and work with other local families who homeschool.
Katie Wolfe, Hays, also homeschools her son, David, 9.
“I used to teach in the public school classroom and loved it,” Wolfe said. “After having David, my husband and I decided I would stay home with him.”
Wolfe adds that once David got old enough to enroll in preschool, she began to feel like she didn’t know if she really wanted to do that.
“For me, homeschooling is the perfect mix of teaching in the classroom and being a mom,” Wolfe said. “And being able to do both of them at home.”
Wolfe, similar to St. Peter, uses an ecclectic approach to curriculum planning. Since she only has one child, Wolfe said it’s easy for her to pick and choose for him.
“In the classroom, one thing you always want to do for your students is differentiate,” Wolfe said. “That’s not always possible in the public school classroom, but at home it is.”
Wolfe said she takes different approaches for different subjects with her son. He struggles more in math but excels in reading, so she has completely different styles of teaching for those two subjects.
Their day is split into independent work, which Wolfe prepares and David completes, and then work they do together in the afternoon such as science and history that require more explanation of the reading material.
David is prone to migraine headaches, so on those days that he’s not feeling well, they can take the day off from school.
“If he was in public school, he would be missing stuff and getting behind on his school work,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe did mention the one challenge, which is an even bigger one in their family, is socialization. With David being the only child, Wolfe pays special attention to opportunities for him to socialize with other kids his age.
“If you have multiple kids at home, that socialization is easier to do,” Wolfe said. “I have to be very conscious of giving him those opportunities.”
Wolfe added it’s not difficult to find activities in Hays for him to participate in, but it’s challenging finding time for activities and school. If they did everything that was available for him socially, they never would get any schooling done.
While Wolfe can pick and choose activities specifically for her son, other families with more children find it easier to use a set curriculum.
Jesica Neher and her husband just welcomed their seventh child, and a set curriculum is essential in their household. The Neher family subscribes to My Father’s World, a Christian-based homeschool curriculum that combines classical education and unit studies with a biblical worldview and global focus. The curriculum follows a five-year cycle where all children are learning the same concepts at individual skill levels, and then the cycle starts over.
Kendra McBride’s family, Hays, subscribes to the K-12 online program through the Lawrence Virtual School. McBride said she put together her own program during the first year of homeschooling, but she spent so much time preparing for three different grade levels, she believed it would be easier to use a curriculum through the school district — not only for convenience, but also in case her children ever want to transition back into public school.
“The Lawrence Virtual School is a part of the Lawrence School District,” McBride said. “So after you enroll, they send you their entire curriculum along with a laptop for our middle-schooler and a desktop computer for the younger boys to use for their school work.”
The curriculum includes all the core classes students would take in public school.
McBride said the decision to homeschool was made initially due to the large class sizes in the public schools. Their middle child needed extra help in reading in third grade, and while he was receiving additional help at school, the McBrides believed he would benefit more from one-on-one instruction at home.
“We just felt that was too many kids to be in one classroom,” McBride said. “For that young of an age, it was hard for him to concentrate.”
However, McBride’s two oldest children are transitioning back to Hays Middle School this year, and they are hopeful the transition will go smoothly. Their youngest child still will be homeschooled.
There are several Facebook groups dedicated to local homeschooling support. The Ellis County Homeschool Network Facebook page has 22 members comprised of 16 families. The Hays Kansas Homeschool ECHSN page is dedicated to homeschool families who wish to teach with Christian values.
“If there is anybody who is thinking about homeschooling but worried that they can’t do it, you can do it,” Wolfe said. “You just have to have a support system.”