Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Services to Homeschoolers

I attended an excellent workshop last week on serving homeschool families. Offered by Infopeople, California libraries’ premier continuing education provider, the session was conducted by Adrienne Furness, author of the brief but informative book Helping Homeschoolers in the Library (ALA, 2008).

Although I’ve researched kids’ academic needs for almost 20 years now, I still know very little about homeschooled students. I was therefore surprised to learn that more parents homeschool their children out of concern about the school environment (88%) than they do for religious reasons (83%) (see National Center for Educational Statistics). I was even more surprised to find out there are more homeschooled kids in Southern California than any other place in the country.

Several homeschooling philosophies exist, but the most prominent, according to Furness, are “unschooling” and conservative Protestant. Unschooling follows the tenets of John Holt, who espoused a movement of child-led learning that often incorporates “real world” activities. Typically, unschooled kids volunteer at community agencies as part of their education and are well-versed on current events. If there is a curriculum, it tends to be more freestyle and focused on experimentation.

Religious homeschools, on the other hand, are far more structured and purposeful. Conservative homeschool teachers are highly organized and vocal. Curricula come prepackaged and are often shared among families.

Though homeschooling is currently legal in all 50 states, the laws vary widely from state to state. In California, homeschooling families have to declare themselves a private school or enroll their child(ren) in a charter, public or other school that allows independent home study. Instruction must be in English and adhere to the following subject parameters:

• Grades 1-6: English, math, social sciences, science, fine arts, health, and physical education

• Grades 7-12: 1-6 subjects plus an international language, applied arts, vocational education, and driver’s education.

One workshop attendee had a hard time getting her head around the fact that any ol’ parents can identify themselves as teachers and then proceed to educate their kids. My own feeling is that it should make no difference to us whether the parents are qualified or not, just as long they use the library’s resources to teach accurate and current lessons. In fact, I’d rather have them start with the good information available in the library than use questionable information gathered elsewhere.

So what should public libraries do to accommodate homeschoolers? According to the many people Furness has interviewed nationwide, homeschoolers primarily need: (1) space to meet and (2) special borrowing privileges, such as “teacher cards” and extended loan periods. They also appreciate working with librarians to create programs that not only teach library skills, but relate to their curriculum. Library programs should be conducted in the afternoon, because most homeschool “desk learning” occurs in the morning, and should focus on the library’s resources. Since many homeschools encompass a wide range of ages, library programs should be advertised by “skills level” rather than age.

Homeschooled kids know how to talk about books and are extremely well-read. At minimum, librarians can serve homeschooler needs by developing collections that represent multiple viewpoints, conservative as well as liberal. Classic literature should be well-represented for families that prefer not to read contemporary fiction. In addition, the library should carry as many “how-to” homeschool books as possible, even though they are not widely available through jobbers. (For reviews, see Cathy Duffy Homeschool Reviews and Furness’s own Homeschooling and Libraries Blog.) Some libraries even offer homeschool “resource centers” with three-dimensional realia and equipment (e.g., a telescope!) that can be checked out for class use.

Seems like there are lots of opportunities here to develop public library programs for kids from all kinds of educational settings. What's good for homeschoolers may also be just as good for more traditional students. Something to think about when writing that next youth-services grant . . .


Anonymous said...

Funny that you post this at the same time as Unshelved is running a series about homeschooling.

adrienne said...

I'm so glad you found the workshop interesting! I certainly had a good time, and it's been great to get feedback like this to hear what people are taking away from the workshops and doing with the information.

One of the Unshelved guys (Bill, I believe) is a homeschooler, so the topic is one they seem to be touching on pretty regularly, which just makes me love the comic that much more. :)