MOUNT VERNON — Parents who choose to home educate their children are choosing a lifestyle, said Crystal McElhaney.
McElhaney is president, along with her husband, Paul, of the Knox County Home School Association. The McElhaneys wanted their children to have a strong, firm foundation on which to build their education. Because they felt home education would provide an education tailored to each of their children’s needs, the McElhanaeys made the decision to become a one-income family so Crystal could home school their three daughters and one son.
McElhaney said that although there are some challenges being with one’s children 24/7, there are advantages.
“You get the opportunity to know each child and to love each child for who God made them to be,” she said. “The largest advantage is being able to give your child what he or she needs to succeed in life. That is the goal: To prepare our children to be able to make it on their own, and provide them with a higher quality of education, suited to their individual needs and talents.”
She added that each of the children learns differently, and that, she said, “makes life around here very interesting.”
Adhering to a home learning schedule — the parents must provide at least 900 hours of instruction each year — is not difficult, McElhaney said.
“We do not have to stick with the public school calendar,” she explained. “Therefore we make up our own calendar. We get to customize our school year to our family.”
There is a variety of curricular materials available to parents who home educate their children, McElhaney said. The options range from pre-packaged book sets with schedules and tests to unit studies that allow the parent and student to choose the course of study according to their individual interests.
McElhaney found the elementary years to be more challenging than the high school years.
“We spend the entire elementary years teaching our children the love of learning, along with reading, writing, math and much more,” she explained. “We teach our children how to use their textbooks. By the time they reach high school, the children are equipped to read the text, do the assignment and go on to the next subject with very little help from me [although I still guide them and look over all their work]. ... The goal of every good teacher is to make themselves unnecessary; in other words, to teach your children to learn independently.”
Although reading, science and math are stressed in home school environments, enrichment courses are also encouraged. Courses may include music lessons, art studies, journalism/writing, public speaking and political involvement. Community theater, local sports programs and other resources are also available, McElhaney said.
The McElhaney children have used many community programs, such as 4-H, as learning opportunities. The older girls have been 4-H state ambassadors, on state 4-H teen council, and both are 4-H camp and Operation Military Kids camp counselors. The younger children, McElhaney said, hold 4-H offices; they take animals, miscellaneous projects and shooting sports.
“Many people have the perception that when you home school you are afraid of the world,” she said. “This could not be further from the truth. Home schooling lets us have hands on in preparing them to meet the world head on.”
Activities sponsored by the Knox County Home School Association provide the children with a range of opportunities to interact with children of all age levels, and include roller skating, bowling, ice skating, drama, dance, swimming lessons, Bible study, workshops, picnics, Mom’s Night Out and graduation exercises. There are also organized field trips to museums, historical sites and planned family outings. The association is also a forum for parents to learn about teaching methods from each other and to support each other in their home education endeavor.
The McElhaneys use a computer program called EdTrack to record the children’s grades and print reports such as transcripts, and the children attend testing days at a Christian school. McElhaney said her daughters have taken the SAT and excelled. The eldest attends OSU-Newark and is studying to be a teacher. The second, who will be graduating this year, one month before her 17th birthday, will be attending a nursing school.
“Our job as home schooling parents,” McElhaney said, “is to provide a quality education to our children, opening all available paths of education and future employment to them as well as, more importantly, passing on our values of life to them.”
By the time the youngest McElhaney child graduates, McElhaney will have taught for 27 years.