EAST MISSOULA – Home-schooled children and their parents gathered at a special convention on Monday, hoping to take advantage of all the programs in the region that could be useful to them.
Organizer Gail Heaton said this is the first year for the Missoula Homeschool Mini Convention and Used Curricula Sale, with the idea being to have a place where families can become more familiar with area organizations that can help home-schoolers.
“Nobody wants to be by themselves,” she said.
While some parents do all the teaching for their kids, it’s also common for groups of home-school families to join together into co-ops.
The convention, held at the River of Life Church, was meant to take that a step further, by hosting more than 20 local organizations like the Missoula Children’s Theatre and the Children’s Museum Missoula, which are adapting some of their after-school programs for home-schoolers.
“The beauty of home-schooling is you can do that. You can farm out your subjects,” Heaton said.
The convention also had a series of talks for parents, helping them through specific areas of home schooling, such as the additional factors to consider as kids enter their high school years.
Heaton, who home-schooled all seven of her kids, said there are many different reasons why parents choose homeschooling.
Among them, she said, are religion, the belief that they can offer a better education, the ability to tailor the education to their child’s interests and sometimes having had a bad experience with the public school system.
“If you polled five moms here, you would probably have five reasons,” she said.
Heather Henry said she home-schools two of her children, a 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. She said her son started school at Chief Charlo as a first-grader, but even though he was in the school’s gifted program, finished the year feeling very unchallenged.
“He came out of first grade kind of bored. He lost that spark for learning,” Henry said.
She said she started to learn more about home-schooling and after starting to teach him herself, found it to be very successful. Her daughter fit the flexibility for home-schooling for different reasons. She was adopted from China, and was diagnosed with a moderate concentration impairment when she was young.
“I needed to home-school her just to catch her up,” Henry said.
Now Henry and her kids are part of the Five Valleys Home School Cooperative. Henry said the advantage is that as part of the co-op, all of the parents teach something to the rest of the kids based on their skills, from science to cooking.
The Missoula County superintendent of schools, Erin Lipkind, said there are very few rules in the state regulating home-schooled students.
Parents are required to notify her office of their intent to home-school, and then have to keep attendance records for their children. There are no specific requirements on curriculum.
“Basically in Montana, home school is kind of a free-for-all,” Lipkind said.
According to enrollment numbers from Lipkind’s office, there were 245 kids in Missoula County who she was notified were being home-schooled as of October 2014, with 193 of them being in grade levels K-8.
In February, Annie Graham started a group home-school learning space in Missoula called eNDVR, through a company she founded called Learning with Meaning, that offers classes to home-school students.
“Some kids need a group environment to, for example, learn how to read,” Graham said.
Her organization offers classes ranging from creative writing to exploring robotics. Graham recently completed her master’s degree in education at the University of Montana, and is currently in the school’s doctoral program.
“I got started because I have six kids, and they’ve all needed something different,” she said.
Some home-school parents even use what Graham called “hybrid schooling,” where they take some classes through the public school system and home-school for others.
“Not all kids fit into that one mold that they serve so well,” Graham said.