Like many home school parents, we continue to search for new learning
experiences for our children. One of the many advantages of home
schooling is that we can teach and learn outside what are traditionally
considered “school subjects.” We search for special projects that are
fun, educational, and useful, that go beyond the scope and sequence of
our established curriculum.
One such project has been the pursuit of amateur radio licenses in our
family. Amateur radio is a two-way radio service established for a
variety of reasons by the Federal Communications Commission, but mostly
for learning and enjoyment. Several years ago, I became very interested
in the hobby and was able to study for, and pass, the first three levels
of a five-level licensing process. With each level, one is granted
greater privileges, such as access to more radio frequencies and more
power. It was great fun, as I was able to talk to other amateur radio
operators around the world and experience enjoyable communications
locally as well.
After a couple of years, my wife also became interested in the hobby.
She was able to pass two levels of licensing after several weeks of
study. We suggested to our oldest son, Andrew, who was age ten at the
time, that he might consider getting his license. Initially, he balked
at the idea, probably because it seemed so intimidating. We continued to
bring up the idea and finally decided to make it a science project. As
he studied, he realized it wasn’t as difficult as he first imagined, and
he was able to pass the first two levels on the first try. The people
that tested him were amazed at his proficiency and performance, and it
gave me an opportunity to discuss homeschooling with them.
As for the material, it is a combination of simple arithmetic,
electronics, earth science, and rules and regulations. Although this may
sound difficult, I believe the average homeschool child over age eleven
or twelve can comprehend it. Amateur radio has the appearance of being a
hobby only for electronics enthusiasts, but in reality, it encompasses a
much broader interest. We have found it to be a very practical tool in
our family. We are able to communicate with each other when traveling,
fishing, or camping. And, it is helping to teach our son some good
habits in clear and concise communication.
Additionally, we have enjoyed the many friends we have made on the
airwaves, including a Christian group here in the Four Corners region
that meets regularly on the air. Its fun to see Andrew, now 12,
communicate with people all over the country, and even a few in other
countries. We have discovered that amateur radio is an excellent tool
for teaching geography. We frequently get out the globe or atlas to find
some obscure town in the United States, or some foreign country.
As for expense of equipment, it is possible to enter the hobby with just
one or two hundred dollars, or you can spend much more. I started out
with a homemade radio that cost twenty dollars, and I was able to talk
to over 30 countries. My recommendation would be to concentrate on
getting you and your child licensed first, then consider equipment. In
almost every city or region in the country, there are amateur radio
clubs or groups that meet regularly. Many of these groups are very
helpful to people getting started, and can offer assistance and advice
Many clubs offer other services too, such as classes that instruct
amateurs in the material necessary to pass the exam. As parents, if you
have little or no technical inclination, you may want to consider this
resource. However, since I am advocating this as a homeschool adventure,
it does make sense to tackle this project, if possible, as a family. The
local club may also offer the actual testing when the time comes. Some
years back, the FCC ceased conducting testing to the public and created
a volunteer testing program by the amateur community itself. In short,
there is probably a group of Volunteer Examiners or VE’s in your area.
They will conduct the test and send the required paperwork into the FCC.
Nobody in our family utilized a club to get started, except for testing.
I began with a visit to Radio Shack and purchased a Novice book and tape
set for about twenty dollars. Radio Shack seems to be the most
accessible to the general public and has a fair selection of materials
to get you started. There are other organizations that sell materials
too, but these are generally found in larger cities. I would recommend
that you start with the Novice study book and tapes, and work your way
up. In this beginning class of license you will learn basic theory and
the Morse code. There is another way to get started by not learning the
code, but that class of license is pretty much limited to local
communications only. If the student takes the time to study the Morse
code and pass the exam, the opportunities in amateur radio are much
greater. It is difficult to explain all the levels in this article, so I
recommend that you visit the store and ask the salesperson what overview
books they recommend. Also, be sure to check your local library for any
books or videos they might have.
Although amateur radio may seem a little intimidating at first, we feel
that it’s not only a great way to teach some fun and interesting
science, but also a great hobby for a family. And, if the interest is
there, students and parents alike can continue up to the next level of
licensing. It’s an excellent hobby for experimentation, and, with no pun
intended, the sky is the limit. We are currently aware of two other
homeschool students in our area that are studying for the exam and
several others have expressed an interest. And, just maybe, if enough
homeschool families get their licenses, we can have some great
communication from state to state.
If you desire more information on amateur radio, we would be happy to
answer questions via E-mail on America Online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, you
can contact the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), a nonprofit
organization that exists to represent amateur radio and amateur radio
operators. Their address is: ARRL, 225 Main Street, Newington, CT
06111-1494; or you can call (800) 326-3942.
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