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Amateur Radio in the Homeschool

By Scott McIntire
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

How to get started on this enjoyable and educational hobby.
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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 concerning equipment.

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 n0mva@aol.com. 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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