Many homeschoolers underestimate the number of scholastic possibilities offered today. The early seeds of homeschooling have matured and propagated a valley of blossoms in educational opportunities.
In addition to the local varieties that state and home town support groups offer, national advantages abound. From tailored nature programs at area preserves to materials from NASA, a virtual bouquet of educational openings exist today for homeschoolers.
Local Varieties Ready for the Picking
No matter where you live in the country, many similar local opportunities exist. While our family now walks to the library less than a mile away, we once drove 35 miles one way for our weekly book-hunting trip when we lived in rural Iowa. Both libraries, though, offer much of the same services to homeschoolers.
The sheer number of students produced by the homeschool movement has familiarized places with servicing homeschool families. Many libraries offer special "educator cards" to homeschooling parents and teachers. These cards usually allow materials to be checked out for twice the normal period. Likewise, the library staff may overlook fines, even for overdue materials.
Some libraries will also generate a unit study, if you give them a few weeks notice. These units may include fiction materials, pertinent literature, biographies, magazine articles, art or music books, videos, and cassettes. I recently read that 40 percent of library use now results from homeschoolers, so they have a reason to help us out. If your local library does not offer some of these services, don't be afraid to request them.
Do not pass up local places for field trips. When our son became interested in Clara Barton, we called the local Red Cross office. They were more than pleased to give us a tour.
The grocery store, newspaper office, and fire station include just a few of the places where we have taken tours. Most businesses are very gracious. Often, local nature centers will design programs specifically for your group. While taking an outdoors project for 4-H, we arranged to visit a nature center during each season. We provided them with an outline of our objectives for the project, and they planned the program for a minimal fee.
Many local homeschool groups also offer a 4-H homeschool club. This wonderful ministry creates an opportunity for more people to see homeschoolers as a significant part of the community. Check with your county 4-H organization about starting a specifically homeschooler club.
States Blossom with Possibilities
From competitions to field trips, many new educational experiences exist around your state.
One such scholastic opportunity originated this year in Ohio (it was first tried in Oregon four or five years ago). Named "Showcase," this tremendous event gave children a chance to show their display-making talents in a godly manner. Over 273 students participated with 400 projects in Ohio's Showcase, all honoring to the Lord, making it the most successful Showcase ever done in the country. Categories for entry range from speech and spelling to ministry projects and Scripture memorization. Judges assessed students individually according to how well they met the requirements for the project, similar to first round 4-H judging. Check with your local state organization to see if a state Showcase is available in your area.
Many of the larger zoos, living history villages, and museums offer teacher materials prior to field trips. These often include word puzzles, unit studies, writing suggestions, as well as general information.
For example, Sea World supplied our support group with information kits on conditioning and training the animals as well as a variety of activities for reinforcement of facts. The children knew all about the training and characteristics of each animal by the time we arrived for Sea World's school day. An arboretum in the Dayton, Ohio, area not only provided us with pictures of plants to color and word games to reinforce vocabulary, they gave the parents a pre-tour.
(Always refer to your homeschool group as a school group and expect to receive the same discounts as other school groups unless they have a specific homeschool policy.)
Each state offers a bounty of historical sites such as restored canal towns, living history museums, and one-room schools. Most states offer a historical society membership that offers free entrance into sites across the state for the entire year, and some societies will allow you to use their one-room school for a "pioneer school day" or similar program. Start by calling your local historical society or site for information. These societies provide a real boon to studying state history in an economical fashion.
National Opportunities Spring Up
The seeds homeschoolers have planted and tended have flourished most noticeably on the national level.
Pizza Hut's "Book-It!" program allows the participation of local support groups, and children receive certificates for a free personal pizza when they meet reading goals set by you. They even have a special division for homeschoolers!
The American Heart Association will provide boxed units for kindergarten through high school. The lower elementary pack alone includes cassettes, tubes to demonstrate blood flow, black-line masters, lesson plans, a video, games, and real stethoscopes. We have passed these around the support group and found them to be very well-done units on the heart. We look forward to having them bring a presentation as well.
NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, like other NASA Centers around the country, offers educational materials to teachers. We were able to copy numerous videos and receive study guides about the space shuttle, rocket principles, and Newton's Laws. We also received a large booklet of experiments related to the science of rocketry as well as various support materials for our homeschooled 4-H students who were taking rocketry projects. They, of course, offer a wealth of information on space related topics.
Many museums around the country not only offer regular family memberships, but advanced memberships that give you ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers) reciprocal privileges. This admits you into well over 100 museums around the country (and 12 in other countries) free! With a family of five, it only took us two or three visits to pay for our membership. We got our membership at COSI (Ohio's Center of Science & Industry) museum and have used it at Discovery Place in Charlotte, North Carolina; the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry; the Pittsburgh Children's museum; and the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
National contests sprout every year like poppies. From writing essays to designing new inventions, magazines and companies announce contests on a regular basis. Watch your magazines, newspapers, stores, libraries, and state home school newsletters for information. One child in our homeschool group recently won a week at NASA space camp by writing an essay in a local shopping-mall contest.
Enjoying The Fragrance
We should greatly appreciate the growth and maturity the homeschool movement has gained. Whole industries have grown to supply us with materials, libraries and museums offer special programs, and many magazines thrive by providing us with information.
Christian Children's radio shows like Kid's Corner and Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey have devoted whole episodes to homeschoolers and work them into other episodes. Our morning Christian DJ even reminds the homeschoolers to get ready for school along with other school children!
The seeds of homeschooling that were so carefully sown years ago have come to fruition. As opportunities continue to develop, praise God for giving us strength and allowing us to witness His glory.
American Heart Association. Toll free number for information and speakers: (800) 242-8721.
ASTC memberships can be purchased through most science or children's museums.
NASA Research Centers are located in Pasadena, CA; Moffett Field, CA; Huntsville, AL; Greenbelt, MD; Houston, TX; JFK Space Center, FL; Hampton, VA; Cleveland, OH and Stennis Space Center, MS. Each center services several states. Call information in the cities for phone numbers.
Pizza Hut's "Book-It!" program. Sign up in late winter or early spring. The program runs from October to April. Call (800) 426-6548.