In a world of growing classroom sizes, Army wife LaDonna Olson keeps her Fairbanks, Alaska, classroom small – six pupils.
The students, some in pajamas and most in bare feet, perch around their learning area – at a table, at desks, on couches and, when Alaska whether permits, beneath the shade of the tree out back. Each works diligently – one scribbling grammar notes as two others study science while yet another checks off tasks independently on a list of coursework for the day.
But there’s one big difference between Mrs. Olson’s classroom and many others in her snowy city – these children range in age from 3 to 15, and they’re in a whole different kind of one-room schoolhouse – their house.
The Olson children are five (the 3 year old doesn’t officially home school yet) of 1.5 million homeschooled students in the United States in 2007, according to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. With a growing number of homeschool networks and ready-made curricula available over the Internet, the homeschooling movement, which became popular in the 1970s and 80s, has boomed by more than 74 percent in the last decade alone.
With the benefits homeschooling offers for frequent movers, international travelers and professional nomads, many military families are hopping on board the homeschool train.
According to the DOE’s 2007 study, 32 percent of all homeschooling families choose homeschooling for “other” than moral or religious instruction reasons, which includes flexibility with military and missionary lifestyles.
Though she started homeschooling her children to better pass along her morals and values to them, Olson continued homeschooling her children once her husband joined the military partly because of the scheduling flexibility.
“For example, I knew we would be moving to a new base the end of last year, so I started school earlier than usual so we could finish the semester by Thanksgiving,” she said.
Army wife Holly Dunn, mother of three, had the same idea.
Dunn started homeschooling her kindergartner when their family was scheduled to move from Alaska to South Carolina mid-year – and they wanted to take a month to create a scenic and educational road trip in their RV for the kids.