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Developing Special Interests

Nurturing a child's special interests is key to successful homeschooling.

Developing Special Interests

One of the biggest advantages homeschooled teens have over their schooled peers is "time." Homeschooling takes less time than classroom-based learning. Even the most structured homeschooler rarely spends more than two to four hours a day studying. The rest of the time is spent pursuing interests and developing talents. Michelle Bolton is a case in point. She has been homeschooled since the second grade. Because she set her own schedule for schoolwork, practice, and lessons, she was able to enjoy flexibility not available to classroom-bound students. Michelle began playing the French horn when she was thirteen. By the time she was seventeen, she had received an invitation to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Her personal talents were allowed to thrive in the homeschooling environment because she had plenty of time to develop her specialty. Even when you add on time for chores, meals, and other daily requirements, homeschooled teens have four to ten hours a day that they can use any way they want.

Some teens use this time to enjoy traditional extracurricular activities like sports, drama club, or music. Others use their time to develop expertise in cooking, ancient history, costume design, chess, horses, sailing, family history, gardening, pottery, and a myriad of other activities. For example, a student who is a budding naturalist may begin by using field guides to help her catalogue the plants, insects, and animals in her own backyard. Sasha Earnheart-Gold, a homeschooler, established a nonprofit group that trains farmers in Bolivia and Mexico to propagate and care for apple trees. His organization received grants and awards that helped fund twelve hundred seedlings being planted and then flown to farmers around the world to feed them and to trade on the world market. Sasha finished high-school-level home education at thirteen, and during one of his work-study-abroad tours he was inspired by someone he met and conceived his company, Apple Tree International. Sasha is currently at Dartmouth and one of his dreams is to travel the globe, sampling apples that his students-farmers in some of the most impoverished regions in the world-have planted.

A teen interested in music might listen to music on her own, participate in a jazz choir at the local community college, take an Internet-based music theory class, and play piano at her church for free and at local restaurants for tips.

For those homeschoolers whose passions include competitive sports, both advantages and disadvantages exist. The student who is serious about an individual sport will probably improve more as a homeschooler than as a school student because he has more time to practice and has the freedom to train with the best coaches in his area, not just the ones at their local high school.

Homeschoolers who want to play on public school sports teams, however, face some hurdles. Some states allow homeschoolers to participate in their sports programs and some do not. If you want your homeschooler to play on a public school team, you will have to plan ahead and find out what the requirements are for your area. The best way to do this is to contact the school and see what its homeschooling policy is. Be advised, however, that spots on these teams can be very competitive and feelings can run very strongly against the homeschooled student. If your child is allowed to participate on a team, he will most likely be required to meet the school's academic requirements. One homeschooler in Wisconsin decided to go to school for the first time in order to be on the school's gymnastics team. After one year, however, she decided to return home because she missed her family and wanted to resume her piano lessons and ballet lessons that she had had to give up because of her school schedule. This family was able to work out a compromise with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, wherein the girl participated not as a homeschooler, but as a transfer student. According to their agreement, the student was required to start taking classes on campus one week before the first meet and to take twenty hours of electives. She did not mind this so much because she was able to take art class, driver's education, and study hall. She remained a transfer student for the length of the gymnastics season, but then returned home after that for full-time homeschooling.

Some homeschoolers choose not to play on public school teams because they do not want their child to have to meet the school's academic requirements. Other homeschoolers choose not to participate because they are afraid that if the state is allowed to regulate a homeschooler's academic requirements because of sports, it is just a matter of time before the state tries to establish all homeschooling requirements.

Some homeschooling families have gotten around the public school sports issue by building up their own homeschooling teams. One family in Pennsylvania started their own basketball league. The first year they had only seven people aged eleven to seventeen. By the team's third year, they had enough players for three teams-one for the seven-to-ten-year-olds, one for the ten-to-thirteen-year-olds, and one for high school-age students. They played small Christian schools and other homeschooling teams in their area.

If you have a child who is gifted in and passionate about sports, plan ahead and be creative. There is no reason that your child cannot receive a first-rate homeschool education and still develop her athletic talents to the fullest.

  Excerpted from: Homeschooling for Success: How Parents can Create a Superior Education for Their Child by Rebecca Kochenderfer and Elizabeth Kanna

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