Education
12:50 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

Milwaukee's Homeschoolers Take Learning Outside the Home

Lake Effect's Amy Kiley interviews Jennine Pufahl of the Milwaukee Area Home Learners.

What challenges are there to homeschooling children, and what misconceptions do others have about this in-home learning?

Students explore animals' metamorphoses during the Spring Homeschool Day at Lynden Sculpture Garden.
Credit Lynden Sculpture Garden

This morning, Milwaukee home learners are gathering at the Lynden Sculpture Garden for a Homeschool Day themed Metamorphosis.

The attendees expected represent just under two percent of the state’s student population. According to the Department of Public Instruction, about 18,000 kids learned at home last school year. That’s compared to the over 850,000 students who received a public education and about 125,000 enrolled in traditional private schools.

But why do parents choose to homeschool their children?

Jennine Pufahl of the Milwaukee Area Home Learners says parents decide to homeschool for an "eclectic" variety of reasons. She decided to homeschool her three children because it better fit their learning styles, rather than them having to sit at a desk all day.

Homeschool requirements

There are several requirements for homeschooled children. They must be registered with the Department of Public Instruction, and they must complete 875 hours of instruction per year - the same as in a private school.

Pufahl says students must be taught reading, writing, math, science, social studies and health. But students have the flexibility to pursue other subjects, like religion, art, music and even volunteering, to fill the remaining hours.

"Wisconsin has wonderful homeschool laws," she says. "They hold us accountable, yet it gives us so many rights and flexibilities as a family."

That flexibility also extends to what materials families can use to teach their children, from buying a prepared curricula to creating their own. Some prepared curricula, Pufahl says, can cost upwards of $1000 per student.

Measuring success

Students explored Wisconsin's winter ecosystem during a previous Homeschool Day at Lynden Sculpture Garden.
Credit Lynden Sculpture Garden

Pufahl says Wisconsin is unique in that it doesn't require homeschool students to be tested. She acknowledges that this might alarm outsiders.

"People do ask me very often, 'How do I know that my kids needs are being met? How do I know that they are on par?'" she says. "We have three children, so I have a one to three ratio. I know where my students are. They are not one of twenty-five in a classroom where they might have to be tested."

Pufahl also doesn't worry about what happens when her children reach advanced subjects, like physics or calculus. She says she learns along with her children - and there is always the internet. Plus, she says many homeschool students become self-directed in their studies.

"They have figured their way out through addition, subtraction, and multiplication, so when it's time to tackle calculus, they are ready for it," she says.

Homeschoolers are not at a disadvantage when it comes to applying to higher education, she says. Students must still take the ACT or SAT and provide a transcript when they apply to universities and colleges. But Pufahl says many institutions are "used to us" and have a dedicated staff member to review homeschool applications.

Challenging skeptics

Some skeptics may question whether homeschooled children experience "normal" socialization. But Pufahl rejects the idea that there is a "normal" setting for social interactions among children. She says traditional school is not always the right fit depending on your child's personality.

"My kids are – in what I would say – is a natural way to socialize," she says. "So we are out and they interact with children of all ages, adults of all ages. And that’s real."

Moreover, she says homeschool kids are not just sitting around with only their parents. In many families, both parents work, perhaps part-time or on a flexible schedule.

She also says students' learning environments are fluid, which means they are regularly doing learning activities outside of the home, such as today's event at Lynden Sculpture Garden.

"People are surprised at how social we are, that we really are not at home so much," she says. "I think people expect that what we do at home is duplicate a brick and mortar or traditional school...and that's not the case.

"Our day is quite unique and it can't even be compared to traditional school."