Meet the Homeschoolers
An increasing number of Hawaii families are choosing to educate their children at home. We spoke with three of them to learn more about the realities of homeschooling.
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For most parents with school-age children, the usual thing is to drop off the kids at a school. Schools have teachers, classrooms, textbooks—all the educational essentials.
But what if you were the teacher? What if, instead of hopping on a bus every weekday, your child simply walked into the living room to start her school day? It’s a reality for the parents of at least 7,000 students in Hawai‘i who are homeschooled.
Photos: Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams
Some parents homeschool for religious reasons, others because they can’t stand the thought of their kid in a Hawai‘i public school, still others because their child has special educational requirements. Whatever the reason, they’ve taken on the huge responsibility of educating their own children, with all the time and effort that entails.
In the process, they also set themselves up for a healthy amount of stereotyping. Homeschooling only became legal in all 50 states in 1993 and for many people, it still carries a whiff of the fringe. Homeschoolers? Those are religious zealots, right? Isolated kooks who run their houses on solar power?
But, it’s a phenomenon that’s steadily growing. The number of homeschooled students on record with the state Department of Education has jumped by 17 percent in the past three years. Something about it must work.
We wanted to find out more about what homeschooling is really like, so we spent some time with three families to learn about the realities of conducting class in your own living room—the day-to-day challenges, the rewards, and how well it’s working out for each of them.
Nicole and Martin Guiles started talking about homeschooling before the kids even arrived, while they were still dating. They knew they wanted a lot of children, and they knew they didn’t want to go the conventional education route.
Nicole describes their choice to homeschool as following God’s will, but she says she was also inspired by the 1948 book Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, which describes the authors’ adventures in raising 12 children.
“The father taught his kids to use a typewriter, he taught them astronomy by drawing stars on the ceiling,” Nicole remembers. “I was like, really, I could do that for my kids? I could keep them home and just inspire them? That was really cool.”
The Guiles went on to marry and have three daughters, Celeste, now 8, Tasha, 5, and Lulu, 3. When it came time for Celeste to begin school, they found that opting out of public school was simple.
Hawai‘i is one of the easier states in which to homeschool. Legally, the state DOE requires only that parents send in a notice of intent (called a 4140 form), and then check in with their local school principal annually to demonstrate academic progress. This is generally done either by taking the Hawai‘i State Assessment test or something equivalent in those grade levels required by law (currently third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades).
“I called up the school and said, Hey, I’m going to homeschool my kids, what do I need to do? And they sent me a packet with all sorts of information on homeschooling resources for parents, your rights as a homeschooler, support groups,” Nicole says. “And that was it.”