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The ABCs of Homeschooling

School is back in session, and, for most kids, that means returning to the classroom. But some children travel no farther than the family room or kitchen table for their lessons.

An estimated 2 million students are homeschooled in the United States, and that number appears to be growing an estimated 2 percent to 8 percent per year, according to the National Home Education Research Institute.

In fact, statistics show a 74 percent increase since 1999, more than 12 times the increase of public school enrollment over the same period, says Robert Kunzman, a professor at Indiana University who studies homeschooling.

Here, moms who homeschool explain why they've chosen this path and discuss some of the pros and cons:

Why Homeschool?

Barbara Zuzow of Glendale, Calif., began homeschooling her 7-year-old daughter when she reached preschool age. Zuzow was pregnant with her second child, and was worried that her daughter might feel displaced if she was sent to school just as the new baby was coming. And after one year of homeschooling, her daughter was reading so well and so far ahead of other kids her age that Zuzow decided to stick with it.

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Sarah Green of Altadena, Calif., who has homeschooled her two sons, Aidan, 12, and Austin, 14, since kindergarten, was motivated to take teaching into her own hands because the "public schools are a challenge, and private schools are an arm and a leg." It also helped that several of her friends from church were also homeschooling or about to, so she had a built-in support group. In addition, she is a teacher, which made the choice even easier.

The most common reasons parents homeschool are a concern about the school environment and to provide religious or moral instruction, according to Kunzman. But some have a unique reason, such as Julie Petrovic of Austin, Texas. She's been homeschooling her two girls, Bayleigh, 13, and Mackenzie, 10, for eight years so they can follow her husband, professional golfer Tim Petrovic, on the PGA Tour circuit in an RV. This way, says Petrovic, they can "stay together as a family."

The Benefits of Homeschooling

Moms say it has many advantages, including:

You can tailor your curriculum to your child. Each child has individual learning strengths that you can cater to, says Sherri Linsenbach, author of The Everything Homeschooling Book who homeschooled her son through high school graduation. Petrovic has found this to be especially true of her younger daughter, who focuses best when she has a lot of breaks. So she lets her daughter work for 20 minutes and then take 10 minutes off—something that wouldn't be allowed in a traditional classroom.

You spend a lot of quality time with your kids. "The bonding has been the biggest benefit," says Green. "We have the time to process life together." Petrovic agrees. "I taught my daughters to read, and I was there the day math made sense to them. This is something a lot of parents aren't lucky enough to have experienced."

You have flexibility. You are in complete control of your children's academic schedule. Petrovic has the freedom to let her girls sleep in one day, then work ahead the next. "It's a gift," she says. Zuzow also likes that her family can go away or on field trips whenever they want and turn the experience into a "learning vacation."

The Challenges

Yet there are some potential drawbacks:

You may fear you're not up to the task. Zuzow says she sometimes struggles to find the right teaching technique. She asks herself, "Am I doing this right? Or should I be doing this a little different?" Even experienced homeschoolers say they don't feel comfortable teaching all subjects. On the other hand, says Green, this isn't a problem, because there are so many resources available to homeschooling parents. For example, she didn't want to teach high school algebra, so she enrolled her 14-year-old in an outside math class.

Your kids don't get as much socialization. The fact that kids miss out on the social scene at school is a concern, some moms say. Yet, there are still plenty of chances for children to interact with their peers, they add. Zuzow's daughter goes on frequent playdates, and Petrovic's girls have been involved with other kids in numerous community activities, including karate and gymnastics.

You can feel isolated. "It is a lonely road sometimes," says Green. Recently when she told a woman she homeschooled, "she looked at me as if I had three heads," she recalls. In addition, even though several of her friends also homeschool, the curricula they follow are different, so she can feel "a bit of a lone ranger."

Still, for Green and moms like her, they remain hugely enthusiastic about homeschooling. It's not perfect, she says, but she wouldn't parent any other way.

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