Jul 26, 2014
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Homeschooled Kids Kick Off New School Year

More parents in the area choose to take education of their families into their own hands.

Homeschooled Kids Kick Off New School Year

As droves of students grabbed their backpacks and journeyed to the school bus for the first day of school on Tuesday, others woke up in the morning and headed to the kitchen table for their first lesson, taught not by a teacher, but their mom.

A few of those children include those of Shannon Smith, a mother of five, who has homeschooled her children for the past nine years — her oldest is now in college.

"It's a lifestyle choice," said Smith. "It doesn't work for everybody, but it works for our family. I think we made a good decision."

Smith said she didn't always homeschool her children — her oldest daughter attended Hampton Bays schools for a year before mold was found in a classroom. Smith said she pulled her daughter, who was diagnosed with asthma, from the school.

"I decided to try homeschooling and if it didn't work out than I could always put her back in school," said Smith.

At first, Smith said there was a learning curve; she had to find her way through the system, learning New York State's rules and regulations for homeschooling and work into a learning schedule that worked for her family.

Nine years later and Smith said she has developed a flexible schedule that allows each of her children individual learning time; trips to museums; and for socializing at Girl Scout meetings, dance and acting classes at the Center.

"I want to raise a family that actually cares about each other. Where we are not constantly bickering and arguing. That is what we had [before homeschooling]. We were always screaming at each other to hurry up, but now we can relax, laugh and giggle," she said.

Smith said she has also found over the years that homeschooling has helped to bind her children with siblings helping each other with math problems and reading skills.

"The joke in our family is that we don’t have homework. All of our work is homework. And when we are done for the day, the kids know that they can do something fun, but everyone has to be done. Sometimes the youngest will even help the oldest get school work done," she said.

Also with homeschooling, Smith, who has a degree in massage therapy, said she can tailor lessons to the things that her children love. For example, her daughter was very interested in World War II history so writing assignments focused on World War II.

Smith says there are unlimited resources available to homeschooling moms. She pointed out that she often uses news to teach; visits the library for books and the Internet has become a vital tool. She is also a member of homeschool support groups, including a Suffolk County group that has more than 100 members.

"My kids don't learn about bullying. They have also been given the opportunity to grow at their own pace and not be rushed into boyfriends and girlfriends in fourth grade," said Smith, adding, "I don't have a lot of free time, but I didn't have kids to have someone else raise them for me. I want to spend every minute I can with my kids and I'm happy to give up my free time so my kids are happy and well-adjusted."

Like Smith's children, Sarah Mendenhall-Luhmer's children are also among an estimated 1.5 million children across America that are home schooled.

"It is a life-style choice," Mendenhall-Luhmer said. "East Quogue has a great school, but for our family, homeschooling just worked out.

Mendenhall-Luhmer joked that it was peer pressure that got her started with homeschooling — many of her friends, she said, do it.

What's great about homeschooling, she said is that everything becomes a lesson and like Smith, Mendenhall-Luhmer said lessons can be tailor-made her a child's likes.

"My daughter loves dolphins so I incorporated dolphins into our lessons. It's a great alternative to traditional book work," she said.

For parents that are exploring the idea of homeschooling, Mendenhall-Luhmer did warn: "You have to know what you are getting yourself into. It is not all cupcakes and roses. You have to file reports with the school districts timely and there is a home-school liaison that you have to work with."

But, like Smith, Mendenhall-Luhmer said that there are plenty of support groups available.

According to Lars Clemensen, Hampton Bays School district superintendent, last year eight Hampton Bays students where home-schooled. And in Westhampton Beach, Superintendent Mike Radday said last year, five students were home-schooled.

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