Home Schooling Spells Success
George Abraham Thampy

Last week I won the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, and my picture was in the papers all over the world. It was a really tough competition. One letter missed or out of place and I would have been out of the competition with no second chances. I know that well because I had lost at the two previous national spelling bees.

A lot of people noticed something particular about the bee this year: I am home schooled, as were the two other finalists. A home-schooled girl won in 1997, but this is the first time home-schoolers have had a clean sweep. As a result, a lot of people have been asking questions about home schooling. So I would like to explain a little about what exactly home-schooling means for me, and to tell you what I do all day.

I study most everything a child would at school -- science, math, English, history, geography and social sciences. I don't study all subjects every day, but concentrate instead on two or three subjects. On most days I would also do in-depth research over the Internet on one of my favorite topics. My parents structure my time. But I study in periods of variable lengths, not exactly like class periods in school.

I have six siblings, and five of them are home schooled, so some subjects, such as geography, history and current events, are taught to us as a group. My mom often asks us to finish a task on a certain subject before we get a break for lunch, or before we move on to a different subject. Most of the time, however, we are taught individually, and the instruction is tailored to our specific needs. We all use different textbooks and download material from the Internet.

Science supply stores sell kits for chemistry experiments. My dad happens to be a biochemistry professor, so visits to a laboratory are often possible. We go on plenty of field trips, sometimes with other home schoolers. I've been to farms, banks, fire stations and museums. Also, whenever my dad has to make presentations at work, I go with him and help him with the slides. Occasionally, I fix his software problems too.

A lot of people can picture home schooling when it comes to study that's based on books, like English or math. But the other aspects of education are also well-covered -- such as sports, religious activities, personal hygiene, letter writing and public speaking. For sports we go to the gym and to playgrounds. I love to play softball and soccer. I enjoy bike-riding and kite-flying, as well as walking about the neighborhood.

My schedule is flexible enough to accommodate specific projects. I have chosen to do household chores as well as help my younger brothers and sisters with their studies and special projects. In the evening we concentrate on outdoor activities. At night, we sit with our dad and go over math and science. Occasionally he brings home some interesting articles on health-related problems and we have a family discussion. One such article was on rabies and its dissemination in certain regions of the country by bats and skunks. Another time we read about food poisoning in the Northwest and how it spread from one source to the entire community.

Since most kids who go to school make friends there, people might wonder about the social lives of home-schooled kids. It's not that complicated, really. I have friends at the church youth group -- we belong to the Evangelical Free Church. Also, I have befriended numerous former competitors in the National Geography Bee and the National Spelling Bee, with whom I keep in touch via e-mail.

In any case, just because I don't go to a big classroom full of other children my age doesn't mean I'm lonely. I have brothers and sisters and other home-schooled friends, not to mention Boy Scout friends, and friends around the neighborhood and church. I have no trouble relating to kids who go to conventional schools. They don't think I'm strange because I'm home-schooled, especially since we study the same subjects, only in a different way. Besides, even they usually seem to know other kids who are home-schooled.

Home-schooling is not so hard to understand. My mom and dad are my teachers, and most of the time my mom is home while my dad is at work. Financially, however, it is rather expensive for my parents to get all the latest and best materials, to update computers and software every six to 12 months, and to keep ahead in this race. It costs them about $7,500 a year for books, supplies and computer needs, as well as another $1,000 for field trips and other outings.

But it's not just a question of money. Home schooling all of us takes a lot of time, effort and commitment on their part. As a consequence, my dad and mom do not have much time for themselves. I see them often working late at night in order to keep up with their own work. My mom has not gone to bed before 2 a.m. in a long time.

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