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Combining Homeschooling With Special Interests

A recent study by the Home School Defense Legal Association (HSDLA) found that over 49 percent of homeschooling parents opt to homeschool for religious reasons. Other parents homeschool because the local school wasn’t meeting the educational or social needs of their children. One of the hidden benefits of homeschooling, though, is the flexibility parents and children have to pursue extracurricular interests.

Children attending a traditional public or private school spend around six hours per day in school. Add in transportation and homework, and at least eight hours of the day is gone. Families struggle to fit in soccer practice, scouts, and music lessons, leaving everyone exhausted. Many kids give up on music lessons and other interests altogether by the time they hit middle school.

Homeschooling offers a more relaxed schedule so kids can explore a variety of subjects or really excel at one specific talent. In fact, most highly competitive young athletes and musicians turn to homeschooling at some point to continue their education while pursuing a rigorous practice schedule. So how do you combine homeschooling with extracurricular activities? Read on to find out more.

Explore Your Options. Try different activities before you settle on one or two things. Take art classes at a community college or art school or try karate, the swim team, or another sport. Don’t forget Waldorf-type activities, such as doll making, woodworking, or knitting. One advantage of this approach is that classes typically last for a few weeks, rather than months and months. You can schedule them to fit your budget and your homeschooling schedule.

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Find A Qualified Instructor. Once your child shows a talent for a specific subject, look for a qualified instructor. Ask other homeschooling parents for recommendations. Check with the music department of your local church for music lessons or contact your community’s cultural art department.

In addition to private or group lessons, consider using an online or DVD tutor. Yoke Wong’s Piano Mother offers DVD lessons at a fraction of the cost of private lessons. DVD lessons work well for children who are self-motivated and don’t necessarily need someone sitting there prodding them on. Another advantage is that you can replay the lesson over and over throughout the week, so kids are less likely to forget what they’ve learned.

Online options abound for everything from digital arts to photography. Again, these classes usually cost less than what you’d pay for a teacher, and you’ll have the flexibility to fit them into your schedule. You also won’t need to schlep kids to and from lessons.

Managing The Budget. Private lessons of any kind, whether it’s music, sports, or art, cost a pretty penny. If you’ve got several active kids, you may have to get creative with the budget. Some homeschooling families barter services. For example, maybe you have a special skill such as gardening, laying carpet, or accounting. Offer to trade your services for lessons. Other families hire a teacher to do a group lesson for all the children, saving a bundle over private lessons. Some teachers even come to your home. If your kids are taking group lessons, why not jump in and learn yourself? You’ll have a firsthand feel for what the kids are learning so you can help with practicing. Some organizations offer sliding scales or scholarships. MusicLink connects talented young students with music teachers willing to offer lessons for a reduced fee.

And, what about equipment or musical instruments? Sports equipment and musical instruments don’t come cheap. But like clothes, equipment can be handed down to younger children. If you’ve got several kids, it might be worth spending the extra money to buy new so the equipment lasts several years.

Another option is to try used sporting goods or musical instrument stores. Stores that specialize in a specific sport or instrument often have high-quality products for reasonable prices. You can also try sites like eBay or Craigslist, but make sure you can return the item if it is defective.

Talk with a coach or music instructor. They can tell you which brands to buy, what to look for, and where to go. For example, when my daughter first started taking violin lessons, her teacher recommended a rental company, Ifshin Violins, out of California. The rental instruments were of much higher quality than those available in our area. Later, when it was time to buy a violin, the teacher had some good suggestions on where to shop.

Managing The Schedule

If your child is truly talented at her chosen activity, she’s probably spending several hours per day practicing. You may find yourself driving to practices early in the morning or late at night. Although supporting your child’s budding talent is important, you must also balance your goals for your family’s religious activities and education. Be cautious about allowing sports, music, or art to take over your family time.

A boxed homeschooling kit may be a good solution in this situation to free up some of the time you’d normally spend planning and implementing a curriculum. Self-paced curriculums work for the independent, self-motivated learner. Consider incorporating some online curriculum options, as well.

Use time wisely. Your child can work on school work while she waits for a practice to start or during drive time.

If you’ve got several busy kids, you may have to set some limits on activities. Many families limit activities to one sport and one music or art activity per child, in addition to homeschooling and religious activities. Encourage your kids to take the same activity. If everyone plays the violin, you can do a group lesson and then schedule practice at the same time, too.

Remember your goals in turning to homeschooling, which probably included strengthening family relationships and enjoying learning. If extracurricular activities leave you feeling stressed and overtaxed, it may be time to reassess and whittle back activities.

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