This time on Homeschooling in the 50 States…and Beyond!, we will hear about Jenni’s homeschooling experience in Kansas.
Jenni is a 28-year-old single mom of an amazing 5-year-old boy. She has the unique experience of occasionally sharing homeschooling duties with her mom, as Jenni’s younger brother is also homeschooled. You can read more about Jenni, her family, and her homeschooling experiences on her blog at MamaPlusOne.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Please note that these experiences, while they may discuss state requirements, are not legal advice, legislative summaries, or compliance recommendations. I encourage you to do your own research on your state’s current homeschool laws and seek help from official sources if necessary. The Home School Legal Defense Agency is a great place to start though you may find a more state-specific organization that you prefer to work with.
“We didn’t actively anticipate becoming a homeschooling family. My entire educational career through high school was spent in public schools, and it looked like my brother would have a similar story, since he started in public school. However, back in fifth grade, it became very apparent that the public school system wasn’t the right fit for him, and it made us really re-think our perspective on homeschooling.
I don’t say that we never intended to homeschool because we were against homeschooling. We definitely weren’t against it. We just hadn’t really considered it strongly. During my youth, I struggled in school because I was advanced in many subjects. The public school solution to challenge me was to double my workload. When other students would be instructed to do the odd problems in the math homework, I would be told to do all of the problems, both odd and even. I felt like I was penalized for school coming easier to me.
My brother experienced the exact opposite problem. Struggling with reading comprehension and having trouble making his left and right brain work together well, school was often a fight. Top it off with extensive bullying (even from teachers) in the school, and it was time for a change. My brother left public school halfway through his 5th grade year, and the process actually was not that difficult.
Because he had been public schooled, my mother had to write a letter of intent to the local school district that they would be removing my brother and placing him in a non-accredited private school. In Kansas, homeschools must be registered with the state as non-accredited private schools if they aren’t affiliated with an accredited public or private school. You simply go online, register your school, and create a name for it. She asked for his school records, and with that, she was all set to homeschool.
With my son, the process was slightly different. He hadn’t attended public school, so there wasn’t a formal removal process. He simply became a student at our registered homeschool. Because school isn’t compulsory in the state of Kansas until age 7, we technically could have held off even longer, but we’ve spent the early years of his education exploring his interests in-depth.
Before we started to homeschool, my mom and I definitely shared concerns about social life. We worried that my very social brother would feel left out, and we also worried that my son wouldn’t learn how to become social because he was homeschooled. However, we found out very quickly that in our area, you actually have to turn down opportunities to be social just to make sure you have enough time for actual school work. Our local hometown has a homeschooling group that meets weekly, and our greater metropolitan area also has a lot of resources for homeschooling groups, field trips, and classes specifically for homeschool students. While overall, my brother and my son have their own separate educations due to their differences in age, there is some overlap, too, particularly socially. The main homeschooling group that they both attend is a combined, all-ages group. Each of them interact with their own age group and friends, but they also do some activities together.
There are many times that they do interact together during school, also. Sometimes, my brother acts as a teacher for my son, instructing him in a science activity or hands-on project. While I am my son’s primary educator, it’s good to know that I have a team of support because my extended family also homeschools. It means that my mom can seamlessly step in and teach my son something I’m less skilled at, and it means I can get involved in my brother’s schooling, too. We each focus on our own child, but there are many times that education becomes a team activity, and that’s when the real homeschooling magic happens.
My brother plays soccer for a private school that accepts homeschooled players during soccer season, then plays competitive soccer the rest of the year with boys his age, most of whom are in public schools. Because of the flexibility that homeschooling allows for, he’s also able to take on jobs as a student, working during the day and completing school at night if he desires. My son is equally social, spending time with neighborhood kids or with homeschool friends. It’s nice because neither my brother nor my son are missing out on the social aspect. In many ways, it seems like they have more time to socialize because kids in the local school district aren’t allowed to talk during lunch until middle school and are limited in their playground interactions, too.
When we first started homeschooling, we found there was no requirement as to which curriculum you had to use. In the state of Kansas, you’re required to complete the equivalent hours of your local school district and complete regular testing. However, tests are not currently required to be standardized or monitored by anyone. A typical homeschool math test is sufficient to prove competency, so my family keeps records of any testing that we do within the home to show improvement over time.
Because my brother started in the middle of the school year, my mom was hesitant to get a boxed curriculum. Many friends had mentioned to her that there may be a de-schooling process for both of them; they needed to break some of the rigidity that existed in public school so he would feel comfortable learning at home. As a result, the first semester was spent creating a curriculum based on his interests, pieced together from various workbooks and websites. My brother’s strong interest in soccer lead us to add a fantasy soccer team component as a long-term algebra and statistics assignment, for example. The more my family invested time into curriculum that interested my brother, the more his reading comprehension and overall school skills improved.
Over time, however, piecing together curriculum became a challenge, and to ensure all of the bases were covered, my mom switched to My Father’s World for quite some time. In high school, there was a return to pieced-together curriculum, including civics classes, personal finance, and German.
For my son, there was no clear way to start. The first few curriculum sets we tried didn’t work well with his special needs (he has an autism spectrum disorder), so we ended up going the route of a pieced-together curriculum, as well. Time will tell if we continue to create our own curriculum or switch to something we’ve purchased boxed, but for now, it is working well for us.
One of the biggest assets to homeschooling near the Kansas City area is the large number of resources that are available. Not only are there many homeschooling groups in the area, as I mentioned, but we have a huge number of great museums and resources. One of the first field trips we took was to a fudge shop that showed the kids how the fudge was made. (This was part of our unit on chocolate, which included language arts, science, and math.) We also have an aquarium, a zoo, a wonderful science museum that adds new exhibits every year and offers traveling exhibits, and the LEGOland Discovery Center, which offers many hands-on learning opportunities. We have a World War I memorial with a fantastic museum, which also makes a great field trip. And if all of that weren’t enough, Kansas is home to the Cosmosphere, a space museum, and is well within driving distance of Omaha, Bentonville, Oklahoma City, and Springfield, all of which have fantastic museums, too. There are a rich set of opportunities for homeschool athletics, music, and theatre, so kids in Kansas can get plugged into a homeschooling group regardless of their interests and ways of learning. The opportunities for enriching learning with hands-on activities are everywhere in the Kansas City area.
However, times are changing in Kansas, as far as most homeschool families can tell. A tragic incident occurred in the Kansas City area where a boy, said to be homeschooled, was abused to the point that he died. It was an absolutely tragic story, and I know so many family’s hearts are broken for this boy. However, the fact that he was listed as homeschooled is being pushed as a way to change state homeschooling policy. Right now, families are free to choose the curriculum that suits the needs of their family. As I mentioned, we have to keep records for testing, but we aren’t mandated to do state standardized testing at all (though it is an option for families who would like to do it). However, Kansas is now looking at a legislation change that would require homeschools to be overseen by the local school district and require students to be tested within the school district so the school could check to make sure they aren’t falling behind, or worse, being abused. I can’t imagine a homeschooling family wanting to keep the school from finding out a story of abuse, but the idea of giving power to the schools to determine whether or not we’re doing enough for our kids is concerning. Many parents in the state are writing to their legislators to give them our own perspective. Even though we test, we don’t teach specifically towards the tests like public schools often do and, while our hearts are broken for this child, homeschooling is not what led to his death. For us, it’s definitely going to be a long journey ahead as we see what will happen with the legislation and find out if it will pass and change the requirements of homeschooling in Kansas.
Despite changing times and regulations, I am so thankful for the many opportunities and blessings that come with homeschooling in the state of Kansas. I can’t imagine us having as many great school days anywhere else, from getting to find out about our DNA at Union Station’s Science City in Kansas City to taking piano or Improv lessons at a small local studio. It’s worth every minute.”
Have any of you homeschooled in Kansas? Let me know in the comments! I would love to hear about your experiences.