Because of her experience as a student in public schools, Ashley Maes decided to home-school her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.
“When I was in school, I never felt challenged,” the Littleton resident said. “I was present in school but not participating, and I felt like I could do more for my children.”
She continues to home-school because of the freedom it provides — her family isn’t restricted to a school-day schedule and her kids can explore their passions and interests, Maes said.
Maes’ decision to home-school reflects a trend that has significantly grown over the past two decades.
In 1999, there were about 850,000 home-schooled students ages 5 through 17 in the United States, according to a household education survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. That number jumped to an estimated 1.1 million students in 2003 and an estimated 1.5 million students in 2007, the most recent year of the survey.
In Colorado, 7,659 students were registered with public school districts as home-schooled in 2016, up from 6,462 students in 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
Douglas County School District currently has 509 home-schooled students, the district reports. In fall of 2016, according to records from the Colorado Department of Education, Jefferson County Public Schools had 436 home-schooled students and Adams 12 Five Star Schools had 313. All of the districts’ home-school counts have increased since 2010.
Families home-school for a number of reasons. Considered the most important are religious or moral instruction, concern about the school environment and dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools, the survey by the U.S. Department of Education reported.
Colleen Sprister, of Sedalia, wanted her four children, ages 7, 9, 11 and 13, to have a Christ-based education. Private school was not in her family’s budget, so she and her husband decided to home-school.
Sprister’s children are enrolled in Classical Conversations, an international home-school program with an emphasis on classical learning and Christianity. They work in group settings one day a week with other Classical Conversations students from Castle Rock, Parker and Elizabeth. The other four days, they work on assignments at home.
Her kids also participate in recreational activities, such as gymnastics and football, and work on their family’s small-scale farm.
Home schooling has strengthened the relationship of her family, Sprister said.
“I get to see my kids through the good, the struggles, every day, and we get to work through it as a family,” she said.
Like Classical Conversations, many resources provide curriculum for families who home-school. Programs are offered online or as an extension of a public or charter school. Some are free; others have a fee for curriculum and material.
When a parent or legal guardian decides to home-school a child, they take on the responsibility for the student’s education, according to the Colorado Department of Education. That includes providing curriculum, books, supplies and tests and maintaining permanent records. That also includes making sure the student has at least 172 days of instruction a year in basic subjects, such as reading, writing, math, history, science and others.
For Maes, taking on the role of a teacher has been challenging. Keeping her kids focused and interested can be difficult, she said.
“It’s hard being with your kids all the time and getting them motivated,” Maes said. “Because you’re Mom, they feel like they can argue with you.”
Another challenge that some home-school families face is being labeled with stereotypes, such as socially awkward or sheltered.
Maes had concerns about socialization when she first started home-schooling her children, she said. But she no longer worries about that. Her children interact with others when they are out running errands. They play with kids in their neighborhood, kids on their sports teams and students at the charter school they attend one day a week.
“I used to be terrified that they would be hermits,” Maes said. “They are learning to interact with a variety of age groups.”
Maes isn’t sure if she will home-school her children through high school. She is taking it year by year.
For now, the positives outweigh the negatives.
“The relationship I am developing with them is different,” Maes said, “and I’m treasuring that because I won’t get that time back.”