When Brandon Gates was in elementary school, he read below his grade level. He was frustrated that he could not keep up with his class.
“They’d laugh at me when I was asked to read in front of the class,” recalled Gates, a Spokane Valley resident.
Now Gates and his wife Lisa teach their four children at home, which allows each child to work at his or her own level. “The pros are being able to have one-on-one (learning) and to find deficiencies in learning styles,” Gates said.
Reasons for home-schooling run the gamut, from religious convictions to political beliefs. Some parents say they want to be their child’s greatest influence. Others fear the dangers of gangs and drugs in public schools. Still more don’t want to be away from their children all day.
There are drawbacks. It requires abundant time and patience. Some home-schoolers worry about what their children might be missing. And before laws were passed allowing home-schooled children to participate in public school activities, some home-schoolers wished their children could have access to extra-curricular activities, such as sports, offered at the public schools.
In the 1992-93 school year, 208 Valley students were registered as home-schoolers. That number grew a whopping 38 percent to 287 this year. But the figures are not complete because many home-schoolers do not register with school districts, as required by Washington state law.
Many Valley home-schoolers belong to Valley Home Scholars, one of the largest home-schooling groups in Spokane County. It began in 1987 with 10 families and has grown to about 190. A smaller Valley group, Spokane County Association of Christian Home Educators, began two years ago and has 11 families.
Valley Home Scholars originally was formed to give children an audience when they presented book reports, said Veradale resident Diane Smith.
Activities have expanded to include spelling and geography bees, biology labs, a literature group and field trips. One woman in the group runs a library to help home-schoolers choose courses. Another runs a bookstore.
“The first year it’s really scary and you buy lots of stuff,” East Farms resident Ruth Hicks said.
Smith has been teaching her children at home for 15 years, since the oldest of her six children was 5. Smith, like many home-schoolers, wanted to be the one who had the greatest impact on her children.
“It’s just an automatic thing, sending your kids to school, but as the time approached, I just started questioning it,” Smith said. “I think when you put them in school, they kind of start withdrawing. I wanted to be the formation of their character, not other little kids.”
A distrust of government and “government-controlled” schools motivates home-schooler Alan Allison. The strapping Valley farmer with graying hair and a matching handlebar mustache teaches his four children at home with his wife, Kathy.
At a recent home-schoolers meeting, Alan Allison presented some books about government abuse, including one about Child Protective Services entitled, “Out of Control.”
“You need to know this stuff to protect yourself,” Alan Allison told the group.
Ruth Hicks teaches her 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, at home and plans to do the same with her two younger children, Rachael, 4, and Jonathon, 2. Hicks said she home-schools “because the Lord told me to.”
At first, Brandon Gates doubted his competence. But the potential advantages, such as finding learning deficiencies quickly, pushed him to give it a try. Now, he said, his children are more accountable to their parents, instead of being more affected by their peers, as Gates said he was as a youngster.
Religious beliefs motivate most home-schoolers. Group meetings begin with prayer, the Bible is part of instruction, and many, like Ruth Hicks, buy school books from Christian educational organizations.
Hicks’ daughter Taylor’s science book is entitled “Observing God’s World.” On the walls of their kitchen classroom are posters of the 10 Commandments, U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and a map of the world.
At the table, Ruth Hicks leads Taylor through a lesson in fractions and decimals. “I hate math,” says Taylor, an intelligent, friendly child with wide blue eyes. “My favorite subject is language, and then reading.”
At Diane Smith’s Veradale home, four of her children, aged 17 to 7, are learning geography by competing against each other in a home-made Jeopardy game.
The competition is friendly, and Mark, 14, high-fives his little sister Aimee, 7, when she correctly states that the Pacific Ocean in the largest in the world.
But Aimee’s questions are easier than her brothers’. Example: What is the name of the Middle Eastern country with the highest per capita income? United Arab Emirates, answers Mark correctly for 500 points.
“I enjoy my children,” Diane Smith said. “Why ship them out all day?”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (1 color) Graphic: Home-schooling