Home schooling a growing trend

Charity Hallmark helps her daughter Sedona, 4, with math at their home in Idaho Falls on Friday. Hallmark is homeschooling her children Sedona, Elias and Isaiah.

When it comes time for kindergarten, most parents happily send their youngsters off to traditional school and never think twice.

For Charity and James Hallmark, that decision was a bit more complicated.

“We wanted to be able to incorporate faith and school into learning. We can do that at home but that just can’t happen in a public school setting,” Charity Hallmark said. “We also wanted to be the main influencers on our children — having them learn manners from us instead of the 20 other 6-year-olds in their class. And the other reason was just the academic opportunity: we (wanted to) give them work that’s challenging to them or easier — whatever they need.”

After careful thought, the Hallmarks chose to home-school their three children, Isaiah, 6, Sedona, 4, and Elias, 2.

They are not alone. Anywhere from 11,000 to 15,000 Idaho students were home-schooled in 2010, according to estimates from the National Home Education Research Institute, and nationwide, that number appears to be growing.

In 2009, about 1.5 million students were taught at home, up from 850,000 estimated in 1999, according to an Education Week report. That same report showed that from 2007 to 2010, the number of home-schooled children increased about 7 percent. The number of children enrolled in traditional school increased less than 1 percent during the same period.

Pinning an exact number of home-educated families in Idaho is difficult. State law does not require home-school parents to register with their school district, so, consequently, the Idaho State Department of Education does not have data regarding the number of home-schooled families, according to State Department School Choice Coordinator Michelle Clement Taylor.

However, those who are part of the Gem State’s home education community say home schooling appears to be growing. Michael Sitton is the foundations and essentials director of the Idaho Falls campus of Classical Conversations, a Christian-based home-schooling group, with at least 60,000 students worldwide.

He said the Idaho Falls campus has grown substantially since it formed in 2012 with 11 students. Now, just two years later, it has around 65.

“One thing that strikes me about this state is sort of the libertarian (mindset) of the area,” Sitton said. “I think home schooling appeals to those people who are a little more libertarian-minded — there’s the freedom to teach what you want, how you want. … Idaho gives you a lot of freedom, there’s nothing in the law about requirements for home-schooling … some states require administered tests, but in Idaho, there’s nothing. You have total freedom to choose what to teach and how you want to teach it.”

A day in the life of a home-schooled family looks a bit different than most. In the Hallmark family, class takes place in the living room, with Charity Hallmark as teacher and the three siblings as each other’s classmates. In lieu of recess or cafeteria lunchtime, the children head to the backyard for playtime and periodic breaks for snacks. Instruction takes just about an hour, leaving the rest of the day open for other activities.

It’s an option Charity Hallmark said more might be happy with than they think.

“It’s hard for me to say if everybody should home school, because I’m not in everybody’s home,” she said. “But I really think more people should consider it, and consider ways around it. People tell me, ‘Oh, I could never do that, it’s too hard.’ But it’s really not — it’s fun. There are easy days and hard days just like everything else in life, but it’s really not as hard as I think some people perceive it to be.”

Reporter Kirsten Johnson can be reached at 542-6757.