THE DAILY LEADER / KIM HENDERSON / Zoi Kitchens gets a demonstration from a Brookhaven Firefighter on a recent trip the Brookhaven Home Educators group together to see how the city fights fires and responds to emergency calls.
THE DAILY LEADER / KIM HENDERSON / Zoi Kitchens gets a demonstration from a Brookhaven Firefighter on a recent trip the Brookhaven Home Educators group together to see how the city fights fires and responds to emergency calls.

Home education offers families flexibility and faith-based studies

Published 11:00pm Saturday, February 8, 2014

Home schooling is growing in the U.S., and a number of local families reveal that this alternative to public or private school enrollment is the best choice for their lifestyle and educational desires for two very important reasons – faith and family time.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education said that approximately 1,770,000 students are home schooled in the U.S. – 3.4 percent of the school-age population. That’s a 17 percent growth since the department’s last study in 2007. Most of the families cited in the study say they choose home education for faith-based reasons and because of an unsatisfactory environment in schools, the Sept. 3, 2013, report said.

Colby and Misty McMorris of Brookhaven have three young children – a 10-month-old, a 2-year-old and 5-year-old, who is a first-grader at home. Aedeen, the 5-year-old, talks and interacts easily with adults and can recite all of the books of the Bible.

“This is our second year,” Misty said. “First, for us, “it was because of our faith in Christ and our desire to instill Christian values in our children.”

James and Jina Kitchens of Brookhaven have a house full with seven kids ranging from 7-months-old to 17-years-old. Five of them are school-aged. She said faith and family time were their big deciding factors, but home schooling wasn’t something she’d considered early on.

“I met a mother who made an impression on me about what God expected of me and my responsibility for what my children learn,” Kitchens said. “The eternal responsibility I feel towards my children made me want to bring them home.

“The greatest part is that no one gets to spend more time with my kids than I do,” Kitchens said. “The oldest child was a daycare baby and a public school baby and someone else got to see her first steps, hear her first words, see her eat her first foods and other special milestones in her learning.”

Kitchens and the other parents said that they like the fact that they get to design the curriculum for each child. Mississippi’s laws on home education allows parents the freedom to choose the right curriculum for each child’s learning style and follow their curiosity, too. McMorris said parents shouldn’t be timid of taking on the task of teaching.

“All of the curriculum has certain standards that you must meet,” she said, “and I’m sure classroom teachers face daily challenges, too. So do we, and we learn from each challenge, but there are special instructions for the teaching parent.”

The McMorris family said they also have a great local support group, Brookhaven Home Educators – directed by veteran home educators Steve and Stacy Burns – that provides assistance, advice and direction for parents. The group also is a go-to for homeschooler activities such as a recent field trip students made to see Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox.

McMorris said she sets goals for each nine weeks and meets them as they come. Her son has weekly assessments that make sure he is meeting all of his benchmarks. For now, all tests are on paper, she said, but they will eventually move to online submission.

Like other home education families, the McMorrises said the other vital factor that motivated them to home school is family time, dad Colby said. Colby works as a funeral director in the family-owned Riverwood Family Funeral Services.

“This business is demanding of a lot of time, and I work a lot of odd hours,” Colby said, “so, it gives me the flexibility to spend time with the family at home when I can, and work study time around family time.” He said he is grateful for Misty’s decision to be a home educator.

“She made a huge sacrifice quitting her career as a registered nurse,” he said. “But, it was a good choice because it means a lot to us for what if offers our family life.”

Tony and Melissa Lester are raising two young men out in the Ruth community to be good stewards, too. They said they chose to home educate boys Corbin, 15, and Zachary, 14, for the same reasons.

“We wanted to have a Godly foundation,” said mother Melissa. “We enjoy having the flexibility, too.” She and the other families say that there is a misconception when it comes to home schooled kids – that they aren’t socialized. The truth is that most home-schooled children are exposed to a variety of people and experiences on a daily basis that makes them far quicker to mix and mingle in social situations and be real-world ready, the families said.

“They learn how to get along in the world and with each other,” Melissa said.

She added that the home educators group gets kids together for all of the field trips you’d expect for elementary educators, like the art museum, the Nissan plant, WLBT-TV3 studios and more. Plus, home educators all say every moment is a teachable moment, whether at home, on a field trip or in the real world.

Daily Leader columnist and correspondent Kim Henderson said she and husband Mark started 20 years ago with the idea that they were just going to do it for their children’s kindergarten years, but now three of their five kids have graduated and two are still home schooled.

“In the early 90s when our oldest child was almost kindergarten age,” Kim said, “Mark listened to James Dobson talk about home schooling on one of his “Focus on the Family” radio broadcasts. It was the first time he’d heard of that option, and it seemed pretty radical to us. Gradually, though, we began to think home schooling might be the right path for our family, at least for kindergarten. Now, here we are, 20 years later, still at it.”

Her husband Mark said bad experiences from his school years were part of the reason he wanted his children home schooled.

“My primary reason for home schooling has been to protect my children from the negative things that were a part of my own educational experience,” he said. “I wanted to be able to incorporate a biblical worldview in everything they’re learning.”

Kim enjoys a busy writing life along with her home life as mother and teacher and said the decision to home school is a life investment.

“I’ve enjoyed having unhurried time with my children,” she said, “and being able to choose a course of study that fits their individual needs, but there are challenges, too. I am quick to tell those who ask me about home schooling that it’s a life investment, because teaching is tough, whether it’s first-grade phonics or high school government.”

But, when she and husband get negative comments about the “socialization” aspect of home schooling, they have learned graciousness.

“One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is the importance of responding with grace to those who criticize our schooling choice,” Kim said. “We know that home schooling isn’t for everyone, but it has been very good for us.”

Kim asked her graduates to respond to the negative assessment, also.

“I asked our older children who have graduated what they consider to be benefits of their home schooling experience, and here’s what they said: one-on-one instruction, more opportunity to work at part-time jobs to prepare for the real world and becoming an independent learner.”

The students say there are many benefits to learning at home, besides having curriculum tailored to their own learning styles. Corbin, who is a ninth-grader this year, said it’s a relief to not have to deal with fitting in for all the wrong reasons.

“That’s one great thing about being home schooled,” Corbin said. “You don’t have to fit into a cookie-cutter image. You don’t have to deal with peer pressure. You don’t have to wear certain brand-named clothes. I can learn at my own pace and follow my own curiosity. Plus, I love having home-cooked lunches,” he said with a laugh.

To learn the law on Mississippi home education, visit www.mhea.net.