The Washington Times
April 25, 2006

Washington Times Op-ed—Conferences are a Vital Resource

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

What's the best way for parents to get information on homeschooling? This is one of the questions we're frequently asked at Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

One way is to use an Internet search engine, plugging in "homeschool," "homeschooling" or "home education." Literally hundreds of results will be returned. The sheer number of resources available can be overwhelming, and this method lacks the personal touch. Many families new to homeschooling need to actually experience, or hear from, a person who already is homeschooling a child.

Today, getting information about homeschooling is much different than it was in the 1970s and '80s, when homeschooling began its revival.

The "homeschooling pioneers" found the early days very difficult. There were few curriculum suppliers that would sell textbooks to homeschoolers. It also was difficult to find other families that homeschooled. If they could be found, they probably were hiding from authorities, because homeschooling wasn't recognized as a legal option by most states until the early 1990s. In states that did recognize homeschooling as a legal option, the states generally required one of the parents to be a certified teacher or meet vague standards such as being a "properly qualified tutor."

Fortunately, this situation has seen rapid improvement over the last 25 years. Homeschooling is now legal in some form in every state, and few states require teacher qualifications beyond being the parent or guardian of the child.

Today, the best resource available to homeschoolers and parents alike is state and local homeschool conferences and curriculum fairs. These events typically are sponsored by state homeschool organizations that sprung up throughout the '80s to provide resources and support for those contemplating home-schooling and parents already participating in homeschooling.

The homeschool conference "season" generally runs from early spring to late summer and almost every state participates. Many states even have multiple conferences available to parents.

We strongly recommend that parents who have any interest in homeschooling attend a homeschool conference. The conferences typically are held on Friday or Saturday and have three main objectives. First, all conferences will have a curriculum hall. This is an area for vendors to display curriculum and teaching aids that will assist homeschool parents in effectively teaching their children. Every kind of curriculum, teaching aid and educational material will be available for purchase.

Second, many "how-to" workshops will be presented by veteran homeschoolers and educators. Typically, there will be an entire track of workshops on how to get started in homeschooling with opportunities for inquisitive parents to have their questions answered.

Third, for the curious parent, the new homeschooler and the veteran homeschooler alike, speakers will address many topics designed to encourage families to begin homeschooling or to continue their journey. Homeschool graduates give their testimonies on the benefits of homeschooling and how they have been blessed as a result of their parents' sacrificial commitment to their education and upbringing.

Many veteran homeschoolers have indicated that these conferences are the shot in arm they need each year to continue their homeschool adventure.

HSLDA has a list of these conferences for each state on its Web site (www.hslda.org/about/calendar/default.asp).

There is a vital reason veteran homeschool families should continue to attend their state conferences. The state organizations and local support groups that host these conferences depend upon the revenue raised to be able to provide resources throughout the year to those interested in homeschooling. The growth of home education and the freedom to do so is dependent upon strong, vibrant, healthy state and local homeschool organizations. Their existence is dependent upon the support of homeschoolers.

If you are interested in finding out about homeschooling, or are a veteran homeschooler, go to a homeschool conference and curriculum fair. They are still one of the best resources available.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to media@hslda.org.

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