Staying home to school: Local homeschooling parents say flexibility, one-on-one attention are key benefits
Freshman Josiah Mohn and his younger sister, Katja, wake up for school whenever they're ready to. There's no alarm clock blaring at them to get out of bed in the mornings.
There are also no school bells warning them to hurry up and get to class. Once they're up and at 'em for the day, they start their language and science studies together, then move on to math and Bible study. By the afternoons, they're pretty self-directed, focused on history, foreign language and music.
They go at their own relaxed pace, and often choose their own work. Their curriculum and assignments are tailored to their own unique learning styles and needs, and they receive one-on-one instruction from adults they know and trust better than anyone else—their parents, Bill and Kendra Mohn.
The Mohns have been homeschooling their kids since Josiah started kindergarten, with the exception of one year when the kids attended a missionary school, and they both say the benefits of doing so outweigh any challenges.
"We get to decide when school is and when school is not," said Kendra. ""If we need to get out of town for a few days, we don't have to deal with missing school and making up homework. Also, I can tailor the education to my kids and slow down on certain things if they need it, or speed through other things... We take a Christian approach, but whatever your perspective may be, the public school isn't deciding that for you."
Both Kendra and Bill used to be public school teachers—Kendra taught band and music, and Bill taught history—first in the Twin Cities and then in Detroit Lakes. They liked public schools just fine, and neither of them had ever considered homeschooling until shortly before their kids started nearing school age.
"It wasn't something that was really on my radar," Bill said. "My brother and his wife homeschooled, but I never thought I'd do it. At some point, Kendra saw some really successful families (that homeschooled)...and she started to develop this interest in it. I could take it or leave it... But I've become fairly passionate about it now."
The Mohns are part of a homeschooling group called LACHE (Lakes Area Christian Home Educators), which is a local branch of the statewide MACHE (Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators). The nonprofit group offers support and resources to homeschooling families in Becker, Mahnomen and Otter Tail Counties.
LACHE offers multiple activities every week for its members. One woman teaches a monthly art class for all the students in the group, for example, and Kendra teaches a local homeschool band. The group has been growing in recent years, from about 100 families in 2010 up to the group's max of 150 families today. Though it has a Christian bent, all families are welcome.
"We don't homeschool for any religious reasons or anything like that," said Melissa Gullard, another homeschooling parent from Detroit Lakes. "That wasn't my goal. My goal was to educate my kids in a positive environment, and that just wasn't happening for us in the public schools."
Melissa and her husband, Kevin, made the decision to homeschool three years ago after their middle child, Ella, now 12, became a victim of bullying. When their oldest daughter, Ashley, started missing school because of chronic migraines, they decided homeschooling would work better for her, too. At that point, it only made sense to keep their youngest, Brietta, home as well.
Melissa picks and chooses her curriculum from various sources, and she and her kids take part in a lot of the LACHE social outings, such as swimming trips, boating, and nature walks at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.
Like the Mohns, the Gullards like the flexibility of the homeschooling schedule. The kids' shorter school days at home allow the family more time to accomplish chores around their hobby farm without the days getting too long. Melissa also loves the extra one-on-one time with her daughters.
"It's been a roller coaster," she said. "We have our ups and downs, like any family that homeschools, but I love it... It's been a fun adventure."
'It's not like it was back in the '80s'
"There are so many curricular options out there, from online to videos to parent-directed or student self-taught, that most people can do it," said Kendra Mohn of homeschooling. "There are so many options. It's not like it was back in the '80s. It's different now."
"When my brother started (homeschooling) in the early '90s, it was still pretty weird back then to do that," said Bill Mohn. "There weren't a lot of resources. Now, there's so much out there."
The Mohns admit they have an advantage because of their teaching backgrounds, but they're quick to add that anybody can homeschool, whether they've ever taught or not. Melissa Gullard is a good example of that.
"I really didn't know where to start," she said of her initial experience. "I was never an 'A' student, and I had a lot of doubts about myself" as a teacher.
Melissa started with some online research about homeschooling, and then visited the Detroit Lakes Public Schools district office to obtain the necessary forms to fill out. She came across a number of resources along the way, and just dove in and made it happen.
"I figured out that I could get through it, and it's been going great ever since," she said. "I think it's the best decision I've ever made."
"I have honestly learned more in the last years of teaching my kids than I probably learned in all my years of school myself," she added. "It's been amazing. I can do algebra, and I was never able to do that before. I learn right alongside of them, and if we don't know something, I find someone who can help us."
Melissa gets support and makes connections through LACHE, and also through a Facebook page she co-administers for local homeschoolers, called Detroit Lakes MN Area Homeschoolers. The page has about 90 members, and she said that number that has been climbing in the last couple of years.
There's also another local group that recently got up and running, called Classical Conversations, Kendra said. This group helps direct curriculum and gets area homeschooling parents and kids together once a week to go over what they're learning.
Kendra's classical teaching style is inspired by the homeschooling guide, "The Well Trained Mind," but there are many different educational approaches that parents can choose to use, such as the student-directed "unschooling" approach, or the Charlotte Mason method, which takes a more holistic approach.
Some kids are homeschooled full-time, while others attend a class or two at a local school or take some courses online. Homeschooled kids are eligible to take part in any public school extracurricular activities they want to. Kendra said Minnesota "is really, really open" that way—not all states are.
Her kids, for example, have taken public school band in the past, and she knows plenty of others who compete in public school sports. She said homeschool families also tend to keep their kids busy with things like field trips, volunteering, dance, church and other activities.
Contrary to the old stereotype that homeschooled kids are isolated, Kendra said, "Most kids are really confident with their peers, and they're out and involved in life and community."
Homeschool students are required to take standardized tests, and their parents must report their intent to homeschool to their local school district every year. Otherwise, there aren't really a ton of hoops to jump through.
"Minnesota is rated kind of middle-of-the-road as far as how easy it is to homeschool and how many regulations there are," said Kendra.
Homeschooling does, however, involve a lot of work and commitment on the part of the parent or parents who take on their kids' instruction. Bill said there are good days and bad days, and some days he's tempted to just quit and start sending the kids off to school—a fleeting thought that will never actually be realized. Neither he or Kendra, nor Melissa, regret their decision to homeschool. They all recommend it to anyone who's interested.
"There are hard days, but is it worth it?," asked Bill. "Are my kids worth the headache and the trial? Is it worth it to give your kids some of those advantages? Absolutely. The benefits outweigh the sacrifices."
MACHE Homeschool Workshops
The LACHE group (Lakes Area Christian Home Educators), the local branch of the statewide MACHE association (Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators), is hosting workshops for people who are new to homeschooling or who have already been homeschooling and would like some guidance and direction.
The two workshops, "Firm Foundations" and "High School and Beyond," will offer information and encouragement to those who homeschool, or are seriously considering homeschooling, children in grades kindergarten through high school.
"Firm Foundations" will offer general information and advice about homeschooling. "High School and Beyond" is tailored to those homeschooling kids in middle or high school school. Both will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, June 16 at True Life Assembly of God in Detroit Lakes, at 18330 U.S. Highway 59. Sign up online at www.mache.org; registration is $35.
DL homeschooling by the numbers
Homeschooling numbers have been steady for at least the past decade in Detroit Lakes. Debbie Janzen, the multi-program district assistant for Detroit Lakes Public Schools, said there were 67 homeschooled children in the district as of the fall of 2017. (That number had risen to 79 by the end of the school year, but Janzen said numbers typically fluctuate by 5-10 kids every year.) There were also 67 homeschooled kids in the district 12 years ago, in the fall of 2005. In all the years in between, Janzen said, that number has tended "to keep between 55 and the low 70s." In the fall of 2008, for example, there were 68 homeschooled kids. In 2014, there were 71.