Family Centered Learning

Developing a state-approved approach to homeschooling

One of the articles in The Way Of Learning (IC#6)
Originally published in Summer 1984 on page 51
Copyright (c)1984, 1997 by Context Institute

One of the most interesting outgrowths of the homeschooling movement is the program developed by Debra and Eric Stewart. Initially called the Stillaguamish Learning Exchange, their program blends homeschooling and assistance from trained teachers, and is now under study by the State of Washington as a possible major new option for education. In addition to administering their growing program, they also publish FAMILY-CENTERED LEARNING MAGAZINE, a homeschooling quarterly ($12/year or $1 for a sample copy). They can be reached at 26611 S.R. 530 NE, Arlington, WA 98223, or (206) 435- 5015

When we started Family-Centered Learning Alternatives (FCLA) some two and a half years ago, it was to allow us to associate with other homeschoolers. We wanted to create a means whereby homeschoolers could know each other, and share the highs, lows, and the "how do you cope with….?" questions that arise. We had no plans for anything but a local group that could share educational and social activities. Yet as time progressed and others found out about our "Learning Center," they wanted one, too. So we expanded to form one other center, and then another, and by now we have 30 + centers in Washington state, various others throughout the U.S., and new centers forming all the time.

What we’ve developed is a unique hybrid of homeschool and private school. We decided at the beginning to "go legal," so we set up a structure intended to comply with the state laws for private schools. Parents are considered to be "instructional aides" and are supervised by certified teachers through weekly visits to the Learning Center (usually the teacher’s home) for a consultation meeting of approximately two hours. The student learns at home with the help of the parent during the rest of the week. The parents are expected to provide learning materials and opportunities for the student, and keep records on the student’s activities. The teacher acts as a consultant, helping to set goals, locate resources, etc. The student, parent and teacher all work together to create, administer and verify a tailor fitted curriculum for each child.

The state requires twelve broad subjects to be addressed during the year. Since our school operates all year, there are four (three month) quarters with breaks at the end of each. Three subjects can be addressed thoroughly and efficiently each quarter. Some children need more challenge; however, families are cautioned against overloading. Once the subjects have been chosen, an activity/project within an area of interest for that subject is selected.

For example, let’s say the subjects we’ve agreed on are history, occupational education and art. Within history, we might choose the pioneer period of American expansion. Our text books might consist of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, our own family history, and perhaps one other general history book from the library. Each project must have a tangible result, something to show for the evaluation at the end of the quarter. So we may decide that while we are taking turns reading our texts aloud, we will work on a patchwork doll’s quilt or wall hanging.

During our quarter we must log an average of 4 hours a day of educational activities in our journal, but this is easy. The hour each day we spend with our history texts, as suggested above, also qualifies as reading, and the time spent figuring the pattern for the quilt, and cutting and fitting together the pieces, can be recorded as math (geometry). Most of the day’s activities are, in fact, in some way educational.

When a family is new to the program, the teacher uses the weekly meeting to help the family get started, but parents quickly become very efficient at the process of goal setting, daily records and evaluation. The weekly meetings can then become group sessions, field trips or fun social activities like speech contests, art exhibits or a spelling bee. There is also a monthly "parents only" in-service on subjects to help them be better instructors, such as multiple math approaches, left-right brain research, or biological readiness. Together, the program weaves a rich tapestry of learning experiences for every homeschooled child.

We have approximately 200 students currently enrolled. Families either join the Learning Center nearest them or, if there isn’t one nearby, we set up a new one (anywhere in the U.S.!). All it takes is a family that wants to homeschool and a willing teacher (contact us for details).

The State Board initially approved our program as a private school, but in 1983, due to changes in personnel, the State Board decided that we did not fit within the definition of a standard private school, yet we were in compliance with the law. This put us in limbo for awhile, but the Superintendent of Public Instruction came up with an experimental plan to provide a new category just for programs like ours. We submitted a program design to the State Board, and on December 9, 1983, we were approved as an experimental pilot program for 18 months. During that time, the state will do a – first in the nation – comprehensive study on homeschooling’s effectiveness. Assuming this study turns up positive results (and we have every reason to believe it will), it may set a new model that could be used by both public and private schools. We are determined that this will be a success story that will be cited in courts and dissertations, newspapers and books, and in the conversations of experts and ordinary people. Our goal is to totally mainstream the concept that the home is the seedbed for learning, and that parents can be the best teachers.

Back in 1974 we were teaching natural childbirth, and at that time husbands often had to handcuff themselves to their wives just to see their own children be born. Today we read an advertisement in our small town newspaper from the local community hospital telling of their "birthing room" and the orientation classes they give so that "siblings may observe the birth." How far that idea has come in just ten short years! We predict that homeschooling will follow a similar path and become as much an accepted choice as natural birthing practices are today. We see the one having grown out of the other. Parents who plan and prepare for the natural birth of their child, bonding with that child from the beginning, seem to find schooling that child a natural continuation of the lifestyle they have already chosen. They see life as being educational and education as being an ongoing part of life.

This is a very special time in history. It seems that there is greater freedom now than ever before, and it feels easier to make great strides. We’re optimistic!