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School’s In - A growing number of retirees are homeschooling their grandchildren. But does it work?

By Laura Daily, November & December 2006
AARP Magazine

xRoger Minney figured he would spend retirement puttering around his house in Rustburg, Virginia. But when his daughter's family could no longer afford private school for grandkids Jordan, Justin, and Laura, the 69-year-old swapped his easy chair for a teacher's desk so the trio could avoid a crowded public school and move at their own pace through academe.

Roger's not alone. While most older Americans are grateful to be done with science projects and book reports, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 grandparents have stepped in to teach their grandchildren. With the number of homeschooled students growing 15 to 20 percent a year, more grandparents will likely join in. "Most parents need to work during the day," says Jean Halle, president of Maryland-based Calvert Education Services, a provider of homeschooling curricula. "It's practical for retirees to take on their grandkids' education."

For Laura Carter of Woodland, Washington, homeschooling three grandchildren, ages three to eight, is a family affair. Laura, 55, teaches reading, writing, geography, and botany; daughter-in-law Crystal handles history; and son Terry oversees math and science. She recalls the day kindergartner Leah had a reading breakthrough: "We were playing a phonics game. She sounded out a few words, giggled, and shouted, 'I can read!' For a grandma it's a dream come true."

In Kentucky, Alice Clark, 66, leaped at the chance to help her daughter, a working widow. "We wanted the flexibility to travel and visit family without pulling my grandson from class," she says. "My other daughter homeschooled her children; the oldest now attends Princeton, so I knew it could work."

Schooling from your living room isn't easy. Alice works with her grandson, 14, almost daily from 8:15 a.m. to as late as 7:30 p.m. Roger's grandkids spend 20 hours a week in a converted classroom above his garage. Another hurdle: grandparents' fear that they aren't "smart" enough to teach. "I hit a brick wall when I don't know the answer to a question," admits Alice. Programs such as Calvert's address these concerns by offering help lines where educators answer student and teacher questions.

But is it good for the kids? The National Education Association's official position is that homeschooling programs "cannot provide students with a comprehensive educational experience." But proponents note that home-educated students outperform public school peers by 15 to 30 percent on achievement tests. They add that homeschooling allows for a personalized curriculum and a safe environment.

Roger, Laura Carter, and Alice believe homeschooling brings them closer to their families and keeps the mind and spirit young. "Laura will graduate when I'm 81," Roger says. "Until then, I'm sticking around."



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