Aug. 20 -- When most kids are asked about school, scenes from school buses, rows of desks and the lunchroom spring to their minds. But not for 11-year-old Stephanie Simmens and her 9-year-old sister Molly.
Their homeroom is actually their home. And when it's time for science, their younger brothers Chris and Sean join them for class and the labs are held in their backyard. For the Simmens kids, it's just another hands-on class taught by their one-and-only teacher: their mom.
"This gives you an opportunity to take control of your child's education and you give them what you think they need and give them the best start that you can," said Melissa Simmens, who has been homeschooling her children for nearly a decade.
Education’s Hottest Trend
Simmens is part of one of the fastest-growing trends in education. According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education, the number of homeschoolers has risen from 360,000 in 1994 to 850,000 in 1999. Many experts put the figure closer to 2 million. In earlier years, most homeschooled children came from either ultrareligious or politically liberal families, but now all types of families are teaching at home.
Professor Pearl Kane of Columbia University's Teacher's College says homeschooling is teaching everyone a thing or two.
"The most important lesson we can learn from homeschooling is how important it is to involve parents in their own child's education," Kane said.
"It gets the entire family involved in the family's business," said homeschooling father John Simmens. "We're all there helping one another. And that's probably one of the best things that I like about homeschooling."
What’s Lunch Money?
And then there are the little conveniences.
"You don't have to pay for your lunch and you don't have to got to a locker to get certain things," Stephanie Simmens said.
John Simmens, who labels himself the principal of his kids' school, thinks their home school works better. And he's not alone.The No. 1 reason parents teach their kids at home? They claim the children get a better education at home. The next reason is religious convictions, followed by a desire to avoid bad schools.