Mother of three home-schools her children
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Aug 14, 2013
In the United States, home-schooling has grown from nearly extinct in the 1970s to approximately 2 million school-age students, according to reports — as parents dissatisfied with the public school system turned to the appeal of schooling their children themselves at home. In The Bahamas the lure of home-schooling children has also taken hold.
As students prepare to return to the traditional classroom setting for the start of another school year, there are many parents who will not be sending their children to learn in that setting, opting to educate their children at home. While the statistics aren’t exactly known in The Bahamas, one mother who home-schools her three children, and is a member of the Bahamas Homeschool Association (BHA) says there are approximately 100 parents in the organization (but that she believes the number of parents could number 300) who actually home school their children.
Of Ursula Pratt’s three children only one, her eldest child, Caitlin, 14, has stepped foot in a traditional classroom — and that was for a very short stint while she was still a toddler. When she realized that what her daughter did on a daily basis she already knew, she pulled her daughter out and that was the last time any of her children stepped foot in a traditional classroom setting.
Caitlin was two-years-old, Pratt’s mother started pushing her to enroll Caitlin in school — her argument was that Caitlin needed to be around children. Pratt gave in. But when she saw no true benefits to her going to that school, she went online, ordered the A Beka curriculum and proceeded to teach her daughter herself.
Home-schooling was not something Pratt grew up with. She read about it during her sixth month of pregnancy. The concept resonated with her. She spoke to her husband, Glenroy Pratt, who was at university at the time about the idea of home-schooling their children. He agreed.
Since then, Caitlin, Dayna, 11 and Erin, 9 have all been home-schooled.
“At age four, [Caitlin] was reading fluently. She could pick up The Nassau Guardian and read it, so I said I must be doing something right. From then I just said let me try it from semester to semester,” she said.
Pratt, a registered nurse, said she can’t pinpoint exactly when she decided to say she would home-school her children permanently, but as the years went by she said she just knew she would be doing it. When her second and third children came along she said she knew they would not attend the traditional school.
“With Caitlin it was a huge learning experience … I was petrified of course, but the beauty of it is that I learned that no two children learn the same and I have had the blessing of being able to cater to their learning styles. And it shows that you cannot fit them all into a box, and expect them to learn all the same way.”
Pratt does not knock the educational system. She says she understands that some system has to be used and that while the system works for most children, she said it does not work for everyone.
“I’m blessed that I can use what works for each child. Caitlin is a child who can get a book and she can read it, look at the questions and answer them. I don’t have to do anything for her. Dayna and Erin, I sit and I go through their work with them.”
“When I first started I used A Beka with Caitlin and I figured oh I’d just use the same thing with Dayna and I remembered the first day I sat her down, and went over the alphabet, just the sounds, and by the time I got to E, she looked at me and was like ‘Are we done?’ And I was wondering what am I doing wrong? Let me read the instructor’s guide again, maybe something is wrong. But it was just not her style of learning.”
Pratt then turned to the “Sing, Spell, Read and Write” system to which Dayna could learn through singing, dancing and coloring. She said her second child sucked it up.
And while some parents who home-school their children set specific hours within which they work on a daily basis, including taking breaks when the traditional schools take breaks, home-schooling for the Pratt children does not follow this module. If they have appointments during a regular school day they go to those appointments then hit the books. And they take classes year-round. They do not do summer breaks. From this method Pratt says her children learn that life gets in the way, that they should deal with whatever it is, and do their work.
“I try to do the set schedule, but life happens,” she said. “There are times when I have had to completely stop and then pick it back up. But the advantage is I only have one student in each grade [Caitlin starts tenth grade, Dayna is at fifth grade and Erin is at fourth grade], and so a math lesson may take 10 minutes and not 40 minutes and we get through our work,” she said.
The Pratt children’s grade point averages are all between 3.90 and 4.00 according to their mother. She says this is simply because they do not move on until the children grasp a concept.
“I can’t say they got a C grade in anything, because they don’t get Cs. We stay with something until they get it and then we move on.”
Caitlin has sat four Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) examinations — Language, Health Science, General Science and Math. So far she has received three of the grades, one A and two B grades. They are awaiting her Math results.
While some parents homeschool their children in the early years and opt to enroll them in school later on to develop social skills with their peers, Pratt says she does not intend to enroll her children in traditional school, but that she could never say never.
“You never say never, because you never know what will happen in life, but that is not in our plans,” she said.
Pratt also ensures that her children engage in social activities. The girls are active in their church, participate in gymnastics and swimming and take guitar, piano and art lessons. They are also active members in Girl Guides.
“It’s important for parents to know that socialization is not necessarily being around children of the same age, doing the same thing and moving in the same direction. That is one of the biggest misconceptions of home-schooling. People have asked my children if they have friends — yes they have friends. People have asked my children if they do math — yes they do math. It’s not what people think it is, and I want them to have an open mind, give it an opportunity, and find out about it before making a judgment call,” she said.
Pratt did not disclose how much she spends annually to home-school her children, she thinks it’s high, seeing that they live in a single income home, while other people believe it’s incredibly low.
While Pratt may sing the virtues of home-schooling, it does have its cons. For Pratt, it’s ensuring that she gets all the resources for her children that are readily available to children in traditional schools.
“For me, the biggest con is I am also their guidance counselor, and so I have to find the resources that are available. If you put your child in a [traditional] school, the resources are made available right there. I have to do a lot of research, and sometimes I have to jump through hoops because there are people who are anti-home-schooling. There are educators who feel that I may feel that I can do a better job, when in fact it isn’t that, I just choose to do this. And I think that’s the biggest con for me.”
For those parents considering home-schooling their children, Pratt says the first thing they should do is do their research, as there are many resources with information that it would blow a person’s mind. Because of that she believes it’s important for them to speak with people who has home-schooled their own children.
“At the time I started, I had no one to contact, I just went by the grace of God and that’s why I really started with the A Beka — that’s all I knew of. And then I started looking at and trying other resources. But it’s so important that you reach someone who can guide you through it.”
This is where the BHA is important. The association offers support and information to those people who are considering home-schooling.
Pratt currently makes use of a curriculum called Sonlight, a literature based curriculum where most of the learning comes from reading.
Her eldest daughter also does online home-schooling. Last year Caitlin did an English course at an online academy where she actually sat in a class with 12 other students with a teacher.
Pratt who was schooled traditionally, says when she reflects on her life, she wishes she had been home-schooled when she considers the things her children have learned that she never knew until she was a student at The College of The Bahamas. She says the way the information is taught to her children is so interesting that she sometimes gets immersed in a subject and her children have to remind her that it’s their lesson.
“When I was in school I memorized to pass the exam,” she said. “These girls get up and pick up a book because they want to … because the book is so interesting.”
The Bahamas Homeschool Association has held an annual curriculum fair every year for the past eight years in June where people considering home-schooling have the opportunity to reach out to other people for information and support.
“We have had parents coming to us [BHA] when their kids are in eleventh grade … twelfth grade, when they had nudge that something was not right — that their Tom or Jane had not been learning and not been doing well. I’ve had parents say to me that they noticed it from third grade, but they don’t know what to do. Contact someone ... contact the Bahamas Homeschool Association, there’s no rule that says that you have to put your child in school in September, when you know quite well you shouldn’t.”
While she says home-schooling is a risk, the mother who has home-schooled her children for the past 13 years says it’s also a risk for parents to just allow their children to just flow through the system.
For parents who aren’t comfortable home-schooling their children themselves, and don’t want them in the traditional classroom setting, Pratt says there are options available to them as there are tutors or home school facilities available to them.
Of the many people offering home-schooling, Pratt says the BHA supports two because of their track record and because the individuals were home-schooled themselves. She also said parents should beware of people purporting to have home-school facilities which are just mini schools. The BHA can be contacted through Kingdom Life Church on Chesapeake Road, or emailing email@example.com.