If they’ve been asked once, they’ve been asked a thousand times: What about socialization?

“I just crack up,” says Lake Highlands mother and home-school teacher Yvonne Pauley. “You can socialize outside of school.”

Church, sports leagues and home-school support groups are just some of the places that offer her son and daughter socialization opportunities.

“Believe me, we get it.”

Neighborhood mother of six Becky Hendricks agrees. Her home-schooled children are involved with sports, church and volunteer work, among other activities.

“Socialization in school is often negative,” Hendricks says, “peer pressure and foul language or whatever.

“Even in kindergarten there’s peer pressure. I want my kids to be able to learn how to think on their own and stand on their own.”

Socialization may be the most-asked question, but it’s only one of many directed at those who decide to take their children’s education off the beaten path.

Among the others: Are parents qualified to teach their children? Do the children receive an adequate education? What about preparing for college?

And, ultimately: Why are you doing this?

MAKING IT LEGAL

The Richardson Independent School District doesn’t track the number of home-schoolers or attempt to regulate their curriculum or activities. Instead, the district follows a 1995 advisory issued by the state commissioner of education.

The advisory relies heavily on the findings of Leeper vs. Arlington ISD, a class-action case in which home-schools were declared private schools, thus making students in the home free from compulsory attendance requirements.

The advisory reads in part: “a written statement of assurance provided by the parents to the school district meets the requirements of Leeper vs. Arlington ISD and verifies compliance with compulsory attendance laws.

“The letter should assure that a curriculum consisting of books, workbooks or other written materials designed to meet the basic educational goal of reading, spelling, grammar, math and a course in good citizenship is being pursued in a bona fide manner.”

Also: “If the district has reasonable cause or some evidence to believe that the assurance given is not true, action on the part of the district in regard to further investigation may occur.”

Ted Moulton, RISD executive director of extended programs, says the district seldom finds the need to launch an investigation.

“We get calls, not often, where someone says: There’s a kid in our neighborhood not going to school.”

More often, the district receives questions from parents who want to home-school. Moulton says his office provides the resource material it has available regarding curriculum sources and TEA contacts.

“We ask that they please provide a letter stating their intent,” he says. “We keep it on file. We don’t do anything with it.”

Moulton says he believes a “pretty large number” of parents are home-schooling, but that assumption is based “just on living here a long time and knowing a lot of people,” not any official tracking by the district. In general, he sees more parents home-schooling children in younger grades, with students entering public or private schools in the 9th grade (when credits begin to count toward graduation).

The procedure to enroll a home-schooled student in a public school is the same as for students of non-accredited private schools: Students are tested for mastery of essential elements, then placed in courses and grades according to the results.

Personally, Moulton says he is glad to see students return to public schools.

“We do respect the choices parents make and try to work with them as much as we can,” he says. “We know people have the right to make the choice for private or home-school. But we hope they come back.

“I work for public schools and believe in public schools.”

Research indicates most families home-school for moral and academic reasons, believing the home environment will provide the best experience for their children in both spheres. And although it’s virtually impossible to determine how many families home-school in our neighborhood, much less throughout the country, their numbers seem to be increasing.

This month, officials with the U.S. Department of Education say they will complete a study on the number of home-schoolers nationwide; a representative says “as a growing phenomenon, we thought it is something we should track.”

MARCHING TO A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

Yvonne and Jeff Pauley are in the fifth year of home-schooling Cole, 14, and Erin, 12. The switch from private school to home-school came while the family lived in Houston.

“We felt it was God’s will for our family,” Yvonne says. “We had friends who had home-schooled for years and years.”

“To be real honest, I liked what they looked like. I liked the finished product.”

To prepare, Yvonne and Jeff attended a home-schooling conference. They discussed their options with friends who home-schooled. They looked into the idea’s educational structure and legal status. They considered curriculum options.

And then they took the plunge.

That first year was marked by tentativeness on Yvonne’s part.

“We were rigidly scheduled to start at a certain time and work until 4:30,” she says. “Later, I relaxed, and we all started to learn better.”

Through home-schooling, Yvonne says, Cole and Erin are able to learn in their own way. The pace-yourself nature of home-schooling has helped Erin, a slow and reluctant reader as a young child, grow into a dedicated reader. The family dedicates at least an hour and a half of reading time every day, she says.

“My children learn like the tortoise and the hare,” Yvonne says. “He learns at a breakneck speed and wants to get it thoroughly at the first opportunity.

“She’s not as interested in finishing quickly. But she really learns it when she gets there.”

As the children advance in their studies, the Pauleys lean on outside sources for support (as do many home-schooling parents). The Richardson Home School Association, the largest group of its kind in the Dallas area, provides co-op classes in higher math, history and a host of other subjects. Other support for parents also is available, including classes from a former National Teacher of the Year recipient who operates a lab for private science courses.

The Pauleys see themselves home-schooling through high school. Next step: acceptance into college.

“It’s wide open,” Yvonne says. “Lots of home-schoolers are in college.” Colleges recognize the “strong study skills” often found in home-schoolers, Yvonne says.

“They are very self-motivated.”

BROAD HORIZONS

When Lake Highlands resident Cynthia Conley originally founded a home-school support group for members of North Highlands Bible Church, seven families participated.

Four years later, 20 families are involved. Once again, socialization is a key consideration for home-schoolers.

“I started it because I wanted my kids to develop friendships with kids they go to church with,” Conley says.

Through the group, the youngsters participate in small classes, take part in field trips, perform at church and join in volunteer projects. Newcomers are given advice and a source for additional resources.

Conley says through home-schooling her three children, she is able to provide a “more classical education” with an emphasis on literature and a “broader historical perspective” than found in public schools.

“I chose to home-school because I wanted to be the one to teach our children our values,” she says, “to teach them to love to learn.

“My son is bright and inquisitive. In a classroom setting, that natural inquisitiveness would be squashed.

“I didn’t want that to happen.”

QUALITY TIME

For Paul and Kim Elmore of Lake Highlands, home-schooling began as a way to have more “quality family time.”

It has accomplished that – and more, says Kim Elmore, a former teacher in Lake Highlands schools.

“They make 100 on everything,” Elmore says, “because they do it until they get it right. With home-schooling, you are not doing a paper for a grade.

“You do it for a love of learning; to think. To go in a direction or subject you want to learn.”

Elmore enjoys leading her four children through real-life encounters based on their studies. For example: The children read about agriculture, then visit a dairy farm. Although initially she fell back on “this is the way we did it in school,” she moved to a less-formal approach as she and the children grew more comfortable.

“We take life experiences and apply to lessons,” she says. “Everything is a potential learning experience. A trip to the grocery store can be a math lesson.”

Elmore welcomes opportunities to encourage parents who are interested in home-schooling, but are afraid they lack the ability to do so effectively.

“People feel this stigma. Especially if they never went to college,” she says. “They think they can’t do it. I feel it’s a ministry to help people get involved in home-school.”

Elmore says “we feel the Lord has called us” to home-school. The choice is not, she knows, one-size-fits-all.

“Is home-schooling for everyone? No,” Elmore says.

“Should it be an option for everyone to consider? Yes.”

REALIZING POTENTIAL

Becky and Chuck Hendricks lived in the Dallas Independent School District area when they first began home-schooling. The couple have five sons and one daughter, a 17-year-old.

As parents, they weren’t pleased with the public schools available in the area; at that time, they felt private school was too expensive.

After hearing a radio show about home-schooling, Becky decided to explore it as an option.

Her background as a teacher gave her the feeling “I can do this” – especially for her then-elementary-school-age children. In time, she found herself learning more about each of the children’s learning styles.

For example, one son is “extremely tactile and manipulative.” In writing lessons, she had him spell out letters with grains of rice and shaving cream on bathroom mirrors. One is a gifted writer, so she looks for competitions and opportunities in that area. Another son performed best as a youth with a mixture of work and activity.

“When younger, he likely would have been labeled ADD in the schools,” she says. “He can stay focused on materials of interest for a long time. But he also needs to let off steam.

“If he had to sit in a desk all day, he would go crazy.”

Like other home-schoolers, Hendricks appreciates the flexibility. When her daughter struggled in math, they backtracked to an earlier syllabus to catch up before continuing the lessons.

“You can do it again until you get it under your belt and before you move on,” she says. “In school, you keep moving whether you get it then – or whether you ever get it.”

The children also take co-op classes through the Richardson Home School Association in topics such as speech and Algebra II. They have performed well on standardized tests administered through a neighborhood private school.

“The testing is for my benefit more than theirs,” Hendricks says. “I want to make sure they’re where they need to be.”

At home, Hendricks is there during lessons with answers and guidance. But, especially now that the children are older, much of their work is self-directed study rather than listening to school-like lectures.

The family believes the children can get more done in less time than could be done in school, where Hendricks says a teacher spends as much time keeping order as teaching.

Thanks to the flexibility of home-schooling, the family was able to pursue a ministry it otherwise would probably not have done, Hendricks says. Over a five-year period, the Hendricks acted as foster parents for infants through a Dallas social agency. Eventually, they adopted Michael at the age of 1.

“It’s not just me,” she says. “This is something we did together as a family.”

Like Elmore, Hendricks believes that “anyone can home-school.”

“You know your kids,” she says. “It’s not necessary at all to have that teaching background.”

The oldest of the Hendricks clan only has one more year of home-schooling remaining before entering college. Holly Hendricks is interested in attending a small Bible or Christian college, perhaps seeking a degree in elementary education in order to perform mission work overseas. She volunteers weekly as a tutor at Moss Haven Elementary and enjoys working with the children.

Holly says home-schooling has provided a good education.

“I like the flexibility. I can go at my own pace,” she says. “At the co-op, you have small classes, and the teachers are really good.”

Only once did she think about going into “regular” school, before the 9th grade. She calls that time “a phase,” driven by not much more than a desire “to do something different.”

In the end: “I’m really glad I did it,” Holly says. “I wouldn’t change it if I could go back.”