Extracurriculars, Meet the Home-Schooler

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

Have you thought about or started home schooling, but worried about socialization or meeting academic demands? What about fearing your child may miss out on specific activities that you remember fondly during your school years? Fortunately, the Gainesville area is blessed with a slew of resources to help families meet those needs. With numerous co-ops, and community providers holding classes designed for home-schoolers, the social issue is a non-issue for many home schooling families once they get plugged into the local homeschool community. Yet the need for additional extracurricular activities, or even academic classes, remains for many families. That’s where public schools come in.

Our family started off in public schools. Like all home-schoolers, our reasons for leaving were varied and unique to our family’s strengths and needs. Despite making the decision to withdraw our children from public schools, my husband and I have continued to value much of what the public schools have to offer. That’s why we chose to include a public school component in our home schooling. One of our children is currently on the robotics team at our zoned public school.

Florida law protects the rights of home schooling students to participate in student activities at their zoned school, with some requirements. Home-schoolers must be in compliance with Florida’s home schooling regulations, and demonstrate educational progress similar to the progress required of other students participating in the activity. Home-schoolers must also meet the same residency requirements, and standards of acceptance and behavior as other students.

The process in Alachua County is simple. After you register your children with the district as home-education students, by submitting a letter of intent to the district, you can contact the school administration at your zoned school. The administrators at each school are the best source of information about specific opportunities available at their school. Options may include academic classes, clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities open to all students.

Depending on the nature of the activity in which your child plans to participate, you may be asked to provide additional information such as grade reports, psychoeducational testing (if your child will be participating in special education or gifted programs), or medical records (e.g., results of physical or proof of immunization) for athletic programs.

Most home-schoolers do well when they enter the public school setting for the first time. The independent learning skills, and socialization skills developed interacting with a diverse group of people of all ages prepares them quite well. Despite that, some children may experience significant fear or anxiety about entering the public school setting. Believe it or not, there are just as many stereotypes about public school students as there are about home-schooled students.

Preparation is critical. Talk with your children about what the public school setting will really be like. Select clubs, teams and classes that they will enjoy. Take them with you to meet with administrators, teachers, and even to tour the school. Above all, listen to their concerns and take them seriously.

Public school activities including academic courses, clubs, and teams can be a highly rewarding component of home schooling. Signing up is relatively easy, but it does take some planning and preparation to ensure its success. As always, consider the unique needs and skills of your children and family. With that in mind, you’ll be able to find the best possible programs for your family.