City family isn't alone in teaching kids at home

NASHUA – It was time for math, but Nathan was busy doodling dinosaurs.

“We’re not drawing dinosaurs right now, we’re doing math,” said Julie Holmansky, Nathan’s mother. Holmansky quickly got her son focused back on the schoolwork at hand.

Holmansky, 33, has made the decision to home school her two children, and on this particular day, she was trying to keep 5-year-old Nathan and 4-year-old Laura on track with their math work.

“That was a beautiful 8!” she exclaimed, after Nathan drew a crisp-looking numeral in his workbook.

Holmansky is hardly alone in making the decision to home school, as more and more parents New Hampshire are choosing to take on the responsibility of teaching themselves.

Even though the overall number of students in public schools in New Hampshire has declined since 2000, the number of home-school students has been increasing steadily over that time period.

In 2000, there were 3,153 home-school students in New Hampshire. Last year, that had grown to 4,039. Over that same time, the number of public school students has declined, from 208,000 to 200,000.

Holmansky said she and her husband made the decision to home school shortly after Laura was born. Nathan was adopted and has special needs.

Although many parents choose to home school their children for religious reasons, Holmansky said religion had nothing to do with their decision.

One of the primary reasons was because of the standardized testing requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind act.

“I’m not a huge believer in standardized testing,” she said. “I don’t think it’s right to put that much pressure on kids. It has nothing to do with the teachers.”

Holmansky said she has been able to find a nonreligious group for home-school parents that meets weekly on Fridays. It is through that group and other activities that her children are able to interact with other children.

Holmansky said one of the biggest misconceptions about home schooling is that children don’t have any kind of socialization.

“They’re making quite a few friends,” she said.

A typical day’s lessons takes anywhere from an hour to two hours, she said.

“Instead of 27 kids, it’s just two,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s probably the same amount of work. It just takes a lot less time.

Holmansky worked as a high school English teacher after college, which she said was an eye-opening experience. Even though she has experience in the classroom, she still questions herself.

“The most difficult part is the responsibility,” she said. “I am completely, totally responsible for their education.”

But Holmansky believes she can give Nathan the support he needs at home. If he were enrolled in a public school, “I could see him giving up on learning,” she said.

The family is taking it year to year to decide whether to continue home schooling.

It’s possible that once the children are ready for high school, they could take advantage of some of the virtual high school options that are available. The family spends $1,200 each year for the curriculum for their children.

Holmansky said she instructs her children three days a week and one day during the weekend, so her husband Alex can also take part.

Holmansky has also implemented a behavior system for her children.

Each child starts with six tokens every day, and loses one each time he or she misbehaves. The penalty for losing all your tokens is no TV that night. If they keep all six tokens, they get a piece of candy.

The children do writing, reading and math every day. Science, music and arts and crafts are also incorporated. The children also get out into classes in the community. Holmansky said her children take a weekly dance class and also take classes at the YMCA.

Holmansky said that every five or six lessons, she does a review to make sure her children are on pace.

On this day, the kitchen table was covered with different types of curriculum and textbooks. One box was labeled for Nathan and the other for Laura. One of the ways Holmansky has been teaching her children to identify letters is using a tool that forms letters out of beans.

“We’ve got to get S down,” Holmansky told her children, as they started their lesson.

Next, the children had a discussion about what kinds of people are community helpers.

“Who helps you if you get hurt?” Holmansky asked the children. “Where do you go?”

Both of the children said police and firefighters are community helpers.

“Can I have a break?” Nathan asked his mother.

“Can you have a break? We just started,” she replied, laughing.

After a few minutes, Nathan lost one of his tokens because he kept playing with his toys, after his mother had already told him to stop.

For math, the children practiced writing numbers and counting. They spent much of the time practicing writing the number 9. After looking over Nathan’s numbers, Holmansky challenged him to do better.

“Is this the best 9 you can do?” she asked.

Nathan gave a nod, indicating that he could do better. He went back to work on his numbers. At the end of the day’s lessons, the family moved over to the couch for the reading lesson for the day, where together they read the book “A Feast For Ten.”