Homeschooling in Tulsa
Area families choose homeschooling for a variety of reasons-and mold options to fit their unique needs.
Heather Pfeifer finds home schooling rewarding because "It gives our family freedom to be together more and to choose what's right for each kid."
Laura Zurita gave up her Bridging the Gap scholarship at Tulsa Community College to become a teacher to her three children. “I have always wanted to be an early childhood education teacher. As our eldest son, Gabriel, was approaching the age of kindergarten, my husband and I felt that if I always wanted to teach, why not teach our kids,” Zurita said. “So, with our third child on the way, I resigned my scholarship so that someone else could receive those funds.”
Once Zurita made the commitment, she began researching everything she could find on home schooling. The family kitchen is now decorated with posters of the alphabet, sign language, number charts and colors.
Oklahoma law exempts students from compulsory school attendance when “other means of education are provided.” Parents must provide 180 days of instruction, but there are no notification, parent qualification, subject, bookkeeping or assessment requirements.
Zurita chose to home school to give her children individualized attention and flexibility.
“In the beginning, our routine was eat breakfast, make the beds, get dressed, and then dive into the daily lesson,” she said. “Lessons almost always ended just before lunchtime. This left time for lunch, play, and the much-needed nap or room time. The beauty of homeschooling is that it can conform to life changes.”
Now the children, ages 9, 7 and 4, have lessons beginning at 1:30 p.m., and they often work until dinnertime. “My husband reviews with them in the morning,” she said. “He also reviews Spanish with them.”
This year, Zurita is using EPIC Charter School, a virtual public charter school, with Gabriel and Elizabeth, age seven.
She soon found another reason to home-school: Gabriel is dyslexic.
“Looking back at his early schoolwork, the signs are so clear, but then hindsight is 20/20,” she said. “Our sweet Gabriel is a big thinker and has big dreams of being Oklahoma’s best architect. He is able to think outside the box in ways that most people don’t.”
But dyslexia can also bring daily challenges. Individualized education allows Zurita to “slow down, step back, and give precious one-on-one attention. I know this is a luxury that most teachers dream of, being able to give that needed attention and time to their students,” she said. “Being a home-school mom, that opportunity is there every day. It’s wonderful.” Gabriel also works with a special reading tutor once a week.
Doubling as a mom and teacher was not something Heather Pfeifer thought she’d ever do but has found it unexpectedly rewarding.
“I never thought I’d love it so much,” Pfeifer said. “It gives our family freedom to be together more and to choose what’s right for each kid.”
Home schooling also gives Pfeifer an opportunity to instill the same love of learning in her children that she has felt throughout her life. The Pfeifers prioritize each child’s unique learning style to help them better enjoy school. They also build in plenty of playtime.
“There’s a lot of wasted time in the shuffle of public school,” she said. “[I just want them to] take their time to exist and not rush and scramble.”
When the children were young, the Pfeifers emphasized reading and experiencing the natural world, but as their oldest son reached school age, they implemented Classical Conversations, a Christian homeschool program that provides curriculum and a classroom-like setting once a week for a few hours. The family converted a room in their home into a classroom with desks, tables, a computer and a whiteboard. A repurposed closet holds learning and reading materials.
Popular among home-school parents in the Tulsa area, Classical Conversations focuses on memorization of history, geography and other subjects when children are preschool age so they can easily assimilate that knowledge into lessons as they get older. Although there is a curriculum, parents can choose which subjects and topics they wish to emphasize.
“It gives our family freedom to be together more and to chose what’s right for each kid,” Pfeifer said.
She enjoys having the freedom to present lessons in ways that each child will best understand and to allow each child to progress independently of regular classroom expectations. When her daughter grew distressed about reading in kindergarten, Pfeifer eased up, and her daughter was reading fluently within a few months. If concerns arise about their children being behind their public or private school peers, the Pfeifers remind themselves that one size does not fit all in education.
Spending most of her time with her children also allows Pfiefer to take advantage of everyday teachable moments to reinforce character and life skills, such as teaching them how to behave in public and how to work out issues and emotions.
“Everything is a learning opportunity; it changes your mindset,” Pfeifer said.
Critics of homeschooling often point to lack of socialization when children are isolated at home. Pfeifer says that most of the older children are involved with extracurricular activities such as piano and ballet and are involved with their church. Pfeifer feels that her children benefit from socializing with children of a variety of ages.
Pfeifer’s family has been happy with the decision to home-school. Their goal is to prepare their children for college and to teach them to be independent thinkers who can function well in the workforce.
Although she knows that home schooling isn’t the path for every family, Pfeifer feels that it has been the right one for hers. “Each family has to do what works for their family unit,” Pfeifer said. “I have nothing against public school, but this just fits my family and our lifestyle so much better.”
Another family that found the home schooling alternative to be a better fit is the Meade family from Owasso. When Emily Meade’s oldest son first started school, he attended both private and public schools before they realized that maybe these traditional settings weren’t the best for him. He often got in trouble for talking too much and having too much energy, and he would come home crying every day, Meade said. Because of the large class sizes, he didn’t always get the one-on-one attention that he needed and would often try to avoid classwork.
Although picking an alternative education route was never something she thought her family would do, they realized that they needed a change. “We love our public school, we have no problem with the public education; it just wasn’t working for my son.”
At first the Meades tried Classical Conversations, but with three younger children and her job, it was too overwhelming. After doing some research, Meade chose Owasso Prep, a Christian-based, university-model school. Meade said her son immediately loved it.
Owasso Prep allows for the best of both worlds, Meade said. It offers classes two to three days a week where teachers present new material while the parents receive the week’s lesson plan so they can review with their children at home. Children still get more time at home and with family but also receive one-on-one instruction from teachers in the small classes.
Finally receiving the attention he needed, Meade’s son has thrived and now makes straight A’s. Her second-oldest daughter, who used to struggle with reading, recently started attending Owasso Prep. Within a month of starting school, she became a fluent reader.
In the beginning, Meade was nervous to make the transition to homeschooling, but seeing her children succeed has made her more confident in their decision.
“I like getting to be their part-time teacher and stay at home now because the school is so structured,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to like [being at home] or not, but I have.”
Meade has been fortunate enough to work from home. Her husband, who often travels for work, also enjoys getting to see more of his kids when he is home.
“Integrating this into our lives has been very easy,” Meade said.
Her two children at Owasso Prep love it and don’t want to go back to public school, but Meade says that they plan on taking it one year at a time. They have a first-grade son with special needs who goes to public school because that’s where his needs are best met, and while they plan on having their youngest daughter attend Owasso Prep, things could always change.
Home schooling can look different for everyone and can evolve in a variety of ways. University of Oklahoma sophomore Aimee Lewis began her education as a home-schooler but has also attended public and private schools.
Her parents started home schooling her oldest sister because they felt that she was too advanced for the school system, and they wanted her to learn at her own pace, Lewis said. They ended up home schooling their other three children as well.
Lewis enjoyed home schooling because of the freedom to learn at her own pace and, since she always excelled at math, she never had to slow down and wait for anyone else. She could also get immediate assistance from her parents and didn’t have to contend with test-taking stress. Lewis notes that this freedom from academic pressure can be both an advantage and disadvantage.
“I think home schooling is a unique opportunity because you get really close with your family; [you] can go on vacations a lot easier, so I got to travel without getting behind in my schoolwork, and [you] can spend more time doing extra-curricular activities,” she said.
However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t drawbacks. She felt that she missed out on making friends her own age and on other social aspects that come with traditional schooling, like field trips. Although playing sports taught Lewis how to work in a group setting, she wishes that she’d had more opportunities to do group work in an academic setting.
Ultimately home schooling was a positive experience, and Lewis felt it prepared her fairly well for other forms of schooling.
Lewis spent her middle school years at Union Public School because her mother suffered from breast cancer and didn’t have time to home-school, and then switched to Metro Christian High School since her older siblings had gone there.
The transition from home school to public school was drastic, but she adapted well thanks to her outgoing personality, Lewis said.
“I went from homeschooling with my best friend to [having] 1,400 kids in my grade alone,” she said. “It was a bit scary until I got my routine down, but I loved it once I got used to it.”
Her advice to anyone who’s homeschooled but may be switching to traditional schooling? Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
“If you’re bold and embrace who you are, you won’t have to worry about ‘fitting in’ because you’ll find a group of people who appreciate you and where you come from,” Lewis said. “The worst thing you can do is conform to the people around you, because even if you do make friends, they won’t be genuine.”
The home-school experience can look different for everyone, and Oklahoma Baptist University senior Amy Lashar’s experience with home schooling helped her decide her career path: teaching.
As the youngest of five, Lashar’s family was well-versed in home schooling by the time she began her education since her older twin sisters blazed the trail years before. Her parents had started to see negative changes in their eldest daughters in their first few years at their public school, and since they believed that passing down their Christian values was important, they started home schooling the twins after third grade.
Her parents also saw homeschooling as a good way to academically challenge their children. Lashar appreciated having a curriculum tailored to her strengths and weaknesses, and the family used a variety of curricula such as Saxon, Exploring Creation with Dr. Wile, Sonlight Christian Homeschool and more.
“On my own, I was able to excel in certain subjects and take my time in others,” Lashar said. “If I was interested in something in particular, I could study it as deeply as I needed or wanted.”
In high school she briefly wanted to try public school but instead started Classical Conversations and enjoyed the opportunity to see a tutor and interact with other students.
When it was time to start thinking about college, Lashar was nervous about pursuing an education at a private university like OBU but found that she was even more prepared than her traditionally educated peers in certain ways. It was a completely new experience; however, since her previous schooling required so much self-motivation, she had little trouble adapting to her collegiate studies.
Choosing what career path she’d take was never a tough decision; Lashar has always been drawn to teaching thanks to the love of learning home schooling fostered in her.
“Home schooling allowed me to enjoy school all the way through until senior year of high school, where often kids are peer-pressured or bored into hating it by junior high,” she said.
Lashar wants to bring this passion to her future classrooms and to inspire her students to pursue knowledge for the sake of it, not just because they have to.
Having had the chance to challenge her academic strengths and work on her weaknesses, she understands how valuable it is to give students the time to do just that, even in a classroom of 25.
“Every child is different, and they deserve the opportunity to be unique in their learning as well as their personalities,” she said.
Although her family’s home schooling experience was a positive one, Lashar notes that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. Since each child learns differently, she understands that being in a classroom every day may be a better option for some and that home schooling requires a hefty commitment from parents.
“There are a wide range of reasons home schooling can be a great option, but there are also many reasons for why it might not be,” Lashar said. “Overall, it greatly depends on the family situation and the child, but I definitely still see the value and benefit of home schooling.”
For more information about home schooling in Oklahoma, go to the Oklahoma State Department of Education's Home School page at sde.ok.gov/sde/home-school. The U.s. Department of Education reports that 3.4 percent of children, or 1.8 million, were home-schooled in 2012.