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For daughter's education, there's no place like home

Kim Coley knew three years ago that she wanted to teach her daughter at home. She just had to convince her husband, Dennis. He had a big concern about socialization.

The Coleys applied to a fundamental school when Sarah was entering kindergarten. She was not admitted, so the Coleys agreed to home-school Sarah for kindergarten and vowed to apply to a fundamental school the next year.

But kindergarten went so well, the Coleys never bothered to reapply. Sarah, 7, is in second grade at home.

"Trust me, it works," said Dennis Coley. Sarah sometimes shares a class or a field trip with other home-schooled students. That kind of socialization, with children of varying ages, may better prepare her for the working world, he said.

Sarah also likes it. "You don't have a new teacher," she said.

Kim, 37, is the teacher; Dennis, 42, is the principal. And the janitor and the PTA, he joked. Sarah talks to him when she gets in trouble with her teacher.

The school day is about two or three hours long and starts at about 9 a.m. Because Kim is not waiting for an entire class to settle down or catch on to a concept, she can move quickly through the lessons.

The Coleys have a curriculum that is comparable to other schools. For example, Sarah does science experiments and practices Spanish. Last year, the family went on a weeklong camping trip _ not as a vacation, but as a learning experience.

And when Sarah studied about India, she played Indian games, ate Indian food, dressed in Indian clothes and learned to speak and write a few Hindi words.

The Coleys say they home-school all day every day. Whether Sarah watches ants, looks at the clouds or cleans up, she is always learning. Officially, they are home-schooling year-round this year, except for December.

"Academics are very important," said Kim Coley. But many students can be "common-sense poor," she said. So part of Sarah's lessons include playing with her 10-month-old sister, Laura, and searching for the best deals on bologna at the grocery store.

Because there is a lot of flexibility, home schooling is not for everyone. Parents have to be extremely disciplined to make sure their students are learning. It is tempting to take a day or two off from teaching and never get back on schedule.

The Coleys have had to make some other adjustments, including explaining to the neighbors that they are home-schooling Sarah. Some wonder why Sarah may be riding her bicycle when other students are in school.

The Coleys say that one of the benefits of home schooling is the cost. Generally, it is less expensive than private school or public school, costing an average of $546 a year for one child. Private schools charge between $2,000 and $6,000 a year. Public schools spend an average of $5,188 a year to educate one student.

"In one respect it is the most expensive," said Dennis Coley, because the family has to forfeit Kim Coley's income. That means going without some luxuries.