For many people, homeschooling means socially clumsy kids being fed textbook materials by an over-possessive mother. But for Susannah and Taran Stucchio, homeschooling means field trips, loose schedules, and a lot of discovery. The two Mount Vernon, N.J., students have been homeschooled for most of the past 10 years. Before starting second grade, Susannah, now 16, was given the choice of being homeschooled or going to public school. Her older brother was having trouble in his public school classes, and her mom thought homeschooling would prevent the same problems from happening with her daughter. Susannah, a kayaker and rock climber, chose homeschooling and has never regretted it. Twice a week a tutor visits the Stucchios, and their mother fills in by teaching English and social studies. Susannah likes the freedom of her schedule. "I don't have to stick to someone else's schedule. I can make my own and have it fit around what I really want to do," she said. Taran, a kayaker as well, agreed. "I don't have to do everything at one time," the 11-year-old said. "I can spread it out. I also have the time, if I want, to stop the schoolwork that I'm doing, just take a bike ride or go for a walk." "It helps you learn to take responsibility for your own education without being dependent on some higher authority figure to do it for you," added
Susannah, who's not sure if she's going to college. Her brother is planning on studying botany when he gets older. "I'm really interested in plants," he said. "You can find so many ways to make them beautiful." Susannah and Taran, both brown belts in karate, do follow some guidelines. They file school records through a "home-based education plan" sent from Michigan. To graduate high school, Susannah needs 22 credits at 180 hours per credit. Besides having to keep track of credits, Susannah and Taran also take the California Achievement Test. Just like in public school, there are required classes like English, math, and science. They do physics and chemistry labs in a classroom-like setting. "But then there's nine electives, which you actually get to choose however you want," Susannah said. "I got three already in music, and I have two in kayaking." Unlike public school students, however, the two have nothing but good things to say about their education. "I love my teacher," said Susannah. "She's the coolest person." The freedom to choose exactly what they want to study is a big attraction to homeschoolers. They get hands-on experience instead of just learning out of a textbook. For a while, Susannah was involved in a program called Global Youth. "I got to see these things as opposed to just reading about them and hearing about them." For his social studies lessons, Taran often reads the paper as well as history books. The flexibility of classes may be one of the reasons the number of homeschoolers nationwide is increasing. According to CNN, 2% of all
students learn at home, a number that's growing every year. This summer, a homeschooled student won the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee Competition. Some people, however, still aren't used to the idea. Critics say that homeschooled kids lack socialization skills. But the Stucchios argue that they have lots of friends, including neighborhood kids and other homeschooled kids across the country. "When you're in school, you're not actually exposed to as many different people," said Susannah, "You're stuck with the same people in your age group all day. So you don't really get to go out and meet people."

Susannah has a few other criticisms of public schools. "They're all cracking down and saying, 'Oh, we need to get higher test scores.' All they want to do is lengthen the time in school and make you sit down more." Susannah added, "If you do the opposite thing and relax and let kids really just experience the classes and go to what they're interested in, I think that they'll succeed more."

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