Up Close: Home School Bands

Mike Lawson • Technology • October 21, 2005

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Home schooling is making a significant impact on education, with well over 1,000,000 American children engaged in formalized study at home.

This population of students has been representing an ever-growing segment of academia since the inception of home schooling in the late 1970s and can no longer be ignored. States with the largest home schooling populations are: California, Texas, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, Alabama, New York, South Carolina, Kansas, and Illinois. Whether public school music educators realize it or not, they can still have impact on home school education in several ways.

But, first things first: what is home schooling? Home schooling is a method of education in which the parents take sole responsibility, overseeing the entire education of their children in a personal, direct manner. As the name suggests, home schooling is characterized by a one-on-one tutorial method of education, using the parents as teachers/tutors and most often takes place within the homes of the students. It is one of many educational options outside of the public school sector and, while the parents choose to educate their children at home, this does not mean that all education is confined to the home. There are many opportunities and resources outside of the home that can enrich home schooling experience.

Why are so many families choosing home education? Probably because parents generally want more input and influence the cognitive aspects of their children’s education. Some of the most commonly cited reasons for choosing home schooling include:

  • A desire for the child to accomplish more, academically
  • The ability to individualize learning and methodology to
    meet the gifts or limitations of the student
  • Control over the selection of major curriculum components
  • The benefit of a low student-teacher ratio (usually 1:1)
  • The opportunity to offer practical, hands-on learning applications
    not always possible in traditional classroom settings
  • Religious considerations

Public school music educators can creatively tap into this system if local and state laws allow, but it requires commitment among all concerned. Educators are well aware of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation signed by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002 for more accountability, more freedom for states, and more choices for parents. Go to: www.ed.gov/nclb/landking.jhtml. This may have contributed to the increase of charter schools, in addition to home schooling, making general education a bit more complicated and diversified. The purpose of this article is to identify home schooling band opportunities and to avoid possible confusion that can arise with individual state laws which govern home schooling bands.

Don’t assume that all home schoolers are exclusively studying at home. Some can be classified as participating in “on-the- road schooling,” taking advantage of such resources as the local YMCA for physical education, co-ops for up to four classes in one day, band, trips to the library, and the like. Middle and high schoolers could also be participating in school bands where permissible, youth symphony or youth wind ensembles, or dedicated home school music programs.

Home Schooling Band Instruction: Challenges & Solutions

In many states, there are laws which make it difficult, or even impossible, for home schooling students to participate in any public school classes or extracurricular activities such as band or orchestra. Though home schooling parents are taxpayers, their children are, nonetheless, not allowed to take part.

For example, the Mississippi High School Activities Association states that students need to be enrolled full-time to participate in extracurricular activities. In Texas, sport coaches believe that students should not be allowed to come in and bump full-time students out of a position on a team. However, there are states that have passed laws making it easier for home schoolers to take part in sports, band, and other activities. States such as Oregon, where enrollment has been dropping steadily, offer incentives to home schoolers to enroll part-time in public school classes in order to help offset the decline. Already, 18 percent of the nation’s 1.1 million home-schooled students are enrolled at least part-time in public school, usually in specialty courses such as music, art, or science that are more difficult for parents to teach at home. Some school districts will even host evening meetings with dinners to encourage home schoolers to participate in some of their extracurricular programs, including new programs especially created for attracting such students. In Walla Walla, Washington, school officials have launched plans for a new learning center that they hope will attract at least 30 home-school students, to help cope with $200,000 in projected budget cuts next school year. In Fort Collins, Colorado, a school district started a program aimed at drawing home schooled youngsters into the system with two days a week of art, science, and music courses. In 2003, this system earned the district an extra $203,341 in state funding.

Nonetheless, there are no guarantees these strategies will work. Many homeschool parents are fiercely loyal to the lifestyle, and to the educational benefits they see for their children. Some prefer the freedoms it gives parents and their children from state and federal mandates that may inhibit instruction. Some home school parents oppose dual enrollment because they fear that laws which allow their children’s participation in public school activities could also lead to more state regulations of home schoolers. Others feel that state high school activity associations would require home schools to take the same academic achievement tests that public school have to take under the federal “No Child Left Behind” law.

Bob Jones University has an annual week-long HELP Conference for home schooling parents which attracts literally thousands from all over the country, and there are seminars which address music education. For families with children of varying ages, music provides a forum in which all can participate together. Most home school bands consist of beginners in grade 4 through 6 and up. The reason there are less high school home band programs is that many parents only home school through middle/junior high school and then send their children to public or, more often, private school for their continued education. In other words, because there are less high school home schoolers, these students could end up in your band.

MENC’s Position

The biggest reason there is no national association for home school bands is likely that most home schooling families enjoy their autonomy and do not want their names included on mailing lists, et cetera. Many who home school do so because they don’t want the state interfering in their schooling. As a result it’s hard to get names and other information about people who home school.

However, MENC, the National Association for Music Education, has begun the process of developing a consensus position on home schooling and music education. What makes their position difficult to define is that state laws vary significantly from each on how home schoolers can, or cannot, participate in public school music programs. For examples of documents developed by this process go MENC’s Web site at:www.menc.org/connect/surveys/position/positionpapers.html. Pending completion of this process, there may yet be some confusion in the field, as to what is the best approach that music educators should take toward issues raised by home schooled children in their area. Based on past MENC policies and activities, there are two key points that can guide music educators’ actions that were specially drafted for this article by Michael Blakeslee, MENC deputy executive director:

1. Music educators work within a framework of laws and regulations that is set by school boards, legislators, and other decision-makers at the state and local levels. Any decisions as to whether to include home-schooled students in ensembles, in particular performances, or other school activities must certainly be made in the context of those local laws and regulations.

2. MENC has a mission to “advance music education by encouraging the study and making of music by all.” The music educators around the national who make up MENC provide the direction and focus to that mission every day in their rehearsal rooms and classrooms. As part of that service to all students, all music educators should keep in mind that the spirit of our profession – and of education as a whole – has been for many years inclusive in nature. Therefore, where educators have flexibility in the interpretation of laws and regulations, they should base their interpretations on bringing the benefits of music education to as many students as practical.


Home schoolers sometimes have less experience with group learning experiences, and may not be used to taking instruction from “outsiders” and many are not used to a set timetable.

Basically, there are two primary frameworks for home schooling bands. They are:

  • Including home schoolers within the present instrumental music classes in the public school curriculum where states permit
  • Teaching after school in a private music studio setting in which band, recorder, string and jazz classes can be offered.

Obviously, the first alternative is the most effective use of the public school music program. The second option offers independent opportunities to provide instrumental instruction. Increasingly, public school teachers are not offered full-time positions and this could be viewed as welcome employment. But another consideration is that many times the teachers of home schooling bands are not instrumental music teachers, but rather, piano teachers. Thus, it is important to note that not all home schooling bands/orchestras are taught by certified instrumental teachers, which is another good reason to recruit public school educators.

Where are home school bands and orchestras taught? Currently instruction often takes place in church schools or churches. Home schooling music instruction can also be sponsored by music stores, which offer participants the advantage of being able to rent instruments and purchase music and accessories on-site. Nonetheless, most home schoolers are not in local school music programs and they really need outlets for music instruction beyond private lessons.

The earliest known home school music program was started in 1993 by Paul Case in St. Johns, Michigan. For more information, go tohttp://hsma.homeschoolmusic.net.

This program started out with 10 students and now, at the start of the 13th season, consists of four concert bands, four string orchestras, and two choirs. They were the first home school group to join the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (www.msboa.org) and participate in solo & ensemble contests and band & orchestra festivals.

Another early home schooling band was started in 1994 by Pecknel Music in Greenville, South Carolina and organized and taught by Tracy Leenam, a certified music teacher. For more information on this model program, go to: www.pecknelmusic.com.

Their band has performed for the South Carolina Home Educators Association state convention and plays annually at Haywood Mall during Christmas season. Both private and semi-private piano lessons are offered as well as classes in recorders, music theory, music appreciation, Kindermusik, and home school band & orchestra. From the music store’s perspective, reaching out to home schoolers and encouraging them to make music a part of their studies at all level increases the business’ customer base. More importantly, such systems help home schooling families fill a huge void in their curricula.

Pecknel Music even offers a free Home Schooling Curriculum Guide and assistance in choosing activities and materials appropriate for the families. If you are interested, don’t hesitate to contact Pecknel Music for a home schooling band program guide at: www.pecknelmusic.com/home_school.html.

In Abilene, Texas, a school music dealer was approached by the principal of a private school on behalf of a group of private and home school students wanting help starting a band. Are their home schoolers in your community? Most likely, the answer is yes and, perhaps, more students than you think.

Ted Brown Music in the state of Washington has been a family owned music store since 1931. Their main storefront is in Tacoma, Washington with three other outlets located in Silverdale, Yakima and Richland. They run home school band programs at two of their locations: Tacoma and Yakima. The band in Tacoma was already in existence when they moved to that location. They are a 501c and have their own board of directors. Ted Brown Music offered to house them for free for the opportunity to host a band parent night with the families. They agreed and made the move.

The board sets and collects tuition, pays the conductor, and gives her a budget for supplies. Over the last four years they have experienced some fluctuation in enrollment. They’ve had up to three separate groups: jazz band, intermediate band, and beginning band. Currently they are running an intermediate band and will be offering beginning band again in the fall. The students, elementary and middle school aged children, participate in a home school band festival held in the northwest and recently traveled to Silverwood, Idaho for a performance/vacation trip in July.

They found it hard to tap into the home school network because there’s no one resource on which to base contact. It is good to begin by attending a local home school conference, which was the approach Ted Brown Music took, but these are few and far between. However, once you have made good contact you can prove to your home school community that your efforts will bare fruit.

Whitney Grisaffi and other staff members tell us, “Home school band housed at our Yakima store was the first one. They set tuition, collect fees and pay the conductor. Their conductor also runs a summer band program for middle school students. This is a fun way to mix up the home school kids with their public school peers. Neither of their bands participate with any of the public school music programs. However, in Tacoma, the home school band has joined the New Horizons Band (primarily senior citizens) for a few fun rehearsals.”

Creating a Home School Program

A home school band program needs be guided and structured just like any good music program, especially in terms of curriculum. Home school music programs offer, even require, creative opportunities such as skill-based placement, practice requirements, and rehearsals structured to maximize the use of available rehearsal time.

A home school music program will need a coordinator and someone in charge of developing and administrating the program. The first step is gathering information about laws and regulations concerning home education in your state. The Home School Legal Defense Association can help you in this matter.

Establishing contact with home schooling families would be the next step. Your local newspaper is a good resource. Creating a newsletter distributed among various home schooling groups in your area is another strategy. Often, there are state-level home schooling conferences you can attend, and many local home school co-ops have their own open-houses or conferences. But the most effective way of reaching home schoolers is by word of mouth. Consider having an open house in your local church or music store. Clearly defining your home school music program will be important. Examining successful home school programs around the country is a good way to gather ideas and plan for success.

Consider the following programs for ideas about curriculum, scheduling and fees. They have all expanded beyond multi-level instrumental ensembles with recorder classes, jazz band, music theory, piano, string classes, orchestra and more.

Finally consider the McCarty Academy of Music, an outstanding program in the Austin, Texas area with middle and high school level bands. Activities include concerts, regional band tryouts contests and festivals. Their Web site is: www.cheact.org/homeschooling/extracurr.html.

Get A Good Start

As with most undertakings, pricing needs for home school music programs must be well thought out. Often home schoolers do not have extended financial resources since at least one parent doesn’t work full-time and the family often can’t afford private school as an alternative to public school education.

It may help to offer a “family rate” for your services as an educator. Many home school music programs offer discounts for multiple students, or cap the fees after three or four students from the same family. Home schooling has low attrition rates and these families will be very loyal customers if they perceive that your program is home school friendly. Publicity is key to connecting with support groups in your area and getting out notices for registration, as well as upcoming concerts. Be patient. It takes time to develop a program and expand your reputation throughout the community.

Practice is essential since these types of bands don’t meet on a daily basis. Since parents are paying for this instruction, they usually don’t tolerate wasting time and money, so students either practice regularly or they quit. A motivating practice option that you consider using is an electronic practice card system developed by Molto Music at: www.moltomusic.com. It really works well, is inexpensive to implement, and allows the teacher to view and print a composite report of all of the students’ practicing online. Or, consider partnering with a local music store to provide gift certificates to students who meet practice requirements. HSMA (http://hsma.homeschoolmusic.net) has a comprehensive practice awards program that incorporates these incentives.

Good fundamentals of musicianship are essential in every kind of ensemble. Sound production, intonation, and clean articulations, along with accurate reading must always be part of music instruction. Band method books are good starting points. Essential Elements 2000 and Standard of Excellence by Kjos Music are particularly well presented and feature useful audio recordings. The former also includes a free version of SmartMusic, a great software application by MakeMusic (www.smartmusic.com) for interactive practice as well as assessment that can make a big difference in motivating and structuring music practice.

Closing Comments

Many current and former public and private school teachers are already involved in home school music, and enjoy the flexibility that working with home school music groups affords.

Pat O’Donnell taught in the public schools in Michigan for a number of years before leaving teaching for the private sector. While away from teaching, he became involved in HSMA. Pat now enjoys working with home schooled students, and has taken some of the innovative ideas pioneered in the home school music realm to his new teaching position at a local private school.

Jim Butler was trained in music education, but left teaching in the public school system after a few years. Although he doesn’t currently teach in a public or private school, he found an outlet for his love of teaching in the home school community. Rather than having to deal with the various education regulations and other issues faced by standard school teachers, he is able to show up and run his rehearsal without these other considerations. He doesn’t have to worry about administrative issues; the home school music group in which he teaches is governed by a board of directors on which he sits.

The need for music instruction is very evident in a home schooling program. The readership of SBO could make a huge difference to the 250,000+ students who are already dual-enrolled in public school education, plus the 750,000+ students who are exclusively home enrolled. Statistically, it is projected that home schooling numbers will continue to rise from its humble beginnings over 25 years ago.

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr. is a technology columnist for School Band and Orchestra. Dr. Kuzmich is a nationally- known music educator with more than 30 years of teaching experience. He has certification from TI:ME (Technology Institute for Music Educators) to serve as a training instructor throughout the country. His academic background also includes a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, he has more than 250 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries. For more information, visit his Web site: www.kuzmich.com.

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