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Coulson children dispel stereotypes
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Chris and Mike Coulson, in center and back right, are shown with their children, from left; Riley, Sidney, Jackson, Parker and Max.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

Chris Coulson is well aware of a stereotype people hold about home-schooled children, that they are shy, sheltered kids who lack any and all social skills.

But as a mother who teaches her five children at home, Coulson says that couldn't be farther from the truth.

"You'd have to meet my kids" to see how poorly they fit that image, she said.

"If anything," she joked, "they could stand to be a little more shy and a little more reserved."�

Coulson said her children, who range in age from 5 to 14, have friends of all ages and get along well with others. And that is despite the fact that none of them has ever gone to public school.

That is one of the reasons Chris says she and her husband, Mike, who live in Fieldale, never have regretted the decision to educate their children at home. It's something they started talking about when their teenager was just a baby.

"(Mike) said, back in the day, "˜I really think we should home school,' and I said, "˜That sounds like a nice job for you,'" Chris recalled. "I'd never heard of it."�

That changed quickly, as she and Mike started researching the process. They went to home-school conventions and talked with other parents who teach their children at home.

By the time their oldest, MacKenzie - everybody calls her "Max" - was school age, the Coulsons had decided that Chris would teach the kids while he supported the family as owner of Coulson Services in Collinsville.

There were "a million reasons" the Coulsons wanted to teach their children at home, Chris said, from dissatisfaction with the role standardized testing plays in public schools to a desire to have more time together as a family.

If her children were keeping up the kind of busy schedules many kids follow, "they would never even know each other," Chris said.

That's not to say the Coulson children aren't busy. In addition to doing school work from 8:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m. five days a week, they are involved in several sports, including softball, competitive gymnastics and swimming, and they take part in activities with other home-schooled children through the Henry County Home Educators group.

Chris recently became a member of the board of Henry County Home Educators, which she said includes about 70 families in Henry County and Martinsville. When similar groups in Patrick and Franklin counties are counted, there are about 200 families involved, she added.

Members get their children together for fun activities, such as a day at the park or a skating party, and for educational field trips, such as excursions to Fairy Stone State Park.

When they are not involved with those kinds of activities, the Coulson children work on lessons Chris designs for them.

From her perspective, one of the best things about teaching her children at home is the flexibility it allows them in their studies.

"They don't have to keep going with the class" if they don't understand something "or wait for the class" if they do, she said. Instead, they work on a topic until they understand it; then they move on.

Coulson's children don't have to take state Standards of Learning tests, and she admits that there are questions on those exams her children probably couldn't answer. But she doesn't believe that means they aren't well educated.

"I want my kids to know how to learn," she said. If they know how to look things up and where to go for information, they will be prepared, she added.

Although Coulson, who graduated from Bassett High School and attended Old Dominion University and Patrick Henry Community College, enjoys teaching her children at home, she said the job has become more challenging as the children have gotten older. For that reason, Max is using a correspondence high school curriculum.

If Chris has trouble helping her kids with a subject - biology, for example - she says there are plenty of resources available.

"There are other parents in the group who can help; there are tutors out there," she said. Information also is available on the Internet, she added.

Teaching five children - Max, 14; Parker, 12; Riley, 11; Sidney, 9; and Jackson, 5; - isn't easy, Coulson admitted.

"I juggle all day long," she said. "I'm trying to teach one to read. I'm trying to teach these to spell. Everybody's doing everything."�

But with a supportive husband and a group of others to turn to, Coulson says home-schooling is worth the effort.

"I'm teaching my last one to read," she said. "That's very rewarding."�

For more information about Henry County Home Educators, visit


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