Jennifer Sanchez said sending her kids to public school sometimes feels like shoving square pegs into round holes. She tried home schooling for a couple of years but eventually sent them back to public school.

Sanchez was one of hundreds of parents at the 28th annual Utah Home Education Association conference at the Salt Palace on Saturday to learn more about her options with home schooling.

"I have a child with disabilities. I came to look at specific methods of teaching for my child to see if it's something I could do on my own," said first-time attendee Nancy Grindstaff.

By a show of hands, almost half of the attendees to Saturday's keynote address were first-time or first-year home educators. That's the target audience for the conference, said Kaan Gregersen, chairman of the UHEA board. The group estimates there are nearly 50,000 home educators in Utah, but veterans know what works for them, he said, so the conference helps introduce new people to their options and networking opportunities.

Pamela Opp, event co-organizer, said the biggest question her group gets is, "How?" People are interested in home education but are overwhelmed by the prospect.

She said conference workshops allow experienced parents to share what has worked for them and how to overcome typical challenges. The conference also invites curriculum and supply vendors to promote different programs, like gardening and nutrition, to supplement teaching.

Teenagers Sarah and Isabella White said they don't miss anything through home school. They still attend band and orchestra rehearsals at their public schools and take dance through a private studio. They recently attended a prom for home-schooled teens attended by more than 50 children.

The biggest difference is that when they don't understand something they're learning, they don't have to just do their best and take the failing grade, they said. They can stick with the concept until they get it. They both also said they love the variety and choices they have through home learning.

"They're more well-rounded and have a better perspective," said their father, Joseph White. "You'll find the love of learning far and above in home-schooled kids, because they can choose to study what they're interested in."

The two keynote speakers, author David Albert in the adult session and Liahona Academy founder Brent DeGraff in the teen session, both emphasized the failings of the public school system.

Albert argued that public schools insist on teaching to the average student and so must create bell curves to determine who is in the middle, which labels other children as failing. Before society put children in a prisonlike setting, he said, educators nurtured individual children's talents and taught to their weaknesses.

DeGraff gave an animated history lesson in which he emphasized the importance of acknowledging God's intervention in the founding of the country.


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