Parents and children alike were excited about learning at Wednesday's curriculum fair for home-schoolers, sponsored by Interior Distance Education of Alaska.
As if they were on a trip to Toys "R" Us, students picked up educational toys and showed them to their parents with wide eyes.
"Kids in general are excited about their own learning when they have the opportunity to be a part of the choices," said Debbie Mackie, field representative for IDEA's Kenai Peninsula office and the organizer of this years' fair. "(The fair) gives them an opportunity to look at and get excited about things themselves with their parents. That makes learning so much easier when they have bought into the process."
More than 70 vendors packed the Soldotna Sports Center for the fair, which also offered workshops for parents.
Products featured by vendors ranged from curriculum books on spelling and math to pop bottle science and cookbooks.
"It's a huge educational opportunity for the parent to become better equipped to teach their child at home," Mackie said. "(The fair) gives parents an opportunity to ask questions of the vendors who make the product ... so that they can make informed decisions. It's a lot easier to look at something than to buy it out of a catalog."
Many hands-on products focused on environmental or green learning, including a "power house," an alternative energy model home that students can build, hydrogen powered cars and wind turbine building kits.
This was the 10th year for the event and, although it was sponsored by IDEA and free to their families, it was open to anyone who participates in a home-school program, either through the district or independently.
"We do it for the courtesy of our families but it's for all home-schoolers," said Tim Cline, IDEA's program director. "It's one of the most positive things we do."
Darrell Thompson, a vendor from World Book who is based our of Olympia, Wash., said that the home-school programs on the Kenai Peninsula are some of the best he's seen in the country.
"They do a great job down here in Soldotna. This is the best program in the country," he said. "The students are better prepared than I see in other programs, and that goes for all the area programs."
There are more than 1,500 home-schoolers on the Kenai Peninsula enrolled in IDEA or Connections or learning independently. Families enrolled as part of a school district receive an allotment of a base student allocation „ 80 percent of the allocation for students enrolled in area schools „ to fund their curriculum needs.
Mackie has been involved in home-schooling for 14 years „ her oldest daughter graduated last year „ and recognizes the benefits of the program.
"One of the advantages home-schoolers have is that they can find curriculum that meets their independent child's needs," she said.
"(IDEA is) an educational program that's here to go along side home-schoolers and support them."
Hannahlee Allers can be reached at email@example.com
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