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BOSTON (Reuters) - Studying at Harvard, meeting for group French lessons, volunteering at a hospital and spending a day in the wilderness are just a glimpse into a typical day of home schooling, which looks dramatically different today from just a mere decade ago.
Once considered distinctly Christian, the movement is deepening its mainstream roots, experts say.
While a majority of home school parents still cite religion or values as a top reason for keeping their children out of public schools, home-school education has been increasingly appealing to a broader audience.
The ranks of home-schooled students swelled to more than 2 million last year, by some research estimates, compared with about 850,000 home schooled a decade ago.
"It's a mainstream option now for most Americans," said Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, which compiled the latest home school data.
Home-school families include varied religions, members across the political spectrum, a range of income brackets and parents with different levels of education, Ray said.
Home schooling is no longer "seen as fringe at all," he said.
Among the reasons for choosing home education cited by secular parents are strengthening family ties, providing more time for children's interests and developing individualized curricula -- reasons that resonate with religious families pursuing home education as well.
They too cite concern about public school environments, family ties and academic standards as reasons to home school, research shows.
Home school is more visible than it once was, with museums catering to home-school groups, home schoolers performing in concerts and local theaters and students earning college credits while still in their early teens.
Such accomplished students include Sophia Sayigh's son, now 21 and on his own playing in a band, teaching music classes and working to get a studio off the ground.
Classes that he took at Harvard Extension School while growing up in the Boston suburbs translated into college credits, and he graduated from Berklee College of Music in just two-and-a-half years, his mother said.
Neither Sayigh's son or daughter, 18 and pursuing a nursing degree, ever went to public school, a choice their mother said stemmed from anxiety she felt sending them into a world of grades, tests and stifling structure.
On a typical Wednesday in Pamela Victor's home classroom, her 14-year-old son works on structured academics while her 12-year-old daughter heads out to a wilderness program to learn to track animals, find edible plants and build a fire.
An extended family trip to Florida will let her daughter pursue her interest in marine biology, Victor said.
"Home schooling has had the benefit of making our family unit much stronger than what it ever would have been," she said.
The trend could grow exponentially, according to NHERI research that shows about three-quarters of a sample of home-educated students who are now adults raising their own children are opting to home school.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton