As spring 2020 unfolded, many families in the United States were thrust into unfamiliar learning environments. The sudden, unexpected change occurred when state governments mandated a shutdown of all schools because a virus was spreading throughout the country. The situation led to a massive scramble where K-12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, tried to come up with online curricula that students could use from home. Many people were calling it “homeschooling.” However, a homeschooling lifestyle versus quarantined schooling, which is what this was, are two VERY different things.
If you were to survey millions of families in the United States who choose homeschooling as the primary means of education, you’d likely hear many, if not most of them, say that homeschooling is about more than academics; it’s a lifestyle. Suddenly having to bring your kids home while you’re doing work from home (because your office was also shut down) and trying to adapt to an influx of busy-work and emails that are inundating your computer each day is a crisis situation. It is not a homeschooling lifestyle.
Reasons for choosing a homeschooling lifestyle
No two families are exactly the same. Parents may choose to homeschool their children for any number of reasons. Many say they believe the increased family time helps them strengthen their bonds and build memories they will cherish for a lifetime. Homeschooling parents often cite the benefits of being able to handpick curriculum to customize each child’s learning experience to fit his or her needs, goals and learning style. Homeschooling is also known to be more similar to a real world experience. Families often have multiple generations interacting and working alongside each other. This is how it will be when the kids grow up and enter the workforce.
Some families homeschool because they want to incorporate the practice of their faith in the normal course of events of an average school day. More recently, many parents have brought their children home because they believe their kids are at risk in the outside school environment. This is understandable in light of mass school shootings and other problematic issues that have arisen in most states.
School districts and state governments are not controlling a homeschooling lifestyle
In a homeschooling lifestyle, parents are the primary educators of their children. Many families use online classes or boxed curriculum as part of their learning experience. In such cases, however, parents have chosen this for their families. It is the school districts and state governments who impose demands and restrict daily routines of families during quarantine schooling. I witnessed the emotional, financial and mental stress this caused for many of my friends whose children normally attend outside schools.
The situation unfortunately painted homeschooling in a poor light for many parents who are unfamiliar with the lifestyle. The only problem is that what they were doing is not at all like homeschooling.
There are indeed state laws and restrictions that govern homeschoolers (except in states like Texas where there are basically no regulations about it at all). Such laws, however, do not mandate what materials parents must use or what lessons they will teach, etc. Parents are free to design their children’s learning experience in conjunction with daily family life, social life, sports, etc., as they see fit. Most states require one or two yearly reviews where parents must show written evidence that progression of learning has taken place in accordance with state regulations. Quarantine schooling left parents little to no choice in designing or planning their children’s learning experience at home. Also, the typical homeschooling family often participates in cooperative learning where they gather on a regular basis with other families for elective course studies.
Not only were quarantined families who are used to an outside school system tossed into an unfamiliar daily environment, they were prohibited from gathering with others. The isolation took a toll on many households.
Why that is so significant
Homeschooling parents typically spend extensive time researching, discerning and planning their year-to-year learning experiences at home. They are free to create academic schedules that minimize stress alongside the rest of their daily life schedules. For instance, if a homeschooling parent works outside the home or from home, he or she can schedule formal learning time around the work schedule. Homeschooling families can also make sure their kids have lots of time to socialize or participate in extra curricular activities outside the home. Parents who were thrust into quarantine schooling did not have much say regarding what their kids would be doing or when they would be doing it. They were completely isolated and subject to their school district’s governance of the situation.
Most families homeschool to avoid busy work
Children benefit from formal learning experiences. However, they also greatly benefit from incidental or informal learning. In short, play time, down time and non-structured learning time is equally important when the goal is to help a child reach his or her full potential in life. One of the most frequent complaints I heard from parents in quarantine schooling is that much of the work their kids were doing was “busy work”. I listened as many parents said, “This is a waste of time. I could think of 100 things my kids could be doing that would be more educational and better for them.”
There were also many technical problems for families who were doing their best to succeed in a quarantine schooling atmosphere. Thousands of families had to to scramble to get tablets or computers in homes that do not have internet access. Instructors and parents struggled to keep up with emails, ZOOM meetings and other correspondence. There was a bandwidth problem as well, causing severe lags and much frustration for parents, teachers and students. Most teachers tried to be as creative, joyful and helpful as possible during this time, but they were stressed as well.
Don’t confuse homeschooling with quarantine schooling as you plan the coming year
Many parents are trying to determine what the best course of action might be for their families in the upcoming school year. Understandably, a lot of parents are worried about how face mask mandates, requirements for distancing, no outdoor play time or social time in the cafeteria and other issues might negatively affect their kids if they return to school.
These issues have some parents sitting on the fence trying to decide if they should homeschool. To those parents, I would say to be careful not to compare quarantine schooling with a homeschooling lifestyle. If you really want to learn more about homeschooling, do some research or speak to another parent who has experience. I’m about to begin my 19th year as a homeschooling mother and have successfully taught grades K-12 with six high school graduates so far, one of whom is currently on the dean’s list at a Catholic university.
I’ve shared this personal information to demonstrate that it IS possible to provide a strong academic foundation and thorough learning experience through homeschooling. I also want to help parents in need. If you have questions or want more information about homeschooling versus quarantine schooling, feel free to reach out to me for support!