Homeschool mom and education expert Colleen Hroncich answers the five most frequently asked questions she gets from parents starting—or considering starting—homeschool.
I never wanted to homeschool – what should I do?!
It’s important to understand the current situation—trapped indoors with a pile of academic expectations and requirements—is not normal homeschooling. In my family, we’re usually involved in so many outside activities that we jokingly call it “never-at-home schooling.” But there’s certainly less disruption for us than for kids who are used to attending school.
The most important advice I can offer: relax. Your family will make it through alright. There are things your kids won’t learn at home, but there are also things they’ll learn at home that they wouldn’t have learned at school—maybe even practical life skills, like cooking, laundry, or balancing a checkbook. But this is also a great time to let your kids dive deep into a subject that interests them. Maybe they’ve always been fascinated by oceans, gardening, the stock market, or countries around the world—whatever their passion, this is a great time to unleash it. Your kids may emerge with new life goals when this is over.
So what is “normal” homeschooling?
Normal is different for each family—and often for each child.
I have friends who follow a typical school schedule at home—they purchase a formal curriculum that separates each child by age and breaks the day into “subjects” like schools do. They typically have breakfast and maybe do a few chores before settling into their schoolwork. Depending on a child’s age, official schoolwork is typically completed by lunchtime and afternoons are more flexible. One thing parents are often surprised by is how quickly you can move through academic subjects at home, compared to a classroom. This makes sense because your efforts aren’t divided among 20 kids, some of whom don’t want to cooperate. (Not that kids will always cooperate at home, but the incentive of free time when “school” is done is pretty effective.)
We tend towards a more flexible approach—largely because I’m easily distracted and struggle to stick with strict schedules. But, after eight years of homeschooling and studying many different methods, I think there are many benefits to flexibility. My kids were forced to become independent, self-motivated learners. This was particularly true when I started working from home a few years ago. My youngest was 11 at the time, so she was able to work independently. Many days, my younger kids and I will set up shop at the dining room table; they study while I work. I’m there to answer questions if they get stuck, and we still have the connection of being together rather than in our own spaces.
Most homeschoolers—including my kids—take a variety of outside classes. My older kids have taken advantage of dual enrollment classes at Grove City College. Our local Christian school offers classes for homeschoolers, which has been great. Several friends have taken classes at our local public school. There are also co-ops in many areas where parents work together to offer classes for each other’s children. Many of these classes are now meeting online, so you might want to search for resources in your area. Feel free to email me (cwh at commonwealthfoundation dot org) if you need help getting connected with a local homeschool group.
How do I keep all my kids on track when they’re in separate grades?
It’s tough, which is another reason I’ve gone with a flexible approach. When I first started homeschooling, my kids were six, eight, 10, and 11. Trying to keep each on a separate track didn’t work for me. Beyond that, I didn’t see a benefit to it. That approach was adopted for mass schooling 100 years ago. There’s really no need to replicate it in the home.
If your school is sending home mandatory work, you will need to stick to their structure. One way to keep on track is to have all kids work on the same subject at the same time. Older siblings can help younger siblings as needed—which is a great way to reinforce concepts for the older children. That frees up your time to help the older kids when they need it.
One approach homeschool families have mastered is co-ops—parents trade teaching duties based on their unique skills. While we can’t gather in person these days, some groups are continuing to meet online. If your school isn’t providing the support your child needs, you could get some other parents together and do something similar using Google Hangouts or Zoom. For example, one parent could help kids with math while another does science and another tackles language arts. By sharing the load, you can free up time for all of you.
Be sure to break up the day and give the kids time to relax and play. Free play is a great way to learn creativity, independence, and cooperation. Plus, it gives parents a much-needed break.
What resources are available?
When it comes to online resources, there’s never been a better time to be a homeschooler! In a wonderful spirit of “we’re in this together,” businesses and non-profits have opened a treasure trove of online resources for free: free audiobooks from Audible, free access to Mystery Science, The Show Must Go Online features actors “performing” Shakespeare over Zoom, and many more options. Other resources—like Khan Academy—have always been available for free. Both the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation have also compiled lists of online learning resources.
What if I want to switch to “real” homeschooling?
There are tremendous benefits to homeschooling, but there are also challenges. Given the unusual circumstances we’re living through, I encourage people not to judge homeschooling based on your current experience. Once we get past this phase, hectic lives spent running around to various activities—whether homeschooling or through schools—are likely to resume. What seems doable with our newfound downtime may not seem so rosy down the road.
Having said that, if you find you enjoy having your children home with you and working together toward educational goals, this might be a good time to consider making the switch. Typically, homeschoolers in Pennsylvania are required to document 180 days of attendance, compile a portfolio of schoolwork, and be approved by an evaluator. Those requirements have been waived during the COVID-19 situation.
Registering as a homeschooler would allow parents to direct their children’s education during this at-home phase, rather than following the piecemeal approach that has characterized many districts so far. The best resources I have found for guidance on homeschooling in Pennsylvania are AskPauline.com (one-stop shopping for all your “getting started” questions) and the Home School Legal Defense Association (for the nitty gritty legal issues).
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