To the parents with young kids at home: I see you. I know you are doing your best. I know you have good intentions. I see some of you still pushing forward in these last weeks before summer break, hoping you’ll finally get into a groove. I see more of you giving up completely.
But what you must know, and must remember, is that what you are doing right now is NOT Homeschooling. Some are suggesting that it is unethical to even call it that. What you are doing right now is Crisis Learning. And it’s not working.
Let me explain. I was fortunate enough to pull my First Grader out of public school two weeks before schools closed due to the pandemic. I had Homeschooled her for Preschool when she was a toddler, and we had been debating returning to it. We were seeing how much she was not enjoying school and not being challenged. As a former Elementary School teacher, I understood the daily chaos and unrealistic demands placed upon young children, and I was sympathetic. I knew she was not really being allowed the time nor space to indulge in her true passions of Reading and Art, which are not appreciated in today’s rigid test-driven system. She had also been evaluated and identified as Gifted, and she frequently told us how easy and boring the lessons were. She is also a bit of an introvert, and the constant noise and energy of kids her age were making her stressed, and she was lashing out in tantrums at home.
We had already been part of the Homeschooling community for years, and we wanted to return to it. We were part of a great local Co-Op, whose parents organize all kinds of academic and social activities. We went to Storytime at the Library. We played at parks and playgrounds and rivers. I found a free educational curriculum online to follow. It included Christian-based lessons, but since we don’t follow an organized religion, we used only the activities for Numbers, Letters, Art, Music, and Movement. We did finger-painting and crafts and scavenger hunts. We had a blast.
So after a year-and-a-half of trying out public school, we were ready to go back to Homeschooling. But we thought we might just let her finish the school year since there were only a few months left. Then, we heard about Wuhan. Then Italy. And the cruise ships. We could see what was coming. Luckily, I had already researched the Homeschooling laws in my state of Georgia, and I knew I could easily and quickly file the Home Study Declaration of Intent form online. I filled it out and submitted it to the State Department of Education in about 10 minutes. I informed her school that she would have one more week to wrap up loose ends and say goodbye to friends. She was excited and I was ready.
Then the world collapsed. Suddenly, schools were closing buildings all over the country, and we watched the collective educational world scramble hastily to figure out “HOW? HOW WILL THE CHILDREN STILL RECEIVE EDUCATIONAL INSTRUCTION??"
I don’t blame the teachers. I don’t blame the administrators. Educators are some of the kindest, most caring souls on this planet. But instead of taking a moment to allow crisis mode to settle in, schools decided to jump directly into Online Learning. With almost no preparation, and extremely little experience on how to educate young children through Distance Learning, schools were now demanding that children log in to digital platforms, watch educational videos, complete assignments, work on projects, check in for attendance, participate in Zoom meetings, and upload work by set deadlines. It was like we were asking our 6-year-olds to sign up for an online MBA program.
This new format would be a challenge for any family, even in the best of times. But as we know, this is NOT the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic is something most of us have never even fathomed facing during our lifetimes, and we were not prepared to deal with the unique and frightening realities that have been thrown at us.
The privileged parents among us have found a way to work from home, but are now expected to somehow balance full-time work with full-time parenting and full-time schooling. Online learning platforms are complicated and unreliable. Zoom is currently being sued for its severe lack of security, with reports of hackers “zoombombing," or interrupting meetings with things like racial slurs and pornographic content. It has subsequently been banned at some schools.
Kids themselves are unfocused because now school is home and home is school. Many of them are missing their friends and the structure of their previous life, as their world of school, soccer, karate, piano, and swimming has now disappeared.
Many more families in low-income communities are facing even worse challenges. They don’t have reliable access to the Internet on a normal basis, much less for large portions of time to complete school tasks on a daily basis. Kids may not have any digital devices they can work on, or are forced to share devices among family members. There may also be language barriers that prohibit parents from understanding how to sign up and log-in to educational software.
Even worse, many kids are left unsupervised because parents have to continue to work low-paying jobs outside the home. And when parents are out working, older kids become caretakers of younger siblings at home. They are operating on survival mode, spending their days cooking and feeding and cleaning and changing diapers.
All of these issues complicate learning from home. But the worst part of all of this is that children — especially in low-income and minority communities — are now susceptible to emotional trauma brought about by this health crisis. They are watching their older parents and relatives being taken away in ambulances and not knowing if they will ever see them again. Adults in their lives have lost jobs, rent is due, bills are unable to be paid, and the mounting stresses around them are being absorbed by these children.
So, as you can see, this is a unique situation for all of us, with varying degrees of challenges and stresses and tragedies occurring within each family. Yet schools are continuing to force families to participate in this ill-prepared experiment of Online Education.
And that is why what you are doing is NOT Homeschooling. Homeschool parents are only accountable to the laws of our state, which in many cases are extremely lenient. We don’t have to complete specific projects, check in for daily attendance, saturate ourselves with screen time for online meetings, demand our kids do assigned tasks and homework and busywork, and somehow try to fit all this in between our own jobs and economic and health crises. We don’t have to add extra stress to our children’s lives by forcing them to do what their school is asking.
We learn on the days and times we want to learn. If one day we want to create a volcano as a Science Experiment, we can. Other days we create Lego cars and learn Geometry by figuring out the angles of our ramps. Sometimes the kids just read books and National Geographic Kids magazines. Most days they draw and dance and express themselves creatively.
Lately we’ve been having virtual playdates and dance parties with other local Homeschool friends. Many Homeschooling parents still have jobs, either inside or outside the home, and we fit educational instruction into time slots that work for us. In fact, experts recommend not spending more than about an hour or two on Homeschooling per day (depending on age), and it can be broken up into small times throughout the day. The point is that it is OUR choice. It is autonomous, and nobody (except the state law) is telling us what to do.
As schools start to wind down the school year and use the Summer to contemplate if and how they might open back up in the Fall (which is a dangerously unsafe idea in itself), there is a case to be made that many families would benefit from transitioning to real Homeschooling. Of course, no one knows how this pandemic will play out in the coming months, and every family’s situation is different. But if you are a family that can have at least one parent (or alternating parents) at home for the foreseeable future, you might be able to lighten your stress by cutting ties with your child’s school and transition to Homeschooling.
You can fit in Education whenever it works best for you. There are a million online curriculums and resources that you can use for free, or invest money in. There are endless social media groups to find support from other families in the same situation. There are free programs and apps that schools use, like Starfall and PBS Kids and Khan Academy Kids and Code.org that your kids can use at home to cover learning all the basic subjects. And if things change in the future, you can always jump right back into mainstream schooling again.
So, if you are ready to break up with your school district and become a REAL Homeschooling family, you only need to find out what the laws are in your state. The easiest way to do this is to go to your own state’s Department of Education website. Except for a few Northeastern states, the requirements around the country are very lenient and very manageable for most parents. And there are tons of online local and national support groups that are available to answer all your questions.
So, NO, you are not currently Homeschooling. But this might actually be the best time to start.