Although traditional homeschool has garnered a loyal following over the last few decades it is still not the mainstream. In 2019 only 3 percent of school aged children (ages 5-17) were homeschooled in the United States, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. As of April 2020, due to COVID-19, at least 70 percent of school aged children are being educated at home. But homeschooling has become a hot topic, possibly more polarizing than before. Some families are leaning into homeschool—stating that they are “loving this extra time with their family” or even saying they are re-thinking traditional school altogether.
Others are realizing maybe homeschool is off the table. “If I ever thought about homeschooling before, well … I’m not anymore,” Heather Zolton, mother of four, said with a laugh and smile. She’s the parent with the kids that wrote in Sharpie all over the living room wall. This might have swayed her opinion; but I have to say, I am right there with her. Sharpie wall art included, I’m not sure homeschool is for me.
I have to come clean on a personal truth. Over the years, I’ve held some preconceived, albeit ignorant thoughts about homeschool, pre- COVID-19. My beliefs were that homeschooler parents were weird, unsocialized, and didn’t leave the house. Well, judge not, my friends! Because I am definitely all three of those things now, thanks to new everyday phrases like “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” and “shelter in place.”
Of course, I could bore you with the perfect days … or the days that I am thoroughly enjoying my kids. There are definitely those days. But let us not forget, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and THIS. IS. HARD. And, as with most things in life, this is an easier transition for some than others.
Many people are suffering, and this will change us. But in regard to homeschool and how parents, teachers and school districts are rising up to protect our children, I’m thinking this period of time will reshape education and us for the better, but only history will confirm this.
In fact, according to the Atlanta History Center, historians all over the country are beginning to collect artifacts of COVID-19. School curriculum packets, signage, and homeschool crafts are at the top of the list of items historians are requesting. In other words, moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents and school districts, you are making history with your homeschool wins and failures. And, yes, those hysterical homeschool memes that are circulating on social media (you know, the one’s referring to homeschooling that say things like “Everything’s fine. The student was expelled, and the teacher was fired for drinking on the job.”) will be documented as well. I hope history makes us look good. One can only hope.
So, here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, which feels like a two-sided coin. We’re homeschooling our children, worried about our jobs, families and the world. But at the same time, we are cherishing precious moments, realizing that homeschooling is tough but reveling in the fact that we are all in this together. We are living in a paramount time in our history. Our collective response and practices to combat COVID-19 will be studied for decades, centuries even. There’s no one-size-fits-all for families or schools for that matter. Here’s a glimpse into the world of homeschool according to families who are living through it.
Where did my village go?
Never before has it been clear that our “village” is critical. And never again will we take it for granted. Social distancing, although important, has rocked the lives and livelihood of many parents who rely on their “village” of people to make life work. Katie Varin is a full-time working mother of two girls. Her husband Joey is with the 117th Engineer Brigade in the South Carolina National Guard. Her family is fairly used to multiple deployments. However, today, Varin is adjusting to working full-time from home and keeping up with homeschool, while her husband spends days and sometimes weeks away from the family.
“What differs from previous activations from hurricanes is that we can’t interact with friends and neighbors that we typically lean on so much during these times of separation, Varin said, speaking to the challenge many families are facing. For those who are finding the balance of home-life, work-life and homeschooling particularly challenging, you are not alone. In pre-COVID-19 times, a typical homeschool curriculum would involve field trips, group co-ops and play dates. Plus, as one parent pointed out, “I could have used a little more time to plan.” None of which were or are currently an option as a result of COVID-19. Homeschooling, at this point, is a lone endeavor for most and, from what I’ve experienced, teachers are doing an amazing job of supporting parents. But we’re all a little lost without our “village.”
From strong start to mere survival
“What is your new teacher’s name?” My girls respond with uncontrollable giggles, “Mrs. Quinn.” Then I ask in a stern but playful voice, “And what is the name of your new school?” My girls erupt into laughter and say, “Cool School.” This was day one of homeschool in my house. I took a shower that day—got up at 5 a.m., ready to take on my new homeschool duty, and I nailed it! I put my head down that night with a smile on my face. I was an awesome mom that day. That was four weeks ago.
I can humbly say the enthusiasm has waned; the assignments have gotten a little tougher; we are thriving some days and surviving others. But, one thing is certain during these times. No one is immune to the challenges.
“Homeschooling four children looks a tad bit like a circus,” Lauren Reilley said. I loved her honesty as she described one of her worst homeschool moments, sitting at the kitchen table with all four of her children sobbing. And, describing how her family had to “let go” of her original homeschool regimen to save sanity. Abandoning the “perfect” just seems like the next right thing to do.
Please know, for every perfect COVID-19 homeschool picture there is an equally authentic depiction of me hiding from my children, in my pantry, binge eating “panic” food.
The technology juggle
Thanks to technology, a five-year-old taking a video conference call is not out of the ordinary these days. Yes, the vision is as cute and silly as it sounds. The social component that video conferencing has allowed students is invaluable. “My favorite time of the day is when my boys see their teachers electronically. Whether that is through a morning video or a Zoom meeting. The looks on their faces are priceless,” Amber Bagnulo, mother of three and full-time high school math teacher said. Big tech companies such as Zoom, have become part of our everyday vernacular.
However, accessibility remains a challenge and contributes to stress for families. As Heather Zolton explained, “I have a fourth grader who has technology that came with her from school; I have a second grader who had no technology sent home; and I have a special needs child who has a school iPad, but he cannot use it independently.” The daily struggle for most parents is juggling the schedules of multiple children, jobs and general housework. At this stage, most families have adjusted their expectations and there are good days and bad. If a Zoom meeting works out, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too.
We cannot talk about technology without mentioning the hero teachers behind the scenes, many of whom are not only rising to the demands of teaching an online curriculum but also have the responsibility of teaching their own children. “It’s a daily learning experience that I don’t think I will ever get a grip of,” Bagnulo said. “The workload and teacher expectations are changing weekly due to the fact that teachers are still learning how to navigate this unknown situation,” she added in response to how this has affected her as a full-time teacher. This is just another example of everyone stepping up to the plate and doing their best in unknown territory.
These scenarios just scratch the surface of what homeschool during COVID-19 looks like. And they paint a picture as to why I believe this crisis should be looked at as one of humanity’s shiniest moments.
I believe you can look at this crisis in two ways: hopefully, this will never happen again, or maybe this will never happen again. The latter is how I choose to move through my day when I’m not hiding from my own children in the pantry. But, in all seriousness, maybe this will never happen again.
If that is the case, then we better suck all the good we can out of a this bad, scary, once-in-a-lifetime reset button. Parents have been able to literally see and feel what our hard-working teachers encounter daily; maybe we will cherish them more. We’ve been forced to abandon the “million” after-school activities and commitments; maybe our kids don’t need all of them. Maybe when we get to see our “village” again, we will be grateful and less judgmental. Maybe we will look back on this time and let out a big sigh of relief that we lived through it, laugh, cry and smile. Just maybe….