Public schools are being cleared to open again in the fall, however, many parents are now wondering whether homeschooling their children may be the better option in light of the coronavirus pandemic and related regulations.
During COVID-19 lockdowns between April 18-21, a RealClear Opinion Research question with 626 respondents found 40.8 percent of families said they would be more likely to choose home or virtual schooling once stay-at-home orders lifted.
In a statement, John Schilling, president of the American Federation of Children, noted that parents have expressed increasingly favorable opinions of remote education and are losing faith in the public school system.
Phones at state homeschool organizations have been ringing off the hook with parents curious about how to get started.
Sherry McKown, a member of the board of directors at Arizona Families for Homeschool Education, told The Western Journal that the interest in homeschooling has exploded, as she and other board members have each been adding up to a dozen new people to their Facebook page every day.
McKown first started homeschooling her kids 23 years ago. Even though she had a bachelor’s degree in education, she still had reservations about homeschooling.
“I come from a family of teachers, namely public educators, that had many doubts about home education in general,” she said. “I wondered about my ability and the social aspect questions.”
But after homeschooling her oldest daughter during preschool, she fell in love with the process and kept making the decision to do so year after year. She loved helping each of her four children find their learning style, identify their strengths and become lifelong learners.
Stephen Howsley, Public Policy Analyst for The Texas Homeschool Coalition, said their websites have also experienced an uptick in traffic following COVID-19 lockdowns.
He told The Western Journal he understands why parents who are looking into homeschooling might be hesitant about starting the process, but said they should take comfort in knowing they are not alone.
“It’s okay to be nervous about something new. This is a big adjustment, so it’s totally fine if you’re nervous. But also, just be encouraged that hundreds of thousands of other parents have already done it as well,” he said.
AFHE and THSC are among the many homeschool organizations available nationwide to help parents considering homeschooling.
Here are three key steps they recommend for those looking into homeschooling their kids:
1. Know the laws
Both McKown and Howsley said the first and most important step to start homeschooling is for parents to research the homeschooling laws in their state.
Under Arizona Revised Statutes §15-802, homeschooling is defined as “a nonpublic school conducted primarily by the parent, guardian, or other person who has custody of the child or nonpublic instruction provided in the child’s home.”
According to Arizona law, children from age 6 to age 16 are required to get an education in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science.
Parents who wish to homeschool their children in the Grand Canyon State are required to fill out an Affidavit of Intent to Homeschool within 30 days of when the child officially begins homeschooling.
The affidavit must be notarized and sent to the county school superintendent along with proof of birth documents.
After parents complete the steps necessary to file the affidavit, they are free to get started on their homeschooling journey.
In Texas, parents are not required to fill out paperwork to begin homeschooling if their child has not previously been enrolled in public school.
If they have, parents can withdraw their children from public school by sending a letter or email to the school and to the leaders of a homeschool support group such as the Texas Homeschool Coalition.
The THSC encourages parents to start homeschooling immediately after withdrawal to avoid violating guidelines of cooperation in compliance with compulsory attendance laws. Should the public school request additional action, parents can send in a letter of assurance to meet such requirements.
Howsley told The Western Journal that parents should also avoid legal complications by signing their child’s diploma instead of letting homeschool groups sign it to dispel questions of legitimacy.
“Sometimes we’ll get homeschool groups that like to put their signature on the diploma,” he said. “But when it comes to universities and colleges, if they see that you were homeschooled but they see somebody else’s signature on that diploma, that could really hurt the child if they’re applying for something.”
He also cautioned parents against naming their homeschools, as sometimes the names will resemble those of organizations that sell diplomas illegally, which are called diploma mills. He recommends parents simply write “homeschool diploma” on the document instead.
Though the laws and requirements may seem complicated at first, organizations like AFHE and THSC offer simple resources to help parents complete necessary legal processes and can connect members with legal help should they run into regulatory issues.
2. Look for resources and curriculum
McKown told The Western Journal that it’s important for new homeschool parents to research what to teach their children and when they should teach it.
One of the best ways for parents to get started is to connect with the homeschooling organization of their state.
Howsley recommended parents go to HomeEducator.com, an affiliate website of THSC, where they can find a page that features links to the homeschool organization of each state.
THSC and AFHE each host annual homeschooling conventions, but both were canceled this year because of COVID-19. However, the pandemic has created a great demand and a rising supply of homeschooling materials online.
Howsely also noted a variety of free resources are available at coronaviruslearning.com, a website launched by THSC in March. AFHE now offers a number of free downloads from their live New Homeschooler Mini-Conference.
Since the sheer amount of resources available can become overwhelming, AFHE advises parents to evaluate their family’s specific circumstances and needs.
They will be able to narrow down their options tremendously by acquainting themselves with the required subjects of their state and their child’s specific learning style.
Connecting with experienced homeschool parents is also an invaluable practice, as they can share what has worked best for their family. Reading books on homeschooling will also help.
Once parents find the curriculum that suits their family best, they are well on their way to starting a successful homeschooling journey.
3. Find support systems
While being a homeschool parent might feel like a lone-ranger experience, it shouldn’t be done alone.
Homeschoolers can be seen as stereotypically anti-social, but in reality, homeschooling allows students the time to connect with others in ways they may not have had the opportunity to before.
There are endless activities and extracurriculars offered by the homeschool community that can enrich a homeschool student’s social skills and go beyond a regular classroom setting of teachers and peers.
AFHE has a list of support groups located in each of the state’s counties that can help homeschool students engage with school subjects and pursue their passions.
In Arizona, We Make History holds a number of historic reenactments and balls. Kids with a passion for theater can participate with organizations like Mozart Productions, which offers a Christian performing arts education to homeschoolers.
But McKown advises potential homeschool parents not to stretch themselves too thin: “When the parent gets burnt out, so will the child.”
She emphasized that being available to the kids takes priority. In order to avoid the fear of missing out, she suggests that parents choose activities that cater to their family’s homeschooling needs.
Parents should consider their mobility, finances and the age of the children when vetting their list of activities to make sure that they get the most out of the experience.
New homeschooling parents also need support from their community, as well-meaning family and friends might question their choice to teach their children at home.
McKown encourages families to know their vision and their mission for homeschooling and get “likeminded people in your corner.”
Not only will a mission and a vision help parents explain their choices to those unfamiliar with homeschooling, but it will also help the family stay on track in the long run — even if parents are just approaching homeschooling from a year-by-year basis.
McKown also told The Western Journal that it is normal for parents to be nervous when taking on a new adventure like homeschooling. However, the fear of the unknown should not stop them.
“You can do it!” she said. “The amount of information, support and resources are readily available to you to make the educational choice to homeschool.”
“The relationships that are built in your family through homeschooling are priceless. The memories you make are treasures!”
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