By K.D. Michaels
With the beginning of the 2020-21 school year just around the corner, many families are looking forward to some sense of normalcy as they send their children back to school. But for others, it’s a different story. With the spread of Covid-19, parents are concerned for the well-being of their children, and that leaves many searching for an alternative to a traditional classroom setting.
When the pandemic caused an abbreviated school year this past spring, most schools offered some form of online learning for students to continue their education. For the upcoming school year, many of these schools will offer a choice between seated classes and virtual or online classes. These are both viable options for many people, but still others are considering a third option -- homeschooling -- where they can have more control over what, when, and how their children learn.
Homeschooling has been on the rise for several years. In 2019 over 2 million school aged children, or more than 3.4% of kindergarten through twelfth grade students across our nation, were schooled at home. While homeschooling does have some guidelines and regulations, including maintaining records for all children, and spending a specified amount of hours on the core subjects of reading, math, social studies, language arts and science, it does offer many benefits.
Mara Hughes, mother of 11, has educated her children at home since her oldest was of the age to start school. She currently has six school aged children, all of whom participate in homeschooling.
“There are so many benefits of homeschooling,” exclaimed Hughes. “One is family time. You really build family relationships and you’re building relationships between the kids. And, really knowing how your kids are doing with different things. There is obviously a lot more control of what they’re learning. And, you don’t have to worry about different political or social perspectives that may be pushed by someone at school, or about the language of some of the kids, or even bullying and other things that can happen at school. However, you have to prepare them to face those things, because they’re going to have to face them in life. But, it helps to be able to work on those things at home, and help build a foundation so they can have tools to deal with things like that.”
Three of Hughes’ children have already completed their homeschool studies, have successfully taken their high school equivalency exams, and are well on their way to pursuing their life goals. Hughes’ oldest son is the head of the sales and marketing department at the family’s theatre, while taking a full college course load. One daughter, recently married, is looking forward to beginning a career in early childhood education, and another daughter is using her homeschooling education and the skills she has acquired as she serves a mission through her church. Two more of Hughes’ children are currently preparing to take their high school equivalency tests soon.
Like everything, however, homeschooling does have some challenges.
‘For us, a big challenge is scheduling. Making sure you have a consistent schedule is difficult at times, because there are so many things going on in our family,” said Hughes, wife of Jason Hughes, who performs alongside her husband, children and a host of other family members in Branson’s popular Hughes Music Show. “Sometimes it’s a challenge keeping kids motivated and excited about doing it. One of the best ways to remedy that, I have found, is by letting them be as involved as possible in choosing the curriculum, and learning things they are excited about. Of course they have to work on things like reading and writing and math, but if you can find something that they are excited about or want to learn about, and use that for their classes they enjoy learning more.”
Another drawback to homeschooling, according to many people, is a lack of socialization. However Hughes and her family have found ways to rectify that concern.
Hughes explained, “ I think it’s really important for kids to interact with adults and with others their age. There are lots of homeschool groups, and people they can get together with. Also, we’ve had our kids involved in scouts, in church youth activities, or in different music programs where they do group lessons. You can find all kinds of positive activities for your kids, where they will be able to interact with other kids.”
Another local homeschooling mom, Diane B, echoes Hughes’ thoughts on socialization, “There are homeschool co-ops. Some meet once a week, and some once a month. That is a great resource for field trips. A huge part of socialization, for us, is friends and classes at church. Homeschooled children also do sports and music lessons to help with that.”
Like Hughes, Diane, who has two school-aged children, has also found both pros and cons to homeschooling. “It is a full-time job. So for those that have to work, it would be tougher to do both,” Diane explained. “A huge benefit to us is time. We don’t feel like we’re missing out on their lives. And, when they learn something new, and you are the one that taught or helped them with that, it’s a great experience. Another benefit is safety. I’m not worrying about a school shooting or any kind of sickness because they are home.”
With so many educational options available, there are many opinions on what really is the best option for the coming school year.
“It’s my daughter’s senior year,” said Rachel, mother of a teenager, along with younger school-aged children. “She can social distance and wear a mask. My younger two I’m keeping home for at least the first nine weeks. They can’t wear a mask all day. And, they know nothing about personal space!”
Another local parent, Mary, the mother of three, added, “I’m homeschooling only if masks are required. I can barely stand to wear my mask to the store, so I’m not going to expect them to wear them for eight hours a day while trying to learn.”
Letha, a local parent, had a different perspective. “I’m sending my daughter to school, but she has to wear a mask in the hallways and on the bus. My main reasoning is she thrives in school, and I definitely struggled in teaching her.”
And, Jessie, a single mom of three, agreed, saying, :”I’m sending my child back to school. I have other kids at home, and simply do not have the time and capability to teach her and give her the correct amount of time, while working.”
A mother of high-school students, Crystal Wolfe, had differing thoughts, explaining, “We will send the kids to school only if the school has mandatory masks, temp checks, social distancing and health safety for the kids at all times. Another option we are presently leaning toward is working with eight other families. The children would all attend online school at our home three days a week, so the kids have a healthy social circle to encourage each other. They would enroll in school, and miss three days a week when they take the online classes. Taking online classes still allows them to participate in all sports at the school, as though they were attending full-time. My children do NOT want to do online classes, but they understand our decision in regards to their health.”
Despite many differences in opinion regarding their children’s schooling -- and with more and more people leaning towards educating from home -- most parents can definitely agree that education is important, that each family faces different and unique circumstances, and that we are all very concerned for the health and welfare of our children.