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Registrations for Homeschooling Are Soaring

The pandemic is revolutionizing how families think about education.

Pikist, Creative Commons, creator unknown
Source: Pikist, Creative Commons, creator unknown

A Gallup Poll published August 25 (2020) revealed that 10% of American families with children of school age are intending to homeschool their children this year. That’s a huge increase, up from 5% just one year ago. The poll was very clear not to confound homeschooling with online learning at home controlled by a public or private school. The question included the statement, “By ‘homeschool’ we mean not enrolled in a formal school but taught at home.”

The poll may even underestimate the number who will eventually opt for homeschooling this year. Many families say they are taking a “wait and see” approach. They’ll see what happens when schools open this fall (many are opening later than usual) and then opt for homeschooling if they don’t like what they see. Jim Mason, Vice President of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said that “the phones are ringing off the hook” as record numbers of people are inquiring about homeschooling. Likewise, the National Home School Association reported receiving 3400 requests for information in a single day this summer, in contrast to the typical 5 to 20 inquiries per day prior to the pandemic.

One reason for the rise in homeschooling, of course, has to do with the uncertainty of when and how public schools will reopen. In my home state, Massachusetts, we read every day of some new plan for reopening, in one school district or another, and of legitimate objections to whatever that plan might be. Will it be all distance learning, with teachers in control but the children home on computers? Or will students go to school, either every day or some days, with varying but always uncertain measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19? For many families, none of the options seem good, and uncertainty about which option schools will start with, and how long that option will last, makes it difficult for families to plan. Many see homeschooling as the better route at least in part because it allows them to settle on a definite plan, over which they have control.

One obvious advantage of homeschooling over remote learning through a public or private school is that it can be done on a schedule that suits the family rather than one dictated by the school. But an even bigger advantage, which many families will discover if they aren’t already aware of it, is that it can be done in a manner that suits the child’s interests and ways of learning. Educators everywhere talk about child-centered education, but actually doing it is not possible in a system where all children in the same grade are expected to learn the same things at the same time in the same way. With homeschooling, children can read books that interest them rather than books that are forced on them. They can engage with numbers and calculations in ways that tie into their particular interests rather than in the tedious ways that math is forced in school. As I have shown in many previous posts, and in my book Free to Learn, children learn far more when they are pursuing their own interests than when they are dutifully (or not so dutifully) doing what is dictated to them.

Many homeschoolers start off thinking they are going to do a typical school curriculum at home, but soon discover that everyone is happier, and the children learn much more, if the curriculum is molded to accord with the children’s interests. And, if formal courses are sought, there are lots of options online, many of them free. Parents don’t need to know everything that their kids will learn; they just need to know how to help the younger kids find it (the older ones are usually already good at that).

Many families starting homeschooling now see it as a temporary expedient, until the pandemic ends, but I predict that a good number will discover that they like homeschooling and won’t turn back. Others newly starting homeschooling already see it as most likely a long-term decision. The pandemic led them to realize how stressed their children were before the pandemic, because of the demands of school.

Let Grow’s survey of a cross-section of American families with children ages 8 to 13 revealed that, overall, children were less anxious during the pandemic-induced school closures this past spring than they had been before the pandemic (here and here). The study also revealed that many children, who previously had little time for self-directed activities, were discovering and pursuing hobbies from which they were learning a great deal; that children who had previously been sleep-deprived were now getting the sleep their growing bodies need; and that conflicts between children and parents actually went down. Parents found that they liked what they learned about their kids when their kids weren’t busy all the time with school and adult-directed after-school programs. A study in the UK, released August 24, using very different methods and focusing on 13- and 14-year-olds, also found that children were, overall, less anxious during the pandemic lockdown than they had been when school was in session. The pandemic introduced new sources of anxiety, but for most kids these were more than compensated for by release from much of their previous school-induced anxiety.

I have heard from some parents that the pandemic led them to realize that their children are happier, healthier, and learning more without school than with it, so their plans to homeschool have not so much to do with the dangers of COVID-19 or schools’ temporary adjustments to those dangers as with the harm that they now see that regular, “normal” schooling was inflicting on their children. As one parent considering homeschooling put it in an op-ed in The New York Times: “During quarantine, [my 15-year-old son] hasn’t just finished homework with ease—he’s dived into hobbies and subjects he’s actually interested in: mountain biking, cooking, and practicing archery at the local outdoor range. He even makes pizza crusts and sauces from scratch.” The same article quotes another mother as saying about her 13-year-old daughter: “She was thrilled to be in charge of her own schedule, to get the sleep she needed, and choose which friends to communicate with. She has been noticeably less anxious. Her acne has even cleared up.”

Perhaps one of the few upsides of this admittedly terrible pandemic is that its disruption of schooling has led many people to think more deeply about what school has become over recent decades and to realize that, for the sake of our kids, we need to bring common sense back to the way we handle schools and make schools more compatible with children’s human nature.


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