A recent Saturday Night Live skit featured host John Krasinski playing dad to a pair of creepy, identically-dressed twins (think The Shining). A costar opposite Krasinski, concerned with the suspicious twins, delivered an aside: “Maybe they’re homeschooled.”
Over the decades, homeschooling has endured the ebb and flow from a liberal reform mission in the ‘70s to a more conservative evangelical crusade in the ‘80s. And it has endured being the butt of innumerous jokes. But, at its core, the historically misunderstood movement is simply a desire of parents to purport both the freedom for and control over their children’s education.
And now, with more and more families seriously considering the education volition, perhaps we should be wondering, on whom is the joke?
“There’s a flexibility and a liberty to taking charge of what we teach and when we teach it,” Dawn Shelton of Riner states. Shelton has homeschooled all four of her children since 2004. “We forget we’ve been teaching them since they were born, and then it’s just applying some letters and numbers and handwriting to it.”
Homeschooling gives parents the ability to develop a curriculum more suited for their child’s learning pace and interests. The personalized delivery is hyper-focused and hyper-tailored, so a typical school day takes place in a fraction of the time.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are four categories of homeschooling available for ages 5 to 18:
• home instruction option
• religious exemption
• with a certified tutor
• private school option.
Any family wishing to homeschool under the first category needs to file a notice with the local district’s superintendent each year by August 1 and provide an evaluation that proves each child has reached an adequate level of progress. The home educator does not need a bachelor’s degree or a teaching certificate, only a high school diploma or GED.
These days there is no shortage of information and online support material for the new homeschooler and, in fact, it’s possible there is too much. Start with a few broadscale thoughts before diving into the details. Spend some time centered on what your own learning philosophy is and pair that with your child’s learning style. Use this combination to steer your Internet research. Next consider operational execution: How much time per day can you devote to school? How much money do you want to spend? Are you more comfortable with hands-on, project-based lessons, or a more traditional delivery using textbooks and worksheets?
Thankfully, there is no singularly right way to homeschool. Most home educators employ several methodologies and a variety of materials to finesse what works best for each individual student. And if something’s not working? Change it.
“I choose what we’re going to do and if it’s not working, we make a change,” Shelton offers. It took three different chemistry curriculums before her second daughter started to understand the high school science.
Once unchartered territory for which few revolutionaries opted, homeschooling is now an increasingly popular alternative to public and even private school, at a time when traditional systems have become the unchartered territory.
According to the National Home Education Research Institute, around 3-4% of students were being homeschooled in the spring of 2019. Since the onset of COVID-19, the percentage jumped to 7-9% for the 2020-2021 academic year. EdChoice’s 2020 Schooling in America survey reported 23% of parents who were not homeschooling before the pandemic indicated they are now “very likely” to do so full- or part-time.
Parents continue to be forced to make tough choices, doing their best to shore up on years of information and legislation in a short amount of time. Kristi Canode’s 11-year-old daughter was overwhelmed with the sudden switch to online school and the sheer number of assignments in the spring of 2020. Anticipating a similar fall, the Shawsville mom started homeschooling over the summer to get ahead of the school year and has chosen to continue indefinitely.
“I decided to keep homeschooling to be able to pick what material I wanted to teach and how to teach it. I love that my daughter can tell me what she wants to learn more about, and we study that area more. We were able to go at a slower pace and not be in front of a computer for hours a day,” Canode states.
On the recent number of families becoming homeschoolers, Shelton comments: “I think it’s a double-edged sword. I’m excited for how many families are discovering all the joys and advantages of homeschooling. But if students start to leave mainline education in droves, we might see a bigger push toward more regulation.”
Regulation, while necessary to a degree, is the antithesis of the original homeschooling ideology. However, the Home Educators Association of Virginia (founded in 1983) works alongside the Department of Education to assure the best interests of homeschoolers are legislatively represented and access to updated information and resources is always a click away.
Shelton concludes: “More families would bring a sharpness, in a good way. The way you progress forward is to have different ideas come together.” Now, more than ever, we are a community anxious to do just that, move forward. But the path forward happens one day at time, one lesson at a time, one ‘a-ha!’ moment at a time. And for all educators alike, it’s those ‘a-ha’ moments that keep the light at the end of long, dark tunnel shining bright.
Nancy S. Moseley is a New River Valley writer who became a “pandemic homeschooler” after a painstaking, month-long decision process. She has no regrets and may even end up homeschooling a bit longer. It sure is nice to not *really* have to set an alarm every day.
of the New River Valley
Home Educators Association of Virginia
Text by Nancy S. Moseley