Everyone from my high school classmates to celebrities is complaining about being sudden homeschoolers during the pandemic. While, yes, their children are doing all of their school work at home, that does not make them homeschoolers. The physical location of the child doing assignments does not change who is in charge of conducting the education. Parents overseeing distance learning during this pandemic may feel like they are doing all of the teaching, but in reality, they are just doing a scaled-up version of the assistance they (should) normally provide during homework time on a normal school night.
Homeschooling parents make all of the decisions about their children’s education. The framework of required subjects, standardized tests, and oversight provided by the state, if any of this is required, has very little effect on the day-to-day education homeschoolers receive. Parents who have chosen to home educate decide what materials to use and topics to cover, what days and times instruction takes place, and whether to outsource instruction to online or face-to-face lessons provided by teachers other than the parent. Homeschooling parents also have the freedom to change any and all of those factors at any time if the need arises.
Pandemic-schoolers have none of those choices. The institutions where their children are enrolled dictate what work must be completed. If the classes moved online, the child may be required to sit in front of the computer at the same time that they sat in that teacher’s classroom. If it turns out a child cannot learn well from a screen, tough luck! Parents are taking to social media complaining how hard homeschooling is because they are just the substitute teacher trying to follow someone else’s plans day after day. They can’t change anything because their child is being graded on that mandated work.
Opting-in or opting-out
In many states, there is a notice of intent to homeschool. The parent has to notify the education authorities to inform them that a particular child will not attend public or private school. Even in states where the parent can merely not enroll their child in school when the kid reaches compulsory school age, that parent still made the decision to opt out of the usual school process.
Homeschooling parents do not make this decision at the drop of a hat. Some parents plan on homeschooling from the time the pregnancy test turns positive. Other families have to start considering homeschooling because of external pressure, such as health or academic concerns that the school fails to address properly. In either situation, parents spend weeks, monthsn, and years pondering the possibilities and implications of homeschooling.
Pandemic-schooling parents neither chose to homeschool nor chose for their children not to attend school. They also were given very short notice that their children’s education would be relocated to the family’s home. The schools just shut their doors one day and said to the parents, “Tag, you’re it!”, leaving teachers to figure out how to move their classes online and parents to scramble to piece together either child care or work-from-home arrangement in a matter of days.
Some families may use this strange time of working from home and schooling at home as an opportunity to explore how homeschooling could fit into their lives when schools reopen. However, it is important to remember that homeschooling involves many out-of-the-home and off-the-screen opportunities that are not available right now. It is exactly these experiences, like field trips and small-group classes, that makes homeschooling different from traditional school.
If you are considering homeschooling when schools reopen, you are going to have read your state laws to determine your responsibilities. Many states require periodic reviews of student work, standardized testing at certain grade levels, and specific subjects to be taught. Beyond those guide rails, however, the mundane task of what, when, how much, and how deep to teach your child falls on you.
You will also need to assess the financial implications of homeschooling. Maybe you have found that one or both parents can work from home and have time for educating the children. Great! However, remember that, more than likely, none of the online resources your child is using now will be available to you for free when you withdraw from the school. You will be footing the entire bill for curriculum, resources, real-world lessons, online classes, and materials. Some states have some reimbursement of those costs for homeschoolers, but most do not; and homeschoolers do not qualify for educator tax credits, either. If your child is receiving any kind of special education services (like speech pathology) at school, the school may not provide that to homeschoolers, either.
If you are busy complaining on social media about having to be with your kids all day every day, then you probably are not ready to tackle the challenges of homeschooling. In that case, please stop calling yourself a homeschooler!