'Tsunami' of parents interested in homeschooling amid COVID-19 pandemic

WATCH: Schools may be reopening this fall, but not all students will be heading back to class. A growing number of parents are preparing to keep the learning at home. Laurel Gregory has more on what to consider before making the leap to home education.

Homeschooling has never been on entrepreneur Sarah Renner’s radar, yet she’s taking it on this fall in order to educate her daughters free from distractions.

“We were going somewhere the other day and by the time we got there three masks had been broken, so I was like, ‘How exactly is this going to work for my six year old?'” Renner said.

“I don’t know if that’s really what I want for them — to be playing around with masks and spending a ton of time talking about how we need to be in a classroom now with these new measures.”

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Instead, Renner plans to hit the ground running by educating her daughters, ten-year-old Ava and six-year-old Claire, at home. She plans to devote one weekday to her work as a professional organizer and spend the rest of the time teaching her daughters’ Grades 1 and 5 curriculum. As a former teacher, Renner has an advantage preparing for home education.

“My thing is a huge focus on literacy – so reading, writing… And then just getting outside and really taking in community as much as we can, nature, and just making it fun.”

Some Canadian parents are choosing homeschooling over virtual learning or in-person classes and local associations are seeing the response. The Alberta Homeschooling Association (AHA) would typically see 100 new Facebook members in a typical August. This month the association is seeing 200 to 300 members join each day.

“We have a tsunami of parents joining our social media page and contacting us and asking for a lot of peer support on how to start, how to pick curriculum, what are the rules, all those things,” said Judy Arnall, AHA president.

Robert Kunzman, managing director of the International Center for Home Education Research, has spent the last 16 years studying homeschooling and says the common denominator in successful schooling is support.

“I do think that almost every successful homeschooling situation that I’ve observed has had parents who are somehow connected with other parents,” Kunzman said. “It may be online. It may be a local home school group but ways in which they can get both emotional support, curricular guidance and suggestions.”

Kunzman says it’s possible for parents to manage working from home and homeschooling however, in his experience, it is more challenging and works best with older children. The most successful case he followed involved a high school student who was able to manage a lot of independent online work with periodic check-ins with her mother throughout the day. He expects the uptick in interest in homeschooling will fade as parents see how much of a commitment it requires and that it is, in fact, much more demanding than guiding virtual learning.

“My sense is it may be a little bit like gym memberships in January. Everyone joins with the best of intentions – realizes that they don’t have the commitment to stick it out – and I think that there will be a lot of parents eager to avail themselves of institutional schools and public schools again.”

Arnall disagrees and says the Alberta Homeschooling Association has already found parents want to sustain home education after having a taste of it when schools shut down in March.

“Once parents realize it takes one tenth of the time school takes to give a better quality, personalized education – we are finding, actually, a lot of parents from COVID schooling in the Spring want to continue.”

Three weeks out from the school year, Renner has already transformed her bonus room into a casual classroom with desks, school supplies and a reading nook. She’s dreaming up projects and has mapped out the ground rules with her daughters.

“We kinda call them agreements between us. So we agree we are going to be kind. Okay, what does that look like? We agree we are going to be good listeners. What does that look like? How will you treat mom when mom is teaching you? All of these things, honestly, talk about them ahead of time and get them involved in what their responsibility is so they know and it’s like they are walking into a classroom then; they have taken ownership.”

She admits she doesn’t have it all figured out but is hopeful her skills as a teacher and organizer will make this a school year to remember, rather than one her girls would rather forget.

“How amazing that be to look back on this and say, ‘Actually, that was a really great year – that year that you guys were home for school.'”

 

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