When the pandemic arrived locally in March parents all across the area were thrown into the world of homeschooling — whether they were ready or not.
Now, even with schools once again offering on-site education, many parents are opting to keep their children at home. Some are doing remote instruction through the area school districts while others are exploring other opportunities.
That has turned parents who have homeschooled children for decades into valuable resources.
It is Erin York’s fifth year homeschooling her kids. She said when the pandemic hit, not much changed except fewer outings and group meetings.
“A lot of my friends that are new to homeschooling have sought my advice,” York said. “We’re really involved in a lot of networks, co-ops and different things. I point friends in the direction of resources.”
Juli Morrison started PowerhouseHomeschooling.com for the New Braunfels and surrounding areas more than 10 years ago. The online resource, a branch of Texas Powerhouse Homeschooling, helps families choose curriculum, time management and other information.
Morrison said many public school parents come to her with homeschooling questions.
She said following a public school’s curriculum is completely different to picking your own.
“If they’re given a curriculum from the school district, great, it’s like square peg round hole,” Morrison said. “These kids are not used to doing all this work online and parents are frustrated. And then there’s homeschool parents who are trying to help and are like ‘We don’t have that problem.”
For public school parents, the teacher is setting the homework deadline, the schedule and timeline of completion. This puts pressure on parents who are also juggling full-time work or other responsibilities.
“It’s kind of the worst case scenario,” Morrison said. “They have the worst of both situations, it’s all the downsides of homeschooling, struggling to do the social distancing thing, struggling to manage their schedules.”
Morrison said homeschooling without a district is doable, but it is not for everyone. For parents new to homeschooling, she suggests letting their kids choose which subjects they are interested in.
She also suggests letting them choose what style of learning they prefer.
“Some parents are going to find out their kids are different types of learners,” Morrison said. “Textbook learning is one way, there’s auditory, visual. And a lot of kids that struggle in traditional school do better with different types of curriculum that are focused on things in a different way.”
York echoes Morrison’s sentiments there are different teaching approaches that kids prefer. She suggests looking at various online resources and finding local homeschooling groups for support.
“Often their first question is ‘What curriculum should I use?’” York said. “Someone who starts homeschooling should think about educational philosophy, what they want school to look like and what values are important to them.”
This could include teaching in one session, having frequent breaks in between, using textbooks or interactive sites or emphasizing going outside and learning.
York and her kids will often go to the park, Das Rec or on a hike to learn about nature. She said not to stress with trying to get scheduling and planning perfect until you find a groove.
“There’s this unrealistic expectation of planning to work at home and keeping the house perfect all the time,” York said. “But everyone is just doing their best.”
Making the transition
Ali DuFrene is keeping her 7th grade daughter at the online school Connections Academy.
Last year she did remote learning through the New Braunfels Independent School District, but this year they switched to at-home learning.
“We were kind of weirded out at the idea of doing home school like everyone else was — with the constant change with what was expected and how to do it and everyone just trying to figure out what we were doing,” DuFrene said. “We don’t have to worry whether or not school will shut down or whether or not the kids get sent home.”
Connections Academy is a K-12 free online public school for learning at home. Since starting the program, DuFrene said her family is safer and her daughter has more free time.
“She doesn’t want to go back,” DuFrene said. “She’s happy, she has a shorter school day, a relaxed school day. She doesn’t worry about COVID. She doesn’t have exposure to that conversation at all.”
Her daughter starts the day around 8:15 a.m., eats breakfast, brushes her teeth and makes her bed. School starts around 9 a.m. and she gets to do different online lessons and complete traditional assignments that match her learning pace.
She finishes schoolwork around 2 p.m. This gives her time to go to the park, art classes, youth groups, a coding program and School of Rock lessons.
“If she has a doctor’s appointment or we want to go to the zoo because it’s a nice day, we’re still able to get caught up on our lessons and stay in our target range without having to take her out of school,” DuFrene said.
Outside of school her daughter is exposed to about five of the same kids, DuFrene said. She is safer and gets to choose who she wants to befriend, DuFrene said.
“For her, her biggest bonus in all this is she has to leave behind all negative things about traditional school,” DuFrene said. “She doesn’t have to worry about what she’s wearing or doing, does not have to worry if she’s popular.”