From ‘crisis-schooling’ to homeschooling
The pandemic exposed parents to the challenges and benefits of teaching at home, and some are sticking with it
Tracey Ardolino of Windham is among an increasing number of parents who are choosing to homeschool their children for the first time this fall.
When COVID-19 closed schools and education moved to remote instruction in the spring, it proved to be a challenge for her seventh-grader, Alex, who has an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Online instruction amplified some of the challenges he had in the classroom.
“It was crazy in the beginning. I had to reach out to his caseworker, and it was a struggle for everybody,” she said. “We had to take a break and regroup.”
The Ardolino family officially petitioned to homeschool Alex in early April. It suited his learning style so well they will continue in the fall.
The shift will benefit Alex but requires Tracey, who works two jobs, to adjust her schedule.
Tracey works as an esthetician at a salon during the day, and as a caregiver for a home care agency in the evening. Her husband typically returns home from work at 4 p.m. Tracey plans to rearrange her hours this fall to support Alex’s learning, and her husband will also pitch in.
Tracey joined the New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition (https://nhhomeschooling.org) and credits the group for supplying key information on homeschooling laws, support groups, and curricula.
She will customize her son’s education, which means going back a couple of grade levels in most subjects to review fundamental concepts.
She’s also reached out to her clients who teach special education for advice and is confident she’ll be able to adapt her son’s curriculum to make learning fun once again. (For more information on homeschooling children with special needs, go to https://granitestatehomeeducators.org)
“When the idea of homeschooling came up, I wondered, will I be educated enough to teach my son? Will I have time to do this? Because he won’t be socializing as much, will he lack socialization skills?” she said.
“Once I got into it and did the research, I realized homeschooling and crisis-schooling are different and that homeschooling is doable.”
To avoid another inconsistent school year, other families like the Ardolinos are choosing to keep their kids home and follow their own curricula.
Depending on where you live, your town’s academic schedule could look very different from those of neighboring towns.
In July, Gov. Chris Sununu unveiled the guidance document developed by the School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce (STRRT).
The 50-page document provided safety guidance — but ample flexibility -— for districts. It also gave local school boards the freedom to offer instruction in the classroom, remote learning, or a hybrid model that blends the two.
While districts must adhere to social distancing requirements, there is no statewide state mask mandate, although districts such as Portsmouth, Rochester, and Nashua are requiring them.
To meet social distancing requirements, some districts are offering half-day schedules and others are holding in-person classes for student cohorts just two days a week, supplemented by three days of remote learning. In many districts, students can choose a fully remote option.
Parents fall into several camps. Some feel these schedules don’t meet the needs of working parents, while others are fearful of exposing their children to coronavirus. Still others aren’t sure how effective hybrid models might be, particularly for younger children or children with disabilities.
As a result, parents like Ardolino are giving the homeschooling model a try.
Interest up in homeschooling
Based on social media activity, it appears that an increasingly number of parents throughout the state will try homeschooling for the first time this fall, said Michelle Levell, a member of the leadership team of the Granite State Home Educators organization.
The organization, which has 2,700 members, is run by volunteers, and was created to support and empower parents who wish to direct their children’s education through homeschooling.
When the governor closed public schools in March, GSHE created the Facebook group, Unexpectedly Homeschooling, which fielded hundreds of questions from anxious parents juggling remote learning with work or other responsibilities for the first time.
The group has now swelled to more than 300 members.
This summer, parents’ questions have shifted to focus more on the rules and regulations of homeschooling, homeschool curricula, and how to approach homeschooling for the first time.
“The GSHE mission was to be a resource to families during COVID and remote learning. We recognized that it was very hard to be abruptly thrust into crisis schooling,” Levell said. “We wanted to be good neighbors.”
Levell emphasized that families guiding remote learning this spring were not really homeschooling, they were educating during a crisis, which is much different.
Many parents found that their school districts or teachers did not provide enough support in a remote learning setting. Others discovered that their children did not connect well to online learning, while others saw their children thrive using an online curriculum, she said.
“We had parents at the beginning give remote learning a try for a couple of weeks. For one reason or another it wasn’t a good fit,” Levell said. “They decided to drop it and move on to homeschooling, which is more empowering for parents and students.”
The pandemic and subsequent school closures gave many parents a taste of what it might be like to teach their children at home. To the surprise of some parents, the idea of being in charge of their child’s school day, and deciding what, when, and how children learn was appealing.
“It’s a different ball game when the district is imposing a curriculum on you, versus you making the key decisions,” Levell said. “That is what changes it — it empowers parents to be able to teach multiple kids in a household.”
Leaving the classroom to teach at home
Many parents are concerned that the virus could infect one of their children, or other children, and disrupt the school year.
Hilary Camire of Rochester will home school her three daughters this fall for the first time due to health concerns.
She plans on teaching three separate grade levels: kindergarten, Grade 3, and Grade 4. Her middle daughter’s health is the main reason they’ll be transitioning to homeschooling; however, the other benefits homeschooling promises — such as flexibility and the ability to incorporate experiential learning — have also factored into her decision.
Because one of Camire’s daughters has a metabolic disorder and is immunocompromised, exposure to the coronavirus would be especially risky for her. Even if Camire kept one daughter home, and the other two daughters attended school, the risk of exposure would still remain, she said.
Remote learning last spring proved to be less than effective for Camire’s oldest daughters, as well.
“Doing everything online was definitely a no for us. They just don’t thrive that way,” she said. “They’d rather be outside learning — or even if we just took our reading outside — it was a better situation for us.”
Camire, a former music teacher with 14 years of experience in the classroom, is looking to follow curricula that supports a nature-based homeschooling experience for all three girls.
She’s planning on using the Blossom & Root curriculum, which makes use of the outdoors to facilitate learning.
According to Blossom & Root, its third-grade lessons, for example, can be divided up into about two-and-a-half hours of focused time between parent and child, five days a week.
Lessons are 20 to 30 minutes long, and allow children to have plenty of independent exploration time outdoors.
“It’s more of a right-brained approach (to learning). My kids are artists, and this seemed to fit with us more — we’re out in the garden, picking berries. Using those interests to help them learn while they are playing is a better approach,” she said.
Although she had planned on going back to the classroom this fall after taking a hiatus from teaching to care for her children, Camire said she had often contemplated the idea of homeschooling her daughters before the pandemic.
Still, she’s been happy with the experience her children have had at the Chamberlain School in Rochester, and said it was a very hard decision to pull them out.
“We feel that there aren’t any answers right now. Even my daughter’s specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital says that we just don’t know if it will affect her differently, and we don’t know if she’d have a harder time recovering from it due to her health challenges,” she said.
Camire anticipates the biggest challenge will be keeping to a schedule. She also understands that teaching her own kids will be different than teaching other students.
The girls’ learning space is already set up in their home and includes a desk, books, a whiteboard and ample room to study music and piano. She hopes to take their learning outdoors as much as possible and spend less time doing desk work.
Camire has reached out to various homeschooling groups and cooperatives and is comfortable with the decision she’s made to keep her kids safe in a time of uncertainty.
“So many people out there have done this, and their kids are thriving. We don’t know what the interaction or disruption (in schools will be), she said.
“If someone tests positive, if they shut down school, the learning will get shut down, too. That’s not routine enough for us and more disruptive to their mental health.”
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks is a frequent contributor to ParentingNH.