Text by C. Scott Wyatt
omeschooling families choose to educate their children outside public and private schools for deeply personal reasons. Families should not feel guilty for making the homeschool choice, even as we’re being told that children need to be on campus.
Until this year, with the novel coronavirus pandemic, my wife and I would not have chosen homeschooling. Faced with “distance learning” yet again, we knew that our daughters would struggle.
The distance learning that our daughters’ teachers had to embrace in the spring, with little or no preparation, did not adhere to the best practices determined by research. Our girls watched YouTube videos and listened to audiobooks during distance learning. Realizing that the girls were forgetting basic knowledge and skills, I began supplementing their learning.
Research conducted at MIT suggests that learners of all ages pay close attention to audio and video content for less than six minutes. After that, attention wanes and retention decreases dramatically. It does not matter if the content was 10 minutes or 30 minutes, students recalled only the first six minutes of information well.
Our elementary school plans to deliver content via three hours of Zoom video conferencing daily. How much learning will take place?
When, or if, in-class instruction resumes, the school intends to require masks and social distancing. There will be no recess, no gym, no music and no eating in the cafeteria. I cannot imagine our youngest daughter keeping six feet from classmates and teachers.
Faced with poorly designed distance learning and a depressing on-campus experience, homeschooling was the best choice for our family.
I embrace online learning, done well. Most of the courses I have taught at universities have been “flipped” classes, hybrids or online entirely. A flipped class offers introductory materials online and then engages students in discussions during class. Students obtain foundational knowledge independently or in small groups. The instructor then facilitates the higher-level learning. Yet, university students still find the self-directed nature of online courses difficult.
Like most children, our daughters lack the maturity and self-discipline for even the best online education.
As foster-adopt parents, my wife and I know several homeschooling families. Most often, these families decided that traditional schools didn’t meet the special needs of their children. The needs might be physical, emotional or cognitive.
Homeschooling families rely on each other and have vibrant online communities. There are secular and religious home-schoolers, and their groups often work together. I found dozens of groups on Facebook and joined a few that included adoptive parents.
Websites popular with homeschoolers include The Homeschool Mom and the California Homeschool Network. These sites offer guides for parents considering homeschooling.
SecularHomeschool.com offers helpful reviews of curriculum and online discussion forums. I also enjoy visiting SecularHomeschooler.com for reviews of academic content. There are other non-religious homeschool websites. Some of those groups are openly “anti-religion” and not a good fit for our family.
To ensure that our family follows a schedule, we wanted to use a homeschool curriculum and planning website. Free or low-cost online homeschool supports include Easy Peasy All-in-One (allinonehomeschool.com) and Discovery K12 (discoveryk12.com). Easy Peasy is popular among Christian homeschoolers, while Discovery K12 adheres to national standards in core subjects. Student accounts on both systems are free.
Another free resource we’re using is K12Reader.com, which offers printable vocabulary lists and worksheets matching Common Core State Standards. Common Core Sheets is another site for free worksheets and guides, with a particularly good math selection. Both sites were created by parents who wanted materials for their own children. Don’t rely too much on “drill and kill” worksheets, but we know that they help students review basic skills.
Our daughters love Khan Academy and its apps. It’s the best free resource we’ve located for our girls. With the parent dashboard, we can track what lessons and activities the girls have tried. After watching a lesson, completing an activity or taking a short quiz, students earn points and badges. The rewards in Khan Academy don’t distract from the learning experience. Khan Academy’s focus on active learning and continuous assessment makes it superior to the various commercial platforms the girls used this spring.
We have subscribed to one game-style learning platform for the girls. Adventure Academy, from Age of Learning, the company behind ABCmouse.com for younger children. Although Adventure Academy relies too heavily on its game aspects to entertain children, we reward the girls with 20 to 30 minutes of online play time for excellent work on other lessons. We monitor the parent reports and check the girls as they explore Adventure Academy. The girls might spend the entire time dressing their characters and furnishing their virtual homes if we didn’t require completing lessons.
My wife and I won’t be perfect home-school teachers. We will be asking other parents lots of questions. We are fortunate enough to have this option.