Virginia parents are increasingly interested in homeschooling due to a fear of COVID-19 and frustration over new public school models. Organizations ranging from the state-level Home Educators Association of Virginia to local Facebook groups are providing advice, resources and counseling.
HEAV has seen an 80 to 90 percent increase in phone calls, and expects to see a 40 to 60 percent increase in homeschooling families. Normally, HEAV only sees a 10 percent yearly increase in homeschooling families, according to HEAV director of government affairs Yvonne Bunn. She said homeschooling families are more prepared for learning at home.
“We already knew the sources, where to get curriculum, where to get help, we’re connected with other people already,” Bunn said.
Social media groups are also seeing an increased interest in homeschooling. Richmond-area Facebook group RVA Homeschoolers has gone from about 800 members to over 1,000 since March, with 100 new members just in the past month. Group co-administrator Katie Hornung said that before COVID-19 was an issue, she would have new members to add monthly. Now, Hornung is approving new members daily.
Many of these families are only planning to homeschool for a short time – from a semester to two years. Hornung thinks many of them will be homeschooling families longer than they expect.
“Honestly, this may normalize some level of homeschooling,” Hornung said.
Ashland-based Homeschool Resources Group’s director Shari Robinson said her organization’s social media has national attention, seeing thousands of interested people daily. Robinson said initially she had a trickle of parents afraid of COVID-19 risks at school, but that has shifted.
“What you’re seeing is a lot of people who are turning to homeschooling because now that the schools have decided what they’re doing for the school year it doesn’t match up with what the families want,” Robinson said.
Amanda Idleman administers a Facebook group for homeschooling families who attend the Chesterfield campus of the Chapel, a Richmond-based church. Her group has grown from 20 to 54 members. Idleman thinks many parents are frustrated by the virtual learning experience from last spring.
“They felt confused about what was expected, how to continue to teach their child,” Idleman said. “Their kids quickly lost the motivation to stay up-to-date on assignments.”
A Facebook search for “homeschool Virginia” reveals more than 30 Virginia homeschool groups, some with thousands of members.
Facebook groups are also offering advice on how to manage virtual learning, with some groups linked to specific public schools. Virtual learning is not the same as homeschooling. Virtual learning has inflexible requirements about time and learning style set by the school district and teachers. Robinson said virtual learning can be a poor fit for many students. Young children may struggle to sit in front of a computer all day. Parents with children in multiple grades will also have to manage multiple class schedules.
Hornung said most Virginia homeschooling families are hybrid families with students both at home and at public schools. Homeschooling works best for elementary-age children who are not as self-guided. Older students often reenter public schools to take advantage of social opportunities and facilities like lab sciences. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hornung said most newly-interested parents want to homeschool their elementary-aged children.
Parents who discover mid-school year that a public school format is not working can switch to homeschooling. Although there is an August 15 filing deadline for families who already homeschool, first-time homeschoolers can switch at any time.
Homeschooling comes with serious challenges. Robinson warns of increased costs: parents must buy curriculum and materials, and must also invest significant amounts of time in their students. Additionally, the 2020-2021 school year will not be a normal year, even for homeschoolers. Social distancing limits the ability of homeschooling families to coordinate activities, and normal field trip destinations may be closed. Robinson fears that bad experiences trying to homeschool for the first time during a crisis may scare some families away.
Robinson said the flexibility of homeschooling is the key to success. As a single parent, she worked during the day and taught her children at night. Robinson also relied on community, asking friends and family to take her kids to events and activities during business hours.
Bunn said not to try to recreate the classroom in the home. Parents should have a routine, not a rigid schedule.
“I would just take it easy because we want them to love education, we want them to love learning,” Bunn said.
For homeschooling help, HEAV offers resources and counseling at https://heav.org/. Parents can also register for a three-day HEAV sponsored online conference featuring live speakers. The conference runs from August 25-27, and the website will go live next week at http://homeschoolingwithconfidence.org. For other resources, counseling and classes focused in the Ashland area, visit http://www.homeschoolresourcesgroup.org.
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