Families that homeschool their children have found they are not immune from the challenges the pandemic has presented to public and private schools. They have had to be creative to find alternatives to the extracurricular activities, field trips and social events that typically keep their students engaged.
“People think homeschool is school at home, and while that’s where it starts, that’s not always where we end up,” said Alicia Ford, co-director of the Fluvanna Christian Homeschool Co-op, a small group of homeschool families who work together on a shared curriculum.
Ford, a Louisa County resident, has been homeschooling her children since 2013. She says that this year has been the most difficult to plan for with so many new challenges, such as finding a venue for in-person classes. Usually, the co-op meets in a church, but with the pandemic, the church closed. As a solution, families offered rooms in their houses to host weekly classes.
“The biggest challenge for us was [figuring out] where we were going to meet,” Ford said. “And honestly, it was beautiful to see the way the parents stepped up.”
In a normal school year, Ford’s children would have packed schedules: study groups, book clubs, scouting, fine arts, martial arts and guitar classes. But this year, many of those activities have been canceled or moved online.
Homeschool families who have opted for a structure different from the one provided by a co-op are experiencing similar disruptions. Louisa resident Jennifer Christian has been homeschooling her two sons, now in first and fourth grade, since they started school.
In a normal year, Christian’s children are also involved in extracurricular activities such as piano lessons, choir and soccer practice. She is not part of a co-op but has joined support groups and met up with other homeschool families for field trips in the past.
These activities and field trips added structure to her children’s day, giving them something to look forward to and a participatory learning experience. However, Christian’s family is choosing to social distance as much as possible, making these activities and trips less accessible.
“It’s been challenging trying to figure out how to cover things more on paper or on the computer that would have been a lot more hands-on,” she said.
This year, for example, Christian’s oldest son will be learning about Virginia history, which, in a normal school year, would have consisted of multiple field trips.
“I feel like it’s a shame to be teaching that [Virginia history] staring at a paper when we live so close to all of this history,” Christian said.
To keep her children engaged, Christian has come up with creative activities, including themed activities that take place each day when they finish their school work. On music Mondays, for example, her sons work on the piano CD they are recording, and on art Fridays, they learn about an artist and then try to mimic his or her painting style in their own artwork.
Christian says she also keeps them engaged with longer-term projects they can work towards. This fall, they will be working on a family tree project, and in the past, they have collected postcards from people all over the world to learn about different countries and cultures.
Museums and organizations like the National Park Service have been offering educational classes and events online for students, and web-based resources like educational computer games have also become more available during the pandemic. Both Christian and Ford have taken advantage of resources like these; they see a silver lining in how the homeschooling community has stepped up amid all the challenges.
“It’s hard to replace going somewhere, but you do what you can when you’re faced with something like this,” Ford said. “Everybody’s been very generous to offer things like that online or even just opening up their homes to visitors.”
Like public and private school students, homeschoolers have needed to adjust to the new realities presented by the pandemic. Christian says, however, that her sons’ ability to adapt has impressed her, though she knows they’re eager to have their extracurricular activities back.
“They’re more resilient than I would expect—I really thought they would be more bothered by it,” Christian said. “If you ask them, they’re doing fine. They just know this is what we need to do, but they’re definitely getting, like the rest of us, pretty restless.”