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Homeschooling and eLEARNING: Education in the Year of COVID-19 (Part One)

February 27, 2021

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series on Homeschooling

As schools start resuming class this fall, many are requiring students to start with online learning via virtual platform until they believe that the students are safe or the government gives them the green light. Is this as effective as in-person classrooms? Should you consider homeschooling? The terms online schooling, eLearning, and homeschooling are being bandied around more than ever and no ideal scenario fits 100% of students. In these COVID times, you want to ensure your child continues to get their educational needs met. Here is part 1 of a 2-part series on students being “homeschooled.”

Homeschooling might be older than you thought

For thousands of years people have been homeschooled. Back in the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, there was limited public education—then, mainly just for boys—up to a young age (varying from 7 to 10 or so). If you were more well-to-do, you’d have a private tutor at home and for longer. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that with some notable exceptions, to have a bright future, on balance, a high-quality continued education is key.

A return to homeschooling

The year 2020 and the whole COVID-19 problem has seen a real return to schooling at home, either because kids were logging on to their own school or because students and/or parents decided to take matters into their own hands. Homeschooling is potentially different to online school and eLearning.

Pre-pandemic, about 3.3% of students were homeschooled. It’s said that about 30% of families are considering a continuation of education at home. The reasons are many and varied and include safety, freedom to manage the type and speed of progress through the curriculum, improved relationships, and character development without reliance on the traditional school system and all the associated social ramifications.


What happened, with varied degrees of success, was a pivot to online teaching. Like it or not, most of the world’s population was now being educated at home. Without knowing how long this halt-on-all-things-normal would last, there was a reluctance to roll out quick changes across the board. Some jumped on it and pre-empted the need to provide continuity in education. Many systems were created simply to continue what they were doing at school but mostly limited to academic-based subjects.

There were many for whom online access was not possible. Perhaps physical technology was insufficient or nonexistent. For some it was a matter of internet access (if at all possible). Those in higher socioeconomic groups probably had the advantage both for accessibility and the means to create a healthy educational environment at home—providing space, resources, and general day-to-day comforts.

Homeschooling at a glance

Homeschooling has been occurring forever but really gained modern-day popularity in the 1970s when it was argued by John Holt—a supporter of education reform—that creativity and deep learning was lacking in institutionalized schools because of a great focus on rote learning (or memorization).  He promoted an environment where independent thinking was championed. He opposed the system where children were treated as if a commodity of an education factory designed to produce compliant individuals ready to take jobs in the workforce.

The original definition of homeschooling is where parents take full responsibility to choose the curriculum and determine how and when tasks and modules are completed. 

The three main benefits of homeschooling are as follows:

  1. 1
    Options and flexibility: Students can both learn one-on-one from their parents and work from specific programs. They can attend co-ops and outside classes such as sports, theatre, field trips, music, and even a prom.
  2. 2
    Customizable curriculum: Play to your child’s interests, strengths, and learning style, and tailor their schooling.
  3. 3
    Gaining an edge: Let your child finish class early without distractions or accelerate to get ahead. Gain extra time they would spend in and between public classrooms, eliminate unnecessary or unwanted subjects, and allow them to explore interests, excel in a hobby or sports, find their passion, or participate in internships.

Not all parents consider themselves “natural teachers.” These days, schooling at home is way more fluid and doesn’t necessarily place all the responsibility on the parent(s). While you can create your own bespoke program (daunting to many), there are countless plug-and-play systems you can follow. Some of the homeschooling systems on the market have been finetuning their products for years and have years of experience. They already know how to build in the balance of online and offline activities and appeal to different learning styles. This has been a real advantage to homeschooling in 2020. Many schools that quickly pivoted to online classrooms have had to (and continue to) do much trial-and-error testing along the way. 

Depending on where you live—because much can be state-dependent—you do need to know this about homeschooling:

  • It’s 100% legal. Find out your specific state’s laws as they vary from state to state. For example, Texas has no regulations or notice requirements.  California and Nevada have low regulations while Florida and Tennessee fall in the moderate range. States like New York and Pennsylvania are among the highest regulated that include state-mandated subjects and teacher requirements.  
  • You may or may not have to submit information about curriculum or lesson plans.
  • Some subjects are compulsory. The rest would be up to you.
  • Some states treat you like a private school with total freedom afforded in structure of curriculum.
  • You can find many complete curricula online that appeal to you or your family’s beliefs or culture. Maybe you’ll find a program with your particular religious (or other) bent.
  • Most states have homeschool conventions where families can view materials, talk with authors or reps, and attend knowledgeable seminars. You can read product reviews from Cathy Duffy and find online academies like HSLDA. Ideally, the goal is to not bring school home. Homeschool education specialists know that activities must be balanced and take the student away from the computer and involve as much real-world experience as is practicable.
  • You can pick and choose among different resources to get your needs met. Search for Facebook groups, Pinterest boards, and local support groups.
  • It is not uncommon for a homeschooled student to earn a number of college credits from a 2- or 4-year college before completing the 12th grade.
  • Some states offer public-school-at-home programs that have strict controls on your student’s time and activities and your reporting. These are not homeschooling programs, as you would operate under the control of the public school and have no control over the program.
  • Some public-school-at-home programs give parents leeway in curriculum choice; others require use of a specified curriculum. Full or part parental- or student-control over the curriculum and program, however, is a hallmark feature of homeschooling.
  • You don’t have to do it alone. A small number of states are obliged by law to give access to public resources such as school libraries, computer labs, and academic and extracurricular activities to homeschooled children. You may even find yourself with the advantage of periodic meetings with a teacher from your public school to review and make suggestions about your curriculum.
  • Public libraries are great resources to facilitate your homeschooled child’s education.
  • Access to interscholastic athletic competition varies from state to state.
What about online learning?

Is online learning more efficient? A lot of data I found seems to be copy-pasted from corporate websites promoting eLearning in the corporate arena (i.e. for adults in jobs) and misappropriated to apply directly to schools and children. These are not translatable data. eLearning efficiency is contextual. What’s very important in all instances is to appeal to a child’s learning style and never to rely on one mode of knowledge reception. The danger of online learning is focusing everything on computer interaction.

Perhaps you’ve heard of VARK. In brief, it’s a concept that illustrates four major modes of learning preferences: 1. Visual, 2. Auditory, 3. Kinesthetic, and 4. Reading/Writing (with those last two being interrelated). Most people have a preference for a particular learning style, but neuroscientific research proves that combining modes will deepen learning and contribute to knowledge retention. You may remember the famous Confucius saying: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” The same goes for skill or knowledge transfer. Any attempts to teach a subject will be better integrated (and for the long term) when the learner has the information delivered in a way that allows them to understand. Nowhere is this more important than for children’s learning environments. 

Online learning tends to focus only on the use of two senses, which puts some students at a great disadvantage if their learning style preference is kinesthetic.

Traditional classroom settings waste a lot of time because they often rely on rote learning—where memorization of information is deemed most important. Mind you, it is important to learn certain things by heart. You’d want to know that you stop at a red light and go on a green. You want to know not to walk onto a street without checking both ways. That is something we all learned by rote.

We cannot really compare online learning and homeschooling head-to-head without knowing more about the parameters. I will say this, however: A well-designed homeschooling program doesn’t solely rely on eLearning. The guidelines may be delivered electronically, but the execution of the program is more likely to involve research, physical skill development, writing on real paper, and verification of skill integration.

Homeschooling programs could very well have a great advantage over the new online school systems patched together to meet a sudden demand. In every likelihood, there was far less disruption to homeschooled students than to any other student cohort.

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