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

March 4, 2021

The Final Part of My 2-Part Series on Homeschooling

In Part 1, you discovered the current issues with eLearning and what appear to be some very cogent reasons to consider homeschooling from the educational sense. This final part looks mainly at many of the issues that will confront both parents and children in navigating the school and homeschooling scene. Let’s continue.

Same, same

A major problem with these new online learning settings is that students can lack the motivation, collaboration, and discovery that occurs with proximity. Students can also find it hard to motivate themselves during homework time as there is no physical variation in environment—they’re always on the same seat at the same computer in the same room.

However, whether eLearning or homeschooling, students are able to learn at their own pace. They can take the time they want or need to go through slowly or skip through concepts. This allows them to accelerate or deepen their own learning in the chosen subject.

But, with lessened accountability (largely because one is hidden from purview in the online world) some students have great trouble adapting. These kids need more structure, proximity to others, and supervision (parental or teacher). The strategies that online learning is serving up can lack the real aim of education: retention of skills and information. 

The result has been a lot of bored, disengaged students who have felt no motivation from the new environment. Some have not coped, and this is reflected in lower attendance rate and an increase in dropouts, and because of lack of support, students can feel that they are mentally unable to keep up. You could appreciate that, with the computer right there under their noses, social media platforms—huge and dangerous time-wasters—are getting a workout.

Young students

Technology is important to include in the learning regimen, but it’s definitely not the only way to transfer skills. Teaching and learning are intricate sciences. You can’t just plunk a kid in front of a computer. 

To homeschool is to move away from the generally accepted mainstream education methods. Many do so expressly to lessen the current huge computer focus. It’s important not to let your child sit for hours at a time. It’s not good for their health, and it’s lousy for integration. To learn, you need to move. Kids have focus issues. The younger they are, the more varied the learning experience must be. The more they have to get up to touch, feel, hear, see, and do.

Working in a classroom or with a parent or homeschooling guide means personalization, and the attention to skill retention is much greater than if the sole mode is eLearning. In time more balanced eLearning programs will emerge.

Bottom line is—whatever arena you choose—you want your students to fall in love with learning. 

Tips for sitting at a desk or computer

The modern-day affliction to our health is to sit too long. This is especially relevant in eLearning environments. Between classes held at school (especially high school) students get up and move their bodies to get to the next class. eLearning often forgets to schedule in forced activity and breaks. Homeschoolers normally have natural self-regulated breaks, or they are purposely built into their schedule. These are brain-breaks, which are necessary.

Make sure your hips are always just a little higher than your knees (never knees higher than hips). Your feet must be flat on the floor or resting flat on an angled foot stool. If you exert just a little downward pressure into the floor through your feet, then core engagement is more effective, and a nice upright posture is easy. Have a rule where your student (or you!) can only rely on the backrest of their chair for 5% of the time. The rest of the time they should sit “on their sit-bones” self-supported, shoulder blades “in their back pockets” so that great posture is part of their education. Proper posture leads to healthy pumping of cerebrospinal fluid and therefore better focus and better learning. 

Sometimes you can allow the student to lie on their abdomen and support themselves on their elbows. What about a stand-up desk? Years ago, before I bought my current motorized desk, I used cheap tables on my regular desk on which I placed my monitor and my keyboard. These “hacks” cost me $20. You do not have to spend hundreds on a desk. You can convert your current one and see how it goes.

Children may enjoy kneeling next to a wall on which they pin their work. Variation is key. It punctuates learning. In fact, try this: If your child is finding it hard to focus, make their learning bursts quite short, even 10 – 15 minutes. Then take a 5-minute break. Information learned in long bursts of say one hour are far less memorable than four 15-minute sessions. Guaranteed. They will remember the beginning and end of four sessions more easily, so the entire task will be more retained.

These kinds of approaches can be less easy to implement in classroom settings.

Exclusion of parental involvement

Academia during the lockdown has brought a new philosophy that parents have the right to be present in their child’s online classroom. Rutherford County (TN) schools tried to exclude involvement by parents while their child was being educated. What the school was trying to “head off at the pass” was the possibility of the invasion of privacy of other people’s children. This is a valid point. It’s one thing to be part of a finite cohort and learn to trust and navigate that circumstance. Some kids never feel comfortable enough to share thoughts, ask, or answer questions. So, to be thrust into an online environment where interlopers are present can have your child feel very vulnerable. To gain access, parents in attendance have to flag their presence and gain permission from the teacher. They, in turn, agree not to share information or recordings from the class about other students. 

Up until COVID-19, every lesson and every utterance at school was not really up for constant dialog. As educating at home became front and center, and parents became more involved, one concern started when some districts forced parents to sign a contract noting that they would not eavesdrop on what their child was being taught. This became a red flag for many parents who were not allowed to “sit in” virtually: a new fear that their student was being taught some ideology contrary to their own beliefs. 

This is also a valid concern and another reason parents are rethinking the school system. So, what’s the answer? If you want to have more influence on your child’s education, day in and day out, determine how their critical thinking develops, improve their free time, and have more say in what’s being covered, then perhaps you should seriously consider homeschooling and join the growing 30% category who are not returning to “school.”

Hacking and other privacy issues

While digital security is an increasing concern, it really became an issue in 2020, where “Zoom bombing” became a thing. Even very secure sites have fallen victim to this kind of activity. People dropped in uninvited on virtual classrooms (or meetings) and caused disruption. There has been widespread hacking, identity problems, and pranksters.

Funny stories about celebrity attendance in the most unlikely of places tended to put a lighthearted spin on privacy invasion. In all cases, the intention of the Zoom-bomb is the important element. You may not know who is watching or stalking your child. Students’ private accounts have been hacked to carry out invasions. Pornographic pictures have been posted (seen by students as young as 5th grade) and in one reported instance, a male voice was heard to also use obscene language. 

Such offensive behavior could be charged under state or federal computer crime law.

As a result, the Zoom company increased the visibility and attendance controls of the educator to password protect and to act as a more vigilant gatekeeper at all meetings.

What about socialization?

“Where will your child learn their skills to socialize if they don’t go to school?” I’ve heard this objection many times. They go on to ask, “How do you get all the benefits of school—friendships, relationships with mentors, [bullying (haha),] activities—when you’re stuck at home?”

Your child might not fully develop useful social skills in any learning situation. However, homeschooled children tend to have better developed and more discerning skills and are able to engage people of all ages. They are not confined to their own age groups, and, unlike school, they can have collaborative relationships with adults that are not based on the child always playing the lower status. School is the only place in your life where you’ll be confined to socialize with people who are more or less your own age. 

In the beginning, mom or family members do need to be a little proactive (more so for younger children) to find and create socializing opportunities. But once set up, it’s done. Visit the library. Students there in the middle of the day are likely homeschooled. Networking is easy in this age of the internet. Find out if there’s a homeschooling group in your region. Maybe they already organize special guests and teachers, outings, group sports lessons, and regular meetups. They will have connections for you to profit from, such as the best music teachers or best tennis schools. 

The thing to remember is we all have been socialized, first and foremost by the influence of our family units. Functional or dysfunctional, it’s where it happens. If your influence is from people who are confident and have healthy self-respect and self-worth, then chances are you will carry these traits. Mostly these happen at home. Independent and critical thinking is not just about how clever you are, it is how debate is encouraged (or not) and whether differing opinion is welcomed in your home. Being part of a functional family unit, you will likely become a respectful and self-directed individual. Again, this may or may not happen at home. It’s possible that the types of families who would consider homeschooling are perhaps more open-minded and place a high value on these traits.

At schools, there are challenges for the development of every child through forced socialization. You could argue this is where skills are forged, but what is likely to happen—depending on the basic skills that one brings from their family culture—is the kind of peer-pressures and tribal behaviors that can have people make questionable decisions. At school, more than at homeschool, there can be a lot of competition. There are larger groups and intimidation; bullying and humiliation is more likely to occur. You would have to question if that was really a healthy form of socialization.

Homeschooled individuals find themselves face-to-face with many more real-life situations. They often get involved in running the household and advocating for themselves in all sorts of situations (at younger ages than schooled individuals). They learn from interactions with a greater range of ages and are not limited to spend 90% of their schooling time with other people within 12 months of their own age. This kind of age segregation never happens again in one’s life.

Making friends

Homeschoolers are often asked how they make friends. They do it the same way you do. By talking, expressing interests, and finding common ground. Parents are able to surround their children with peers based on like-mindedness and common interests—not just proximity or age. The truth is, most of us only have 2 – 3 good friends, not 30-40, so it is ludicrous to think that students can and want to have an association with most or all their classmates. It’s not unusual to hear a homeschooled student say they “have a life” and would most prefer to spend their time involved gainfully in things they self-manage.

A waste of time?

In the course of every single day at school, it takes time to herd large numbers of kids from one activity to the next, in and out of breaks, to and from different classrooms for different subjects, to and from the library, to and from assembly, and at the beginning and end of the school day. It’s little wonder that homeschooled kids actually get a ton more free time. And even better than that, they can choose to continue a task they really enjoy or switch focus to other pursuits. They have the chance and choice to stay focused on tasks at hand, respond to the vicissitudes of daily emotions and moods, get essential work finished, and therefore have more time to socialize. 

So, what can such a student do with all that spare time? Some choose to finish quickly in the mornings and have the rest of the day off. Often the mornings are dedicated to traditional schoolwork and afternoons to hobbies, interests, and self-directed work. Many will assist in all manner of perfunctory home-management activities such as shopping and other maintenance. These are all great preparation for future independence.

Here’s a good but not exhaustive list of ways to spend time outside of lessons at home: sports; music; drama; work experience; club attendance to learn skills not associated with school; hobbies; tutors to get your student on track, to accelerate them, or even just to provide guidance when guidance at home is not possible; volunteer work; nature studies; hiking; gardening; boating; sailing; movies; field trips; study groups; pet care (dog walking); interests such as chess, welding, writing, dance of any type, skating of any type; camping; library visits; STEM clubs; and more.

What is the hardest part of homeschooling?

  1. 1
    Someone has to oversee each student’s work to some degree. It can be a challenge to be a continued source of encouragement to keep momentum and stay on task.
  2. 2
    Depending on the state you live in, there could be a financial burden. For example, some states like CA and AK offer school funding through charter programs or distance learning. Most do not, so you will have to fund your child’s education without state assistance. Fortunately, there are used book sales, libraries, and free resources. 
  3. 3
    Schooling more than one student can at first be a challenge. However, over time, when other siblings are involved, problems are overcome as skills of independent learning, collaboration, and stewardship are developed.
What is the best part of homeschooling?

Homeschooling is well-established and, in fact, may even be better positioned in this COVID-19 time to deliver a better, well-rounded education than those new to the eLearning and online schooling environment. 

When you homeschool, you are likely to be delighted by the strong, healthy and mature, respectful relationship you create with your child—a relationship you’d be hard pressed to be able to develop in any other way. Parents are naturally a child’s biggest influence. To homeschool means you are with your children for the best hours of the day. You get to raise them the way you want, and possibly best of all, you get to raise them in a way you know will mean you can enjoy hanging out with them when they are adults. More than a regular school, homeschooling is a sure way for parent and kids to grow and learn—together. 

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