“Children are not widgets – they’re souls,” U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska declared in his keynote speech at the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s 2018 National Summit on Education Reform. “Schooling and education are not the same thing. Education is a goal; schooling is one of the many means.” Veteran homeschooler Kerry McDonald recently expressed a similar sentiment: “It is worth remembering that children can be educated without being schooled. They may even be better educated.”

Now that most schools are closed, parents have an exciting, if slightly daunting, opportunity to nourish their children’s souls by overseeing their education at home. According to Education Week, as of March 22, 2020, 46 states have closed schools, affecting over 54.5 million elementary and secondary school students. These unexpected homeschoolers join the ranks of two million students already being homeschooled before COVID-19 transformed the nation’s educational landscape.

The transition from regular school year routines to home education was sudden for most households. The internet is awash with declarations that We Are All Homeschoolers Now, but it likely will take a while for parents to truly embrace their new reality and identity. They will need guidance from experienced homeschoolers like Senator Sasse and his wife, access to educational resources, and patience.

Many parents spent last week slightly overwhelmed as they sifted through the deluge of homeschooling resource websites, materials, apps and tips suddenly flooding their inboxes and social media feeds. Yes, it’s wonderful that there are virtual field trips and free subscriptions to educational companies, but the flood of homeschooling tools, coupled with suggested coursework and activities provided by schools, was difficult to process. Thankfully, helpful organizations have created resource aggregators such as the new, user-friendly #learneverywhere website and the Parent Support for Online Learning Facebook group.

As the Great Homeschool Experiment launched, humorous Homeschool Expectation vs. Reality YouTube videos and viral memes quickly emerged acknowledging the inevitable challenges. Many parents need to fulfill work obligations while overseeing their children’s education. Parents already struggling to minimize their children’s screen time are tempted to use readily accessible educational apps, despite their variable quality and addictive, dopamine-driven feedback loops. Plus, creating and enforcing weekday schedules is hard.

Parents settling into their unexpected homeschooling roles need to understand that there isn’t one way to do it.  Many approaches to home education exist. Homeschooling has been legal in all 50 states since 1993 and has diversified since the emergence of a growing Christian homeschooling movement in the 1980s. The varied homeschooling styles currently employed by homeschooling families include:

  • Eclectic or “relaxed” homeschoolers draw from a variety of available curriculum and educational materials, including online educational tools, tailoring the child’s curriculum to meet their needs. With parents cobbling together materials provided by closed schools and resources floating around the internet, this likely will be the most common approach this spring.
  • Unschooling allows students to pursue their interests and learn in a more self-directed way.
  • Classical homeschooling method focuses on teaching the “Great Books,” the use of Socratic dialogues, a chronological reading plan, and Latin and Greek instruction.
  • Charlotte Mason style uses short periods of study coupled with nature walks and journals and emphasizes narrative approaches, “living books,” rather than textbooks, as well as memorization practice.
  • Additional approaches to curriculum, including Montessori, School-at-Home, and Unit studies education methods, are described here.
  • In addition, a growing percentage of homeschoolers are students with special needs. Parents take advantage of flexible schedules to combine accessible curriculum with therapy and tutoring appointments. In a handful of states, Education Savings Accounts provide state funds for the parents to tailor their child’s education.

In addition, there are a variety of homeschooling configurations, including:

  • Hybrid homeschool children split their time between homeschool and a more traditional schooling environment.
  • Virtual education enables the student to learn at home while receiving instruction from a remotely-located teacher, either as full-time or course-specific online education.
  • Homeschool co-ops are groups of families that share homeschooling responsibilities.

Despite the uncertainty and stress caused by COVID-19, many unexpected homeschooling parents may realize both the immense benefits of spending more time with their children and the significant gaps in the instruction their children have been receiving at their assigned public schools. This homeschooling experience could open parents’ minds to new, more effective ways of educating their child, especially if their child has special needs that weren’t being met by their school. They could discover that homeschooling, or perhaps hybrid homeschooling, is a good fit for their family. Families could end up thriving in the freedom from bus and bell schedules and the flexibility of their daily schedules. Children could relax and experience less anxiety and depression due to reduced exposure to bullying, emotional distress, and vulgarity of their school environment.

As Senator Sasse reminded the audience in his 2018 speech, “Schools are not assembly lines; they’re gardens.” Our nation’s children are home now, ready to learn and grow in the gardens created by their parents. Our homeschooling experiment could be extremely fruitful.