Colleen Cook from the National Coalition for Public School Options talks about her experience in online learning as well as providing reassurance to people new to the home-based routine.
The month of March jolted many parents with the sudden realization that school buildings statewide were shut down. Children under the daily care and guidance of educators eventually were left to learn at home for the rest of the academic year.
Michigan provides a great deal of homeschooling freedom, as well as numerous public virtual education programs that provide home-based learning. Still, the overwhelming majority of school-aged children are enrolled full time at brick-and-mortar campuses, transported by yellow buses or parent carpools, receiving instruction in person from teachers in classrooms populated by their peers.
Tillie Elvrum discusses how a lot of parents are suddenly facing the challenge of having to help educate kids at home.
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But the emergence of the COVID-19 coronavirus quickly reshaped the nation’s experience with educating children. Parent Advocates for Choice in Education, a grassroots network launched with support from the Mackinac Center, reacted quickly to release the “Learning at Home, Keeping Pace” video chat series. It features parents experienced in home-based education offering encouragement and insights to those facing a newfound challenge.
Tillie Elvrum, an outspoken choice advocate from Colorado whose son spent 10 years in a full-time online school, inspired hope with her opening chat. “This isn’t necessarily what you would have chosen or how you thought your school year was going to play out,” she said. “But I’m here to tell you that it can be done, and you have a lot of support.”
Several presenters talked about different ways to foster a love for learning outside classroom walls. Kerry McDonald, a senior education fellow with the Foundation for Economic Education and homeschooling mom, gave suggestions on what families can do each day after children complete their required assignments. They can use the extra unstructured time to talk with each other, read aloud, and explore their creative interests through the many digital resources that are now available for free.
Kelly Smith, a physicist and entrepreneur from Arizona who founded the private microschool Prenda, described the pandemic as a modern version of the Cold War’s Sputnik moment. Where it’s appropriate, he said, parents might discuss current events to stimulate a child’s interest in the sciences as a way to help fight future infectious diseases.
Underlying some presentations was the view that the temporary push into distance learning may broaden currently held views about education. Most people believe “school is somewhere you go, learning is something you go there to do,” said Betsy Springer, who teaches her own children at home and at the Gull Lake Virtual Partnership, a hybrid district-homeschool program near Kalamazoo. “I want my kids to know that they’re always learning.”
Eric Wearne, a professor at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, has encountered hybrid homeschooling, not only as a father and as a teacher, but also as a researcher. Parents new to home-based education may learn from those accustomed to learning part time at home under a parent’s supervision that “more time going back into families, even if it’s unstructured, can be a good thing.”
When the crisis hit, friends asked Leanne Van Beek, wife of Mackinac Center research director Michael Van Beek, to share her insights from years of educating her own children at home. While this unexpected season may cause many families to give homeschooling a careful look, she said, many are under greater stress and just seeking to survive.
“Remember this is not your new normal forever. This is your new normal for a season,” she said, encouraging parents to enjoy the extra moments they might not usually get to experience. “Try to embrace those little things along the way.”
The entire “Learning at Home, Keeping Pace” video series can be found at www.mipace.org/videos.