Tuesday is Co-op Day for my family. It is one of only two days each week that begin with alarms going off and include getting out the door before nine o’clock in the morning. When we arrive at the non-denominational church that has generously allowed us to use their Children’s Ministry rooms, my own three children head to some of those rooms to learn in less-than-conventional ways.
In my oldest daughter’s Lego class, the kids fashion ziplines and test them, discussing velocity, speed, angles, gravity, and tension. In her art class, my younger daughter makes a tambourine from a paper plate, a few small bells, and multi-colored squares of tissue paper that she painstakingly arranges to resemble a rainbow. My son sits at a table with ten other kids his age, listening to me read a picture book about bull fighting in Madrid and drawing pictures of bulls afterward. He and his classmates add stickers to their papers that say things like “Wow!” and “Great!” as we discuss interjections.
Unlike famous children’s illustrator Tomie dePaola, who, in his book The Art Lesson recounts his first disappointing experience of elementary school art class, the kids in my co-op class can use as many pieces of paper and whatever type of crayon they wish. There is freedom here. Babies can toddle around classrooms while their mamas teach. Parents can present whatever lessons they choose, without having to conform to the educational standards of any government entity. If a kid wants to wear his empty lunchbox on his head while memorizing the eight parts of speech by way of a catchy song, no one really bats an eye.
Homeschool cooperatives, like homeschooling itself, are on the rise. Writing for Parents website, Nicole Johnson describes these groups: “At its core, a homeschooling cooperative is made up of several families who meet regularly at libraries, churches, community centers, or homes, and work together toward similar goals.” Co-ops resemble traditional brick and mortar school buildings in certain ways. Backpacks come home containing the sorts of worksheets, art projects, and sandwich crusts that you might expect any American classroom and cafeteria to produce. But no public or parochial school has the parents of every single student teaching in the classrooms or monitoring the halls. Most homeschool co-ops do. Parental involvement is a requirement, not a suggestion, and most homeschooling parents wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why do parents homeschool? There are a lot of reasons, but a big one is simply that they want to be with their children. The folks at Sonlight Homeschool Curriculum list “close-knit families” as one of the main reasons families love homeschooling: “Instead of just meeting (perhaps) at the dinner table between long school days, sports practices and piles of homework, homeschool parents and children learn side-by-side daily. They have plenty of relaxed time to actually get to know and appreciate one another.”
If it seems like homeschooling is more popular now than it was when you were a child, that is because it is. According to Brian D. Ray, writing for the National Home Education Research Institute, “a decade ago, [homeschooling] appeared to be cutting-edge and ‘alternative,’ but it is now bordering on ‘mainstream’ in the United States. It may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States.” David Crary’s July 2021 Associated Press article corroborates this, offering statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, which reported in March 2021 “that the rate of households homeschooling their children rose to 11% by September 2020, more than doubling from 5.4% just six months earlier.”
Freedom over their child’s education and desire for more family time are a couple of the many reasons why parents homeschool. Other reasons include:
While most of these desires and concerns are not new, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more parents into acting on them. In a July 2021 interview with Cincinnati news source WKRC, Debby Gerth, president of the nonprofit Ohio Homeschooling Parents, spoke of the 7,000 people who joined Ohio Homeschooling Parents in the first 15 months or so of the pandemic: "A lot of them actually had already said they’d been feeling like they wanted to homeschool, but they were afraid, so this gave them the kickstart to do it.” Families are thriving as homeschoolers in part because of the work done by Gerth and others like her. Websites like the one operated by Ohio Homeschooling Parents distill state homeschooling requirements into easy-to-read primers and provide printable templates for the information that needs to be submitted to local officials.
"A lot of [parents] actually had already said they’d been feeling like they wanted to homeschool, but they were afraid, so [the pandemic] gave them the kickstart to do it.”
Technology has put more than just templates only a click away for parents thinking about homeschooling. Writing for Ozobot, a robotic platform that offers coding activities and STEAM education for elementary and high school students, Amanda Dodge points out that “What actually makes homeschooling more realistic today is technology, which lets parents tap into online resources when they reach subjects they’re unsure of. Students can also reach out to digital tutors for help when they get stuck.” Tutoring services like Remind Tutoring offer video-based tutoring sessions that can take place wherever homeschooling happens, at a bedroom desk or a kitchen table. Writes Dodge,“Technology facilitates homeschool education in ways parents couldn’t dream of before the Internet.”
There is a rule in our homeschool co-op that a minimum of two adults must be in each classroom at all times. As I hand out papers, I get to know a mom new to the co-op, Jessica Ward, who is helping with my Literature and Art class. She and her kids missed the first few co-op dates this semester because they lead an unconventional life, one that homeschooling helps make a happy one. Jessica’s husband works in the oil and gas industry and travels frequently. Jessica homeschools their two children in part so that the whole family can travel together in a 40-foot camper for her husband’s work, sometimes for long stretches of time. Jessica is fortunate to be able to be involved in a co-op when her family is not on the road. But even if this were not a possibility, she would not have to go it alone, as parents new to the idea of home education might fear. Homeschool resources are available in abundance. Entire curricula are available online, taking the guesswork and stress out of lesson planning. Since the advent of social media, home educators can garner support and solidarity from other homeschooling parents in the time it takes to post an update to Facebook. Homeschoolers are greater in number than they were even a few years ago, they represent a more diverse demographic, and help is as easy to come by as typing “Homeschooling groups in my area” into a search engine.
A cursory scroll online through any general homeschooling group reveals a peek into the minds of parents who are considering homeschooling. They know that their child needs more one-on-one attention in the classroom or that their family, like the Wards, needs more flexibility than a typical academic schedule affords. They are willing to rearrange work schedules and to do whatever paperwork is necessary. But they’re uncertain if they should. “How do I know it’s the right thing for my family?” they want to know.
A quiz like this one might help. By discovering what kind of homeschooling philosophy resonates with them, parents can erase doubts about their ability to educate their children. They may feel more confident about finding resources they will love to use. Homeschooling might become something they can realistically see themselves doing, instead of being something that they tell themselves only parents with supernatural levels of patience undertake.
Even so, there is no magic formula to tell just how homeschooling will fit your family--but more and more families are getting the courage to try it on for size. With all of the resources available to homeschoolers, electronic and otherwise, homeschooling could very well be a perfect fit for those considering an alternative to the conventional school experience. In a post written to members of her nonprofit, Debby Gerth reminds hesitant parents, “You don’t need to figure out how you’ll teach calculus when your child is learning their letters. What you need to begin homeschooling is a love for your child and the desire to meet his or her needs, just like you figured out how to do in their [earliest] years….You didn’t worry about how to teach your child to walk the day they were born. You just focused on figuring out the next thing.”