Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Before virtual schooling at home became a pandemic mandate this past spring, at least 500 Macon County families chose homeschooling over public schooling. Perhaps at no other time in modern history has there been so much discussion regarding a child’s education; yet, COVID-19 has hyper-focused attention on the idiosyncrasies involved in virtual schooling at home versus homeschooling.
“Virtual schooling is not homeschooling,” asserted Jocelyn Lister, a homeschool graduate, mother of four homeschooled children, and an organizer of homeschooling groups and sites. “[Virtual school] is schooling at home, but homeschooling has an entire philosophy behind it. With virtual schooling, you are still on the teacher’s schedule and using their lesson plans …”
While schooling children at home has always been an option in America, the concept of modern homeschooling became something of a movement in the 1970s. Gradual departure from a classical education, limited access to quality public instruction in some regions and cities, job constraints, religious convictions, and more are all reasons some families have chosen homeschooling over public schooling. And, numerous books like “The Well-Trained Mind,” “Charlotte Mason’s Home Education,” and “Rethinking School” have motivated and encouraged parents to depart from what has become a governmental education norm.
“Homeschooling has many different methods, but all of them boil down to one thing: Doing what is best for each individual child and family,” explained Lister. “Children can go at their own pace, whether faster or slower, and not have to stay at pace with 20 other children. School days go faster with one-on-one attention, and if a topic is harder, a child can stay on it as long as needed. Homeschooling consists of choosing your own schedule, choosing your own focus, and slowing down or speeding up as your child needs. Homeschooling is an entire lifestyle. It’s spending every day with your kids, building memories, and relationships as well as learning together.”
However, virtual schooling at home – which became a full-time reality in the spring due to the shelter-in-place mandate, and has continued through fall 2020 for some children – has afforded families the option of implementing aspects of homeschooling to supplement virtual schooling curriculum and enhance learning from home. In fact, according to Angela Walker, a youth service librarian at the Macon County Public Library, children’s books and education resources have become increasingly popular this year.
“A lot of families are coming in asking questions about homeschooling or they are wanting to supplement their child’s online learning by checking out books. There has definitely been an increase in reading, at least from what I’m seeing,” said Walker.
Walker is able to not only give interested families education theme bags of games, activities, book suggestions and more if families pre-register online so that she knows how many to make, but she provides a folder of printable materials to aid in homeschooling and virtual schooling at home.
“We are even helping families with resources about getting their teens ready for college, preparing for driver’s education, and more,” said Walker. “The library is a main resource for education or extending education as well as strengthening skills, like reading.”
With so much uncertainty and ongoing schedule changes in response to COVID-19 cases, Macon County students and their families who have chosen full-time virtual schooling at home, as well as students who must school at home at least one or more days a week, can tap into all that the homeschooling community offers, according to Lister.
She added that Macon County is replete with support and connection groups.
“Obviously, at this time, many of them are having to modify what they do or are not meeting right now,” she said. “But I have an email list that I run called YMCHE (Young Macon County Home Educators). We send out local items of interest to homeschoolers and usually organize Homeschool Mom Nights Out throughout the year.”
She shared that Franklin Homegrown Families is an elementary students/young middle schoolers (but all ages are welcome) “low-key” social group. Pre-COVID-19, but currently on temporary hiatus, Franklin Homegrown Families organized social time/playdates, fun field trips involving activities such as swimming, hiking, Oconaluftee Indian Village, a tour of WLOS TV station, ice-skating, Macon County Historical Society, and more.
And then there are more academically based homeschool co-ops like Macon G.E.M.S., which stands for Growing, Educating, Mentoring and Supporting. This group meets every Thursday and is designed for ages 5 to high school so that subjects like science and history can be learned and studied together. Classical Conversations, a national program, has a chapter in Franklin. Classical Conversations meets weekly to provide co-op type classes, for ages 4 through high school, in areas of history, science, math, Latin, English, geography, and the arts.
“I moderate a Facebook group called Macon County, NC Homeschoolers, which can be a great resource,” said Lister. “Also, there is a statewide support organization – NCHE (North Carolina Home Educators), and we are lucky enough to have our regional liaison right here in Franklin.”
Lister said that Macon County has been supportive of homeschooling as an education choice.
“In normal times our community is very homeschool friendly, with a 4H program with many classes, daytime classes at New Visions Gymnastics, the library for homeschool clubs, The Fun Factory with its special homeschool day every other month, etc. We also have an annual Used Curriculum Sale and Homeschool Fair in the summer that I help organize.”
Curriculum for homeschooling runs the gamut. Homeschooling families can choose to purchase books and online instruction from one source, such as Abeka, Sonlight, BJU Press, Veritas, and others – or they can select different formats to fit each subject and child’s learning style. Walker and Lister explained that there is guidance for what might work. And, with the abundance of library resources, and free (to library cardholders) UniversalClass offerings in a wide variety of subjects for all ages, homeschooling can be a free or inexpensive education option.
Besides a strictly classical education that may include significant doses of rhetoric, logic, and ancient-to-modern history, there are various philosophies of education, including biblically-based, experiential, and pod- or co-op modeled.
Although each state is different in terms of what is required to homeschool, Lister shared, “You must keep records on file in your home for at least one year (I would recommend pretty much forever) and include vaccination records or waiver. That’s pretty much it. Check out the Division of Non-Public Education for more: https://ncadmin.nc.gov/public/home-school-information.”
Walker conveyed that no matter what education path families are on, supporting one another and tapping into all the resources available in the community is a win-win for everyone involved.