Dear Covid-Schoolers,

If it is unclear at this point, a “Covid-Schooler” is a parent/family researching homeschooling for a variety of reasons. It is not a phrase that is meant to be derogatory, only descriptive. One reason parents are considering homeschooling their children during this time is an ongoing fear and concern regarding the Covid virus, its transmission and its risk to their kids and families. Another reason is that families find the guidelines for returning to school outlined by the State of NJ as unacceptable in some manner. There are also people who feel like this is just the last straw in their decision to homeschool. This is a unprecedentedly difficult time to enter this fringe community. It is estimated that less than 1% of NJ school-aged children are homeschooled. It is true that we are small, somewhat close knit circles of families.

For as long as we’ve been homeschooling, we’ve become accustomed to jokes and snarky remarks made at our expense. We answer the same questions over and over in social settings. People have been downright rude about our lifestyle choice, often in front of our children. I am just giving you some background as to why many of us are not entirely forth-coming with ALL of the information you would like.

Some of us have a hard time quantifying some of the information that you want. Lots of theories about natural learning or the way our kids developed certain skills cannot be explained in a short paragraph on a Facebook thread. We are not trying to be evasive. One of my grown kids was very much self-taught and I can’t quite tell you how he developed his extensive knowledge of history or math and physics far beyond what his father and I do. You’d have to ask him (I hear he often replies TV). One of my kids learned to read all by his little self at just 4 years old. I have no idea how. He can’t tell you. Sorry. I’m not being trite, these are just realities.

One of the questions that gets posed A LOT by parents inquiring about homeschooling is some version of “What curriculum is best for my child?” To many veteran homeschoolers, this is a strange question that many of us feel ill-equipped to answer. You are asking strangers, who don’t know a thing about your child’s interests or intellect, activity level, challenges and gifts to make a recommendation. It takes time and a relationship to see how your child learns and when they are happiest and most productive pursuing and retaining information. Time and trial are truly the only way to gain this understanding.

I know you are in a rush, it just doesn’t work that way.

I am not being rude when I explain that your children having spent most of their lives in traditional school/institutional learning will be a serious detriment to your efforts to homeschool. It is the reason you will hear the word “Deschooling” so often in articles for new-comers. It was an extremely important part of our deprogramming as parents. This is not a knock at what you’ve done in the past. It is a real thing. One of the most important shifts from school to homeschooling is a child’s ability to pursue information on their own and not the expectation that they will be spoon fed tasks by a teacher. There are other factors like grades, bells and time shifts that need addressed. If you cannot hear this or are offended, just take a deep breath and give it some consideration. It also poses a larger issue for families who are looking at homeschooling as a temporary solution.

Please realize if you are of this ‘temporary’ mind set, you have a unique set of challenges that many of us do not face. Many of us are completely uninterested in keeping in lockstep with the local school district and most of us are not committed to staying ‘on grade level‘ (on either side of that curve). We’ve left traditional schooling for a reason and we may be of little help in this arena. I suggest you form a support system for yourselves in regards to this. We may be of little help because some of us simply don’t care for that ideology.

I have heard many questions from new homeschoolers that make me nervous. Some want to know if you can get paid to homeschool your own kid or someone else’s or refunded property taxes. Some parents want to seek support like computers, iPads and curriculum from school districts – because we all pay taxes, don’t you know! As homeschoolers, most of us have been very happy to stay away from our school districts (hence the whole homeschooling thing) and stay ‘under the radar’. We enjoy remarkable amount of freedom to do things how we see fit in NJ. We’d much rather be left alone than gain support from our local school districts.

We have sacrificed a lot in the way of finances, including second incomes. It might be fine to ask, respectfully, if anyone chooses to address the serious issue of finances. It’s a real thing. Many of us committed to homeschooling not really knowing the full impact of it and how we would address the financial deficits, but like anything else in life, not every thing is for everyone and it is a very personal issue as to how you make it work.

Also, please know that our lives as homeschoolers has been shaken up too! Our co-ops will face similar challenges to what is happening with schools. People are unsure how many kids we can have in our buildings and if our buildings are still open to us. Many co-ops were already at capacity and welcoming ‘newbies’ might not be an option at this time. Families that participate have differing opinions and concerns about the safety of their kids, just like people looking to leave the school district.

Many of us rely on historical sites, museums, nature centers, zoos, aquariums, libraries, parks and other experiential learning settings as part of our educational lifestyles. Yeah. Many are closed and are being severely financially impacted. Many music and art teachers have cancelled classes. Our regular programs as been immensely impacted. If we come off as ‘unhelpful’ or ‘unwelcoming’ – forgive us. We are also forging new ways to structure our lives and our kids’ educational opportunities.

Many of us are not broadening our social circles and that might make us seem ‘exclusive’. This is not the intention.

I have some advice, for what it’s worth.

One idea is to consider waiting a little longer for your school districts’ directive. Maybe it won’t be as bad as you think. There is no time frame for pulling your kids out of school. You can do it at any point.

If you truly desire a very ‘schooly’ approach to homeschooling with the intent to return to public school, find a group of like-minded people, people who are experiencing exactly what you are going through. I have found through many challenges that I have faced in life, a small group of people sharing an experience with me is indispensable support.

There is another option as well. You could embrace a year of homeschooling in the truest sense of the word and with the vast freedom allowed by NJ. Eschew the school paradigm to create something new and radical. You could allow your kids to develop their hobbies, bake and build, play board games and ride bikes, watch documentaries about endless topics and watch great movies. Let them read for pleasure, play with science kits, and craft. Let them explore math without pressure and more fun – like this, or this, or this. Sal Khan is always there for you too.

My friend Mariya, The Happy Homeschooler, has taught me a very important life lesson. I believe it is particularly valuable at this present moment. She always says, “Do what is right for you and your family.” She always means it.

I say do that.

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