For the past couple years homeschooling in the United States has taken off. Not coincidentally it mirrors the start of the pandemic when in-person schooling was in flux and many parents felt they had little choice but to take over their children’s education.
And with the increase of kids learning at home and parents doing the teaching came more options for both groups. Now there are numerous support groups, meet-ups, resources and the recently popular “pods” – sometimes called “pandemic pods” – where small groups of homeschooled kids learn together, taught either by parents or a tutor. These options allow kids to interact with others, take field trips or even attend certain classes in their public school.
According to the US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, the number of homeschoolers nationally has jumped 56 percent, to 5 million, from the spring of the 2019-20 school year (when the pandemic hit) to the fall of the 2020-21 school year. The number of homes that had a homeschooler has doubled.
“Before COVID there was a lot of misconception about what homeschooling actually involved,” said Kelly Polizzi of Danbury, who homeschools three of her four children, including her oldest, Willow, for eight years. “Thanks to COVID more people are aware of homeschooling and finding it is actually doable for their family.”
New Hampshire has surpassed the national average in the number of kids learning at home.
The New Hampshire Department of Education released the numbers before the holidays in 2020 and found that 6,110 Granite State students were being homeschooled during the 2020-21 school year, compared to 2,955 in the previous year, more than doubling the number of kids being taught at home.
Obviously, the pandemic had a huge effect on those numbers. And there were a myriad of reasons why a family may have decided to move away from traditional education – perhaps they didn’t like how remote learning was set up in their town, or they didn’t want to have their kids jump from learning at home to back to school and maybe back home again with the uncertainty of COVID-19, to name a couple.
New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said his office supports any method of learning for those in the Granite State.
“Many families who choose homeschooling choose that option because they feel it is the best educational model and instructional model for their children,” he said. “That approach is very persistent throughout our educational system. The system should adapt around the child. If something is not working for them then (the DOE) hopes they change that and create a path for success.”
Not only does homeschooling work for many kids as a better way to learn, but it may hold advantages over going to school for seven hours straight, sitting for 45-60 minutes at a time, and being one of 20 or more kids in a class.
“My kids can be in their jammies all day, they can sleep in, and they don’t have to shuttle back and forth to school,” Kelly Polizzi said.
Parents and kids can also steer the learning to subjects they prefer to focus on, and at their own pace and times.
“Sometimes I do wish I could get that high school experience, but I definitely appreciate the very relaxed way of learning (with homeschooling),” said Willow Polizzi, who is in ninth grade. “I am able to drop schoolwork for a few hours if I need to go somewhere. There are no set times to wake up. And I am learning through life experiences rather than sitting behind a desk for the whole day.
“When you think of homeschoolers … at this point no one cringes when I say I am a homeschooler. I think before, people thought it was weird to be homeschooled. We’re just normal kids who happen to do school work at home and not in a building.”
With the greater numbers of homeschoolers comes greater usage of support groups and resources like Granite State Home Educators, New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition, and the New Hampshire Homeschooling Network. These nonprofit or volunteer organizations provide learning ideas, teaching ideas and, maybe most importantly, support for both new and experienced homeschooling parents.
Michelle Levell, director and co-founder of Granite State Home Educators, said when the pandemic struck, a lot of parents were confused and scared when it came to their kids’ education. She said her group saw a big increase in usage – up to more than 4,000 members across its social media sites – and it even started subgroups to address new topics like homeschooling pods.
“When schools abruptly shut down in March 2020 with only (a few) days notice, parents were shocked,” said Levell, a homeschooling parent herself who started her group in 2016 because there weren’t enough resources.“Some still wanted to be in some sort of learning mindset. We tried to help fill that gap, thinking (the shut down) would only last a couple months. Lo and behold it rolled into the fall of the 2020-21 school year. We found a tsunami amount of people who started to investigate homeschooling.”
Levell said even though schools around the state started to bring students back in the spring of 2021, a large chunk of homeschoolers stayed home.
“I feel roughly 50-to-60 percent from our group stuck out for the rest of the year,” she said.
The Department of Education won’t have new data on the number of homeschoolers for the 2021-22 school year until the end of the year. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see the numbers go down, since in-person schooling started up again a few weeks ago and more parents are leaving their home offices and heading back to work.
Either way, the state will adapt.
The number of homeschooled students has “no direct effect on the Department of Education,” said Edelblut, who homeschooled his seven children. “We are happy to support the students of New Hampshire in any learning environment.”
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.