Hampton Roads homeschooling experts answer your most pressing questions
If you’re considering homeschooling for the first time, you probably feel overwhelmed. Many first-time homeschoolers would never have considered this path a year ago, but with the rocky shift to online-school in the spring and school districts’ hodge-podge return to school plans this fall, many parents feel they have no choice.
Brian Ray, president of the National Home Educators Research Institute, expects the number of homeschooled children in the U.S. to more than quadruple this school year to 13-14 percent nationwide. In North Carolina, the onslaught of parents notifying the state of their intent to homeschool crashed their website, resulting in an extended deadline.
In Virginia, if homeschoolers collectively comprised a school district, they would make up the seventh-largest district statewide, with the number of children homeschooled in the state steadily increasing. In the last six years the number has climbed by more than 20 percent. In Hampton Roads, Chesapeake leads with 2,121 registered homeschoolers, and Virginia Beach follows with 1,532 homeschoolers, as of the pre-COVID, 2019-2020 school year.
As a former homeschooled student from pre-kindergarten through one year of high school, I highly recommend homeschooling. The spirit of independent and curiosity-led learning that a homeschooling environment fosters better-prepared me for college than my college prep courses did, and gave me the confidence and skills I needed to succeed in the classroom and beyond. I graduated from Old Dominion University (ODU) with a degree in international business in 2019.
Whether you’re considering homeschooling permanently, you want a short-term fix for current education woes or you have already begun your homeschooling journey, consider these suggestions from several homeschooling experts on the most common questions asked by first-time homeschoolers. Additionally, you will find a list of helpful resources at the end of this article.
- Where do I start?
“If I could tell a new homeschooler anything, it would be to research homeschool philosophies before buying a thing,” said Catryna Jackson, founder of the homeschool co-op Williamsburg Classical Academy and provider of homeschool academic consulting. An engineer, she currently homeschools her youngest child in high school and her two oldest have graduated from high school and moved on to college. Her eldest graduated from Brandeis University in Massachusetts and her middle child attends University of Virginia (UVA) as a junior.
“Take some time to just enjoy your days and establish a good home routine,” said Vanessa Wagner, who has homeschooled in Norfolk for over seven years, with a son entering 8th grade and a daughter in 5th. “Then start adding in academic resources as needed.”
For most parents and students, that time of ‘deschooling,’ with no schoolwork at all, establishes the mental mindset necessary to homeschool well. It provides a period of transition between leaving the school system and entering homeschooling, acting as a mental reset. With all the scrambling and mixed-messages on school reopenings, there’s a good chance this summer doesn’t quite count.
“Take some time to sit quietly with yourself and reflect on what you believe about learning and about education,” wrote Adrienne Ashby, in a post on Medium.“Most of us start this homeschooling process with a lot of ideas that were put into us from our own schooling. These ideas will not serve us well when trying to homeschool our children.” Ashby, an attorney and organizer of a group for families of color who homeschool, she presently homeschools a middle and a high schooler. Her oldest son, also homeschooled, currently attends the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI, and next year will attend the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Ct.
- What curriculum should I buy?
The short version: Curriculum needs vary by child, learning style and long-term education goals. Start with a list of general subjects – algebra, history and biology – and then tailor and adapt learning plans accordingly.
“I would definitely say hold off on buying; see what you can do with resources like the library and the web,” said Wagner. “Especially knowing that a lot of new homeschoolers are coming to this with extra financial stress or anxiety.”
“If you’re newly homeschooling a high school student, take some time to think about your goals,” said Jackson. “Is it college? Then go in understanding what that means and your new role as your child’s guidance counselor.”
Understanding your child will help you build a learning plan that works – if one child learns biology best through drawing diagrams of the structure of the cell and another by doing nature walks, then that’s fine.
“Even though you may use a curriculum, you will be teaching the child and not the curriculum,” wrote Ashby.
“Unlike brick-and-mortar schools, homeschoolers fit the curriculum to the child, not the child to the curriculum,” said Sherene Silverberg. “There is no best curriculum, there is just the curriculum that works best for a particular child.” Silverberg owns the Homeschooling in Hampton Roads Facebook group, which currently has over 10,500 members, and she homeschooled twins, who now attend the College of William & Mary as sophomores.
Regardless of the child’s age or education goals, having them involved in the subject matter and learning choices makes a world of difference.
Wagner intentionally involves her daughter and son in their education process decisions.
“This is their life and education, and you will get a whole lot more cooperation and motivation when your child feels a sense of agency,” said Wagner.
Additionally, sticking with traditional methods of teaching standard subjects can cause unnecessary limitations.
“Talk to your kids,” said Jackson “You don’t have to teach just history. It can be East Asian history, African history, Persian history, the options are limitless. Take some time to chat with your kids about the things they are already interested in and the things they’d like to know more about.”
- What if my students fall behind?
For many parents who only plan to homeschool for a year or two before rejoining the public (or private) school system, this has become a recurring question. However, the concept of “falling behind” or “moving ahead” has roots in the traditional school system and has more in common with video game levels than it does with the way students learn.
“In homeschooling, we just work at our children’s pace,” said Silverberg. “It’s a rare homeschooling child that is at the same place in all subjects. So a 5th-grade child may be at a 5th-grade level for writing, a 7th-grade level for math and a high school level for reading and lit. We see many kids coming from public school with gaping holes in their math and reading in particular. Their parents use homeschooling to catch them up.”
“For anyone who is planning to send kids back after this school year, I say that this is the perfect year to homeschool,” said Ashby. “This school year, for the majority of students, will be experimental and therefore I expect that a lot of grace will be given by schools when all kids return.”
- How do I balance my time?
Jackson gives some practical advice. “If both parents or a single parent works, it’s very important to have an established system for assigning and checking school work, as well as chores. I used a visual timer for years with my kids so they knew how long to spend on assignments. I also had a daily schedule for each child that, while flexible, gave us a framework for our day.”
Final Advice to Parents
“For first-time homeschoolers, the best advice I got was the mantra ‘There are no emergencies in education,’” said Wagner.
The current and evolving changes in the school system has provided the perfect opportunity to evaluate expectations of students, teachers, parents and the goals of a primary education.
“Instead of focusing on what’s not going to happen, think about what’s possible. Maybe, just maybe every 9th grader isn’t meant to learn the same thing at the same time. I’d tell parents to take a step back and embrace helping their child discover who they are and what they enjoy doing,” said Jackson.
Silverberg offered some parting words of advice.
“I think that one of my biggest pieces of advice is not to replicate a brick-and-mortar school in your home. Take this opportunity to create something full of wonder for your child. Get to really know your child. Read books, build relationships, play games, and have fun.”
Have more questions about homeschooling? Use these resources to get you started, and support systems to keep you going.
Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV)
Since 1983 HEAV has promoted and protected homeschool rights and provided resources. Located in Richmond, the nonprofit has full-time office staff and hundreds of volunteers, happy to help by phone, email or their thousands of pages of up-to-date resources and the latest homeschool information.
The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers
One hundred percent volunteer-based, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers has resources and information on events, legal requirements and a Comprehensive Guide to Homeschooling in Virginia. This link will walk you through the steps to fill out your Notice of Intent to homeschool, which the Virginia Department of Education requires.
Homeschooling in Hampton Roads Facebook Group
With over 10,500 members from all walks of life and homeschooling backgrounds, HSinHR has an entire team to walk prospective and current homeschoolers through the ins and outs, including legal questions, curriculum choices and advice when things aren’t working out.
A fixture of the local homeschooling community for over a decade, Moore Expressions has a wide and ever-changing selection of curriculums, worksheets, workbooks and any kind of homeschool supply. The staff have all homeschooled their children and consider themselves “curriculum doctors,” happy to assist with whatever you need. Plus, they have a play area for children and adult-only shopping hours so you can flip through books and ask questions distraction-free.
6070 Indian River Rd., Virginia Beach, VA 23464
Homeschooling Support Groups and Co-ops
A comprehensive list compiled by the staff of Moore Expressions, this resource lists homeschooling groups by location with contact information for each.
Are you a homeschooler? Brand new to teaching your kids full time? A homeschool graduate?
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