JULIE HOWARD RECENTLY took her son, Spencer, to the military bases making up the Triangle of Fire guarding Puget Sound. They discussed everything from biology to geology to Native American history to military strategy.
It was a treat — but also an educational school trip. Howard has been home schooling Spencer, a fifth-grader, for three years.
She’s one of many home-schooling parents who’ve been offering help and advice to families taking on more teaching, whether that’s for good, or until they can return to traditional school in person.
“I’ve been asking other parents I know that are home-schoolers,” Howard says. “They’ve been asking me questions, too.”
Amid confusion over how to handle schooling this year, interest in alternatives to traditional education is exploding. “There are definitely a lot more people interested in home-schooling. We are getting tons of people signing up,” says Sara Cammeresi, a home-schooling mom and a steering-committee member of the Seattle Homeschool Group, which offers support and networking for Seattle home-schoolers.
Some of the parents she’s heard from are taking the plunge into full-time home schooling, while others are looking for ideas as they implement hybrid options.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t genuinely believe in it and how it works, but we’re happy to share what we’ve learned” with nonhome-school parents, Cammeresi says.
Home-schoolers are facing their own challenges. Many of the museums and libraries they rely on for interactive activities are closed. They can’t meet up and socialize at local parks as they used to.
And helping other parents, especially those whose kids are in traditional school, can get overwhelming. As the Seattle Homeschoolers group on Facebook notes in its introductory text for prospective members: “We welcome those who are homeschool-curious. If you fall into this category, please be respectful of the labor every single home-school family puts into the work of home schooling.”
Home-schoolers have long helped each other navigate the many facets of educating kids. They give advice on choosing curricula and share resources, and might divide up teaching duties.
Howard recently had a videoconference with about 10 other parents, discussing which school subjects each could take a turn overseeing this year. “We can do different things, which is really cool,” she says.
The good news for all parents is that many museums and other organizations are bringing programming online, opening those programs up to more and more students.
A few of Howard’s favorite resources: Outschool, DigiPen Institute of Technology and Khan Academy present online classes and camps; Seattle-based nonprofit Pacific Marine Research used to take kids out on the water and now has a slate of online programs.
She teaches Spencer through the Northshore Family Partnership program, in which the school district supports home-schoolers. Other resources include the statewide Washington Homeschool Organization and Facebook pages for home schooling in various communities.
But one of Howard’s favorite — and most pandemic-friendly — ways to teach is through everyday life. Helping cook dinner teaches kids reading, math and science, for example. Gardening might bring up a conversation about the food supply.
“You teach your children all the time,” she says. “You just don’t think about it that way.”