As the fall semester gets underway in New Hampshire schools, area homeschool groups say they’re seeing a jump in interest that could indicate more families are turning to this alternative mode of education during the pandemic.
People are also reaching out to homeschooling veterans as they continue to navigate remote-learning through their school districts.
Since June, the Monadnock Area Homeschooling Families Facebook group has grown from about 250 families to nearly 380, according to Lisha Hunter, who acts as the administrator for the group. Hunter said most of that growth occurred as schools began to announce whether they’d return with remote, hybrid or in-person instruction this year.
Most area school districts have adopted a hybrid approach, although all of them have given families the option of keeping their children learning fully remotely.
“We saw a lot of growth especially probably beginning of August to mid-August as families were hearing from districts about the districts’ plans for the school year and families were in the process of making those decisions,” Hunter said.
In order to homeschool their children, New Hampshire residents need only notify the state, a private school or their local school district of their intent to do so. Under RSA 193-A, homeschooled students must also be assessed every year using a standardized method of the family’s choice. But those evaluations don’t need to be submitted to any state official or agency, and there are no requirements for what subjects must be taught.
According to area homeschoolers, more parents seem to be exploring the option. Chesterfield parent Leslie Burns, who has homeschooled all four of her children, is scheduled to give a Zoom seminar through the Chesterfield Public Library on Oct. 2 about getting started with home education. Burns, who also teaches online classes, said she recently held a similar event in her backyard after receiving inquiries from families looking to start teaching their children at home.
She said parents have come to her with logistical questions, such as how to find curriculum materials for a home education program, but she recommends that families take time first to consider whether homeschooling is truly a good fit for them.
“I encourage people just to think about what it means to educate a little person, and just to take seriously that idea that it takes effort and time, and to think seriously about whether they’re able to do that,” Burns said.
For the most part, families who have reached out to her seem to have reservations about what the year will look like in public school classrooms in light of COVID-19.
“Most people I talked to are just concerned about maybe the inconsistency and the unpredictability, because there is a need to be flexible in the educational and the public school setting,” Burns said. “And most of them are not thrilled with remote learning, or just concerned about the fact that so many different adjustments have to happen.”
Hunter, who lives in Fitzwilliam and homeschools her three daughters, said families coming to the Monadnock area Facebook group have cited similar concerns, along with worries about what in-person instruction might look like and how much time their children would be spending on the computer in a public school program. Some have also come to these groups looking for additional support to supplement their students’ remote learning plans.
“I think also just a curiosity about how homeschooling is different from what they experienced in the spring when everybody went remote and came home so quickly,” Hunter said. “Because anyone who’s been home educating for any period of time would say that what was happening, that wasn’t homeschooling, that was more — I think I’ve heard the term crisis schooling.”
Linda Bittner runs a homeschool group in Winchester through Classical Conversations, a Christian homeschooling community focused on classical education, emphasizing skills such as recitation, logical thinking and persuasive logic. The Winchester group, which offers classes for students ages 4 to 7, is new this year, and Bittner said at least one family participating chose to homeschool after their child struggled with remote learning in the spring. There is also an active Classical Conversations group in Peterborough that predated the pandemic.
“They’re seeing this as an opportunity to give it a try,” said Bittner, who has been homeschooling for 21 years. “You know, they may not do it long term, I don’t know. But for the moment, I think it’s really helping a lot of families to try homeschooling at this time.”
According to Amy Farkas of Gilsum, the Keene area representative for the N.H. Homeschooling Coalition, that organization, which provides information and resources to parents, has also seen an uptick in inquiries. She said the apparent growth in the local homeschooling community could be a “wonderful thing” for homeschooling in the Granite State and the Monadnock Region specifically.
“Because the Monadnock area, it seemed like there wasn’t much available to us as far as services or programs or fun things to do as much as there was in a bigger city,” said Farkas, who educates her three kids at home. “And so now, I’m seeing a lot of the local museums or farms offering programs for homeschoolers that weren’t there before.”
Stonewall Farm in Keene, for example, is offering a full-day outdoor enrichment program for students up to fifth grade this fall, which will include gardening, working with animals, nature-based crafting and other activities. Students can attend the program either on a drop-in basis, three days a week or five days a week, to accommodate remote and hybrid learning schedules. Farkas said several libraries have also reached out to the coalition to find out how they can better serve homeschool students.
It’s hard to say how many of the families that have come to homeschooling during this time will continue to do so after the pandemic has subsided. But several of the home educators interviewed for this article said there’s potential for long-term impacts on homeschooling in New Hampshire.
“I believe that some families will see that, hey, I can do this. A lot of people are intimidated by the idea, and it’s understandable — it’s a big responsibility to homeschool,” Bittner said. “And I think families are seeing, some of them, that they can do this and are seeing it as a viable option when in the past they may have been intimidated.”