Back to School, In a New Way

8/31/2020

This fall, students will be going back to school, or at least a form of it, to start their 20/21 school year. Since the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on our country and the rest of the world, one of the most fundamental institutions of our society and culture has been challenged. Many parents look to schools as the place where they can leave their children for the major part of the day and feel good that they are in a safe environment learning the fundamentals of math, science, and reading/writing while socializing with friends and navigating group dynamics. Last year, parents and schools were focused on anti-bullying, this year, the bully and the bullied have been sent home.

A Hijacked Label

This ‘new-normal’ – a term that is becoming less endearing with time – presents social, educational, and mental health challenges for children and much stress to their parents. Queue in homeschool parents who fight this ‘lack of socialization’ and mental health stigma on a daily basis. Homeschool parents and groups have been blowing up on social media recently in part because their coveted ‘homeschool parent/family’ labels have been hijacked by the rest of us. It is absolutely fair to say that true homeschoolers are those who chose a more non-traditional form of education for their children. While many years ago, homeschooled children (outside traveling military families) would have garnered quizzical looks, nowadays they are much more mainstream and a popular alternative to traditional brick and mortar schools for many. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, as of March 2020, there are 2.5 million homeschool students in grades k-12 in the United States or approximately 3% to 4% of school-age children. For that reason, this is a good time to pause and see if we all can take a few minutes to learn what makes homeschooling appealing to them, how they make it work, and most importantly, how we can learn to solve for, or avoid lack of socialization and mental health concerns for our children. While many of us are not true homeschoolers nor do we plan on becoming ones, it is helpful to look at the benefits that are cited by them and try to apply some of their methods if not in some hybrid fashion.

What we can learn

Although our schools will still dictate what our children will learn during this school year, we can apply a few true ‘homeschool’ methods to this learning process. For each lesson where a real-life application can be tried, we can take a queue from homeschoolers and bring the lesson to life. In so many cases, public school teachers are squeezed for time and they simply can’t always create lesson-related activities for their students. This is our chance! Take the lesson, and look at it from a modern, real-world perspective. For example, is your child in 7th grade civics and learning about elections: bingo! Talk to them about the current political campaigns, the various ways to register to vote and what to expect from the process.
Another great advantage of having the children home is that we get to choose who they socialize with. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been forgotten, but trending now is a ‘social bubbles’ or ‘learning pods’ method of getting children together to play and socialize. These pods are formed by parents that live in the same community, belong to the same church, or even through meeting on social platforms. This is not unlike what homeschoolers do – they indeed socialize and get together with other families all the time hence their chagrin over anyone that shows concern over the ‘lack of socialization’. In fact, today’s schools don’t give our children enough time for healthy socialization because schedules are hurried and everything is pre-planned.

Finally, because of our general reliance on schools to be our children’s educational guides, it is fair to say that we have eased our foot off the educational pedals and have let the teachers get in the driver seat. That’s what teachers do after all, right? However, this year, or at least in the next few months, it is time to take control back and watch and observe our children learn. Find their strengths, nurture their deficiencies, and decide how best to help and redirect. It is not an easy task and we certainly didn’t sign up for it, but while we have it, let’s take a moment to reflect on how this may be a window into our children’s educational abilities. It may reveal to you as parent things you didn’t see before.
With that, remember, the majority of us are temporary pass holders to the ‘homeschool’ world and we can take care of our children while curtailing the concerns over the social and mental health issues. Let’s take the queues for the traditional homeschoolers and learn as we go.

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