Most Schools Won’t Reopen in Fall 2020: Here Are Some Alternatives for Learning
by Linnea Johnson
As parents come to the realization that COVID is not going away and that schools are unlikely to reopen before the winter break, they are nervously exploring options, including homeschooling, micro-schools, and teaching pods.
What’s a micro-school or a teaching pod, you ask?
It’s a private school that hearkens back to the one-room schoolhouse and incorporates these elements:
- Micro schools have no more than 150 students, but are often smaller—from around 10 to a few dozen students
- Teaching pods are typically smaller in size
- Multiple ages learn together in a single classroom;
- Teachers act more as guides than lecturers
- In teaching pods, parents may share instructional responsibility along with a paid teacher or tutor
- There’s a heavy emphasis on digital and project-based learning
- Education is highly personalized. (Source)
In a private micro-school parents pool their resources to hire a teacher to educate their children. In learning pods, parents are more likely to share instructional responsibilities, with some tutoring outsourced. These are new twists on the idea of homeschooling which leverage shared resources and give the parent some control over their child’s learning environment.
Homeschoolers have been doing this for a long time, forming homeschool co-ops, where parents share the responsibilities and costs for planning and instruction. Sometimes, classes are made available for homeschool students by homeschool organizations for a small fee. Parents enroll their children in specialized classes or programs formulated specifically for students during daytime hours.
Homeschooling, by whatever name you call it, is still the option of choice for many parents
Children benefit from knowing that their parents are willing to spend on them their most precious resource- time and attention. In my opinion, homeschooling is still the best alternative. It looks like many parents agree.
Homeschooling numbers are difficult to track, but North Carolina’s website for families announcing plans to homeschool crashed at the beginning of July “due to an overwhelming submission of Notices of Intent.” The site continues to experience high demand.
The Texas Homeschool Coalition (THSC), which maintains an online withdrawal tool to help families notify their districts that they’ll be homeschooling, reports that it “saw 15 times the number of public school families withdraw from public school through THSC’s website to homeschool compared to the number of families who did so in July 2019. (Source)
Have you figured out what you’re going to do yet for school?
In a previous article we talked about questions to ask yourself and your children before determining how you will homeschool. The amount of time and money you can commit to teaching your children is one part of that formula. The other part of the formula is what your children need and want.
There are different homeschool styles and methods, which range from fully online and minimal parent intervention to more intense parental involvement in the homeschool. Most veteran homeschoolers have tried many of the methods and incorporate elements of each in their homeschool.
Unit studies are based on a theme and incorporate multiple subjects into a unit. The theme could be based on anything, including a science project, an historical time period, a cultural event, or a season. An example of a unit study might be studying how eggs hatch. Children would learn how the chick develops in the egg, their reading and spelling would focus on vocabulary related to chickens and hatching, and they could use math to calculate the number of days until hatching.
The children would be responsible for keeping the correct humidity and temperature in the incubator, and they could be responsible for turning the eggs every few hours to emulate how a hen keeps her nest. When the chicks hatch, there are a sundry of duties associated with caring for them and your children will learn to care for animals.
Unit studies are especially helpful when you are teaching more than one child or you participate in a co-op group with other children across age groups.
Montessori or Kinesthetic Self-Select
Many people are die-hard believers in the Montessori method, including the mother of Christopher Paolini, who wrote the Eragon fantasy book series. In the Montessori approach, students across ages do realistic tasks and activities at “work centers”. You may have seen this implemented in classrooms with younger students working at learning centers.
Montessori methods allow the student to self-select an activity, use real tools, and concentrate on that skill or activity for an uninterrupted block of time. For instance, you could teach your child how to safely slice an apple with a sharp knife or to properly and safely hammer in nails to wood.
The Montessori method is especially good for hands-on learners or a group of children in different age groups.
There are three phases in classical learning.
- The Grammar phase is where the foundation for all other learning is laid. In this phase, children are learning the alphabet, phonics, basic reading, and basic math.
- The Logic phase, around 5th grade, begins focusing on critical and analytical thinking. Students use the foundation that was laid in the grammar stage and apply it to other things.
- The Rhetoric phase, typically the final stage with high school age students, examines the rules of logic and Socratic reasoning.
Typically, students participating in this type of learning will have a good grasp of language mechanics, reasoning, and can easily develop debate strategies and persuasive writing skills.
The Charlotte Mason style of learning focuses on source books, or what they call “living books” and not textbooks. Textbooks typically publish excerpts of source books, do not include the entire literary work, and provide commentary and questions to evaluate the work. The Charlotte Mason method teaches reading and writing through original prose or poetry books.
A homeschool using the combination method has flexible schedules and goals and may use a variety of curriculum and styles, including packaged, online, or a combination thereof for different subjects. (Based on student need and what best fits the family or group.)
Unschooling allows a child to choose what they want to learn, with the parent simply facilitating the learning. Unschoolers believe children are curious by nature, that there’s a lot to learn in everyday life. This method is popular with parents who believe that children should not be forced to learn something they are not interested in. Surprisingly, left to themselves, children can learn a great deal more than we could ever imagine.
While there are many methods from which to choose, your choice for a particular subject or child will be based on your availability to support your child’s learning and your child’s learning preferences.
A Word about Math
Most homeschoolers find out that math is the great differentiator between students and so math instruction tends to be individualized. With the exception of reading, most other subjects can be taught in a small group and children can learn at their own path. Math is a subject best taught individually for each student. One child gets the concepts quickly; another may require more time or different types of instruction.
Let children learn math at the pace and via the method best adapted for them.
Your Method and Curriculum will Depend Upon You and Your Children
Packaged curriculum may follow a certain style and will often disclose that in their descriptions. Others employ methods across the homeschool styles. Most online courses that are graded by a school will employ a lecture and demonstration method of learning. This is the closest method to remote learning that students in public schools will use this fall. Some math curriculum rely heavily on manipulative, like Cuisenaire rods to facilitate the learning process.
The benefits of homeschooling is that the parent can differentiate the learning style to suit the child. A bonus is that there are extra hours in the day that your children can learn things that excite them or that you know they will need in life. There are many life-skills that schools don’t teach, but you can.
The choice to homeschool is a sacrifice but one that will repay you many times over in happy and contented children who grow into well-adjusted adults, and who get along with each other and with you. I am eternally grateful for the time I spent with my children and they, as young adults, are a tremendous joy to me now.
Linnea Johnson has her MA in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught preschool students through adults on topics including music, English as a 2nd language, technology, business and personal finance. She and her husband homeschooled their two active sons; both went on to careers in entrepreneurship. Her greatest joy is spending time with her family, cultivating an urban farm, creating fused glass items and enameled jewelry, and traveling with her husband. Linnea authors starthomeschoolnow.com