A working mom tackles at-home learning options.

The number of parents and caregivers exploring alternatives to traditional “big box” schooling, either because of COVID-19 or a host of other more established issues, has skyrocketed in recent months. Some recent polling suggests that we should expect as many as eight million new homeschoolers—and that doesn’t even count private, charter, and other alternative models. Even teachers are looking for alternative models. One in five teachers have indicated they’re looking for other avenues to use their talents. 

During the summer months of 2020, many hoped that “back-to-school 2020” might be the return of a normal year. But that was not the case.  Many parents spent sleepless nights trying to wrap their heads around the landscape of education and make an informed decision about how to school their kids. Many of us were left with more questions than answers. Chief among them: “What is the appropriate path or option for my kid?” And while the most obvious answer is “It can be whatever I deem best for my kid,” that doesn’t exactly rid anyone of their anxiety over what to do and how to do it. Here is some research on the options that are available to parents:  

From homeschooling to pod and micro schooling, and various hybrid models in between, there are no shortages of options. And, importantly, there is no decision that cannot be undone (often even during the school year). With that said, there are two critical and universal lessons I learned through my own research that may help you. 

You don’t have to pick from your school’s options. 

I’ve spoken to countless moms, dads, teachers, and administrators who have all expressed some level of frustration with the options their schools offer. The sheer disorganization with which many districts are reopening schools has left many of us with a bad taste in our mouth. 

For many of us, the “options” will likely include (with some help from the CDC), a few of the following: 

Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events. 

Hybrid Learning Model: Some students participate in virtual learning and other students participate in in-person learning. 

Hybrid Learning Model: Most students participate in in-person learning, some students participate in virtual learning. 

Students and teachers engage in in-person only learning, activities, and events. 

Plans vary widely over these options from district to district and often have sets of triggers that move them from one option to another. For example, your district may well see as many as all four of these options within a few months. Many districts are also offering choices between models. And while that sounds noble, tasking a single educator with in-person, hybrid, and virtual learning for a single class doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Frankly, it sounds a bit ominous and hazy to me, so I started looking at other pathways.What I landed on first was an incredibly important lesson. I also don’t have to pick from the options presented to me. After a bit of research, it became clear that I can opt out of my traditional school fora year (or even part of the year in some districts), and I can come back at will. Immediately, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. Nothing I do here is permanent. In fact, a little experimentation might be fun. 

But at the end of the day, I wanted to choose the option that was both the best for my girls’ continued learning and tailored to them, while negating as much of the health risk as humanly possible. 

Do what’s right for you, right now.

As I read more about the many school models around me (there are way more options than I ever knew about), I had to start making some pros/cons lists. I had never realized that one could shop for their kids’ education; it’s kinda fun!

So I built a little rubric:

I knew I wanted something safe. That, to me, meant small class sizes and a very reduced student body.

I knew I wanted something that worked around my schedule. While I’d love to be Supermom here and quit my job to homeschool, that just isn’t in the cards. Frankly, it’d be bad for everyone involved! So I need an option that allows me to work during the day.

I knew I wanted something flexible. My two girls couldn’t be more different in their interests and personalities. If we get to take a year away from all the goofy tests, I want them to pursue their unique talents.

I knew I wanted something social. While I wasn’t worried about my girls doing solo work, they just tend to thrive in a social environment. So I needed to find something that let them feed off the energy of other kids. 

I put that all in a cocktail mixer and gave it a shake. Out poured the perfect option for me and my girls at this moment: a microschool. 

A reinvention of the old one-room schoolhouse, a microschool has smaller class sizes (typically somewhere in the neighborhood of 10). The microschool I picked blended online and in-person learning, using social time to do group projects and activities, and other time to let students pursue their academics at their own, individualized pace. One of the coolest things about the microschool I found is that it runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with flexible drop-offs. That means I can fit school to my schedule rather than the reverse. 

While my choice might not be right for you, you have options: traditional homeschooling, pod learning, online-only schools, and other hybrid learning options as mentioned above. Build your own little rubric and find out what’s the best fit for your family. Remember, you got this. 

You are not alone. 

Think you’re the only one feeling anxious and overwhelmed? Parents are confused, upset, and at-a-loss across the nation. Some have taken to social media to vent their frustrations.  

Thinking about alternatives isn’t the exception right now, it’s the rule. According to 2020 USA Today/Ipsos poll, 60 percent of parents surveyed said they would choose at-home learning in the fall of 2020 fall rather than send their children to school even if the schools reopened for in-person learning. Thirty percent of parents surveyed said they were “very likely” to keep their children home. 
Many parents opted out of conventional schooling for the 2020-2021 school year, citing onerous social distancing requirements as a primary reason, according to the Foundation for Economic Education
We’re living in remarkable times. We’re dealing with unfamiliar circumstances, facing new challenges and navigating new obstacles. Don’t try to do it alone. Find places to vent, to think out loud, to brainstorm solutions. Try joining a Facebook group like ours, or getting together with other local parents. And remember, you  got this. Find what feels right this year and try it. We moms have your back.