With the coronavirus making many parents question how their children get educated, Challis mother and veteran homeschool parent Lisa Banks said she’s fielded a lot of questions in recent months.
“I just tell people to do what’s best for their family,” Banks said.
Mike Barrett said he heeded that advice when he and his wife Tracy took their 12-year-old twins, Brooke and Christian, out of the Challis School District this year. They don’t have anything against public education, Barrett said, but because they didn’t want COVID-19 restrictions interfering with learning, they decided to teach them at home.
The Barretts, and several other families in Challis, are following a trend of parents educating children at home during the pandemic. Whether because of the virus itself or the restrictions that accompany it, some parents said they didn’t feel comfortable with the education their children would have received this year.
“We wanted to keep education at the forefront,” Challis mother Bonnie Haeberle said. “We didn’t want our son distracted by the new logistics.”
Haeberle said she and her husband Miles think methods to fight the virus in schools, including putting plastic barriers around desks and offering some remote learning, would pull their 12-year-old son’s focus away from his studies.
Parent Bj Bryant said similar things prompted he and his wife Shelbie to pull their two children out of Challis Elementary School this year. They wanted fourth-grader Emily and first-grader Evan to have stability in their education. The potential of bouncing in and out of remote learning, plus the general stress that comes with a communicable virus running rampant, didn’t sound ideal for their kids, Bryant said.
Lisa and Chad Banks have homeschooled their children for a few years. Lisa said the increased interest in homeschooling has been intriguing to watch. As more parents homeschool, more will likely see the advantages of it, she said. Children learn at their own pace, Banks said, and learn best when an educator can give them undivided attention.
Tyler Thayn said he and his wife ZhohnAnn began homeschooling their kids two years ago on a part-time basis. They went full time this year because of the virus. Thayn said they are trying to do what’s best for their family, which is why they haven’t completely abandoned the idea of letting fourth-graders Emarie and Owen, first-grader Abria and kindergartener Ella return to the classroom once the pandemic is over.
One of the biggest disadvantages of homeschooling, Thayn said, is the lack of social connections for children. A big part of public education is allowing students to interact with one another to learn what’s acceptable social behavior, and Thayn admitted that’s hard to replicate at home.
Bryant agreed. Another issue is college admissions, he said. Because most universities look for an accredited high school diploma from applicants, homeschooled students can have a tough time applying.
“We’ll get through this and get the kids back in school,” Bryant said.
Both Bryant and Thayn appreciate the flexibility allowed to homeschool in Idaho. According to State Department of Education officials, parents don’t have to tell their local district they want to homeschool unless their child was previously enrolled, they don’t have to be certified teachers, they don’t have to stick with any set curriculum and they don’t have to report their children’s grades to the state.
Barrett said having the flexibility to teach his children what he and his wife deem important is a definite benefit. They cover basic subjects like math, science and writing, but when given room to explore other options, their children have found new interests.
Banks said her oldest, 13-year-old Parker, loves to cook. So the two of them have been in the kitchen a lot. Barrett, on the other hand, said focusing more on history and current events has led to interesting dinner table discussions.
“I think kids are put in boxes when they can be such different learners,” Banks said.
The drawback is that there are thousands of options for homeschooling and it can take some time to find the right fit. Banks and Thayn said they supplement their children’s educations with the Good and the Beautiful, a web-based learning program that covers basic subjects, comes with an online library and is geared to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students.
Thayn also uses Overture Learning, which, in connection with a school district, provides reimbursements for educational expenses and assistance. Working with the Blackfoot School District, Thayn said his kids have a good mix of education sources.
Tracy Barrett said her family also uses Overture Learning, but in connection with the Bear Lake School District. Along with helping pay for supplies, she said having the option to work with a school district helps track progress of her children.
Banks said one of the best parts about homeschooling is the time she gets to spend with her children. Along with giving them room to explore, Banks said the experience has given her family time to pursue similar interests, like traveling and exercise.