Education

Homeschooling experts highlight the varied paths to gaining an education

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On Thursday, April 9, Maine Policy Institute hosted a panel of veteran homeschoolers and educators for a virtual townhall to answer questions from parents on how to weather the public shutdown over COVID-19 and facilitate learning at home. Last week, Maine’s education commissioner recommended that districts prepare to keep students physically out of the schools until the beginning of the next academic year in September.

Whether referred to as “distance learning,” “remote learning,” or “district-directed at-home instruction,” the change has required students to connect with teachers and classmates through video conferencing in order to fulfill lesson plans amid social distancing requirements. Although teachers and districts largely take on the brunt of directing curriculum, some families are experiencing very little interaction from their child’s school.

Many parents are restructuring their lives around this “accidental homeschooling” amid the public shutdown, on top of working from home, or in the worst case, looking for work or filing for unemployment. They are finding it to be more like homeschooling than anything they’ve experienced before.

Parents and families need more resources considering this situation will likely continue for the remainder of the academic year. That’s why Maine Policy sponsored the event, to impart the knowledge and wisdom of veteran homeschoolers to parents who have been temporarily thrust into it.

Watch a video of the townhall on Youtube or listen to it via Soundcloud.

The unstable situation of today’s world is not the ideal soil to plant your first seeds of homeschooling, but as Representative Heidi Sampson said in the townhall, “You have this time to get to know your children. What is it that floats their boat?” As unsettling as the world can be today, this time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders could allow parents a closer look into what inspires their children to learn.

Self-directed learning could help us unlock a greater understanding of how children develop knowledge and skills in a world that is rapidly changing.

In the not-too-distant future where technology runs more and more of our lives and the economy, what skills will be needed? They will be those fundamentally human skills, also referred to as “soft skills,” but those inherent in social interaction, consensus building, imagination, and entrepreneurship.

As the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” arrives, it brings us high-speed 5G wireless networks, artificial intelligence, and increasing automation in manufacturing, transportation, and logistics. The World Economic Forum estimates that over one-third of the skills considered important in the past will have changed in the next 10 years.

While skills like negotiation, complex problem solving, and coordinating with others are estimated to continue to be important, creativity, active listening, and emotional intelligence have risen to the forefront as more firms depend on authentic human connection to rise above the clutter of today’s globalized, mechanized markets.

Traditional schooling is a path to education for many people, but it can take place whether at home or at school. There are many ways to cultivate an educated person, and instill a passion for learning. Children are not merely empty vessels to be filled with knowledge, but separate individuals with their own interests, talents, proclivities, and challenges. To believe that children can only learn by being taught completely misses the fact that they are people too.

Looking back on one’s life, it is likely to find many scenarios where something was learned only through experience or relationships, through failing and careful reflection. In many ways, traditional schooling leaves the diverse array of alternatives out in favor of an educational model that values obedience over all.

Community-based homeschooling, and even more unstructured, more student-directed methods like Unschooling and the Sudbury School have seen greater and greater popularity in the last 20 to 30 years. Could this moment of temporary adaptation lead to a future with many more options for a formal education?

In the interest of helping those parents and students new to educating at home, Maine Policy and Ms. Jane Keffer, a panel member of the virtual townhall, have assembled a broad array of free or discounted online resources to aid and inspire self-directed learning for people of all ages.

Royal Academy Education (RAE) is helping parents during the COVID-19 school closures by offering free, personal, hour-long consultations (normally $70) to answer questions and help parents navigate this challenging time. RAE has offices in Maine and Vermont, is fully-accredited, and offers a completely individualized approach to homeschooling with a mix of online and ‘blended learning.’

Khan Academy is a nonprofit offering a free online learning platform for K-12 students and other remote learning resources related to COVID-19 school closures, such as daily schedules for students as young as age two.

The Journal, an online education and technology magazine, has compiled a long list of free or almost free online resources for parents and teachers. These include everything from lessons on computer programming, foreign languages, and visual arts/graphics, to virtual and interactive tours of museums around the world.

The National Constitution Center provides free online resources for elementary through high school and beyond, along with links to many virtual learning platforms.

National Humanities Center offers free digital classroom resources through their “America in the Classroom” thematic lessons for mid- to upper-grade level students. NHC provides curriculum resources such as lesson plans, questions, videos, digital textbooks and podcasts that integrate literature, fine arts, and primary source materials. 

UnitStudy.com is now offering discounted access to their across-the-board, thematic curriculum resources for grades 5-12. These can be used for multiple grade levels, with complete lesson plans, reading materials, videos, projects and activities provided for several age groups. All that is needed is an internet connected device like tablet or computer. All internet links have been checked and double-checked for accuracy and child-friendliness.

Hillsdale College, a well-established private college in Michigan, provides free online courses for high school and adult learning in history, politics, literature, philosophy, religion, economics, and more. These are taught by college professors in a very engaging way. All courses are free online and include reading material, online quizzes and interaction with instructors.

Digital History offers a complete and free coverage of high school American History using a chronological timeline and a range of historical topics and themes. It also includes activities, projects, lesson plans and quizzes. Also suitable for junior high school level.

The Omni Calculator Project is a community of scientists and researchers that built 1000 math and physics calculators to make homeschooling less challenging for parents and kids. Each of them is equipped with tips and detailed explanations of concepts to various scientific phenomena.

Education.com offers a wide variety of resources that can be downloaded or completed online, including many learning games. They are granting access to some of their premium content for those with only a free “Basic” account.

Freedom Homeschooling provides a broad list of online resources that many homeschool parents use to supplement curricula. The list includes well known educational suppliers like Houghton-Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, and even “Virtual Science Labs”.

Hippocampus.org, a project of the Monterrey Institute for Technology and Education offers lesson plans for the natural sciences, humanities, math, and social sciences.

Unschool.School is a marketplace connecting parents and students to tutors and teachers for all kinds of subjects in their community.

For low-income households in Maine who are homeschooling, the Maine Children’s Scholarship Fund offers scholarships to aid in the cost to families who choose to homeschool.

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around the state.

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