While the pandemic continues to impact life in the U.S, homeschooling is garnering more attention. Even before COVID-19 changed formal education in the U.S., some parents were already opting for homeschooling because of the freedom in curricular choice, flexibility in scheduling and personalization of instruction it offers. Last year, there were 2.5 million homeschooled students in the U.S., and the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) projected 20% growth in the 2020/2021 school year. Homeschooling families today are increasingly diverse, and they need support and materials that align with their values. Leveraging social media influencer partnerships and online platforms, brands are stepping up to meet the needs of the growing homeschooling audience segment.
2020 Profile Of Homeschooling Families
According to the Associated Press (AP), many states are seeing sharp rises in applications for homeschooling compared to the same time a year ago. As of July, four in five families in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic this spring, said they were open to homeschooling. Nebraska, Arizona, North Carolina and Vermont have all also reported sharp rises in homeschooling applications.
Homeschooling families are increasingly diverse, both racially and ideologically. NHERI estimates 15% of homeschool families are non-white/non-Hispanic, and this share appears to be increasing. In a June 2020 Edchoice survey, both Black (43%) and Hispanic (45%) parents were more likely than White (39%) parents to say they are at least somewhat likely to homeschool their children during the next school year. More than half of Black parents (53%) in the survey said they have more favorable opinions of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic, with 57% citing the main reason they are considering homeschooling is to find a safer environment for their children. The Edchoice survey shows that, among all parents surveyed, safety concerns (50%) greatly outweighed the desire to provide religious education (15%), previously considered a top reason for selecting homeschool options. As the pandemic continues to disrupt public schools, more families are opting to homeschool for secular reasons.
In addition to shifting demographics, the traditional homeschooling arrangement is also rapidly evolving. Some families are working together to provide both the academic and social features of education in small, closed groups called “pandemic pods,” learning pods or microschools. Some of these cooperatives are designed to support the remote curriculum from schools, and some are homeschools using the one-room schoolhouse model. These learning pods may be taught by parents or hired teachers, and they often use “blended learning” models which combine features of traditional homeschool and online curriculum programs.
Homeschooling Parents Find Valuable Resources Via Social Media Channels
Google Trends reported searches for the term “homeschool” and “secular homeschooling” peaked at their highest level in five years in August, showing that many families are searching for education materials and support online, even if they are not formally homeschooling. Offering support to families, including links and resources to a wide array of homeschooling materials, are hundreds of homeschooling influencers with thousands of followers across digital media channels. Two top influencers, Simple Homeschool and Hip Homeschool Moms, have websites with ecommerce stores, more than 100,000 followers on Facebook and followings across Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and Twitter. Heritage Mom, with the mission of “raising Black kids to love themselves and others,” is a homeschooling influencer with a growing fan base on Instagram. She offers “Heritage Packs,” bundled multicultural books and lessons in the ecommerce store on her website. IXL Learning collaborates with many of the top homeschooling influencers and publishes their own blog to support families using their personalized skills practice programs. IXL has more than 10 million active students worldwide, is used by one in six students in the U.S. today and is popular with both schools and homeschooling families.
Educational Platforms Provide Solutions For Diverse Families Via Subscription Services
Online educational platforms Outschool, SEA Online and Learning Poppies are providing places for diverse homeschooling families to choose from wide varieties of core courses, electives and clubs, with subscription and à la carte options plus supplemental materials and support available.
According to influencer Muffy Mendoza of Brown Mamas blog, the choice to homeschool for many Black families is about more than safety from the coronavirus, “Black families are taking charge of their children’s education as a way of liberating them from systematic racism and exposing them to Black history and culture that is missing from schools.” Outschool is one educational platform that is meeting the desire for a variety of diverse course offerings, including Black History from a Decolonized Perspective and Literature in Color. Outschool provides flexibility for families by offering courses on different schedules in a variety of formats. Families pay by the course or, for ongoing courses that meet weekly over an extended period of time, Outschool offers a subscription option.
Traditionally, the homeschooling community has been more religious than the general population, but that is changing. Americans of parenting age today are less likely to be affiliated with any religious group than older generations. To meet the demand for secular online courses and materials for homeschooling families, Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers (SEA), launched their online subscription-based platform this summer. According to founder Michelle Parrinello-Cason, “The influx of new homeschoolers has largely been people who are looking for secular materials because they’re coming from public schools where that was already the norm.”
My Little Poppies is another subscription-based online learning platform, this one run by a school psychologist and mother of two. The My Little Poppies platform offers courses for gifted and talented students and special needs students. My Little Poppies advances the founder’s belief in “gameschooling,” the use of learning games as a part of the homeschooling curriculum, and partners with Amazon to sell recommended educational games.
Out-Of-The-Box – And Away From The Screen – Solutions Help Families Innovate Their Homeschooling Curriculums
Screen time has been a concern for parents for years, and when remote learning forced schools online, those concerns were amplified, especially for parents of young children. Prior to the pandemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended an hour or less per day of screen time for children between four and nine years of age. Tinkergarten and Learning-Pods are providing solutions for homeschooling families to cut down on screen time, especially for young children.
- Tinkergarten is providing homeschooling families with an outdoor-based curriculum to get young children off of screens for “healthy, fun, engaging experiences in the physical freedom of local green spaces.” The subscription service includes weekly online “Circle Time” sessions, grouping children from two- to five-years old and five- to eight-years old. Tinkergarten has reported 35,000 new signups for its home-based programs since March 15, according to The Wall Street Journal.
- Learning-Pods.com is a service that is meeting the needs of families who want an in-person teacher for small groups of children who meet at a family’s home to learn together. Learning-Pods connects learning pod groups to the best teachers, curriculum and project-based enrichment activities for their needs. They are partnering with Read Write Inc. and Investigations 3 for standards-based curriculum in reading, writing and math. Learning-pods is building goodwill with their communities by making a commitment to educational equity with their financial aid program.
Even before the pandemic, homeschooling was growing at a rate of 2-8% per year according to NHERI. When schools closed in March, families of all racial, ethnic and class backgrounds were forced to spend more time educating their children at home. As schools remain closed or restricted while the pandemic continues, an increasing number of families are opting to homeschool. Homeschooling parents are finding support from a vast interconnected network of social media influencers, bloggers and online learning platforms that are providing curriculum, materials and supplies through multiple digital channels.
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