BURRILLVILLE – Lisha Hall says homeschooling is, “a huge blessing,” for her family.

The Burrillville parent says one reward of teaching her children is, “seeing how they grow,” and helping them to, “grow as individuals.”

Many parents today are calling themselves “homeschoolers,” but, “just because learning happens at homes doesn’t make it homeschooling,” explained Jennifer Curry, state coordinator of Rhode Island Guild of Home Teachers.

Still, the substantial number of 300 families across Rhode Island currently connect with RIGHT.

Most children educated at home these days are distance learning. That’s a tremendous responsibility on the parent or parents, and distance learning is, “harder,” than homeschooling says Curry – for several reasons.

Students have to learn from a teacher on a screen instead of in person. There’s sometimes uncertainty of when classes might be held at school or online. Students must follow the specific curriculum, and classes are held at a specific time with no flexibility.

Homeschooling brings rewards and requires investment of time, said Curry. Parents need to figure out a schedule for their family. But unlike distance learning, that doesn’t have to mean Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and can accommodate the parents’ work schedule or for changes, such as a new baby in the family.

Homeschooling is possible, “if you have one parent who can invest the time,” said Hall.

Hall’s husband works, enabling her to be a stay-at-home mom.

She says she knew about homeschooling from friends’ families. And although the teachers Hall’s children had at school were “great, wonderful,” she says, an impetus for her to make the switch to homeschooling was when things were happening that she didn’t want her children exposed to.

Hall began homeschooling when her oldest, now age 21 and attending nursing school, was in elementary school. Another homeschooled Hall child is 19, and will soon earn an associate’s degree.

The busy mom now homeschools her ninth grade twins.

Her family home school has a, “rigorous workload,” said the mom. The day begins at 8 or 9 a.m. and can last for several hours. The family chooses to start lessons a few weeks earlier than public school. But the schedule for the Hall students is configured for flexibility, allowing times for things such as visits from relatives.

Although the homeschooling arrangements have room for flexibility, innovation, and creativity, the family is not exactly free to do whatever they please. In Rhode Island, families are expected to teach specific, mandated subjects, and meet other state demands, such as reporting attendance and grades.

Homeschoolers can meet individual needs and interests of the students. For instance, the Hall children through the years have learned about music and culinary arts as well as required subjects.

To get started with homeschooling, Curry explained, the parent must withdraw the child from school and write a letter of intent that goes before the school committee. The parent or parents must make a commitment to homeschooling, including submitting an end of the year report about meeting all requirements for teaching children at home – needed in order to be approved for the following year.

The idea that homeschooled children aren’t socialized is a misconception, according to Curry.

Support, she notes, comes in the form of of other homeschooling families. Some might participate in co-ops or pods, in which parents teach various subjects to small groups of students, or hire teachers, and participate in group activities such as field trips.

Homeschoolers might also attend private classes with other students, such as those offered by Good Company Tutorials in Attleboro, Mass. and Cranston, taught by professional teachers.

Organizations such as RIGHT also provide socializing and recreational opportunities. RIGHT has offered school dances, parties, bowling, art , and other activities.

The group also offers advice and support to parents; helps families understand the laws governing home education in Rhode Island; and
advocates on behalf of the state’s homeschool community at the state and local level.

Curry said she was inspired to get involved and homeschool her own children was when she witnessed a 12-year-old boy voluntarily helping his 3-year-old sister to learn. She said that homeschooling families have the opportunity to emphasize their particular values, such as helping others.

Some, “kids aren’t self learners any more,” Curry said. “We’re losing our problem-solving skills.”

The advocate says that homeschooling helps children to, “have confidence that they can figure things out.”

Homeschooling parents also typically spend much more time with their children, and therefore have more say in their upbringing.

“I just wanted to be with my kids. Just because they turned five didn’t mean I wasn’t capable of caring for them and had to send them off to a professional [teacher],” said Curry, who has eight children. “I love seeing them learn.”

She encourages parents who are thinking about homeschooling to take the jump.

“If you can learn how to learn, t(each) how to learn, have a love to learn – that’s all you need,” she said.

As a result of the state’s shutdowns, and distancing and capacity restrictions for schools, students currently aren’t educated full-time in brick and mortar schools, with all the benefits that brings. One consequence is some children, “have lost education opportunities,” Curry said.

Curry is empathetic with parents whose children are in front of a screen for hours distance learning, and then later return to a screen, watching TV or staring at a phone.

If, in the fall of 2021, people are still home-confined, the number of homeschoolers will rise exponentially, Curry predicts. Today’s distance learners might well be tomorrow’s homeschoolers.

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