Kelley Richey: “My mom let her mental health issues seep into every aspect of our lives”

Mom would tell me that I was refusing to learn how to read because I didn’t love her. That really triggered so much anxiety in me as a youngster trying my very best to understand new concepts that weren’t easy.”

The following story is my own experiences as a product of homeschooling. I have taken chunks of already written material from my blog where I discuss my experiences in depth. I have compiled the most relevant information within this testimonial and I hope it is eye-opening as well as informative. 

My name is Kelley Richey and I am the middle child of six children. We were raised in an extremely religious and right-wing, homeschool setting in rural Kentucky. My two oldest sisters attended elementary school until they were pulled out of the public school system to be taught at home. I was homeschooled from Kindergarten through highschool graduation. Due to the nature of my experiences, the process of being taught at home was not easy, and definitely not pleasant. 

My mom is a woman who suffers from severe mental health issues, which made life and school extremely hard. She was both emotionally and physically abusive with every one of us. She let her mental issues, which ranged from severe depression to multiple personality disorder, seep into every aspect of our lives. 

My memories of being homeschooled early on consist of mom trying to teach me to read. It was such a difficult and traumatic process for me. She would take my struggling to learn as a personal attack. Mom would tell me that I was refusing to learn how to read because I didn’t love her. That really triggered so much anxiety in me as a youngster trying my very best to understand new concepts that weren’t easy. I always felt like the stakes were SOOO high if I did not succeed. 

I loved my mother regardless of her inability to see it. I wanted to read and I wanted to learn. But even though I eventually did learn how to read, it remains a very traumatic period in my young life. She would tell me that I wasn’t learning math (or whatever the struggle was that particular day) because I couldn’t prove to her that I loved her. If I was really having trouble with a concept, I would receive a spanking or two. Every day, learning to me meant that if I did not pick up the concepts, then I would be beaten or told that I was an unloving child. 

Later on my mother would end up not teaching me high school. As I entered my freshman year she said “I will not help you with your schoolwork at all if you cannot once and for all prove to me that you love me”. This was an impossible task because she had severe abandonment issues and deeply believed that nobody loved her at all. Her idea of love was so specific, unknown, or unachievable to us, it increasingly became impossible to achieve or prove. 

The most exciting thing about homeschooling as a kid was the excitement over new books, which was the extent of my mom’s effort in providing us with an education. We would put a lot of energy into picking our curriculum. Abeka, which was my favorite brand of textbooks—I loved their science books and thought the textbooks were beautiful, with lots of colorful illustrations and photographs—or Bob Jones, which was the most depressing and colorless curriculum I’ve ever seen in my life. We would get our new books, we would be excited, we would open them and we were then given free rein to teach ourselves. 

That, in and of itself, was hugely detrimental. How can a child teach themselves a subject they don’t understand? Math for instance was and remains hell for me. I can’t tell you how many beatings I received over my inability to learn it. In fact, I believe to this day that I was dealing with an (undiagnosed) learning disability like ADHD or something to that effect, but it was seen as just pure rebellion. 

I don’t fully understand how I even survived as a child, but I did love to learn and I would try my best to teach myself. But there was no structure or designated school time, and there was no real guidance and no test taking to measure progress or understanding. How can children be expected to have the foresight and discipline to handle their own educations? There was no way to track our progress and it would be completely reliant upon whether my mom was in a good mood or feeling mentally stable enough to even sit down and go through a chapter with us. There were six of us, and she really didn’t even care about any kind of structure. It was solely dependent upon us, the children, to take interest in our own educations, or for any learning to take place whatsoever. 

When we lived in town, we would try and play outdoors as much as possible. But the house was too close to public streets and Mom would tell us that we would get taken by social services if they saw us playing outside during school hours. This had us completely terrified of social services as some evil entity that would come and take us away from our parents for absolutely no reason. Once we moved into the countryside, we could play outside more freely. But she still had us running scared so that any time we heard the sound of a car coming up our long driveway, we would immediately scamper inside. Our goal was to be invisible and not look suspicious of being out of school. 

In the end, social services were called on my mom specifically at least twice by friends of the family or by distant family relatives. My mom would always win in these scenarios because when they would show up she would simply call the Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA would come to the rescue and the social services would not even be allowed to step foot in the house. Case closed, nothing to see here. 

“How do homeschoolers get high school diplomas for their children?” you may ask. HSLDA and the homeschooling powers that be can blindly provide you with a legitimate high school diploma. Even in the absence of tangible proof that you’ve actually taken the classes that you claim to have taken. This is not a joke or exaggeration. There was no testing, no nothing. I just got a high school diploma in the mail without having to prove that I had actually completed Algebra 1 or 2 (which never happened). I would say about half of the things on my high school transcript were almost completely fabricated. 

There is a huge gap within laws and checks and balances (when and where those do exist) in place (or not) to protect the child and to ensure that learning is being done. In contrast, there are plenty of protections for parents, including legal assistance such as HSLDA. 

Every single homeschooling family that I grew up around was homeschooling for religious reasons: to keep their children from any kind of secular influence. There was no other meaningful reason(s) that the parents were using to justify homeschooling. Simply done to keep their child away from “dangerous” concepts like evolution, science, or religious tolerance. In my opinion, the values they base(d) their lives upon must be flimsy. Flimsy because of their belief that the only way to ensure the child is kept from going astray, is to keep their child away from people who might tell them anything that goes against their ideology. 

The very curriculum that we purchased for our fake school was solely based around the fact that they were biblically-based. And the assurance that some kind of religious worldview would be pushed upon children. It wasn’t for the purpose of learning real world facts. Instead it was scripturally based, and did not prove conducive for actual learning and life skills. 

The very first and only test I had ever legitimately taken before college was the ACT. This was the test that would determine my eligibility for entering college. The only reason that I successfully was able to take that test was because of my sister. As the oldest of us, she was such a good example, a hard worker and was so determined to not let our pasts define us. She wanted me to have the chance to go to college as well, so she made sure to mentor me and help me through the preparation process. Without her I would never have made it. 

I think homeschooling has its place in our society. I think that it is and can be good. But it serves its purpose only if the guidelines and protections in place are just as beneficial for children as they are for parents who choose to homeschool. Without these standards and laws in place, there are many who abuse and have abused the privilege to school at home. So I believe some serious reform is needed nationwide to improve the standards and expectations of parents. 

I want to use my story as a way to not only educate and empower those who are considering this for their own children, but also as a cautionary tale for how wrong things can go. Especially when there are no checks and balances in place. I thankfully went on to go to college and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts. It took me a long time to finish. I moved around a lot and had to stop and then pick back up and continue my degree a few different times, but I finally graduated last year. It only took me from 2006 to 2019, but I can proudly say that I was an A student and graduated with a 3.9 GPA.

Overall I didn’t do too badly for myself, but that is only because of my stubborn perseverance. My homeschooling experience hindered me more than it helped me in my ability to achieve success in current endeavors and where I currently am, educationally and socially. I want to be a part of a revolution and change in the realm of homeschool laws and protections. If the United States wants to continue to allow this practice to continue, we are all going to have to take a hard look at what is really going on. We have to implement better ways for children to be protected and followed up on, especially when they are away from the public eye. This is an area where we cannot turn away and say less government oversight or regulation is better. When it involves education and safety for our children, we must take action. 

Thank you all for your time and attention! If you would like to join me in this discussion, please hop over to www.thefamilytiespodcast.com to listen and read some interesting material on the subject. 

Sincerely, Kelley Richey


Kelley Richey was homeschooled in Kentucky in the 1990s and early 2000s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.

Elizabeth B.: “I begged my mother to help me come up with a transcript and diploma”

When I was 18, I begged my mother to help me come up with a transcript and diploma, so that I could attempt to pursue a higher education. She would refuse each time and tell me that she didn’t want to ‘limit me’ by defining what my education was.”

I was homeschooled by my parents through my entire childhood. I never received any formal education and I am also the oldest of eight children. From a young age, my parents taught us to lie to our family and hide the reality of our education and daily lives. We would be coached on what subjects we were “working on” before going to see family. And we were given a laundry list of topics we weren’t permitted to discuss. 

My mother claimed to be “unschooling”. However, this was just a cover to completely neglect our schooling. Any time extended family expressed disagreement with their parenting, my parents would threaten to keep us from seeing them. Many times they followed through, either cutting off family members completely or preventing us from seeing them for months on end. 

Aside from close family, social interaction was extremely limited. There were many times we would go months at a time without meeting new people or even being allowed to leave the house to go grocery shopping. 

By the time I was 13, we older children were responsible for feeding and teaching our younger siblings; In addition for being responsible for our own schooling. My younger 4 siblings do not have social security numbers and the youngest 2 do not have birth certificates. Only what my parents claim is a “certificate of nativity” which is not recognized as a record of birth. 

When I was 18, I begged my mother to help me come up with a transcript and diploma, so that I could attempt to pursue a higher education. She would refuse each time and tell me that she didn’t want to “limit me” by defining what my education was. So I attempted to make my own, only to discover that it required a record of curriculum and that I had received no such curriculum during any of my middle or high school years. When I confronted my mother I was told to deal with it and that I wasn’t permitted to speak on my siblings’ education. Any further attempts to change her mind were met with hostility and verbal abuse. 

I am now 22 and living on my own. However, most of my younger siblings are still living with my parents, who continue to neglect their education. Because of my childhood experiences, I believe that the oversight and regulation of homeschooling is critical to ensure the proper protection and education of children. I knew something was wrong growing up, but I had no way of asking for or getting help. 

The homeschool oversight in my home state was, and continues to be, practically non-existent. Social services don’t observe educational neglect as a sufficient reason to investigate. And most families that are reported will only receive a letter in the mail and a request for attendance records, which can be created fraudulently with ease. 

That is why we NEED oversight, to prevent the further abuse and neglect of children like myself.


Elizabeth B. was homeschooled in North Carolina in the 2000s and early 2010s. For additional thoughts and experiences from other homeschool alumni, see our Testimonials page.

Advocacy Group Releases Groundbreaking Study on Homeschooling Outcomes

For Immediate Release: Homeschool Advocacy Group Releases Groundbreaking Study on Educational Outcomes of Homeschooled Children

08/25/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) announces the publication of a groundbreaking study on the educational outcomes of homeschooled children. “A Meaningful Measure of Homeschool Achievement,” published in the current issue of the peer-reviewed academic journal Other Education, is the first study to compare homeschooling outcomes with those of children in public school in a statistically rigorous way. “Through all the decades of debate over homeschooling, we’ve never had an accurate statistical picture of how homeschooled children perform academically compared to their peers in traditional schools,” says the study’s co-author, Dr. Rachel Coleman, who is also CRHE’s Executive Director. “This study is an important first step.”

“No study of this kind, with a large and randomized data sample, demographic weighting, and a direct comparison with public-schooled children, has ever been attempted,” explains lead author Dr. Chelsea McCracken, Senior Research Analyst at CRHE. “Most previous studies have relied on volunteers, which skews the results, and haven’t weighted for socioeconomic status or other factors that we know influence educational outcomes. You don’t learn much by comparing the best homeschooled students with average students in traditional schools. The important questions are: how do the average students in both groups compare with one another, and what factors cause students to perform better or worse in each setting? Our study is the first to propose an answer to these questions.”

“Efforts to study homeschooled students’ academic outcomes have been hampered by the fact that no state currently collects all homeschooled students’ test scores,” says Coleman. “This is why we were so excited when we discovered a public-private partnership in Alaska that does collect this data.” 

This data source allowed McCracken and Coleman to look at around 195,000 test scores for students homeschooled in Alaska from 2003 to 2014. “These students were enrolled in programs that allowed their parents to receive public reimbursements for educational expenses while homeschooling independently,” Coleman explains. Coleman published a companion study in the same journal that traces the history of homeschooling in Alaska. “These programs are very popular in Alaska due to the financial incentive families receive,” says Coleman. “The vast majority of homeschooling parents in Alaska enroll in them.” 

McCracken and Coleman’s findings on homeschooled students in Alaska have important implications for homeschooling families across the United States. “Families in Alaska homeschool for many of the same reasons other families homeschool,” Coleman explains. “They use similar educational methods and similar curricular materials.” 

The homeschooled students whose scores were used in the study were required to take state tests in reading, writing, and math. McCracken and Coleman’s study compares these students’ scores with those of students in Alaska’s traditional public schools. The data are also broken down by students’ economic status, race, and disability status. “For the first time, we can get a full picture of how demographics affect homeschooled students’ test scores,” McCracken says.

The study’s primary findings were as follows:

  • Homeschooled students who were white or middle- or upper-class had lower scores across the board than similar students in traditional public schools.
  • Homeschooled students in all categories scored worse in math than their peers in public schools, while the results for reading were more mixed.
  • Where homeschooled students performed well, low income students, students of color, and students with disabilities were primarily responsible for the higher scores.

“These results are remarkable,” says Coleman. “They don’t fit the established narratives either for or against homeschooling. Our findings suggest that if you’re white and relatively well-off, your children may do better academically in a traditional school than in a homeschool. On the other hand, if your children are being discriminated against or disadvantaged in a traditional school, home education may improve their academic performance.” 

McCracken and Coleman found unanticipated differences in reading scores between different groups of students. “While previous research has found that homeschooling is associated with higher reading scores, we found that these gains were concentrated entirely among disadvantaged students,” says McCracken. “White students and middle- and upper-class students who were homeschooled showed no reading advantages.”

McCracken and Coleman were also surprised by what they found when they looked at students’ math scores. “While the existence of a homeschool math gap has been clear in the research for some time, this is the first time we’ve seen how it breaks down by income and race,” Coleman explainces. “We found that white and middle- and upper-class students had the biggest disadvantages in math, while low income students and students of color had smaller gaps.” 

Coleman is quick to note that this topic merits further study. “Homeschooling parents who enroll their children in these programs receive thousands of dollars in education reimbursements, as well as access to other resources,” Coleman noted. “It is unclear how our findings may translate to homeschooled students’ performance in states where these supports are not available. There may also be other explanations for our findings as well. This is an area where more research is badly needed. Our study points in new directions rather than offering definitive answers.”

McCracken emphasizes that the study has complex implications both for educational policy and for parents looking at educational options. “It’s time to move past the idea that homeschools are better or worse for kids than traditional schools are,” she says. “Both models have strengths and weaknesses. Policymakers should work to help disadvantaged children succeed better in traditional schools, and to develop resources for homeschooling families to provide better instruction in math.” 

As for parents, says McCracken, “The key is to prioritize the specific needs of your child instead of worrying about which educational method is better. Remember that averages may not tell you which educational option is best for a particular child. Look carefully at how your child is interacting with teachers and peers in school and at home. Above all, listen to your child.”

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals. 

Homeschool Organization Has Advice for New Homeschooling Parents

For Immediate Release: The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is offering an introductory course for new homeschooling families

07/16/2020—In the midst of a global pandemic and the potential for widespread rolling school closures in the fall, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) is taking steps to support new homeschooling families. CRHE, which was founded by homeschool graduates to advocate for homeschooled children in 2013, approaches homeschooling from a children’s rights framework. “When children are centered, seen, heard, and involved in the process, homeschooling works out better for everyone,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE. “Children need to know that they matter.” 

CRHE has developed an online course for new homeschooling families, which will begin on August 3rd and will run for eight weeks. The course will cover everything from educational philosophies to instructional techniques, and will walk parents through the process of choosing curricular materials and getting started homeschooling. “If you want to do homeschooling right, we’ll tell you how,” says Coleman. “Our goal is to start parents homeschooling for success.” Course enrollment is open through July 31st. 

Parents can enroll here: https://responsiblehomeschooling.org/courses/ 

Coleman emphasizes the importance of preparation and a committed caregiver who is able to devote time to home education, regardless of the curriculum or program used. “When there is no adult in the home able to be a full time caregiver, we recommend that parents seriously consider their district’s virtual schooling option,” she says. 

Many school districts are offering virtual programs as an option for families this fall. These programs save parents the effort of having to select, purchase, and curate curriculum themselves, Coleman says, and gives parents access to learning partners in their children’s teachers. But she urges parents not to assume that this means they can check out on their children’s education: “The research on online virtual charter programs suggests that without parental involvement, students often fail to engage,” she says. Coleman adds that not every online or remote teaching program is created equal. “Good virtual programs should have synchronous learning elements, involving direct, real-time interaction between the student and their teacher,” she says. “Virtual learning should be creative and engaging.” 

For families that have a full-time caregiver in the home, Coleman says, autonomous homeschooling can be a positive learning experience. “Autonomous homeschooling allows parents to set their own schedules, innovate, and create positive, interactive learning experiences that have the potential to bring the whole family together,” she says. She adds that the best homeschooling is hands-on and interactive. “Parents should make sure they meet state learning standards for their child’s grade, particularly if they plan to re-enroll their children later, but they should also feel free to craft learning experiences tailored to their children’s interests and to their own strengths as home educators,” Coleman says. 

Children should be at the center of families’ decisions about home education, Coleman says. “Engage your children in creating their own learning goals and in setting their own school schedules,” she says. “Homeschooling done well is about empowering children.” 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education is a national organization founded by homeschool alumni and dedicated to raising awareness of the need for homeschooling reform, providing public policy guidance, and advocating for responsible home education practices.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS

We’re excited to offer a new, eight-week online Introduction to Home Education course for homeschooling parents who are just getting started.

— Develop an individualized education plan for your child
— Choose and personalize your child’s curriculum
— Fulfill your state’s learning requirements
— Keep track of your progress and milestones

Along the way, we’ll be here to answer questions and brainstorm with you as the school year begins. We can’t wait to see you in class, and we’re excited for all you and your child will learn and do together!

Enroll Today!

How to Create the Best Environment for COVID-19 Homeschooling

Rocio Espinoza is a Marketing, SEO Specialist and mother of 2 (ages 7 and 5) living in Mexico. After getting into her groove homeschooling during COVID-19, she put together this essay about some of the things that have worked for her, in hopes of helping others as well.

Whether by choice or necessity due to coronavirus school closings, millions of parents have suddenly become homeschooling teachers. This new experience can be challenging, but it can blossom into a memorable, rewarding experience as you find ways to connect with your child or children as you learn together, building a lifelong bond. You may also discover your child excels with one-on-one attention instead of being lost in a crowded classroom setting.

We have some tips and advice on turning your home into the best environment for homeschooling your child. For this new venture, you’ll need some extra flexibility, patience, creativity, and humor, along with access to online resources and some good friends to lean on. Remember, this quarantine has created emotional, educational, and economic chaos, but you can help keep that stress to a minimum for your child. With a few deep breaths and preparation, you can turn this into a fun and productive adventure.

Find a Space in Your Home

One of the first steps to ensure learning success is to create a dedicated, organized homeschooling location. Don’t worry–it doesn’t need to be dramatic or picture-perfect; you can change it as needed, depending on your child’s (or children’s) requirements. You’ll want a spot that’s out of the way, but not totally separated from where you are, especially for younger children.

Where you set up the learning space depends on your home environment. Try to choose a location that’s not close to distractions like the television, video games, or high-activity areas. Whether your home space is cozy, expansive, or somewhere in between, there’s a way to make it work. Rearrange furniture or hang a shower curtain or sheet across visually stimulating areas if you need to. Let your child draw or paint pictures on the room “divider” to make it more personal.

Bring cheerful touches to the space, and make sure it’s clean and organized but not cluttered. Clutter is a distraction and can lead to more scattered thought processes and less successful learning.

If the workspace has a window, you may need to pull the blinds or drapes to mute strong sunlight to keep your child from tempting outside distractions while studying. Some children learn well with soft music playing in the background, while others may prefer quiet. You know your child, so adjust the environment as you need to.

Older students who excel as independent learners might work well in their bedrooms but monitor to make sure they’re not too distracted and are keeping up with schoolwork instead of getting lost in Minecraft.

Choose a workspace surface like a desk or table. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it must be functional. Since shopping is limited during this quarantine, look around your home for what you need. You can even set up a card table and put a colorful tablecloth over it to brighten up the space. Make sure the table or desk is big enough for workbooks, a computer, pencils, erasers, a calculator, a lamp, and other supplies he or she needs, depending on the age. Add some storage, so school items are within easy reach.

If your child is younger, try to find a table or surface that’s more on his or her level. For instance, a preschooler might prefer a coffee table or play table. As long as your child is comfy, engaged, and learning, that’s a big win.

Along with a desk, provide a comfortable chair; this could be a dining room chair, an unused office chair, or even a beanbag or armchair. Some kids are “floor learners” and concentrate better if they’re stretched out on the floor. Let them. Remember, they’re stressed and missing their regular school routine and friends. Understanding this and helping them cope with all the changes can ensure success in learning.

If you’re homeschooling more than one child, you already know which kids can be in the same space as others, and which ones need their own desk with fewer distractions. Take a deep breath, because there will be frustrations and triumphs for both students and homeschooling teachers. If working at the same table doesn’t work for your kids, try separate areas.

If space allows, let this homeschooling environment be a dedicated location, day after day. If you need to use the area after learning is finished, have a tote, backpack, or box available so your child can put away supplies, books, worksheets, and papers until the next day. Help your child stay on top of keeping this space clean and organized.

Books, Workbooks, or Online Study

The subjects and methods of learning for your child vary depending on your circumstances. Some schools have provided online platforms for students during the coronavirus quarantine, while others have sent home study packets. Reach out to your child’s teacher or teachers to ensure you have all the tools you need to homeschool.

Try to make sure your child has an appropriate computer, tablet, or another device, and a reliable internet connection. If the cost of internet service is a factor, some internet providers are offering free internet service during the quarantine period. Check with your local internet companies. Many schools also let students borrow laptops, so contact your child’s school to find out.

Keep to a Schedule

Try to keep to a schedule every day; this helps your child get into a routine not unlike at his or her school. Try to start at the same time each day but have breaks. Schedule fun into the day, along with more serious studies. Younger children learn through play, and it’s a crucial part of their education and growth process.

While it’s important to keep to a schedule, leave some wiggle room for diversity. For example, is there a subject your child finds really challenging? Try sandwiching that between subjects he or she enjoys more, or break the more difficult course into more manageable blocks. As your child’s homeschool teacher, you have lots of options. Explore incentives for rewarding your child for doing well or sticking with a difficult chapter.

Brain Breaks

Know when it’s time to break that schedule, though. Before your child –or you–hit a brick wall in the learning process, take brain breaks.

Search online for age-appropriate game sites, chill together in front of the TV for a bit, go for a walk, or shoot a few hoops–just do something fun for a bit before returning to tackling the books or online quizzes. This helps break up the monotony of schoolwork and keep the stress at manageable levels.

Your child might also need a break from his or her usual learning space, so why not let him or her climb a tree to read that book, or sit outside while completing that worksheet?

Be Flexible

As a homeschooling parent, flexibility is a lifesaver. You’re there for your kids, encouraging and helping guide them through lessons. Some kids need more side-by-side help, while others do great tackling subjects on their own. Here is where you as a teacher can shine, helping your child navigate through math and writing, social studies, and science. If you don’t know the answer to a question or problem, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer, but let’s see if we can find out!”

Every child’s educational journey is unique, so you’ll need to adjust your methods. Some kids excel at-home learning, while others may struggle. Understanding this helps you tailor the learning environment and experience for your child or children. Younger children have a shorter attention span and need more breaks with play and exercise, while older students may be able to focus for longer between breaks. Experiment until you find what works for you and your child.

Does your child prefer learning and studying with others? Contact the parents of your child’s friends to see if an online “study meeting” through Zoom or another program would help. Other parents are also a great resource about assignments and advice, or just to lend an ear when you’re struggling with algebra or verb tenses.

Working and Teaching

Many parents have the added frustration of trying to work from home while helping students stay on track. This is another area where patience and flexibility are your friends. Try scheduling your most challenging work projects at times different from your child’s most intense subjects.

Have a Zoom meeting with your boss? Challenge your child to find different leaves from the back yard while you’re at your virtual meeting. Or, repurpose a recycled soup or coffee can, paper, glue, paint, beads, or other craft items, and turn her loose decorating a pencil holder to personalize her learning space. Letting your child play Minecraft for a bit while you’re working intensely or need quiet? It might just be what both of you need to get through the day in one piece. Progress, not perfection, wins.

Make it Fun

Use this quarantine homeschooling opportunity to encourage your child to discover new passions. Look for ways to turn lessons into exciting, engaging, hands-on experiences. Search online for educational, science-based STEM projects, or reach out to local online parenting or teaching groups for ideas.

Is your child’s science unit learning about trees? Grab a magnifying glass and take your kid outside for a close-up study of bark, branches, and leaves. Start a garden. How does that seed grow into a plant with red, juicy tomatoes?

Many museums and performing arts centers now have virtual tours available online, letting you and your child get up close with dinosaurs, architecture, plays, musicals or paintings, all from the comfort of your sofa. Do a craft together or learn a lifelong skill, like cooking, music, creative writing, game coding, drawing, photography, or digital art. YouTube is full of tutorials on new skills that may excite your child.

Let this be a joyous time of exploration for your child. This will help ease the sadness of not spending time with friends during social distancing.

Online Resources are Your Friend

You are not alone in your quest for the best homeschooling experience for your child. There are lots of free online resources, like homeschooling teacher groups, learning platforms with age-appropriate lessons, and much more. These sites have already invented the educational wheel, so let them help lessen your frustrations and provide an online community of support.

Diving In

While taking this sudden, deep dive into homeschooling due to coronavirus can be a challenge, teaching can be immensely rewarding if you set up a good, organized homeschooling environment and approach learning with flexibility, patience, and understanding. Remember, you’re learning, too. Make lessons fun when you can and try to keep mistakes and frustrations in perspective. We’re all in this together, so reach out to teachers, friends, and homeschooling groups for more advice. They will no doubt have lots of helpful tips that will make this journey one to remember with a smile.

Homeschool Group Offers Advice to Educators

For Immediate Release: Group run by homeschool alumni promotes research on distance learning and supporting socially isolated students

05/12/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Children (CRHE) believes research on homeschooling and online schooling has much to offer educators as they hone their distance learning offerings during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed schools across the country. “We have spent years researching at-home education,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE, a national nonprofit focused on child advocacy. CRHE has created a report, At-Home Education & Distance Learning: Educators Responding to COVID-19 School Closures, to share what it has learned with educators. 

Coleman points to recent research on achievement gaps among students enrolled in online charter schools and district-run virtual learning and distance education programs such as Alaska’s popular public “correspondence” programs. “Students who are educated in the home experience a ‘math gap’ whether they are enrolled in online programs or homeschooled independently,” Coleman says. Her organization is urging teachers and school districts to pay special attention to math education when implementing remote learning programs.  

Coleman also points to concern that school closures may accelerate inequities in education based on students’ socio-economic status or race. “While these concerns are reasonable and understandable, a growing body of research suggests that students who are educated via online learning or homeschooling may actually see the racial and economic achievement gap narrow,” Coleman says. While she urges caution — noting that we don’t know the reasons behind this finding — her organization is advising educators to approach all parents as competent and interested partners, and to avoid making assumptions about families based on demographic factors. “We want to see all children succeed,” she says. 

What other advice does Coleman have for educators? “The research is clear: online instruction is not an adequate replacement for in-person instruction,” she says. “Educators should create synchronous learning experiences that involve live interaction with students.” Coleman also notes that the distance learning programs that involve a high level of parental involvement and input tend to be the most successful. “Parents should be engaged and included,” she says. 

CRHE’s report also covers the challenges socially isolated school-age children can face, as well as a list of recommendations for how educators can support students during what is admittedly a challenging time. “Our goal is to share what we have learned from our own advocacy with educators,” says Coleman. “We understand the public health reasons behind school closures, and we want to see both students and their teachers succeed.” 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals. 

Homeschool Group Publishes Report for Child Welfare Workers

For Immediate Release: Group run by homeschool alumni advises social workers on supports for children isolated due to COVID-19

05/12/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Children (CRHE) is offering advice to child welfare professionals on supporting children isolated at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since our founding in 2013, we have advocated for children who are isolated by parents who misuse homeschool laws to hide their abuse,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE, a national nonprofit focused on child advocacy. “We wanted to put some of our knowledge to use.” CRHE’s report, School-Age Child Isolation and Abuse: Children at Home Due to COVID-19, is co-authored with the Center for Child Policy, a division of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. 

School closures prevent teachers from observing children for signs of child maltreatment. Local child welfare agencies in many areas have already noted that child abuse and neglect reports fell dramatically after schools were closed and stay-at-home orders went into effect. In addition, social isolation is associated with an increased risk of child fatality, according to a 2016 report by the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. Social isolation can also lead to an escalation of existing abuse: a 2014 study of child torture found that school-age victums’ removal from school to be homeschooled “was accompanied by an escalation of physically abusive events.” 

Coleman says she and her colleagues started worrying about children impacted by school closures early on. “Working in this area, we are well aware of the negative impact social isolation can have on child welfare,” says Coleman. CRHE’s report outlines various ways child welfare professionals can support children isolated due to school closures, offering insight on topics such as how to identify child maltreatment when children are socially isolated and thus less visible. Among other recommendations, the report points to research suggesting that internet access can be a protective factor. 

“Our goal is to share what we know from our own advocacy with child welfare workers who are dealing with a difficult situation,” says Coleman. “We understand the public health reasons behind school closures. We want child welfare professionals to have all of the tools possible to protect and support children impacted by these closures.” 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals. 

Homeschool Group Supports Accountability For Charter Funds

For Immediate Release: Public-private partnerships serve students, but taxpayer funding must come with public accountability

05/11/2020—The Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) supports the California legislature in its efforts to create responsible guidelines for charter schools that enroll homeschooled students. “Homeschooled children benefit from public-private partnerships that provide both financial reimbursement for educational expenses and accountability for their educational program,” says Dr. Rachel Coleman, executive director of CRHE, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for homeschooled children. 

Assembly Bill 2990, passed by the Assembly Education Committee last Wednesday, was prompted by concern that such charter schools were reimbursing families for Disneyland trips and ski passes, among other things. One charter school network was closed after its leaders were indicted on fraud allegations. Coleman says that it makes sense that these questions are surfacing now; her organization has seen the number of public-private education partnerships serving students educated in the home rise. “State leaders have a responsibility to ensure that state money is used responsibly,” she says. 

Coleman points to debates in Alaska nearly two decades ago: beginning in the late 1990s, district- and charter-run programs in that state provided homeschooling families with financial reimbursements for education expenses while requiring an annual educational plan, monthly check-ins with a teacher, and annual testing; these programs saw themselves engulfed in controversy in the early 2000s after some families used the money for vacations and some private school students enrolled in order to net public money for extracurricular expenses. The state’s board of education responded to these concerns by creating new rules barring reimbursements for travel, uniforms, or family passes to sports or recreational facilities and mandating that at least 50% of students’ courses be in core subject areas. 

California’s AB 2990 takes similar steps, prohibiting funds from being used on private school tuition and mandating that charter schools and districts vet enrichment vendors before providing families with reimbursement. “We applaud the growth of public-private partnerships that provide support and accountability for homeschooling,” says Coleman, adding that “it is understandable that we are seeing growing pains.” Coleman says state legislatures and state boards of education should ensure that such programs center students’ educational needs, provide academic accountability, and ensure that taxpayer funds are used responsibly. 

The Coalition for Responsible Home Education empowers homeschooled children by educating the public and advocating for child-centered, evidence-based policy and practices for families and professionals.

My COVID-19 Homeschooling Journey

Like many other parents who send their children to public school, I’m now supervising my children’s education at home due to COVID-19 school closures. Unlike most other parents who send their children to public school, I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 12th grade and I run a nonprofit that advocates for homeschooled children. 

When I learned my children’s school would be closed, I decided I would have them do their school work in the morning and give them free choice time in the afternoon. I work from home and still need to have time for my own tasks, for one thing, but I was also homeschooled and this was the schedule my mother kept growing up. You can read more about why I didn’t want to simply replicate a school schedule at home here

Here, I want to focus not on the school schedule I’ve kept but on my efforts to navigate the resources provided by my children’s school district. While middle and high school teachers are continuing their classes online as best they can, elementary school districts are taking a variety of different approaches. Given that many other parents are trying to navigate these same things, I thought my experience might be instructive. 

When a parent sets out to homeschool, they typically spend time looking at different curriculum and choosing what materials to use. This is not the case for those of us thrust suddenly into educating our children at home due to a global pandemic. We have the advantage, of course, of having a school district and teachers to help us and provide us with materials, but they, too, have had to throw things together suddenly. 

We’re all navigating uncharted waters—principals, teachers, parents, and children. It’s important that we show grace to all of those involved—especially the children. I would rather have my children feel loved, safe, and supported—even if it means they miss some learning—than make them miserable by forcing something that isn’t working. 

Chapter 1: Choice Boards

On the last day of school, my children each came home with a packet of materials in their backpack. These packets mostly consisted of worksheets and outlines for activities for parents to do with their children, as well as a “choice board” that offered different activity ideas under each subject, all of which required some parental involvement. 

On the first Monday the children were at home, I went through their packets. I’m a planner, and I like to be organized. We did activities on the choice board—one each day for each subject, the materials said—and worked our way through some of the worksheets. After a few days, however, I realized two things. First, the materials that came home with my kids were primarily review—things my children already knew. Second, my children’s teachers hadn’t put the packets together; the district had. 

Chapter 2: Online Assignments

As I went through the emails sent by my children’s school, I found that each child had an online platform that their teachers could post assignments to. I logged each child in and found that the assignments did not line up with either the worksheets or the choice boards sent home in each child’s packets. This was understandable, given that the packets were put together by the school district, not the teacher. I appreciated having assignments from my children’s teachers—it reassured me that I was not alone and promised to keep my children connected to their teachers and their classmates. 

An assignment for my 2nd grader asked him to read a page from a book he was reading out loud, after practicing it; by hitting the microphone button on the assignment page, he was able to record himself reading. Next, the assignment asked him to take a picture of the page he read and underline words he had problems with. Finally, he submitted the assignment for his teacher—and his classmates—to view. The goal, the instructions explained, was to practice reading fluency. He loved it. He was engaged; he was able to produce something he was proud of; and he knew his teacher would view it. 

I decided to defer to the assignments posted by my children’s teachers, and only use the materials sent home by the district as needed. I soon hit a bit of a snag, however. For one thing, my 2nd grader’s teacher only posted one assignment per day. While these were engaging assignments that made full use of what the online system had to offer, more was clearly needed. For another thing, I found my 5th grader sitting at the table near tears. “I already know this stuff, mom!” she said. “Why did she assign us all the same thing?” she asked. It was math. She’s always been ahead in math. 

Chapter 3: DIY Learning Activities

It was around this time that the district sent out an email letting parents know that the governor had declared an Act of God, which meant that lost days did not have to be made up. While older students needed to complete the assignments on Google Classroom, the district asked elementary parents to make sure our children did reading, writing, math, science/social studies, and fine arts each day, but said we could choose how we did this. “Families may choose the activities they complete,” the email read, “activities provided by the educators or ones from the choice boards or you can design your own learning activity for the content area to align to student interests.” 

This email came as a bit of a relief, because I was growing frustrated. As I noted, I was homeschooled as a child. I enrolled my children in public school precisely because I didn’t want to be the one making them do their work. I remembered the tension I had sometimes seen between my mother and my younger brothers as my mother had to be not only their cheerleader but also the enforcer. I had liked that I could tell my children they needed to do their homework because their teacher had assigned it and would be expecting it the next day, and not simply because I said so. More and more, now, I felt like I was fighting with my children to get them to do work—especially my younger child. 

The email from the district also gave me a new feeling of freedom. I could use the choice board or have my children do assignments posted by their teachers—or we could design our own learning activities. One day, I created learning activities around a theme: the children calculated rates of exponential growth, we read about Louis Pasteur’s discovery of microscopic organisms; and we watched a Netflix documentary about pandemics. They loved it. Other days, I told them to choose something to do for each subject, based on their own inclination, and let them do their own thing. 

Chapter 4: Finding Balance

After nearly a week during which I interspersed activities I designed myself with letting my younger child do whatever he wanted for each subject, I received an email from his teacher. She wanted to know why he wasn’t doing the assignments she was posting each day. She also wanted to know why he hadn’t logged into a program for practicing math, and another that let him read books she assigned and take a quiz over each to check reading comprehension. I had somehow missed these latter expectations, in part because there were so many emails. Oops! 

At this point I realized two things. First, I value my children’s teachers and I didn’t want to sever their connections with the classroom. Second, we needed somewhat more organization to our school days—and our rhythm of life—than we’d been having. 

Now in our third week at home, we are moving toward a new balance. My 2nd grader does the daily assignment his teacher posts, as well as the online reading program where his teacher assigns him books to read, with comprehension questions. Telling him that his teacher has assigned these things for him has helped; it means I’m not the one making him do them. I’m also having my 5th grader check Google Classroom first every morning, to see what her teacher has assigned. 

I’m going to go rogue for some things, however. Neither of my children likes the online math their teachers have assigned. I asked my 5th grader’s teacher if we can do our own thing for math, and she gave the go ahead. I looked into a number of online math programs, some currently free, but found myself disappointed. I want my kids to keep progressing in math, but I also know the research—children who are homeschooled or enrolled in online schools perform worse in math than do their peers who attend public school. I’m not going to make my children do online math programs they dislike; I don’t want them to develop negative perceptions of math. 

While I haven’t found a perfect solution for math yet, I’ve ordered fact sheets that go over the common core standards for each grade, with examples. When these come, I plan to use them as a guide and teach my children math myself, creating my own assignments. In the meantime, I’m teaching my 2nd grader his multiplication tables. 

As for everything else, I’m keeping things flexible. I’ve told my 5th grader that outside of the small number of assignments her teacher puts on Google Classroom, I want her to spend some time each day on free reading and working on the novel she’s been writing for a year. Social studies, science, fine arts—for those we’re mixing materials the school has sent home with doing our own thing. Mo Willems is giving a daily art lesson online, and the Cincinnati Zoo is offering a daily home safari on YouTube. And for history, I’ve begun reading aloud a book about a 17th century English village gripped by the plague.