The local homeschool conference last month was an opt-out year for many homeschoolers, including myself. There may be some answers in a recently-published article, “A Shift in the Homeschooling Movement.”
His contention is basically that the moral failure of home school leaders of the previous generation, combined with big curriculum fairs, is lowering attendance at local home school groups and conferences. To be honest, I was neither aware of the moral failure scandals, nor did I recognize the names of anyone mentioned in the article. My homeschool journey, and that of many other currently homeschooling moms I know, is completely unaffected by whatever former “leaders” may be saying or doing. But I have noticed that many Christian homeschooling families in my circles, did decide not to attend our local state homeschool conference. They cited reasons ranging from the total financial burden of the conference to other time commitments, and wondering if there was enough value in the workshop offerings and vendor booths to make up for both the cost and time.
From my perspective, here’s what may be changing on the homeschool landscape:
Who are home school families today?
Homeschooling is no longer mostly conservative Christians who home-educate for primarily religious education or out of moral concerns. All kinds of families–traditional and single-parent, religious and agnostic– are now interested in homeschooling. They are seeking out home schooling for reasons primarily regarding concerns over quality of education in the public school system, but also sometimes due to bullying, special needs, family schedule, or child-specific academic problems.
Even Christian families are doing so out of quality-of-education concerns as much as or more so than religious or moral issues.
In addition, I think the largest difference in Christian circles, at least, is that today’s homeschooling moms are actually second-generation home schoolers. We who were the home schooled children of the 1980’s now have school-aged children of our own. This is true for both my husband and myself, home schooled at various points in our childhoods. We, along with our other Second Gen peers, don’t feel a need for the “How to Get Started” seminars, or the “Help! I’m feeling overwhelmed” groups. Instead, we just started curriculum hunting when our oldest was a baby. Having a realistic idea of what homeschooling requires of our family and our schedule, we now just need the “stuff” not the “how”.
Since we feel fairly confident, it is Second Gen home schoolers who are currently serving as mentors of a sort for newbies and those considering homeschooling. A mentor isn’t quite the word, though, so perhaps it’s cheerleaders. We can say to the new homeschoolers, “There are X, Y, and Z options for what you’re needing. Check out their websites!” And we can give an idea of what a parent might need to do to obtain a high school diploma, for example, simply from our experience or that of our homeschooled friends.
How is homeschooling different?
Some of the changes in homeschooling are obviously technology-related. Video school doesn’t require mailed VHS tapes, but logging on-line to a potentially live lecture. Additionally, many curriculums now offer samples of their books or lesson plans on-line, so parents can get a decent preview without ever leaving home. Then it’s just a matter of deciding or perhaps even price-shopping on other sites. There are lots of used materials available, through local swaps, on-line swaps, or even websites like Amazon. And some options don’t require any textbooks at all.
But some of the differences may be generational. Today’s homeschool mom would prefer immediate answers from making a Facebook post in her homeschool group, or a conversation with another mom at a co-op meeting, rather than waiting for a once-a-year conference. This instant advice and support fits with the Gen X and especially Millenial generational styles.
What do they need, then, if not speakers and central leaders?
In no particular order, then, this is what today’s homeschoolers are looking for:
Immediate, year-round support. Social media is a large part of this. Homeschool groups might do well to have a forum year-round where you post curriculum specials or free ebook links, links to events in your area, or have weekly discussion topics. Post lists of area support groups or co-ops with contact information. But mostly, connect moms with other moms so questions, concerns, and frustrations can be addressed immediately.
A need for financial advice. It’s harder and harder to live on one income, and many families need just as much financial advice as they need direction in education, something I’ve yet to see offered much through local homeschooling groups. Living on a budget, transitioning to one income, and making money from home are questions just as vital to the success of each homeschooling family as choosing a good curriculum fit.
Support for working homeschooling mothers. Many homeschooling families today have mothers working outside the home at least part time. This relatively new arrangement with homeschooling is also not being addressed much through homeschool groups or conferences.
Home economics. Because home-ec classes were not feminist-friendly by the 1980’s, many mothers today are having to learn as they go to run their household and feed their families. One of the most popular non-academic topics that keeps coming up in my homeschooling circles, for example, is freezer meals, and coordinating freezer-meal exchanges. Down-to-earth practical advice on cleaning schedules, meal planning, and controlling a grocery budget would be gladly welcomed for most homeschool families.
If the yearly homeschooling conference disappears entirely in the next generation, it may just be that they aren’t needed anymore. The needs of home school families can still be met though local groups, with a little creativity and flexibility to meet the changing needs of each new generation.