As schools shut down during the beginning of the pandemic, students had to quickly pivot to virtual learning at home. This shift led to an increasing number of Oregon parents opting to homeschool their children, even after schools reopened. As the Oregon Capital Chronicle reports, homeschool enrollment numbers today are 40% higher than what they were pre-pandemic. Rosalyn Newhouse is a volunteer and board president of Oregon Homeschool Education Network. She joins us to share the reasons some parents made the switch and the challenges it can have.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Geoff Norcross: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Geoff Norcross. Most Oregon school kids spent about a year doing distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the schools returned to in person instruction, many parents decided it was better to keep their kids at home. According to the Oregon Capital Chronicle, home school enrollment numbers are 40% higher than they were before the pandemic. We wanted to get a better sense of why parents are increasingly making this choice. Rosalyn Newhouse is the board president of the Oregon Homeschool Education Network (OHEN) and she joins us now. Rosalyn, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Rosalyn Newhouse: Thanks for having me on.
Norcross: How do you explain this shift that we’re seeing to more homeschooling?
Newhouse: Well, homeschooling has been growing gradually over the years for a number of reasons and the experience a couple of years ago where everyone was asked to stay home, really kind of pushed a lot of people into the idea of homeschooling without any sort of planning or expectation or sometimes even interest. I think what happened is that a lot of people discovered that homeschooling was sometimes easier than they expected; it would sometimes be more beneficial than what they’ve been experiencing in public school. And sometimes it was just a little bit of a bandwagon thing. When everybody’s homeschooling, we veteran homeschoolers kind of became the experts in the field and everyone was asking ‘how do you do it?’ And so there was an appearance of ‘oh everybody’s doing homeschooling;’ and then when school started opening up it was a little bit of, ‘well, let’s go with the crowd and do homeschooling.’ And it’s a little deceptive because still only about 4-5% of Oregon children are homeschooled, which is not a huge percentage, but it is a lot more mainstream and it’s a lot more recognized and therefore a lot more popular.
Norcross: Did you hear from parents who, before the pandemic, had never even considered homeschooling, but came around to the idea because of their experience in 2022?
Newhouse: Oh, absolutely. I think the first reaction for most parents whose children were suddenly at home was, ‘oh gosh, how do I recreate a school experience in my living room?’ And what they discovered is you don’t have to recreate the school experience in your living room or kitchen. Homeschooling can be something completely different from the traditional educational model. And it’s one of the reasons that homeschooling started to become popular, too.
Norcross: You started teaching your own daughter at home in 2003. Can you talk about why you made that choice then?
Newhouse: She wasn’t really having good experiences in a group setting. And this is something that a lot of people experience with kids, especially younger kids who aren’t necessarily competent at existing in large groups. In a school setting where you’ve got anywhere from 15– in an ideal situation–to 30 or 40 kids in one room with one teacher, maybe a couple of teachers’ aides, it’s hard for those kids to get the kind of attention that they need or want. It’s hard for them sometimes to navigate. Think of a six-year old who’s suddenly experiencing not only having to exist in a group of a whole lot of other people who also think that they are the most important people in the world and at the same time experiencing a lot of academic pressure to learn this and learn that. And there isn’t a lot of time to spend with each kid in a large group.
For a child, it can feel rushed, it can feel stressful, it can feel pressured. Some kids do great with it and some kids don’t. Some schools have great environments that really nurture all and each of the children in the classes and some don’t. So there are a lot of variants in how a school can really respond to the needs of a child. And where you get their disconnect between those needs and the responses, that’s where homeschooling can be a really good option.
Norcross: You’ve mentioned a few of the reasons that people have for making that choice, including the one that you had for your own daughter. Can you point to another one or two big reasons for wanting to do this that people come to you?
Newhouse: Well, I think especially in middle school as children start developing some real personal interests like someone might decide that history is really history is a real….
Norcross: Rosalyn Newhouse, do we still have you? Okay, well, we seem to have lost Rosalyn Newhouse. We were talking with her. She is the board president of the Oregon Homeschool Education Network. And we’re talking about the bump in homeschooling among students in Oregon; there seems to be a 40% increase in homeschooling in Oregon ever since the pandemic. Rosalyn Newhouse, do we have you back?
Newhouse: Apparently so.
Norcross: Okay. Well, live radio, isn’t it great? You were talking about some of the big reasons why people are homeschooling these days. Can you pick that back up again?
Newhouse: One of the reasons that people choose to homeschool is that children at…
Norcross: We seem to have lost you again.
We do have an email that we received from Hazel Wheeler. Hazel sent us this email. ‘I am the parent of a neurodivergent student whose individual education plan was rarely if ever honored at his neighborhood school, which is considered one of the better schools in the Portland Public School system. We brought him home in third grade as his mental health was suffering. This is one of the reasons I believe so many parents are bringing their kids home in some capacity. We are tired of handing our kids over to the school district, hearing that they care and are concerned, and then watch as barriers are placed, which makes it harder for students to survive much less thrive.’
Rosalyn, are you back?
Newhouse: I think I can hear you okay.
Norcross: I can hear you, too. When a parent or a guardian has to take on the role of a teacher, something they haven’t had to do before, what kind of challenges are you hearing that they’re having?
Newhouse: A lot of parents think that they really need to recreate school at home and that is almost guaranteed to create challenges because teaching school in a formal setting requires a great deal of training, curriculum, administration and that’s not something the average parent is set up for. So right off the bat, they feel like they’re failing.
Norcross: We just got an email, as I mentioned from Hazel Wheeler, who said that her neurodivergent student was not getting the support they needed and felt that she could better educate her student and give that student support at home. Is that another reason that you’re hearing about this move to homeschooling?
And we seem to have lost you again. Are you still here, Rosalyn? Okay. We were having some trouble today.
More from Hazel Wheeler: “After a year and a half of homeschooling, our son joined an online charter for his fifth grade year and is now a sophomore with that same school. While we actually have much more support from his online school, including adaptive technologies, the limited resources for all students with challenges and disabilities statewide is disconcerting.”
Another email from Hazel Wheeler says: “I realize that our family has a lot of privilege for us to be able to have one parent at home with our student. And this is further upsetting knowing that other people with less resources don’t have the same options.”
Rosalyn. Do we have you back?
Newhouse: It looks like we do, I can hear you.
Norcross: Thank you, I can hear you, too. And thank you so much for your patience.
Okay, when we last spoke we were talking about the challenges that first time homeschool parents were having who decided to make that choice for their kids.
Can you pick that back up again? What are you hearing for the first-time homeschoolers?
Newhouse: One of the biggest challenges for first-time homeschoolers is the attempt to recreate a public school setting at home and that’s not really the purpose of homeschooling or the way homeschooling succeeds best. It’s possible. You can certainly do 9 AM to 12 PM at the kitchen table with workbooks and grades and so forth. But what we generally find very successful in the homeschooling community is to be more flexible with subjects, with schedules and with methods of learning, that kids learn really, really well through experiences [like] field trips, projects and also by following their own interests. If you have a kid who’s just nuts about history, it’s focused on history or really excited about science, focus on science and other subjects kind of dovetail around those specific interests.
Norcross: Yeah. I think you also touched a little bit on one of the big objections that many people have to homeschooling and that’s the socialization question that a school is not just a place for kids to be instructed, it’s a place for them to be with other kids and learn how to work through problems with them. How do you recreate that as a homeschooler?
Newhouse: Is it really, though? When you have kids all of the same age in a cohort in a group together pretty much all of the day without any specific instructions on how to socialize or how to navigate social interactions - how many times has anyone listening sat in a classroom talking to their neighbor and had the teachers say, “hey, we’re not here to socialize, put your eyes on your book?”
Newhouse: And so a lot of the so-called socialization in a public school setting is confrontational, there’s bullying, there’s a mystery of just how do you socialize, how do you get to sit at the table with the cool kids? What do you do when there’s a problem? How do you navigate those things? In a homeschool setting, kids are out there and they’re interacting with other homeschoolers. They’re interacting with people of different ages and in different settings and they’re really learning how to get along in everyday situations with other instructors, with tutors, with friends, with shopkeepers, with people they meet at extracurricular events and they don’t generally have a lot of problems, certainly no more than public school students with the idea of socialization.
Norcross: Okay, well for any parents who might be listening and they’re thinking about homeschooling their kids, what’s your advice? And what do you think they need to think about before they make that choice?
Newhouse: One of the best things that people can do is to talk to other homeschoolers and get information. We have a very active Facebook group called Homeschooling in Oregon: Talk with OHEN. There’s about 8,500 people in that group in Oregon. So you’re going to get a lot of different experiences and an awful lot of advice. Homeschoolers just love to give each other advice, suggestions for curriculum options, suggestions for meetups, activities, methodologies and ways of navigating what my kid doesn’t want to do or where some opportunities are for my kids to do that. Probably the best advice I can give is to talk to people who are doing it.
Norcross: And you’ve been doing this for over 20 years with your own family. How has your understanding of homeschooling changed in that time?
Newhouse: Well, there are a lot more resources. When I first started homeschooling, it was me and my kid in the library and libraries are still one of the best resources for homeschooling. And the librarians really enjoy working with homeschoolers! But gosh, with the internet today you can really access almost any kind of information and any sort of experience. You can even use something like Google Earth, you can take tours of Europe just sitting in your living room or visit museums all over the world. And these are wonderful opportunities for homeschoolers.
Norcross: Thank you, again, Rosalyn Newhouse for this conversation. I appreciate it.
Newhouse: Well, thanks very much for having me and battling through the technical difficulties.
Norcross: For sure [Laughing]. Rosalyn Newhouse is the board president of the Oregon Homeschool Education Network.
Contact “Think Out Loud®”
If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.