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How Do I Navigate My Family’s Fall Homeschool Options?

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Dr. Michael McShane, Director of National Research at EdChoice
Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, Licensed and Board-Certified Psychologist, Nationally Certified School Psychologist, and Founder at The Center for Well Being
With eyes toward the upcoming year, parents are working to craft the best at-home learning strategy for their families. The good news is we’re all in the same boat. But every learning plan will differ based on your unique circumstances. In this episode, we talk about options.
I think more than anything right now, parents are worried about doing the wrong thing.
- Dr. Michael McShane
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Critical Questions Parents Need to Ask About Homeschooling

When it comes to their child’s education, parents are always worried about doing the wrong thing. Add a pandemic to the mix, and concerns deepen. But the reality is we’re all in the same boat: Nobody has done this before. And it's important to keep in mind that if something doesn’t end up working well, you can change it.

Let's look at the first questions parents will need to ask about homeschooling and other at-home learning options:

  • What is your local school district offering? Many school districts are providing a choice between full-time online learning and a hybrid model in which students attend in-person classes for certain days of the week, or just for part of the day.
  • What resources do you have in your home? Do you have the capacity to do online learning at home? Or are you going to need to offload some of that teaching to schools or another source?
  • Can you make an at-home learning plan work? Every family is going to have to answer that question differently because every family lives in its own unique circumstances.

Will Some Students Actually “Get Ahead” This Fall?

Not all students are in pace with a traditional school. Some children struggle to keep up and need supplemental help, while others can study and master new skills at a faster rate.

Families shouldn't feel like they have to stick to exactly one plan this fall. In addition to their traditional school's offerings, there are tons of great supplemental resources available online to help support their child's learning.

If something doesn't work, you can change it. So if you pick one option, which may be a homeschool option, and you don't like it, you can change it.
— Dr. Stephanie Mihalas

Are National Attitudes Toward Homeschooling Changing?

Despite the uncertainty of this past spring, research shows that a substantial number of parents actually say that they are more likely to be interested in homeschooling this fall.

Pre-COVID, about 10% of Americans were telling pollsters they would homeschool their children, even though only about 2-3% actually did. So there was already a group of people who would ideally homeschool if they could, but they did not for various logistical reasons. That percentage has significantly increased — up to 30-40% (in some surveys) now say they would consider homeschooling.

Will that happen? Probably not. There's a difference in how people answer surveys and what actions they take. But even if just a fraction of these families explore homeschooling this fall, that will be a sea change in the American education system.

I think families have to ask that question. Do they have the capacity to do online learning at home?
- Dr. Michael McShane

The Good That’s Coming out of our Emergency Homeschool Experiment

This pandemic has been an extremely stressful time for all of us, but with schools closed and many families working from home, there have been some unexpected benefits with this new proximity.

Some families are holding conversations they wouldn't have had before, learning to understand one another on a new level. Parents are able to witness their child's day-to-day development and learn more about both what they enjoy and the difficulties they face. This new closeness has helped some parents realize that their children's learning might benefit from individualized support.

We are all in a tough situation, but remember that your family is the cornerstone for one another. Keep in mind that if something isn't working for your family, you can change it. When you do that, you're modeling flexibility and resilience for your children. That's the big take-home lesson right now — showing kids that in times of stress, we can push through. Nothing in life is perfect, but it can be okay.

Emergency Homeschool - Episode 1 Transcript

Narrator (00:00):
We've had so many parents reach out to us and say, "We're trying to be prepared for whatever happens this fall. Can you recommend curriculum for other subjects like what you offer for math and language arts with Beast Academy, AoPS Academy, and AoPS online?" To help them out, we surveyed our Art of Problem Solving families to find out exactly what curriculum they use for their curious and motivated students. See their homeschool curriculum recommendations for yourself at That's

Eric Olsen (00:35):
What was learning at home for you like this spring?

Child (00:39):
It was definitely a new experience for me. I liked being able to do my schoolwork at home because I was able to be a little more relaxed, curled up in my bed.

Eric Olsen (00:51):
What were some things that were hard about it?

Child (00:54):
Things were definitely more distracting at home than school.

Eric Olsen (00:57):
You were more distracted at home?

Child (00:59):
Yeah. I need to move to different places in my house to become focused because some places could be really noisy when my brother was in there.

Eric Olsen (01:10):
And how do you feel about heading into fall?

Child (01:15):
I'm fine with doing another year of homeschool, but if I did, I would definitely miss socializing with my friends.

Eric Olsen (01:25):
I'm Eric Olsen with the Art of Problem Solving, and this is the very first time we've ever considered homeschool options for our nine-year-old daughter. She loves her public school. She loves her teachers. She loves her friends, but we just don't know what traditional school's going to look like come fall and want to be prepared either way. So, in this series, I interview some of the best minds in the education and at-home learning spaces to figure out our options and learn how to craft an at-home learning plan that's right for our family. This is Emergency Homeschool.

Dr. Michael McShane (01:56):
I think more than anything right now, parents are worried about doing the wrong thing.

Eric Olsen (02:00):
This is Dr. Michael McShane, director of national research at EdChoice. In trying to plan ahead for an uncertain fall, what are the critical questions parents need to be asking themselves right now?

Dr. Michael McShane (02:13):
So, I think they need to be taking a hard look at particularly... Let's say, we're assuming these parents are sending their kids to the standard, traditional public school district. They need to be looking at what the district is going to be offering, and they need to look at their own resources inside their home and say, "Can we make this work?"

Dr. Michael McShane (02:30):
So, a lot of districts are offering this choice between full-time online learning and some sort of hybrid model where students are going to come part of the day. So, I think families have to ask that question. Which one of those is going to work better for them? Do they have the capacity to do online learning at home, or are they going to need to offload some of that time to schools? And I think frankly, it's just going to... Every family is going to have to answer that differently, because every family has its own unique circumstances. And look, this is true for families that are in public charter schools or that are in private schools, as well. I think they're just going to have to look at what's on offer and what resources they have to bring to bear and whether they can find a happy meeting point for those two things.

Eric Olsen (03:12):
So, there is a big concern that our kids fell behind this spring and may continue to do so. How can we prevent that, and is there any potential opportunity for our kids to actually get ahead during this difficult time?

Dr. Michael McShane (03:26):
Yeah, I actually do think that there are opportunities for kids to get ahead during this time, right? So, for lots of children, the pace of a traditional school is not synced to the pace in which they can learn, and there are some children... The first part of that question, I think we're worried about the children who perhaps struggle to keep up with that pace and therefore need to be supplemented and need help and need to be brought along with additional resources. But the other side of the equation matters as well, which are students that are perhaps held back by school, that could move faster, that could rip through content as fast as you can give it to them. Right?

Dr. Michael McShane (04:05):
And so, for students like that, I mean, a big thing that I would say is, families shouldn't feel like they have to stick to the school schedule. If the school is saying, "We're only going to provide two hours of work per day," or, "We're going to send home packets with this stuff," I mean, as much as possible, and again, trying to be respectful of parents' capacity and the work that they can do, saying that, look, that's just a starting point, but there are tons of great resources that are available online. There are tons of other resources that are out there that families could use to supplement and actually push kids forward. Look, I think it is very true for families that are not able to do that, for students that rely on schools for those additional services, we should be very concerned about those kids falling behind.

Eric Olsen (04:49):
So, spring gave the entire country a very emergency versioned view of at-home learning. From a data perspective, did this create any attitudinal shift around what people think about the concept of homeschooling, since they got to experience a partial version of it?

Dr. Michael McShane (05:08):
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things that's been fascinating is a lot of the early research... Some of my colleagues at EdChoice did this... Paul DiPerna and Drew Catt and Michael Shaw. We do a lot of polling work at EdChoice, and one of the things that I think really surprised us, especially given the explosion on social media when all of this happened was frazzled parents who... It was very common to see that, "We should pay teachers a billion dollars a year," or whatever, as parents were struggling with these things. But actually, lots of parents, a substantial number of parents, actually said that they were more likely to be interested in homeschooling. They had a much more positive view of homeschooling as a result of this.

Dr. Michael McShane (05:46):
Now, one of the things that we routinely find is that roughly 10%... When we do national surveys every year, we ask, "If money were no object, if there were no logistical hurdles, where would you send your kid to school?" And about 10% of Americans say that they would homeschool their children, and only about 2% or 3% actually do. So, there was already, pent up, a group of people who would ideally homeschool if they could, but just for a variety of logistical reasons aren't able to do so.

Dr. Michael McShane (06:19):
Now, the question is, have people been added to that number? And I think that definitely some have, that there are more families that had never thought about homeschooling before, but now that they have actually homeschooled, they say, "Oh, man, I really want to do this."

Dr. Michael McShane (06:32):
Now, there's some kind of crazy survey numbers coming out right now where some, like, 30% or 40% in some surveys are coming back saying that they're going to homeschool in the fall. I don't believe those numbers. I shouldn't say... I believe that that's what people said, but there's also a difference in how people answer surveys and what they actually do. I would be shocked if 40% of families say that they're... Go to any sort of traditional homeschooling models, and they withdraw their children from public schools and then choose to homeschool them. But remember, we got about 55 million public school kids, so if you only say maybe 2% of people change their minds or 3% or 4% of people decide to homeschool, that's hundreds of thousands of children. So, it doesn't take huge shifts to really be a sea change in the American education system.

Eric Olsen (07:22):
This is an incredibly difficult situation for the country, for our families. Are you hopeful that some good comes out of this, that parents get more connected to their kids' schooling, that at least we'll get some new learnings out of some new models many will be trying for the first time this fall?

Dr. Michael McShane (07:42):
Yeah. I consider myself an eternal optimist and whew, I got to tell you, 2020 has been a rough one for us optimists, right? So, my answer to almost any time something happens is, am I hopeful that some good will come out of bad things? I'm almost universally hopeful that good will come out of bad things, and I think you're right. I think parents are going to get a much deeper understanding of what goes on in schools, how schools operate. And hopefully, for lots of families, this has actually been an opportunity for parents and kids to spend more quality time with one another.

Dr. Michael McShane (08:16):
Lots of research that I've done and folks that I've talked to in the homeschooling and hybrid homeschooling space, one of the big reasons that they're drawn to that is that they feel that their kids are overscheduled, right? School starts too early, so kids wake up in the morning, they have to slam down breakfast, they rush to school, they eat lunch too early, they're asleep in the second half of the day, they do some sort of afterschool activities, maybe they have a job, they play a sport, they're in the play. They come home, they have a couple hours of homework, so they slam down dinner, and then they fall asleep, and then you repeat this.

Dr. Michael McShane (08:49):
And so, lots of families actually don't like that, but if they want their kids to go into great colleges and all those things, there's this centrifugal force that keeps pushing them forward to do this kind of stuff. So, the fact that families were able to take a step back from that and actually say, "Oh, no"... and I hope this was true for many families... "We actually enjoy each other's company. And I want to spend time, not as structured of time, where we can sit down and have a long meal with one another. We can go walk around the neighborhood or we can spend some quality time with one another and really get to know each other better and have those really important conversations that parents and children have."

Dr. Michael McShane (09:23):
So, I hope that sort of stuff, and as we go back to different schooling models, those sorts of things that people have learned, they can take to those and say, "Well, wait a second. Are schools actually using time the best that they can? Are we wasting it in some places that would maybe be better for us to have? Are kids overscheduled? Is the work that they're doing as good as it could be?" So, if it causes parents to ask some of those tougher questions, I think that's a good thing.

Eric Olsen (09:52):
And while many families struggled this spring, some had really positive experiences with at-home learning and are trying to figure out a way to keep the good parts. This is Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, licensed and board-certified psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, and founder of the Center for Well-Being.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (10:12):
So, one thing that I've heard that's very positive is that a lot of working parents were never able to actually see the day-to-day development of their children because they worked very long hours. Now, this doesn't negate the stress that they were under trying to work and also navigate even more time with their children, but they really enjoyed seeing how much they develop.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (10:38):
The second thing that they really appreciated this spring was taking time to actually slow down and smell the roses and cook and just have the opportunity not to be on such a hectic schedule. And another thing that I think parents actually started to acknowledge was, maybe they didn't know their child as well as they thought they did. Children started opening up and having conversations with their parents about what they loved, what they didn't like, what they didn't think was working in their family, what they wanted to work better. They started having conversations about what they liked about their curriculums and what they didn't.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (11:25):
Parents also starting to have the opportunity, again, even though it was stressful, to realize that their children had some learning differences and they needed to get them even more individualized support. They started to realize that their children had underlying anxiety or depressive disorders that they were overlooking or didn't want to see, and they realized they needed therapeutic support. So, I think the overall global thing that was positive was this opportunity to reconnect, to slow down, to relearn and readjust to family life, to curricular life, and to one another.

Eric Olsen (12:09):
Any encouragements you can give the nervous parents out there, like me, heading into an uncertain fall where we just don't know what everything is going to look like yet?

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (12:20):
Yeah. I think that that's a really difficult question because it is an anxiety-provoking situation. The situation with the pandemic is constantly changing, the situation with schools are changing, and the fact of the matter is that we are all in a tough situation. But what you can remember is that kids are resilient and so are families, and that they are the cornerstone for one another, and that the reality is that if something doesn't work, you can change it. So, if you pick one option, which may be a homeschool option, and you don't like it, you can change it. If you pick a school at home option and you don't like it, you can change it. If you pick the hybrid option, you can also change it.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (13:14):
And the important point about that is, is that you're modeling flexibility for your children and you're modeling resiliency for them, which is the best thing that we can do for our children, is showing them that if something doesn't work, we can change it and we're not marred to it. And so I think that's really a big take home right now, is showing kids that in times of stress, we can push through and that nothing in life is perfect, but that it can be okay.

Eric Olsen (13:47):
Stephanie, thank you for your time today.

Dr. Stephanie Mihalas (13:49):
You're welcome.

Eric Olsen (13:51):
So, in this podcast series, Emergency Homeschool, we're going to try and get answers to the questions we keep hearing our Art of Problem Solving parents asking. What are their options for fall? How can they find the best curriculum? How can they figure out their state's regulations for at-home learning? How can their students socialize and make friends online? How could this period affect their students' future college admission chances? We hope you'll stay with us as we interview the experts and navigate our at-home learning options together.

Narrator (14:23):
You've been listening to Emergency Homeschool, an Art of Problem Solving podcast. Since 1993, Art of Problem Solving has prepared hundreds of thousands of motivated students for success in prestigious universities and STEM careers through engaging curriculum, expert online instruction, and local academies. To learn more, visit That's