Homeschooling — a social stumbling block or a recipe for success?

Avery Grant (16) and her Brother Zach Grant (14) listen and take notes during their mom’s lesson on Russian history. (Natalie Baugh)

Zach’s eyes open as he notices snow falling outside his window. He glances at the clock on his bed-stand; it is 7:30 a.m. on a school day. 

Unlike the other kids in his neighborhood, Zach does not have to worry about racing through the snow to the bus stop early in the morning. He knows school with mom will begin later in the morning. He drifts back to sleep.

Homeschooling for Utah students like Zach in has almost doubled in the past few years, according to the Utah Board of Education. In the 2015-2016 school year, there were more than 16,000 students enrolled in homeschool. Davis School District had the highest amount of students with 4,761, followed by the Alpine, Nebo and Jordan school districts.

Homeschool trends in Utah taken from The Department of Education. (Daniel Anderson)

According to Mark Peterson, the public relations director for the Utah State Board of Education, there are no homeschooling statistics past the year 2016.

“Legislation required parents/guardians to only submit an affidavit for homeschooling once — rather than annually — and data collection became problematic,” Peterson said. Difficulty in collecting information resulted in a lack of research.

Despite halted statistics for homeschooling in Utah, homeschooling Facebook groups continue to grow and Utah homeschooling families help newcomers get started. Following the increasing homeschooling trends from 2016, there have not been drastic effects on Utah’s public school education.

Many people assert that children who are homeschooled grow up with a social disadvantage due to a lack of social interaction that is otherwise fulfilled through public education. Families who homeschool their children claim this is not the case; they believe homeschooling and hybrid schooling provide new ways for children to have personalized learning.

Sandy Grant of Riverton, Utah, decided to try homeschooling her first three kids in 2004. She knew she wanted to homeschool her kids during their middle school years, but they began sooner. 

“I loved having them at home and I loved not having to deal with jumping through others’ hoops,” Grant said.

Homeschooling allows the mom and child to decide on a schedule that works best. Grant loves being able to deal with homework questions or teaching during the day when she is less stressed. Then in the evening she has the time to get dinner ready and not worry about helping her kids with homework when they are tired from school.

Sandy Grant goes through a history lesson on Dec. 6, 2019. There is a lot of homeschooling resources available and Grant can customize the resources into lesson plans that work bests for her children. (Natalie Baugh)

According to Grant, homeschooling doesn’t mean parents need to have a background in teaching.

“I think the No. 1 qualification to educate your kids is a love for your kids and a willingness to devote your attention to them,” she said.

Grant is the mother of six kids; her two oldest were homeschooled off and on, but her third child, Ben, has been exclusively homeschooled. Ben has since graduated, served a mission in Jamaica and is now a freshman at BYU. 

The three kids still at home are 16-year-old Avery, 13-year-old Zach and 9-year-old Sam. All three gather in the morning for a lesson. Sam mostly listens, while Avery and Zach take notes in their workbooks. Grant said the resources for homeschooling are amazing and that there are more coming out each year.

Grant said one of the benefits of homeschooling is there is no time wasted in learning, the student can learn at their own pace and don’t have to be dependent on the pace of classmates.

The kids learn how to take ownership of what they are learning. Ben, the BYU freshman, is used to teaching himself because of the independence of homeschooling.

He said he discovered his love for computer programming when he was 12 and had time during homeschool to play on the computer. 

“For me, personal interests developed homeschooling,” Ben said. “One advantage I see is the ability to chase your interests a bit more.”

He did not feel a lack of social interaction because he was still able to be a part of different public high school debate and robotics teams. Ben said the main stereotypes that are spread about homeschooling is that homeschooled kids are sheltered and protected from the world.

“I don’t think that’s true,” Ben said. “If that’s their goal, it won’t be effective — homeschooling isn’t a good way of sheltering.”

From Ben’s perspective, homeschooling helps strengthen family relationships. Ben loved spending time with his family and doing school field trips together. Other homeschooling moms echoed these words. Having more time to spend with their kids is a big highlight of homeschooling.

David Edgecomb is the father of nine children living in Pleasant Grove. His wife, Jennifer has homeschooled all their kids. David has observed that homeschooling allows personalized learning for each child. 

The Edgecomb family poses for a photo. Back from left: Jared Johnson (25), Brandon Edgecomb (21), Lindsey, Dallin, David (46). Front from left: Raine Johnson (1), Amber Johnson (23), Leslie (12), Briana (7), Nathan (4), Katelynn (10), Jennifer (45) and Rachel (15). (Jennifer Edgecomb)

He said that homeschooling is flexible with other learning resources and that his kids can go to some classes and have others at home. Edgecomb lends a hand whenever he can, but said it is 99% Jennifer. 

“I get to be the cheerleader, I get to finance all of it, I get to participate and lend an opinion here and there,” David said.

He and his wife’s decision to homeschool was based on noticing homeschooled families around them and seeing how close the kids were with each other. 

“It wasn’t about the education part, it was that we loved the relationships between the family members and thought, ‘That’s what we want,’” David said. “We want a family that is so close.”

Jennifer has pondered both sides of homeschooling and public school and how she made the decision. “I think if you’re going to make such a big commitment, then I think you have to just really be able to follow through with it,” she said.

Homeschooling has become a tradition for the Edgecomb family. Their oldest, Amber Johnson, is now homeschooling her daughter. She loved being homeschooled because of the tight-knit community in the homeschooling world. 

“The thing I loved the very most was that parents can decide what power they have,” Johnson said. “It’s a beautiful opportunity to be hunter and gatherer and find what works best for their family.”

Amber Johnson reads a book with her daughter, Raine, and friend Becca Nelson for preschool. (Preston Crawley)

Johnson said parents interested in homeschooling should know homeschooling is a fantastic resource to help kids focus and succeed in life.

Holly Harker, a homeschooling mom, said that after seeing other families homeschooling, it seemed like a good system.

Holly Harker goes over a lesson with her sons, Ivar (4) in red and Thomas in blue (2) on Dec. 3, 2019. (Rochelle Baugh)

“Their kids seemed so interested in things and so smart, understanding things conceptually and really learn and integrate things, they were excited about learning,” Harker said.

The biggest aspect of feeling qualified for Harker is that there is a big difference between teaching and learning. She said parents do not necessarily have to know everything to teach their children but that they do have to know how to help them learn. 

Tiffany Barney, another homeschooling mom in Utah County, said collaborating with other homeschooling families is a great way to figure out what type of homeschooling works best.

Barney said she decided to homeschool her daughter because she was falling behind in school.

She said the public schools are easy to work with because Barney has the option of letting her daughter go back to public school when she feels ready. Barney has structured homeschool similar to public school to help the transition go more smoothly.

Making a pro and con list of homeschooling is different for each case. Some moms said homeschooling is a personal choice that parents will have to decide on, while other moms think that homeschooling is the best option.

“In our situation, I was surprised with how quickly my daughter’s reading skills improved,” Barney said. “The one-on-one attention helped.”

Contributing: Daniel Anderson

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