‘Taking the leap’: More RI families opt to homeschool kids during pandemic

Back to School

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Since the pandemic started, Census data shows a significant jump in the number of United States families who have opted to homeschool their children, a trend also happening in the Ocean State.

Korbin Dalton, of Smithfield, recently started 3rd grade. His first day included a check for jalapeños in his garden, reading aloud about ants in his living room, and whipping up a chocolate pudding dessert with his mom, Kirsten.

A few miles away in Cumberland, class is also in session for the Fords, with Margaret in Kindergarten and Sandlin in 2nd grade. Their agenda included handwriting, math, sounding out words, and knot tying.

While the days look different for each family, they have something in common: they are part of a growing number of parents deciding to homeschool their kids.

“Many parents are taking the leap and saying, ‘let’s see how it goes,’” said Marcia Sirois with EnrichRI, the state’s largest secular homeschooling non-profit.

According to the R.I. Department of Education, data shows during the 2019-2020 school year there were about 1,900 kids who were homeschooled across the state’s 36 school districts.

But this past school year, that number grew to more than 3,300 — about a 75% jump.

U.S. Census data shows a similar trend nationwide, with the number of American families homeschooling their children doubling during that same time frame, from 5.4% at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, to 11.1% by the start of the next school year.

“I think the main reason parents choose homeschooling is the flexibility and the opportunity to teach their kids the way their kids learn best,” Sirois said.

Both the Daltons and Fords say they had always thought about homeschooling their kids, but the switch to virtual learning when the pandemic first hit pushed them to take the plunge.

“With the virtual schooling, what we noticed was how much time we had,” Kirsten said. “We really realized that we could teach him and we could find easier and better ways that worked for him.”

The ongoing pandemic, and ensuing mask mandate and other restrictions, also play a role for many families.

“I didn’t like the idea of how broken up the school year might be,” Catherine Ford said. “They would be at school, and then if there was an outbreak, they’d be at home doing distance learning, then they would be at school and then be at home. The kind of up in the air-ness was another factor.”

“Some parents were hoping children were able to go back and not have to wear masks, and with the whole mask mandate in schools, some parents aren’t thrilled with that and their kids wouldn’t do well with that all day,” Sirois said.

Both parents tell 12 News while teaching their children can be hard work, it’s also rewarding.

“It’s a lot of pressure. Your kid’s education is no joke, so you want to make sure you’re doing what you need to do to give him the best chance.” Kirsten said, sitting at her dining room table, which has been transformed into a workspace for her son to complete some of his daily assignments.

“It’s really fun teaching my son. This is great. We can really have a good relationship with this,” she added.

“It makes our family a lot closer,” Catherine said. “Their relationship, between the two of them, Sandlin and Margaret, has strengthened and grown so much.”

They’ve also grown closer with other parents through EnrichRI, which connects hundreds of other homeschooling families in the state and provides them with various resources.

“You hear a lot of success stories when you’re with the co-ops, which is really cool, because you have that nervousness, and you’re like, ‘is this the right thing?’ Because it’s not the normal thing,” Kirsten said. “But you hear a lot of success stories, and fun ones.”

The decision to homeschool doesn’t have to be a permanent one, but both the Daltons and the Fords tell 12 News they have no plans to change anytime soon.

“I still don’t like the idea of them being in a desk for eight hours and in a mask for eight hours,” Catherine said. “It worked really well, so why fix something that’s not broken?”

“As long as this is working for us, he’s getting his needs met and we’re having fun, I think we’ll definitely carry on with it,” Kirsten said.

It’s unclear how many Rhode Island families are homeschooling their children this school year since those numbers don’t come out until next month.

Sirois says she believes about half of the parents who switched during the height of the pandemic will stick with it, adding that many families with kids starting kindergarten may begin homeschooling this year as well.

“We’ll see if they do it permanently or temporarily, but I expect another big number to come out for homeschooling families this year,” she said.

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