Homeschooling is experiencing a boom.
In the past two decades, the estimated number of homeschooled children in the U.S. has risen from 1.4 million ('02-'03) to 2.6 million ('21-'22), boosted, in part, by educational experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Amy Oostveen, a Grand Rapids business owner, COVID was certainly the catalyst. As she watched her son, Aleksander, stare at a computer screen, she thought she could direct him in a better way.
"I taught him how to play baseball. I taught him how to swing a golf club," she said. "I thought, 'How hard can it be?'" She laughed, recalling that, "in the beginning, it was so, so hard."
Haleigh Gerwig's mom had a different motivation. She decided to homeschool Haleigh, a good public-school student, for one year, because Haleigh struggled with math in the fourth grade. In the end, she homeschooled Haleigh through high school.
"Homeschooling worked really well for me," explained Gerwig. "I excelled at reading and could work ahead in that area. But the pace of math in public school moved too quickly for me. At home, we didn't move on until I grasped the concepts."
Whatever your reason, it's not hard to get started here. Michigan law permits a generous amount of freedom in the way families approach home education.
But deciding the choices can feel endless and overwhelming: How will you tailor to your child's learning style, which curriculum should you use (Classical Approach, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, etc.) and more.
Fortunately, West Michigan has excellent resources, starting with the Home School Building (HSB, Inc.) in Wyoming. Their employees will help you think through what works best for your family.
"Don't overthink it," suggested Oostveen. "As parents we want the best for our kids and we think it has to be the 'best' math book, but it doesn't. It just has to be great for them." She and Aleksander are approaching their third year of homeschooling and they're also on their third approach to curriculum.
The first year, they chose subject-specific books that appealed to Aleksander. Their second year, they joined a homeschool pod, where he took gym, speech and piano with other homeschooled students. Her neighbor, a retired teacher, helped Aleksander with history. This coming year, when he begins seventh grade, they'll switch again.
"He's in the groove now," Oostveen explained. "He's super self-motivated, he knows what he likes, and he knows what he doesn't like. We'll just be doing school at home next year."
Oostveen found that in addition to providing learning opportunities, the homeschool pod also helped socially, as her son met other homeschooled students there.
Parents wondering about the social factor can rest easy knowing that opportunities abound. Gerwig played volleyball with the Rivertown Christian Patriots and participated in a drama program through the Koinonia homeschool group. Her brother played soccer with West Michigan Heat. Oostveen's son plays travel basketball and competitive lacrosse year-round, giving him not only an outlet for his athleticism, but a community of friends, as well.
Your children can also meet other kids by participating in hybrid partnership programs with public or private schools. Gerwig's sister, for example, took speech and Spanish at a local public school that offered a hybrid program. HSB, Inc. is a great resource for connecting you and your child with extracurriculars and these types of programs.
If this all sounds great but you're not sure you can manage it with a career, you could be right. Or wrong. Because homeschoolers aren't bound to the structure of a traditional school's daily—or annual—calendar, it gives you incredible freedom regarding when school happens.
"I loved setting my own schedule," said Gerwig. "I decided if I started the day with reading or math or history and it could change day by day."
As a business owner, Oostveen appreciates that her son can do his schoolwork around her schedule and even has time to run his own dog walking business. Other working parents might tag team with each other, use a tutor service (like The Tutoring Center in Wyoming), or split "teaching" days with other homeschooling families.
If you're inclined to give homeschooling a try, recognize that anything new can be scary.
"Just because it's scary, doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do," said Oostveen. "Sometimes new things are full of fear but, if we can step into that, it can be beautiful."
HSB, Inc (5625 Burlingame Ave SW)
What's Unschooling? It's a child-directed homeschooling approach. Read Free to Learn by Peter Gray.
If homeschooling isn't right for you, you may still find homeschool resources helpful.
Kirsetin Morello is a Michigan-based author, speaker, writer, travel-lover, wife and grateful mom of three boys. Read more about her at www.KirsetinMorello.com.
This article originally appeared in the Apr/May '23 issue of West Michigan Woman.