By Ann Lehue, MSIS, Senior Manager, Collection Development, Ingram Library Services
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced both schools and parents into impossible choices. Schools in the American South, a region experiencing some of the highest numbers of new cases in the world right now, are scheduled to open in mid-August in many cases with some balanced-calendar schools opening August 3. A Georgia YMCA camp was hit by an outbreak that has resulted in 260 campers testing positive for the virus, according to PBS and other local and national news reports, dashing hopes that lower rates of the virus among children would translate into less risk of infection in child-focused gatherings. It also appears likely (short of a wonderful world-changing event) that even the schools opening after Labor Day will face the dangers of virus spread.
Some schools are opening in person with no changes or with mask mandates and extra sanitation, some are alternating groups of students between in-person and online, some offer an online option that typically requires a full school day in front of the computer, and others are going 100% online taught by teachers until the rate of infection drops to an acceptable level, even providing equipment to the students who cannot afford it themselves.
As parents struggle to figure out what is best for their families, more are turning to homeschooling, at least for now. For parents who will already be staying home with their children to supervise online schooling, homeschooling might be a good option. In Tennessee, the virtual schools run by the public school systems require 6.5 hours in front of the computer—the same amount of time students are mandated to be in school. For some students, this may be helpful, but for others, 6.5 hours may seem interminably long. Some students do not perform well in front of a screen and need more hands-on activities.
For many students, homeschooling might be a better option educationally, mentally, or physically. Families with more than one child may not be able to accommodate multiple synchronous classes happening at the same time, and some may not be able to accommodate morning classes at all because of jobs or other responsibilities.
Forbes recently highlighted several educational models that may gain popularity during this difficult time, including Forest Schools—a largely nature-based outdoor learning environment, Microschools—small groups of homeschoolers who learn from teachers and mentors within the group, Virtual Degree Programs—online courses that can be asynchronous and more flexible than many of the public school options, and the more familiar Homeschooling that is taught by a parent or a learning provider selected by the parent(s).
Depending on the state, homeschooling can usually be much more flexible—three years ago after nine weeks of ongoing medical absences, I set up my high school senior with literature studies in every class except Advanced Algebra, which I farmed out to an online school because, well, I’m a librarian with an English and Music undergrad and don’t remember much beyond trigonometry. She did most of her work in the middle of the night because she is apparently part vampire, and as long as she was quiet while preparing her extravagant midnight snacks, it worked fine for us. Pro tip: having culinary arts as an elective means you get a free personal chef for at least a semester—it’s like being rich, besides the annoying stress about paying bills and not being able to buy a small island on a whim.
Most libraries have materials to support homeschooling families, but many have reported an increased focus on those materials in response to their communities’ new needs.
Libraries that recognized this trend early on are working to supplement their collections for homeschoolers, and Ingram’s Collection Development librarians have curated many lists to assist libraries in supporting the growing homeschooling community.
These lists can be found under the Curated Lists > Complimentary | View Our Lists button. For the parents or other homeschool providers, we have a list of 85 books that provide the support, encouragement, and information to help them homeschool under Adult Lists > Subject Lists > Homeschooling. Our lists under K12 offer support by grade level, including Common Core lists split out by grades and type of text, and grade-level fiction, nonfiction, STEAM, classics, and other lists for Preschool, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.
Parents are overwhelmed, and many face grim choices, or don’t have any real choices. As facilitators of an educated community, libraries can step into this void and help ease the minds of new and experienced, temporary and long-term, and hesitant and eager homeschoolers.