Home schooling more popular for Montana families
At their sunny kitchen table, Asher and Clara, work on their school work. It may not be a traditional classroom but more and more families across the state are finding that learning from home can have positive attributes. (Photo courtesy Becky Palmer)
Mineral Independent | September 8, 2021 12:00 AM
Whether parents were driven by caution, apprehension over influences, or frustration with local health guidelines more and more Montana children are being homeschooled.
Statewide the number of students identified as homeschooled increased by 69.7% from 2019 to 2020. Before the pandemic, 5,815 children were registered for homeschooling. In 2020, that number rose sharply to 9,868, the largest increase was in grades K-8.
Each October and February the Montana Office of Public Instruction releases preliminary enrollment numbers for schools across the state, if trends remain homeschooling will continue to gain in popularity.
For Courtney Alaniz a mother of four boys in Alberton, her decision to homeschool was very personal. Unhappy with what her children were learning outside of their textbooks she remarked, “I will get to monitor what ideals they will be exposed to. Indoctrination at public schools is getting more rampant as time goes on.”
Her boys, ages 13, 11, 10, and 5, had always been in public school. They used to attend the Alberton School District, but this fall instead of returning to the classrooms, they are learning from home at the dining room table.
Alaniz has seen more and more families in the area following her lead. She said, “It had become more popular with how easy it is now. And as school boards and officials keep pushing their leftist agendas, more and more parents are waking up and saying no more.”
Her strong stance remained, “The Alberton school administration and board have decided to bring leftist, liberal ideas to the kids. School should be a place to learn 2+2=4. If my child knows your political affiliations, you are doing it wrong.”
Recently Alaniz joined a homeschool co-op that gathers together in the 9 Mile area. She explained, “We are sharing ideas, tips, curriculum. We even have our first field trip coming up! Our kids will not be isolated and kept apart from each other like they would be at school. Our kids will be able to interact, play and explore together.”
“The beauty of homeschooling is that you can pick and choose what works best for your family, and each individual child.”
Time management for their family will ultimately be the hardest part of the adjustment. Both Alaniz and her husband work full time jobs.
But she added, “School doesn’t have to be Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I am also not alone; we have an amazing homeschool co-op in the area where I can reach out anytime I need too.”
Alaniz expressed, “There are more people homeschooling this year than I have seen ever. For some reason, locally elected school boards are not listening to the people they were elected to serve. The best way to deal with that is pull your kids. The administration and board will never care about your kids as much as you do.”
Her boys are able to still participate in sports through the school but they are hesitant with ongoing Covid-19 restrictions. Alaniz stated, “It’s confusing to them that they can go to a restaurant, store, or church without all the chaos.”
Like Alaniz, a number of new families are navigating homeschooling for the first time this fall. But for many parents in Mineral County their kids haven’t known a different kind of school then the one at their home.
St. Regis resident Becky Palmer teaches her son and daughter every day and the setup has worked well for their family.
Their daily schedule goes something like this: get up, have breakfast together, sometimes the kids cook. Palmer said, “Our school day begins with a bible lesson and then they work on their math. We go over anything new together at the beginning and then they have time to work on their individual assignments.”
Since she works from home, she is able to cook and clean or work on projects herself while the kids do their lessons.
“With a few trampoline or snack breaks here and there, every day is a little different depending on what else we have or want to do,” said Palmer. A typical school day takes anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. She detailed, “The kids usually have some homework assignments and reading or studying time during the evening and weekends, just like public school kids.”
In the past Palmer has mainly used a homeschooling curriculum called Abeka. She said, “It's a wonderful curriculum but we started trying some others a couple years ago and have been gradually moving away from it. This year we are doing very little Abeka and mainly other programs that are more online.” There are countless curriculums that families can find online or by recommendation of other homeschool groups.
Having community support is an important asset for homeschooling families and that’s why they often form or join into local co-ops.
Palmer’s son and daughter participate in the Clark Fork Christian Homeschool Co-op based out of Plains. Families join from Superior all the way to Thompson Falls, and it involves all ages of school aged children.
It’s broken into an elementary group and a middle school/high school group. The groups meet up on a monthly basis for a parent-led craft, art lesson, science experiment, or other group learning opportunity. Around the holidays the co-op gathers for parties and field trips throughout the year.
Palmer expressed, “The families and kids are great, and the co-op is constantly growing. The co-op has been a blessing and we have made many friends through it. There are many other co-ops and groups around here as well.”
For Palmer the benefits of homeschooling are plentiful. She exclaimed, “Family time, I feel my kids are safest with me, we make our own schedule and vacation days, my kids can devote extra time to learning about things they are most interested in, my kids rarely get sick. They get more one-on-one time with their teacher.”
And her kids have had the chance to still participate in public school sports and other classes even. Palmer noted, “Last year my son took music and science at the school in St. Regis, and ran track. This year we plan to do something similar.”
Are they any cons to homeschool?
Palmer admitted, “It's a lot of work, of course, and sometimes we have struggles with attitudes or motivation but that is true with public school as well or any family life.” But aside from that its often dealing with common misconceptions around this version of education.
She said, “That homeschool kids aren't as smart or that they aren't getting enough socialization. However, all the homeschool families I know have very bright and extremely social children. They are some of the more well-behaved and well-mannered children that I have met.” Another bonus is homeschoolers don't have to deal with bullying and are less prone to issues like peer pressure.
At the end of the day as a parent educator, Palmer shared “The greatest benefit is getting to be home with my children and having the freedom to do so many things as a family all year round. If it's a beautiful day out, we might pack a lunch and go for a hike or take our assignments down to the river to work on...educational freedom.” She added, “Everything is a learning experience, from going to the grocery store, to going on a day hike and journaling, to taking care of the animals and cooking. Even vacations turn into schooling!”
After losing her husband five years ago, Palmer wanted to honor his wishes that she be home with the kids and teach them herself. She shared, “I value family time and I want to be sure my kids learn the truth about God and the Bible.”
Although she’s been doing it for years, Palmer understands that the initial transition to homeschooling can be a challenge. But, more than ever she sees friends and neighbors giving it a try.
“I feel like there are more and more homeschool families popping up all the time. It's wonderful!” she mentioned. “It seems like more people are realizing that it is very easy and rewarding to teach your own children. I think some people are doing it because they are frustrated with the government run public school system. Others because they want to be more involved with the things their children are being taught. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Her best advice to parents diving into homeschooling this fall, is to remain calm.
“I would say to not panic and try not to feel overwhelmed. There are so many options and so many people willing to help. You can choose what works best for your family. Parents know their children and know what is best for them,” said Palmer. “Trust yourself to make the right decisions for your kids. It doesn't have to cost a lot, there are many wonderful free resources. Try to keep it fun and not stressful. Children soak up everything and homeschooling makes it easier to let them learn at their own pace.”
School districts across Mineral County have seen an interesting dynamic of some families shifting towards homeschooling education for their children, while at the same time a large influx of new students being enrolled. Most of these new students are from out of the area, and many have relocated due to the pandemic. In Alberton, their enrollment for this fall was 143 students. Down in St. Regis enrollment numbers jumped to 200 students K-12, last year they had 175. And six years ago, they had around 140.