The COVID-19 pandemic led to school closures in many countries around the world. Schools in the United States were closed for over a year. Although home learning isn't a new concept, public education in the U.S. wasn't designed to accommodate the widespread distance learning this event required. School districts and families had to adapt and implement home learning plans very quickly.
The results have been uneven and, though most students have returned to their classrooms by early 2022, some changes have endured and may outlast the pandemic.
Technology is the cornerstone of home learning. Many schools let teachers instruct students through Zoom, Google Classroom, and similar programs.
Essentially, teachers prepare learning materials and assignments to send electronically. Students complete assignments at home and listen to lectures and discussions on laptops, computers, tablets or other devices. Most school districts set up portals and online dashboards to let parents and guardians track student progress and receive updates and schedules.
The reliance on internet access and electronic devices was a problem for students that didn't have these resources. At the beginning of the 2020 school year, approximately 14% of children ages 3 to 18 didn't have internet access. Almost 17% didn't have computers.
Many school districts partnered with local governments, community organizations, and businesses to provide laptops or computers to students who needed them. Some also distributed hotspots or paid for families' internet service to give students' online access.
Computers and internet services are important for students whether they learn at school or at home. In addition to online research, students also use a wide range of software and educational apps and programs to complete assignments and explore interests.
Even with the return to classrooms, students who received computers during lockdown can still benefit from them. Home learning during the pandemic also spurred a significant increase in accessible online resources for children and families.
Countless children experienced stress, anxiety, grief, depression, and other challenging emotions during the COVID pandemic. In many places, awareness of potential stressors during lockdown prompted more extensive concern for students' overall mental health.
Physical isolation made it difficult to monitor students' wellbeing in person, so educators and mental health professionals developed new strategies. School psychologists and counselors used online referrals and teletherapy to connect with kids and their families. This increased focus on mental health can make it easier for students to find appropriate services and support, even once the pandemic has ebbed.
Home learning during the pandemic was very different from traditional homeschooling. Families that choose to homeschool are responsible for compliance with state rules and an appropriate curriculum.
Students learning at home during lockdown were still enrolled in school and participated in virtual learning programs and academic curriculum provided by their school districts. Parents were still responsible for a child's attendance, even if it was virtual participation instead of a physical location.
The pandemic sparked renewed interest in homeschooling, as an alternative to virtual learning through public or private schools. Families that homeschooled before the pandemic may have continued their routine or made small changes, but most families faced huge changes when public schools closed.
As of March 2022, schools in the U.S. are open again, but some families have chosen to explore homeschooling and organized virtual learning instead of sending children back to school campuses.
Pandemic pods are small, closed groups of children learning together. Families organize pods based on their needs and coordinate with like-minded people in local communities. Many pods use Facebook to share advice, schedule classes, or recruit teachers and tutors.
Some pods follow the virtual learning programs in their school districts or enroll children in virtual private school or charter school programs.
Families have also organized micro-schools using blended learning models. A micro-school may be set up as a one-room school in a home or rented space. Parents create the curriculum using a wide range of resources.
Online providers offer academic programs ranging from a full scholastic curriculum to smaller programs focused on specific subjects such as math, physics, and foreign languages. Micro-schools let families control instructional methods in a closed group while giving children more opportunities to socialize and work together than they might get with homeschooling.
Many families have adapted to home learning and plan to continue indefinitely. They've learned to find resources and teaching tools online. Cooperation and communication within geographical and virtual communities reduces the risk of isolation that impacts some homeschooled children.
Parents are choosing home learning for many reasons, such as flexibility instead of rigid school schedules and freedom to choose educational subjects and material. Some students don't want to go back to school campuses due to bullying, non-traditional learning styles that weren't accomodated, or other special circumstances that make physical attendance difficult.
Children are individuals with a wide range of interests, strengths, and challenges. They learn at different speeds and have different responses to teaching methods. Schools try to accommodate every child's needs, but there's a limit to the personalization possible in a typical classroom setting.
Families, on the other hand, can customize home learning and instructional styles to let children work at their own pace. Parents can also add material and focus on subjects that aren't a priority for public school districts. Some children are more motivated to learn when they can make decisions and have some control over the curriculum.
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