BELOIT, Kansas — Home schooling was not something the Ring family in Beloit set out to do long term. “It happened by accident,” is how Amanda Ring, the mother, explained it.
And now, amid COVID-19 restrictions, they find they are part of an expanding group, although they are more used to the routine than those just starting.
For the Rings, the journey began with their oldest, Noah, who is 13.
“We went on a tour for preschool, and Noah just seemed a little young,” Amanda said. “We thought we’d just home-school for preschool. We enjoyed the flexibility and doing everything at home with him, especially seeing him learn to read. Then we said, ‘Maybe we’ll just home-school for kindergarten, too.'”
“It just grew from there. It’s a natural extension of how we parent,” she told The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina, Kansas.
The Catholic family’s school day begins on a set of red chairs, as Amanda and her husband, Brian, lead their seven children in prayer before Amanda starts teaching.
Each child has a backpack, a set of books and daily assignments that must be completed.
“I have lofty visions about what the domestic church looks like,” Amanda said, “but often, it looks like this: Having a deep theology conversation with a 13-year-old while the 3-year-old runs circles around me and the baby is drooling on me.”
While not formally structured, there is a routine to the day.
“It really cuts down the number of people clamoring for my attention or asking permission or don’t know what assignment they’re doing next,” she said. “Our days always follow the same routine.”
The essential subjects are complete by noon, and the afternoon is spent on individual interest projects, ranging from computer coding to piano to baking.
At first, home schooling was a convenient way to have flexibility for when her husband needed to travel.
“But when my oldest was in first grade, I looked into home schooling from the perspective of a part of my vocation as a mom,” Amanda said. “It was initially something nice to do, but eventually it was a calling and a way of family life.”
One fear early in the experience was inadequacy, but she said she has learned that “God will give you the graces to get through it.”
While much of the education happens in the home, Amanda said weekly field trips, before COVID-19, were an integral part of the learning process.
Now, pandemic restrictions have not only limited the family’s travel, but it has also brought other families into the home-schooling world.
In March, Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order, closing all schools in Kansas. Many schools around the country were also closed, shifting education from the classroom to the child’s home.
Everett Buyarski, the Director of Academic Services at Kolbe Academy in Napa, California, said there was a slight uptick in interest in Catholic home-school offerings in the spring.
“At that time, none of us knew how long it would last,” he said. “Many of us were hopeful schools would reopen. Most parents waited it out.”
And then over the summer, he said, “the interest in what we have has exploded.”
Kolbe Academy was founded as a brick and mortar school in 1980, but it pivoted and began focusing on home-school education in 1987. In 2013, it began offering online home-school courses for grades 6-12.
“We have more than twice as many students as we expected to have,” he said. “We capped enrollment and have a wait list. Our enrollment is up 60 percent for the 2020-21 school year. We’re adding 1,000 more students than we had last year.”
Buyarski said many of their new families never planned to home school, prior to COVID-19.
“Some dual-income families felt remote learning didn’t work for them as parents were supposed to be working from home,” he said. “That’s the story nationwide. They have said they can’t do another year of this. They’re looking for an established program that has been doing this.”
“The schools are doing their best (at online education), but this is our eighth year of doing online classes. This is what we do.”
The school’s online classes are completely filled, but it does offer textbook and lesson plans for all grades, he added.
Amanda said because she and Brian chose to home-school their children, life looks a little different for them than it did for their friends and neighbors who began educating children from home in March.
“I’m managing my own expectations and using a curriculum I chose,” she said. “I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for parents who weren’t expecting to educate at home to do so, and to work within the expectations of the school district.”
When first learning to educate from home, Amanda said it was important for her to allow herself — and her children — some grace.
Her advice to new home-schooling parents? “When all else fails, take a break. Take a breather. Put on some music, dance it out. Go find something fun to do together and come back later when everything is diffused and everything will be much, much easier.”
Bonar is editor of The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina, Kansas.