In the spring of 2020, a coronavirus known as COVID-19 kept children home from school in every state in the nation, and more than 80 percent of governors called for households to stay in their homes for weeks on end.  These actions thrust American parents in some 27 million households into an unwitting role as homeschool teachers.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that as of 2012, approximately three million primary and secondary schoolchildren were homeschooled in the U.S. 

Campbell Rinker has studied homeschool families and their choice of curriculum for two decades.  The firm recognized the lock-down as a unique time in the history of the country, and the perfect opportunity to poll parents about their impressions, thoughts, and emotions of the experience they’d just been through.

We especially sought to understand what parents thought of homeschooling before the pandemic arose, what they thought of it now that they had done it, how many were willing to continue homeschooling going forward, and why.  For this reason, researchers also asked a half-dozen open-ended questions to help define American sentiment on adopting homeschooling as a lifestyle in the coming months.

Challenges associated with teaching children during the lock-down were myriad. Based on their answers, we summarized the main impacts that parents felt. Recall that parents were often told with little to no notice that their children would learning at home, which makes their efforts and adaptations even more impressive.  Within days, parents had to…

  • Become technical mavens, navigating confusing new online systems, Wi-Fi, home networking and such,
  • Work to communicate with their child(ren)’s school or their teachers,
  • Understand educational jargon and adapt to school systems, styles and content that have changed dramatically in recent years,
  • Coordinate with multiple teachers having unique expectations,
  • Learn, and assist students in learning, material at the same time as their students,
  • Recall concepts they had not studied for decades and coach students on them,
  • Cope with their own anxieties about possible illness,
  • Support and encourage their children through fears, frustrations, and boredom,
  • Educate their special needs children,
  • Be a constant playmate for toddlers,
  • Maintain isolation and monitor household safety,
  • Follow changing and often conflicting advice coming from different sources,
  • Manage their homes,
  • Perform their own jobs.

In our study, parents who rated their lock-down experience negatively – and there were many – used the words in the ‘word cloud’ above to describe the best thing about having their kids learn at home.

The word ‘nothing’ sums up how many parents felt: nothing positive came of the lock-down, and several had very good reasons. Many schools had not lived up to their expectations during the lock-down. Software was confusing and hard to manage. Some teachers were inattentive or ill-equipped to teach at a distance. Even when asked to find something positive about the semester, parents described their ordeal as ‘miserable,’ ‘tedious,’ ‘a waste,’ ‘horrible,’ ‘difficult’ and ‘busy work.’

  • Absolutely nothing, this year has been a waste as many kids have been sick and out of school since fall began, including my own kids. So, my high-schooler was to be making up summer school, which they have now decided only certain classes will be made up, so he will be held back an extra year.
  • “Nothing. It was tedious and difficult. I do not feel that they got what they needed. It was busywork.”
  • “I know teachers are doing their best but it’s very frustrating to work and to also do distance learning at home with 2 kids.”
  • “Not much. They seemed to just want to pass all students no matter what.”

Despite posting an negative overall ratings of their lock-down experience, a good number of parents had positive things to say about the last semester. Words like ‘time,’ ‘getting,’ ‘learning,’ and ‘spending,’ describe ‘getting to know my son better,’ ‘learning how she does things,’ and ‘spending time with family.’ In fact, from an educational perspective, parents were more likely to see the lock-down as a positive rather than a negative.

  • “Being able to be very hands on.“
  • “The best thing about it was getting to know my children’s individual learning styles.“
  • “Being able to give them one-on-one attention.“
  • “Being able to be with them more.“
  • “He can start his day when he wants, stand and move around as needed, work a few hours and be done.“

A few found comfort in the new organizational skills their students had learned, even outside of their coursework, which parents often describe as a beneficial by-product of independent study.

Finally, there were a few brave parents who – despite having nothing else positive to say – could at least feel they had protected their families from disease. 

  • “At least I knew he was safe at home.“

Campbell Rinker’s Parents of the Pandemic: The Education Lockdown and its Impact on Homeschooling in America details the findings of this timely exploration of parents who were called upon to provide superhuman effort during a daunting period of pandemic and deprivation. Read more about our study report here, or contact us for more details.