The Basics of Being Homeschooled in America Before, During and After Covid-19

Natalie Newman and Jack Dietlein who were both home schooled growing up look at the origins and evolution of this trend which has grown during the pandemic.

During this time of Covid-19, many schools have converted to online learning. This includes elementary, middle, high school and college. However, a global pandemic is far from the only time people take education to their homes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around three percent of all K-12 students in the US are usually homeschooled full time. And while online learning is a very common method for this education style, there is actually a diverse set of ways people learn at home that do not rely entirely on online coursework.

A Hybrid Model which includes Outside

Emilie Rodriguez is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism who was homeschooled up until the beginning of high school. For her, homeschooling opened up unique learning opportunities.

“[My homeschooling curriculum] was very hybrid. So we did three different methods of learning. We did book work, we did online, and we did outside the classroom,” Emilie said.

Visiting Museums

Outside the classroom learning for Emilie incorporated something most public schoolers, and most people in general, aren’t afforded: being able to travel across the country.

“For a good portion of my younger years, like between 3rd and 5th grade, we took an RV and we just traveled up the western states and we would visit a bunch of museums.”

However, special opportunities like traveling are not the only draw to homeschooling for parents. For some parents it feels like a necessity when their children struggle with public school learning or certain social environments. 22-year-old Tyler Murphy is a Carson City resident who was homeschooled beginning in 7th grade for this exact reason.

An Alternative Path

“I was a slow reader, slow learner, slow to actually absorb information, that is why I struggled in 7th grade,” Tyler said.

While homeschooling may not be the cure all for struggling students, it certainly offers a viable alternative path for some students like Tyler.

“By the time I got to 9th grade I actually fell in love with learning, biology, history and math I really liked.”

But for some students and their own learning style homeschooling isn’t necessarily a net positive experience. This is especially true for homeschoolers who crave more social interaction. 27-year-old and fifth generation Nevadan Jimmie Van Sickle had a somewhat mixed review of his homeschool education.

“Middle school and high school is when character development is really strong, so it was like in some areas we were held back from our character development but at the same time there was levels of us that were more mature,” Jimmie said.

Going Back to Public School

Jimmie would eventually finish his education in a public high school. For Jimmie this ended up being a much more fulfilling educational experience.

“Graduating from public school felt like an actual accomplishment. Versus when I was homeschooled, finishing grades or major exams during the school season wasn’t as satisfying or meaningful. Having the connection with fellow classmates and friends brought more to the table than just the academic side. Experiencing challenges and obstacles with friends and strangers brought a new variable to graduation. It wasn’t just something I had accomplished. But “we” had made it through together.”

Religious Reasons

There is a common theme that influences a large portion of homeschooling across America that can’t be dismissed: curriculum and schooling based on Christian principles. According to a published survey on the U.S. Department of Education website, 64% of parents who homeschooled their children listed “a desire to provide religious instruction.”

The religious inclinations and general values of a family often plays a major role in the decision to homeschool. There are many homeschool curriculums that are religion-based. During Tyler’s time being homeschooled, she was taught through a curriculum called Alpha and Omega, which is a Christian-based program.

“Homeschooling got me into church, it got me into people that wouldn’t have ill will in mind when they actually became my friend,” Tyler said.

“They [my parents] wanted to root us in Christianity before they put us into the public school system,” said Emilie of why her parents chose to homeschool her.

Even though religiosity seems as if it will remain the number one reason behind why parents choose to homeschool their children, it’s well-known that a new and erratic force recently came into play for parents choosing between public school and homeschooling: Covid-19.

Many Forced into Being Homeschooled during the Pandemic

According to the EdWeek Research Center, “Nine percent of parents who weren’t homeschooling their children last school year said they planned to homeschool their children at least some of the time” during 2020.

Firstly, public schools were poorly prepared for the transition to online learning and the quality of education stands to suffer thanks to that. Additionally, keeping children homeschooled rather than sending them to schools that are partially or fully reopened in some areas can reassure parents that their children and families will be more safe from Covid-19 exposure. Others, whatever system they were in but because of school closures, were doing their schooling from home, and were in effect becoming home schooled, whatever form it took in the past year.

Whether this marks the beginning of a long term migration of families to homeschooling post pandemic or if this is a temporary surge that will quickly normalize to where America was at pre-pandemic has yet to be seen. For many families, the Covid-19 pandemic could very well be the last straw that drove them away from the public school system entirely.

Homeschooling in America is a complex patchwork that involves countless families that take their own approach to education. The experience of homeschooling is unique to each student and family who participates in it, and with the rise of students coming to this educational format from Covid-19 the entire system could very well change and adapt even more in the coming years. So while there may not be any single ‘homeschool experience’, there are still common threads that can be identified across many or most families that do choose to homeschool.

Explainer Journalism by Natalie Newman and Jack Dietlein for the Reynolds Sandbox



The Reynolds Sandbox showcases innovative and engaging storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab.

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Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.