The sun was just beginning to peek over the California coastline as the gentle ding for breakfast could be heard from the Bannon-Levine family camper, nestled beneath the Redwoods. 

Unhurried, Carbondale resident Katie Bannon and her husband Scott Levine were chatting with their nine year old daughter, Isabelle, about the day ahead of them. Should they visit the tidepools again? Or perhaps a hike on an unexplored trail was in order. 

It’s mid-winter and instead of remaining in the frigid mountain weather, they decided to head west for warmer days and new experiences. Because Isabelle is homeschooled, traveling during the school year is possible.

Idyllic indeed, but homeschooling was never their original plan.

“It was never on my radar to homeschool,” Bannon, who holds a master’s degree in art education, explained. “I was always for public school and believed in it, but it doesn’t work for everybody. It works for some kids and that’s great, but for some it doesn’t.”

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Bannon and Levine knew that disjointed learning was not going to work for Isabelle. Along with many other Colorado families, they decided to try homeschooling. 

According to the 2020-21 Colorado Pupil Membership, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) reported a 43% increase in homeschooled students compared to 2019. While that percentage has decreased for the 2021-22 school year, it is still higher than in 2019.

With over 31,000 Colorado students choosing to continue homeschooling despite the return to in-person schooling, many families believe the perk of individualized education is worthwhile.

Eighth grader Sofie Koski of Redstone has been homeschooled for 5 years. She shared that homeschool education works because of her curriculum’s flexibility. She can study choice topics, go at her own pace and change the assignments when they no longer meet her needs.

“Something I really like about homeschooling, is that if I don’t really like an assignment I can choose to do something else,” Koski stated. “It’s less rigid, but it still feels like you’re getting stuff done. You might not be getting so many subjects done in a day, but I’m still learning and I’m enjoying it.”

She elaborated that she is often able to finish her work within a 2 hour timeframe because, in Sofie’s case, distractions are essentially eliminated at home.

Isabelle echoed Koski’s sentiments, speaking enthusiastically about how much she is learning and using the opportunity to pursue her personal interests. “Dad taught me about negative numbers, pythagorean theorem, decimals, and trigonometry,” she said. “I also like knitting and dragon history — I don’t think we’d ever learn that in school. That was entirely my choice because I really like dragons.” 

Isabelle has 10 books on her reading table, and also started a book club with a friend.

In terms of curriculum, Bannon said that some of the best learning experiences happen spontaneously when Isabelle is out in the community and asks a simple question that turns into a fruitful lesson.

For all homeschooled students, the parents are in charge of their child’s curriculum. Colorado does not provide a specific program, but the state requires “communication skills of reading, writing, and speaking, mathematics, history, civics, literature science, and regular courses of instruction in the constitution of the United States,” according to the CDE webpage.

Additionally, homeschooled students are not required to sit for state assessment tests. However, CDE does require that they demonstrate their progress with either a nationally standardized achievement test during third, fifth, seventh, ninth and eleventh grades, or “a qualified person must evaluate the student’s academic progress at the parent’s expense.”

“I was so focused on standards and making sure my kid knew this by then, but that’s not necessarily helpful for kids who aren’t ready for it,” Bannon said. “The great thing about homeschooling… it’s a lot more forgiving and understanding of each child. It gives them the time. They have 18 years and they will get it.”

Isabelle’s curriculum is often project-based with inspiration from Waldorf and British educator Charlotte Mason. She uses an online mathematics program called RightStart that supplies manipulatives (objects or patterns to reinforce problem-solving) and detailed lesson plans.

Outside of the academic realm, socialization is often a hot topic for critics of homeschooling. According to homeschooling expert and professor of psychology at Stetson University, Richard G. Medlin, Ph.D, research shows that homeschooled students are socially and civically engaged, feel satisfied with their lives, and have strong relationships with their families and peers, 

In alignment with this research, Stephanie Gillespie of Carbondale,  homeschooled all five of her children and was able to provide a dynamic, age-integrated social experience through community activities, elders, and traveling.

“I think being with people of all different ages allows you to understand people and be more compassionate,” Gillespie said. “You don’t only need to socialize with your age group.” Today, all five of her adult children have started their own businesses and remain active members in the community.

“You never know what they’re going to like or what program is going to work. There’s no one-size fits all curriculum or interest,” Gillespie said. “At the end of the day, making sure they are loved and cared for matters most.”

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