HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Melissa McMahan has been homeschooling her children for 12 years now. She has five kids, ranging in age from 8 to 17.
She said she has seen the homeschool community in North Alabama growing, with more parents worried about the return to class this August.
“Flexibility is what really appealed to me about homeschooling and especially during this time when we don’t know much and we’re already being asked to be super flexible,” she said. “At least, with homeschooling you can kind of plan a little bit ahead on what you are going to be doing.”
She said she has several parents reach out to her every week with questions about homeschooling.
“I’m trying to encourage them that homeschooling has much more freedom and that they can choose how they want to educate their kids,” McMahan said.
She said homeschooling can be a good option for parents who are worried about this school year, especially because it does not have to be permanent.
“They can just homeschool their kid for a semester or a year,” McMahan said. “When you decide to homeschool your kindergartener you’re not committing to high school.”
She said flexibility plays a huge role in homeschooling because the schedule and curriculum can be tailored to fit your family and children.
McMahan’s kids learn their basic subjects but when they find something they like they can focus on it more than they would be able to in public school.
She said they also have more time for extracurriculars they enjoy.
“Some of my children enjoy theatre, music and dance so this has given them more time to pursue those interests,” McMahan said.
McMahan’s children also get more one on one attention than they probably would at a school.
“Your kid doesn’t have to fall behind in the classroom because it is a classroom of one,” she said.
There is also no regimented time like there is during a school day. She said when she taught first grade it may only be an hour of work a day. Even her kids taking high school courses sometimes finish before Noon.
They also don’t follow the usual August through May school year, McMahan and her kids go from June until March or April.
Field trips take on a whole other meaning as well. Last year, McMahan and her two oldest daughters visited London. They spent the semester researching and learning about the history and culture and were able to save the money for the trip.
There can be difficult times to homeschooling though. Teaching five kids everyday of different ages can be overwhleming. But, like basic parenting, McMahan just has to find time for herself every now and then.
But, with the kids around all the time, that means she gets to spend more time with them than she would if they were in school.
“It has been wonderful to spend this extra time with my kids, especially as they’re headed off,” McMahan said. “It is a treasure and I’m so thankful that I’ve had that opportunity.”
All in all, McMahan has enjoyed the homeschool experience and the opportunities it brings. She thinks families in the right situation would too.
“I think people will find it easy in the long run because of the flexibility and because you can choose what your kids are learning.”
Ultimately, homeschooling is a family-by-family, child-by-child decision. McMahan just wants to help answer different questions about the process for parents.
Before you make the jump, McMahan said you need to do the research and figure out what variation of home schooling is right for your family.
“There are so many different ways that you can homeschool, so I want people to be aware and explore all of their options there,” she said.
This decision also needs to be a family decision.
“I would highly discourage anyone from homeschooling if only one parent is for it and one parent is adamantly against it,” McMahan said. “It really needs to be a united front.”
Not just the parents need to be involved either, McMahan said the child should be apart of the conversation as well, particularly if they are high school or middle school age.
“I think it’s important, especially with older children, to have a conversation with your child,” she said. “You want this to be their decision as well.”
Getting started can be scary but McMahan said the homeschool community in North Alabama is very accepting and always willing to welcome and help new people.
Homeschooling may seem expensive, and it can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
McMahan said parents need to do a lot of research, figure out what is going to be best for their child and go from there.
“The cost will vary family-to-family but I do believe if you have a library card you can educate any child,” she said.
For her family, she said they have managed to remain relatively cost effective.
“You don’t have to buy a super expensive curriculum,” McMahan said. “The one we have used for 12 years is completely free. So don’t think you have to spend thousands of dollars because you really don’t.”
McMahan recommends utilizing your public library and online curriculum resources.
She said the younger the child is the easier and more cost effective homeschooling can be.
McMahan said for one elementary school child, you could do a year of homeschooling for less than one hundred dollars.
As for a designated “school room” in the house, McMahan said you can try that but a majority of their work ends up happening on the kitchen table and the sofa, and that works just fine.
Taking your child’s academics into your own hands can be a scary thing to do, but McMahan points out teaching is something every parents has always done.
“From the moment the child is put in your arms you are there teacher,” she said. “We have all taught our kids, so if you start homeschooling you’re just teaching more categories.”
It is all about finding what your child is comfortable with, though. McMahan said research needs to be done because there are a lot of different ways to homeschool.
One of the biggest concerns parents might have is making sure their student doesn’t fall behind their public school peers.
“For parents concerned that if they homeschool, their kid won’t be keeping up with other peers, I’m not sure what keeping up looks like this year,” McMahan said. “It’s just going to be different, so I’m encouraging people if they are leaning toward homeschooling this is a good time to try it out because there is so much up in the air with public school right now.”
For her kids, McMahan measures success in the classroom differently.
“I think as long as you see your own child progressing that that’s what you’re looking for,” McMahan said.
Other parents, will want to stick to a more traditional curriculum.
“For parents looking at this and saying, ‘But I just want to know what the schools are teaching.' There are tons of resources for that,” McMahan said.
The simplest way, is to go to the Alabama State Department of Education website, there you can see what each grade will be covering that year.
Each student is obviously different and each grade level presents it’s own challenges. McMahan said the teaching does get harder as they get older.
For her, she knew she would have trouble teaching her kids physics so she found a tutor for them.
For the younger kids, the material is basic and easy enough for anyone to know.
“You know how to read and you know how to do simple math, so you can show your kids just like you showed them how to tie their shoes and make their beds,” McMahan said.
It’s not all easy, though. She said there are obviously struggles on both sides, at whatever age. But there are tons of resources to help in the community, online and at your local library.
One of the most important aspects for McMahn, is her children love to learn and are excited about learning.
A chief concern for many parents could be choosing between a job and homeschooling, McMahan said this does not have to be the case.
“I have gotten lots of calls from moms who are working from home right now and want to continue working from home,” she said. “They have asked if they can homeschool while they’re doing that, and that is certainly a possibility.”
McMahan is a ballet teacher, she said her job has the flexibility for her to homeschool.
She said this is a good time to try and homeschool, for many people, the pandemic has already made their work schedule more flexible.
If you are unable to work from home though, McMahan said working and teaching can be a lot more difficult.
You may be worried that shifting your student to homeschool could impact their ability to make friends or interact with others.
McMahan said with her girls, that has never been a problem.
“I don’t think my kids could be more social,” she said
Public school is often centered around a lot of events like dances and football games, McMahan said homeschool kids have similar opportunities.
“There is homeschool prom, there are homeschool sports teams, dance classes, and church groups and co-ops where kids can go and learn, so we have plenty to keep us busy,” she said.
McMahan said the homeschool community is also constantly growing, especially right now during the coronavirus pandemic.