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In response to COVID-19, Alaska took the unprecedented step of closing schools from mid-March until the end of the school year. Schools both in Alaska and around the nation are already discussing delayed starts for the coming school year, leaving many parents unable to plan, worried and wondering whether their child will receive the educational certainty every parent hopes for.

My name is Daryl Bowers and I am the director of the IDEA Homeschool program. In the face of a global pandemic and growing uncertainty around the 2020-2021 school year, IDEA and other Alaska homeschool programs are receiving an unprecedented number of calls and inquiries from parents who are considering homeschooling for the very first time. If you’re weighing the possibility, here are some things you may want to think about.

If using faith-based materials is important to you, ask about their policies.

First, I want to let you know that you are capable. Many parents worry they don’t have what it takes to educate their child at home. Believe me; you do. No one loves your child more than you and no one is more invested in your child’s future than you.

Remember, too, that if you choose to enroll in one of Alaska’s many homeschool programs, you’ll have help. A quality homeschool program will have certified teachers and other staff who often have decades of homeschool experience to help guide you through state requirements and to assist you in finding the curriculum and crafting the plan that is an exact fit for you and your child. With the right support, you’ll find that it’s easier than you thought to both deliver a high-quality education while having fun, creating stronger family bonds and making wonderful memories.

Also remember there are dozens of homeschool programs in Alaska, and they are not one size fits all. Each program is unique, so take the time to find the one that fits. Interview the programs you’re interested in to make sure their support model, rules and core values align with your goals and beliefs.

Peruse their websites to learn as much as you can. Find out if they have staff who homeschooled their kids. Ask if they allow you to use a wide variety of different curricular materials. If using faith-based materials is important to you, ask about their policies. If participating in clubs and activities is important to your family, ask what activities and groups are available.

Tell them the goals for your family’s education and ask specific questions regarding the support they provide to help meet those goals. If you have a child with special needs, ask how they will support you. You may want to take notes to help keep the information organized when you review it later.

There is also a misconception that homeschooling is an all-day grind. It doesn’t have to be.

I highly recommend you tour their offices to meet the people you’ll potentially be working with. Make sure the office is warm and welcoming and that they have things for kids to do while you meet with staff. If you have friends who homeschool, get feedback about the program they’re with. This is a big decision; take the time to make sure your decision is a good fit.

There is also a misconception that homeschooling is an all-day grind. It doesn’t have to be. While every child learns differently, many homeschool families have their academics wrapped up by early afternoon and use the remainder of the day for PE, music lessons and other activities. Interestingly, many first-time homeschool families actually report that their days are less stressful compared to the hurry scurry pace of bus schedules, backpacks and late-night homework assignments.

If you are considering homeschooling for the 2020-2021 school year, I would encourage you to start investigating soon. While we won’t know for several months how next school year will unfold, you won’t want to wait until the last minute to start comparing the various programs.

If you do decide to homeschool, you’re going to want to be fully enrolled and have curriculum ordered by early August so you can have your materials in-hand and ready to dive in by the time the school year begins.

In closing, I have heard it said “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots and the other is wings. While homeschooling may or may not be in your future, I wish you much success at providing your children with both.

The writer is the director of the IDEA Homeschool program.

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