Homeschooling during a pandemic can work. Just ask this mother of 13.

Our first grader wasn’t about to finish her homework. Her sullen face and firmly crossed arms said it all.

Fifteen minutes of math word problems had taken their toll, so my wife negotiated a 15-minute break.

After a snack and brief rendezvous with her teddy bear, refocusing Emerie on math proved almost as difficult as helping her understand the concepts.

We’re used to nightly struggles with homework, and we’re careful not to complain. At least we don’t have to home school our kids, like so many others during a lingering global pandemic.

“I might go crazy if we have to do that again,” my wife, Nicki, said recently.

Our two-week stint with “homeschooling” earlier this school year was crazy. That’s why hearing a Treasure Valley mom rave about her homeschooling experience during the pandemic captivated me.

Enter Janet Cox, mother of 13, who lives in the West Ada School District.

As a father of three elementary-age daughters, I listened with interest as Cox outline during an Idaho Education News parent focus group her positive experience and passion for homeschooling her seven children who currently live at home.

Seven. 

The struggle to homeschool has been a hallmark of the pandemic, both for us and families everywhere, including thousands in the Treasure Valley still grappling with shuttered schools and abrupt shifts to hybrid and virtual learning.

I called Cox almost immediately after the focus group ended. What gives? How could she have come to enjoy homeschooling so many kids? And is it really working out for them?

To be fair, it’s not her first go with homeschooling, Cox told me. She’s taught all of her kids from home for over 15 years.

Her children are also used to it. They have a routine. Home learning hasn’t been thrust upon them in the middle of a health crisis like it has millions of others.

I felt a little better about our struggles from earlier in the school year. Plus, I told Cox, my wife and I work full- and part-time jobs like so many other families. It’s nearly impossible to make it happen in that scenario.

“My husband and I work, too,” she said, detailing her 40-plus hours working from home per week and his 20-plus.

Oh.

She pointed to other resources that have helped over the years, from the use of daily schedules to an online-learning program that provides access to certified teachers through a school district some 300 miles across Idaho.

Having a full-time teacher is helps, Cox said, because it allows her to assume more of tutorial role in helping the kids understand and make sure they’re learning.

“I’m more like their TA (teaching assistant),” she said.

Having mom as a fallback when they “get stuck” helps a lot, Cox said. “It works for us.”

What about not being in a public school setting with their peers? How does that impact their social lives, going to college or entering the workforce?

“(Home schooling) has actually been good for us in that regard,” Cox said. She pointed to her 20-year-old son, who scored a 35 on the ACT (a 36 is a perfect score), earned a bachelor’s degree at 19 (homeschooling helped him complete his high school coursework early) and garnered recognition as a National Merit scholar — all after homeschooling with Mom for all but his fifth grade year.

Cox credits her son’s self motivation and comfort with asking questions at home with helping him excel in college.

That’s another nice part about homeschooling, she said. One child might excel and advance quickly in one area but struggle and need extra time and help in another.

And Mom’s always there to help them work through it all.

It’s not always easy, said Cox, referencing a recent struggle to get her first grader to do math.

I coule relate.

Still, the pandemic has shined a brighter light on something she’s feels strongly about: Some learning approaches work better for some than for others.

And for some, that might mean a public school setting. For others, it might mean learning from home.

“That’s one of the big take away from this whole pandemic,” she said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all model.”

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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