CEDAR FALLS — Nikki Britzman decided to home-school her oldest daughter when Lillia was in kindergarten.
She and her family have never looked back.
While the decision was made primarily for religious reasons, Britzman said the move has paid off in the quality of her children’s learning experience.
Lillia struggled with subtraction at the start, but home-schooling let the family focus on the issue. After finishing her junior year this spring, she’s a year ahead in math.
Britzman’s younger daughter had difficulty reading early on in her education. As she prepares to start high school in the fall, though, she’s become a bookworm with an interest in adoption law.
“It has been a blessing to our family,” Britzman said. “The variety of the educational opportunities that you have – there’s so much flexibility – our choice was totally affirmed.”
The Britzman family isn’t alone. In the years since it became legal in Iowa in 1991, home-schooling has seen steady annual growth, though U.S. Census Bureau surveys showed a slight dip of 0.6% in the early months of the pandemic.
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According to Jill Oppman, regional representative for Homeschool Iowa, the pandemic gave parents a glimpse of what homeschooling would look like as they shifted to remote learning. It also showed many of them that they may be more capable of taking their children’s education into their own hands than they’d previously thought. That’s the message Oppman and her peers are trying to promote.
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“Obviously we’re promoting home education,” Oppman said. “We think it’s a great option for schooling our children — and we think it’s the best, of course — but anyway it definitely is a viable type of education, and so we promote that.”
Joyce Pierpont, support representative for Classical Conversations-Cedar Falls, said the global, Christian home-school organization has seen growth at the national level during the pandemic thanks to its model of connecting families using the curriculum. Those who home-school, she explained, are still looking for community – something Classical Conversations is able to offer.
“During the pandemic, nobody could see each other, and we were all separate and socially distancing, and so people realized how important real relationships with one another were in general,” Pierpont said. “And so we’ve seen a lot of people come and be able to have that community aspect back into their lives and to be doing school together.”
Lillia Britzman said her experience has resulted in a greater range of social interactions and friends. She attributes it to the networking she’s done through Classical Conversations, which has resulted in an environment without cliques or “in” groups.
“We’ve got a 16-year-old in my class who’s 6’4”, an 18-year-old who’s not even five feet and they love making fun of each other,” Lillia said. “One of the kids went to the world’s robotics competition … in Houston, one kid wants to be an English teacher in Japan. Just stuff all the way across the spectrum.”
In particular, home-schooling has been widely sought out and utilized in evangelical Christian families. The home-schooling option, supporters argue, offers them the opportunity for greater religious freedom in addition to a quality education.
However, families aren’t home-schooling solely for religious reasons. As Oppman pointed out, many families also see the benefit it has in bonding as a family. That is what she has experienced with her children.
“I home-schooled my kids – they’re all adults now, but one thing I noticed is the closeness it brought to our family,” Oppman said. “My children love their siblings – they’re best friends – and we just really enjoyed that aspect of it.”
“They’re night-and-day different. One says, ‘yes,’ the other will say, ‘no,’ every single time,” Britzman said about her daughters. “But because they’ve had so much time together, they’ve had to learn to get along with each other, and a friendship has been born out of it that I don’t think would’ve been there otherwise, at least to the same degree.”
Additionally, the pandemic has seen home-schooling expand in other demographics. It’s become heavily adopted by Black families. According to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, home-schooling among Black households jumped from 3.3% early in 2020 to 16.1% later that year.
Home-schooling isn’t in the best interest of every family. The education of one’s own children is a full-time job, requiring a parent to dedicate their full attention to the educational pursuits of their children. It’s something that may not be possible for dual-income homes.
But for those who swear by home-schooling, the rewards outweigh the downsides – and the burden is worthwhile.
“It’s a juggling act,” Britzman said. “It’s one I’m really thankful I’ve gotten to do.”