The Faith Troy Homeschool Group meets in Farmstead Park in Sterling Heights and heads out for a walk along the Clinton River in search of bugs Sept. 18.

The Faith Troy Homeschool Group meets in Farmstead Park in Sterling Heights and heads out for a walk along the Clinton River in search of bugs Sept. 18.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Some parents leave distance learning in favor of homeschooling

Local homeschool programs say their numbers are skyrocketing

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published September 22, 2020

 A homeschool student from Sterling Heights rescues a dinosaur skeleton during homeschool.

A homeschool student from Sterling Heights rescues a dinosaur skeleton during homeschool.

Photo provided by Faith Troy Homeschool Group

 Dani Swain, 7, of Sterling Heights, studies the centipede she found along the Clinton River path.

Dani Swain, 7, of Sterling Heights, studies the centipede she found along the Clinton River path.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 A homeschool student from Sterling Heights works on fine motor skills and math during homeschool.

A homeschool student from Sterling Heights works on fine motor skills and math during homeschool.

Photo provided by Faith Troy Homeschool Group

METRO DETROIT — Some parents who never would have considered taking their kids out of the classroom are parting ways with local school systems in favor of homeschooling this year.

Whether parents struggle with concerns about their child spending too much time in front of a computer screen, the structure of distance learning or mandated mask use at school, or they simply want to limit coronavirus exposure for their family’s health, local homeschool programs say their numbers are skyrocketing.

“At Homeschool Connections, probably 25% of our families are new families, at least — and that’s normally like 10% in normal years — so, more new families are looking at homeschooling,” said Becky Thompson, the president of Homeschool Connections.

The number of students being homeschooled is expected to rise by 10% due to COVID-19, according to the National Home Education Research Institute, which said that approximately 2.5 million students are homeschooled in the United States.

While homeschooling may initially sound intimidating, local experts say you don’t need to know how to teach everything to make the switch. There are plenty of homeschool programs, co-ops and even tutors around to help support families with their child’s education.

“Homeschooling is not cookie-cutter. It does not look the same for every family,” Thompson explained. “Some families do more of a school at home — where they have a classroom setup with desks and go through a whole curriculum step by step — and on the other extreme, there is a philosophy called ‘unschooling,’ where it is much more child-directed. Most of us land somewhere in the middle, more like a dining room table and living room couch-schooling.”

As a homeschool teacher, you really get to learn your child’s learning style and can actually customize your lessons to meet their needs, proponents said.

“There are many different learning styles. We talk about that with parents who are new to Homeschool Connections, what to focus on with a child who really does best hands-on, or with a struggling reader, or so on,” Thompson explained. “During this time, it also does free you up to do some really cool things that homeschoolers have always done — like go on vacation when no one else is on vacation and go to parks and do nature hikes in the afternoon.”

Those who homeschool may also be able to build stronger relationships within their families, Thompson added.

“When you’re together all day, of course there are going to be bumps along the way, and everyone is not going to get along all the time, but it really does help to build and foster good strong relationships between family members, and especially siblings,” she said.

Homeschool Connections is an independent homeschool program started by Tarla Gernert in 2002 as one campus, in Rochester. Today, the program has three campuses — in Rochester, Rochester Hills and Clarkston — and offers families a host of in-person and distance-learning academic and enrichment classes for students (taught by paid-teachers for an enrollment fee), as well as free support for families seeking an alternative to the traditional school setting.

Families who can’t afford to pay for homeschool assistance can become part of a homeschool co-op, like Faith Troy Homeschool, which is also reporting a surge in members.

“Our numbers have definitely gone up from people who are even dropping from the public school system to join homeschooling just because of what remote learning has looked like,” said Tonya Kay, the director of the Faith Troy Homeschool group.

The free homeschool co-op of around 40 families traditionally meets at Faith Troy Church and works cooperatively to achieve common goals, which can be based on socialization, education, activities, or any combination of those.

“At Faith Troy Homeschool, the parents are actually the ones that step up and teach classes for free,” Kay said. “When we’re able to be in person, we do curriculum night, where parents bring in their curriculum that they are using at home and then it allows parents to look at things before they decide what’s best for their kid. Right now, because we’re not able to do those things, I’m doing a lot of connecting with people who have an interest in homeschooling through phone calls and emails and then setting them up with a mentor parent — a different homeschool parent that knows a lot about homeschooling and has been doing it for a while and can kind of walk them through it.”

Due to capacity limitations associated with COVID-19 at the church, the homeschool group is currently meeting outside at various local parks for hands-on nature programs.

In Michigan, Bill DiSessa, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education, said the exact number of students who are homeschooled is unknown, because state officials don’t require homeschool families to report to the state.

“Since homeschooling registration is optional, we don’t track it,” DiSessa said.

Kay has one piece of advice for parents who are just beginning their homeschooling journey: “Don’t try to recreate school at home. Know that you are your child’s best teacher and you know what’s best for them. Just follow their lead along the way,” she said.

For more information about homeschooling in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/homeschool.