Coronavirus drives parents to homeschool their children

Those who are homeschooling are a small minority. But their numbers are growing.

Raquel Lev's children are seen being homeschooled during the coronavirus pandemic. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Raquel Lev's children are seen being homeschooled during the coronavirus pandemic.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As politicians engaged in lengthy discussions about when and how to reopen the schools during the last few months of the pandemic, some parents decided they could do a better job on their own and decided to homeschool their children.
“I wouldn’t have come to this without coronavirus opening my eyes to what life is like as a homeschooler,” said Raquel Lev, a British immigrant who has started homeschooling her two preschool-age children, along with her cousin, Tamar Nuler, and her own two kids.
One cousin lives in Ra’anana and the other is located in Netanya, and they decided to rent a small space in between their homes for NIS 1,500. Each had been paying about NIS 3,500 per month for preschool for each of their children, so not only were they able to “bypass all the corona issues,” such as mask-wearing, hand sanitizing and being forced to quarantine if just one child or staff member at school tested positive; they were able to save money.
But more than that, “The place we rented is in the middle of fields and olive trees. It’s so nice to be in nature. We do most of our activities outside... I would never have thought of doing this before, but I’m so glad we did. It’s like a fairy tale.”
Lev isn’t alone in giving homeschooling a try for the first time during the crisis. Although Israel permits homeschooling, with proper legal permits, few Israelis chose to take this step until the school system was shut down by the coronavirus. Even now, those who are homeschooling are a small minority. But their numbers are growing.
During the second lockdown in Nataf, parents got together and made an Excel spreadsheet to see which parents there could teach kids, according to Reut Fox, a mother who has continued homeschooling her elementary-school-age children even though the schools for their grades are back in session.
“They learn outside as much as possible, and different parents give an hour or an hour and a half,” she said. The children are learning from nature as much as possible and following parents who are veterinarians and wood carvers, as well as one who raises goats. But now they are also following the school curriculum and using workbooks as well, she said.
“No one likes wearing masks in classrooms all day, and most kids don’t learn well on Zoom,” Fox noted. “This is a much better alternative.”
Administrators of Facebook groups for homeschoolers in Israel say they have seen a sharp increase in parents wanting to join since the beginning of the pandemic. And these Facebook groups are filled with parents who haven’t yet taken the homeschooling plunge but are looking for information on it. Parents turn to each other because it can often be difficult for them to get responses from the Education Ministry bureaucracy.
Parents who have recently started homeschooling in response to the pandemic fill these groups, asking for tips and offering one another support. There are invitations for the parents to attend Zoom lectures from professional educators that give homeschooling advice and parents offering tips and school supplies.
Many of these parents have made the shift to homeschooling because they are disappointed in the ministry’s handling of the pandemic and are disillusioned with the entire system.
“There was no creativity in their response to the virus, no outside-the-box thinking,” said Fox. “The crisis woke us up, and now we see there are better ways of doing things.”
While she said she understood that not every settlement would have enough parents who work from home to teach their children the way they have been able to do at Nataf, Fox said that there still could be ways to manage education differently, such as teaching outdoors as much as possible.
One Tel Aviv mother, who preferred not to give her name, said that she had been denied a permit from the authorities to homeschool her child – without being given a reason – but that she had been doing it for several months already and planned to continue in spite of the denial.
“I’m going to reapply,” she said.
Asked whether she was afraid of getting into trouble for keeping her child home without the proper permit, she said, “Lots of kids haven’t gone back for in-person learning, because parents are scared of them getting infected. And it happens so often that a kid gets infected, or a teacher, and everyone has to go into quarantine, that school has barely been in session for lots of kids, even though supposedly we’re all back.
“The other thing is, all you have to do, if you are keeping your kid home these days, is to say that they were exposed to someone with the virus – and that’s it. They’re home for two weeks, and then you can say they were exposed to somebody else. In most schools, nobody checks up. Anyway, in a few weeks, we’ll be on a third lockdown, right?”
Whether or not this trend will continue once the virus is brought under control is anybody’s guess, but many parents say they’ve seen the light and want to continue homeschooling under any circumstances.
“It took a leap of faith to do this,” said Lev. “We’ve been trained to think we have to outsource our children’s schooling, but it turns out we don’t.”