As homeschooling reaches new heights of popularity across our nation and world, many families are discovering for the first time how home education offers the freedom and flexibility to learn anywhere, anytime—including outside the home.

And as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic linger, homeschooling families in the Kansas City area have found new ways to learn and grow in revitalized communities.

Adapting to all kinds of change

Jennifer Simmons—who has taught her children since 2013 in the Kansas City metro area—leads a private Facebook-based group for homeschooling families, which offers a wide variety of meet-up opportunities in both Kansas and Missouri. Of course, as it did with other communities, the pandemic functionally shut down the group’s in-person operations.

“We had almost six months of minimal contact with our homeschool community, with the exception of online interaction,” Simmons recalls.

But after the pandemic waned in early 2021 and outdoor locations started opening up, homeschooling parents and children started looking for creative ways to learn outside the home again—and Simmons’s Facebook group started bursting with activity.

“We have had a huge influx of parents seeking information on homeschooling,” she says. “Our group has even expanded to include an immunocompromised group for some families who are high risk, with one of those moms taking charge to organize their activities and interactions.”

Field trips for big groups of homeschoolers are a different matter, though. “Many of our field trip locations have opened back up to only a very limited capacity, or with restrictions, so our group is not formally organizing field trips at the moment,” she says.

Outdoor activities and tips

But as far as they are able, the community members have resumed their monthly Moms’ Nights Out, along with their weekly Park Day and Park Hopper events—during which parents and children meet with other homeschoolers for a fun finish to the school week.

“Our group has been invaluable for creating and sustaining relationships for our children, as well as for both parents,” Simmons says.

She recommends public parks, nature centers, faith community grounds, community center basketball courts, and lakes as places where families can explore and socialize with other homeschool friends as the pandemic stretches out.

See your city as a tourist would

One key, Simmons says, is to think like a tourist in one’s own hometown.

“We typically don’t see the tourist sites in our own city because we live there, but it has been fun for my family to discover those hidden gems in our own backyard,” she points out.

“The Kansas City area has lots of museums, historical sites, libraries, and art and sporting attractions in the area, many of which have homeschool-specific days for families to visit.”

Endless opportunities to learn

The flexibility of homeschooling has also helped other KC-area families who have their boots on the ground—literally, in some cases. Craig and Shawna Ketter, local homeschooling parents with a penchant for hiking, have taken steps to make nature education a part of their homeschool.

“Walking outdoors is a wonderful classroom, with endless opportunities to learn,” Shawna says. Their family prioritizes an atmosphere of learning in which children have time both to “wander and wonder.” Often, Craig says, these times happen most naturally when they are outdoors, as outdoor experiences apply to multiple school subjects: natural history, math, language arts, gym, and art.

Craig describes a spontaneous learning moment when the family was camping in a Colorado state park. Noticing a squirrel running back and forth, following the same path over and over, they had the time to slow down and watch this squirrel expend great effort and commitment to expertly storing up food for the winter, one piece at a time.

“Our primary purpose as mom and dad is to disciple our children to become mature, loving followers of Christ and caring, compassionate members of their communities,” Craig says. “That starts at home—and anywhere we are learning together.”

And one of Shawna’s favorite quotes, from Charlotte Mason, highlights the importance of making time for kids to be immersed in the sights and sounds of nature: “An observant child should be put in the way of things worth observing.”

Tips for new homeschoolers

Simmons says that people often start homeschooling with some mistaken assumptions. For example, they might think they need a fancy schoolroom, a particular curriculum, or unique school supplies to succeed.

“You can use the kitchen table or the living room floor,” she points out. “You don’t need desks and a chalkboard on the wall.”

Another misconception revolves around schedules, as opposed to routines or checklists. When Simmons tried a time-specific schedule for her homeschool, she found that everyone was always feeling stressed.

Now, she says, the family follows a more relaxed routine. The day starts with breakfast, then moves into homeschool studies, with a break for lunch (and her younger children have typically finished school at this point).

“This allows us to be flexible with our days, as well as with what we study,” she explains.

During the winter, if going outside for breaks and other free time isn’t an option, her family uses fun, engaging indoor alternatives like playdough, kinetic sand, clay, painting materials, videos, or computer games to provide convergence points for creativity, curiosity, and learning.

As the children mature, Simmons says, they complete their assignments more independently and come to her only when they have questions.

To find answers to those questions, she’ll “do the exploration together and teach the kids how to look up the information, as the skill of knowing how to learn is almost more important than learning itself.”

Homeschooling for stability and flexibility

More and more families are discovering that homeschooling offers a wonderful balance of stability and flexibility, equipping kids with the confidence and skills to learn anytime, anywhere. And as the Simmons and Ketter families have found, everyday experiences can turn into their own, unique learning opportunities—no matter what’s going on in the world at large.

Outdoor learning ideas:

  • Take nature walks if they are available in your area, or schedule trips to a nearby nature trail, park, or playground. Allow children to inspect any bugs, leaves, or flowers that they may be drawn to. They can also journal their experiences and findings if they are old enough.
  • Use the library for books on nature and the outdoors. Ask about any available classes they may offer for kids. Teach your kids prepwork: Practice researching information about nature, geology and geography, and local landmarks such as sculptures or monuments.
  • Take advantage of educational crafts and activities that can either be done in a safe public space outdoors or that bring nature indoors (e.g., sidewalk chalk for learning letters and numbers, ant farms, and butterfly kits).
  • Consider community and volunteer opportunities that fit your schedule and children’s ages (e.g., sports leagues, church activities, Meals on Wheels, etc.).