HELENA — Some parents got a taste of homeschooling during the pandemic, but for thousands of Montana families—homeschooling is just normal, everyday life.
Lareena Enquist lives in the Boulder Valley with her husband and three boys. She has been homeschooling for about seven years.
“Every day is a little different with three boys,” Enquist said.
The Enquist family decided to homeschool when her oldest son was getting ready to move on from preschool. Enquist said a lot of different considerations went into the decision, but the main concern was class size.
“My oldest was in a preschool for two years—a co-op preschool—and he did okay, but even with eight kids in the room, it was sometimes a lot,” Enquist said.
In the Helena area, Chris Hauer homeschools four of her seven kids—it’s something she’s been doing for about 10 years.
“You start homeschooling when your child is born,” Hauer said. “You teach them to talk and walk, and if you’re ambitious, the ABCs and how to count. One day, you’re like ‘maybe I can teach them to add too.’”
Hauer said her family makes the decision to homeschool—or not to homeschool—based on the child. For example, she said one of her daughters learns better in a public school setting.
Since three of her children are in public school, Hauer’s homeschool schedule follows the public school schedule for breaks and summer vacation.
Enquist, on the other hand, describes her family as year-rounders, meaning they do school throughout the year.
“We consider all learning,” Enquist said. “Whether we’re at church, whether we’re in Yellowstone—we just were on a road trip to Yellowstone—there’s learning on vacation if you make use of it.”
The Enquists and Hauers are just two of thousands of Montana families who have chosen to homeschool their kids. According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction, 9,868 kids were homeschooled during the 2020-2021 school year—that is 6.1% of total enrollment.
Homeschooling has also grown over the past three years, from 5,743 kids homeschooled during the 2018-2019 school year, to 5,815 in 2019-2020, to the nearly 10,000 in homeschool this past school year.
Hauer runs a homeschool group in the Helena area, the Enrichment Co-Op, and she said she has noticed that growth.
“We saw a 25% increase this year in families,” Hauer said.
Hauer said about 120 kids are enrolled in the Enrichment Co-Op this year. The program meets on Fridays and provides different parent-led classes for kids, like art, physical education and performance.
Hauer said it’s meant to supplement what kids are learning at home, allow kids to socialize, and let parents mingle too.
“The only requirement is you show up and actually be part of it,” Hauer said.
Enquist said she often supplements at-home learning with trips to the library and museums. She said there are also other homeschool families nearby for her kids to socialize with.
“There are kids in town,” Enquist said. “Through Facebook, I’ve met some homeschool families, through church—we have quite a few homeschool families at church.”
While homeschooling is a choice thousands of Montana families make, it isn’t always an easy choice.
Enquist said she uses some boxed curriculum to teach her boys, but she also does a lot of reading of her own to find things that fit her boys’ learning styles.
“The hard part is knowing what to do and how to do it,” Enquist said. “Your kids aren’t all the same, they're not the same as other kids. A favorite quote of mine is ‘comparison is the thief of all joy.’ Don’t compare.”
Hauer said she uses a set curriculum too, and standardized testing to see how her kids perform, and where she needs to improve as a teacher.
Hauer said she enjoys that homeschooling allows her kids to learn at their own pace.
“The most rewarding thing for me is when they are able to succeed and move on at their pace,” she said. “Sometimes, my second oldest will decide she wants to skip through a whole chapter of math—she’ll read through it all, say ‘I understand all this,’ take the test, and be like, ‘I’m done with that, I got 100% on the test, I’m moving on.’”
Enquist said the freedom of homeschooling has allowed her boys to explore their own interests. Her oldest son has recently taken up drawing—specifically vintage trucks.
“He has taught himself how to draw, I had nothing to do with that,” Enquist said. “I’m letting him explore that.”
Being a full-time parent and full-time teacher can be challenging, but both Enquist and Hauer say it is worth it for them, their kids and their families.
“It’s amazing how when a kid is able to just be who they want to be, how that just changes everything,” Hauer said.