A growing number of military parents are tired of switching schools for their kids with every move. Instead, they are embracing homeschooling and increasingly finding support on base in the form of resources and homeschooling co-ops.
“If there’s a military installation, there’s very likely homeschoolers there if you look,” said 31-year-old Nicole McGhee, a mother of three who runs a Facebook page for military homeschooling parents. McGhee’s husband is stationed at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg.
While some military families decide to homeschool for the usual reasons—a desire to educate their kids in a faith-based environment, concern about the quality of the available schools, or to provide for a child with special needs—the biggest draw is a sense of stability as they are on the move.
Military families move on average nearly every three years. The transition can be tough for children, and homeschooling can make it easier, advocates say. The children don’t have to adjust to a new teacher or worry they might be behind because the new school’s curriculum is different.
Just outside Washington, D.C., Fort Belvoir features athletic events for homeschoolers and a parent-led chemistry lab. At the nearby Andrews Air Force Base, more than 40 families participate in a homeschooling cooperative at the base’s youth center. Earlier this month, teenagers in one room warmed up for a mock audition reciting tongue-twisting phrases such as “red leather, yellow leather.” Younger kids downstairs searched for “Special Agent Stan” during a math game. The parents also plan off-base events, such as a camping trip for kids reading Jean Craighead’s My Side of the Mountain.
Sharon Moore, the education liaison at Andrews who helps parents with school-related matters, said at the height of the summer military moving season, she typically gets about 20 calls from families moving to the base with homeschooling questions. She connects them with families from the co-op.
“We recognize that they have unique needs that sometimes other children don’t have,” said Moore, a former schoolteacher. “And we want to make sure that we do our best to serve them and meet those needs because they have given so much to this country.”
This kind of support for homeschooling from the military was uncommon in the 1990s, said Mike Donnelly, a former Army officer who is an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association. He said that changed in 2002 with a military-wide memo that said homeschooling can be a “legitimate alternative form of education” for military member’s children. His group estimates between 5 percent to 10 percent of military kids are homeschooled.
Participating military families say homeschooling allows them to schedule school time around the rigorous deployment, training, and school schedules of the enlisted military member.
“We can take time off when dad is home and work harder when he is gone so we have that flexibility,” McGhee said.