The education setting for many children in Mississippi shifted this year. Perhaps the numbers weren’t as dramatic as mid-summer polling indicated, but the number of homeschoolers has increased by 35 percent over the previous year. 

According to unofficial data collected by the Mississippi Department of Education, 25,376 students are homeschooling this year. These numbers aren’t final and may increase. Families are required to submit a certificate of enrollment form for each child who is homeschooled by September 15. Generally, families don’t submit forms for kindergarteners because compulsory education in Mississippi begins at 6. 

For the previous school year, there were 18,904 homeschoolers. Homeschooling now makes up about 5 percent of total student enrollment. 

The relative ease of homeschooling has helped many families who had never considered homeschooling get started. For a state that has generally shown little interest in education freedom, the freedom to homeschool is broadly supported and protected by law. The one thing a parent must do is file an annual certificate of enrollment with your local school district’s school attendance officer. All you need on the form is your child’s name, address, phone number, and a simple description of the program such as, “age appropriate curriculum.”  

When you do that, your child and you are now exempt from the state’s punitive compulsory education laws. There are no requirements on curriculum or testing or who can teach. Parents, instead, have the freedom to choose the educational system, style, and setting that works best for them and their children. 

The Department of Education “recommends” parents review state curriculum guidelines and maintain a portfolio of their child’s work, thought that is not required. As opposed to following a government curriculum that tells your child what he or she must learn at what age, homeschooling allows you to let your child learn at their own pace. 

That means a child who is excelling can move forward at a quicker pace, cover additional topics, or take in material at a deeper level. If a child is struggling, you can slow down, switch your teaching style, or bring in new materials. If your child has a unique interest, the world is literally at their fingertips with scores of free, online training materials. Yes, YouTube is filled with funny cat videos. But it also provides a library of instruction on virtually any topic you can think of.      

Thanks to today’s technology, a quick Google search can help you get more comfortable with homeschooling. There is an abundance of homeschool Facebook groups with veterans who are willing to share their ideas on getting started, curriculum, extracurricular activities, maintaining your sanity, and much more. Connection to these groups is also a venue to plan an endless variety of outings and field trips. It won’t take long to realize your child will receive as much “socialization” as you would like.  

There are also options such as co-ops, where families gather together and share teaching responsibilities among parents. Similarly, we have seen the emergence of microschools this year in which a small group of parents pool their resources together to hire a teacher. 

While homeschooling experienced it’s biggest one-year jump ever, the number of students attending government schools fell from just under 466,000 last year to 442,000, a drop of over 5 percent. This is the eighth straight year that enrollment has decreased since a peak of almost 493,000 for the 2012-2013 school year.