Eva Knutson calls some of her boxes “boredom busters.” They look like they’d do the job, with topics like entomology, forensic science, and oceanography. They’re designed with instructions from start to finish, so parents can just unbox them and enjoy them with their kids, even if they don’t know much about entomology themselves.
"Everything is kind of spelled out in the materials, so if a parent gets 'entomology' and they don’t know anything about insects, all the printables have facts, all the information, so if a parent wants to teach their kid about spiders and insects, they can," she said. "Even if they don’t know anything about it, they get to be the teacher, which I really like, because I really like tht parents appreciate that."
Knutson runs Ms. Cuteson’s Class, where she ships educational boxes and materials to families meant to help support education. She said she got started last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and many parents elected to keep their kids home rather than go back to in-person education in the fall.
Homeschooling can provide a lot of flexibility for parents and they. can find support through correspondence programs like Connections or IDEA, but it can still be daunting to come up with enough material to keep kids busy. That’s where businesses like Ms. Cuteson’s classroom comes in. Knutson said she was a classroom teacher before stepping away to be home with her young son, and now with the business doing well, will keep it going even as schools transition back toward what they looked like before the pandemic.
"I think a lot of them are really excited about continuing," she said. "There’s Facebook pages for Alaskan homeschoolers and stuff—a lot of them were helping each other, and there was this community, saying, ‘We’re in this together, we can do it!’ and that was really cool to see."
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed many parents across the state to homeschool for various reasons, and others chose to take the remote in-class option provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District last year. The school district reported that enrollment in Connections doubled last school year, though many parents also chose to enroll their students in other correspondence programs like IDEA, Raven homeschool or other private options. Alaska’s homeschool laws are relatively low-regulation, allowing parents to homeschool their children without notifying the state as long as they are the parents or legal guardians.
Knutson isn’t the only one who pivoted to serving more of a homeschool crowd as the pandemic ramped up last year. Ryan Martin teaches classes like bread baking, creative writing and chemistry through her business Explorations LLC, mostly to students whose parents want to add to their homeschool experience.
"I do six-week courses and in whatever capacity that is," she said. "I have all different time ranges. I have 60-minute classes, I have two-hour classes—there is a lot that families can choose from."
She said she was also previously a classroom teacher, but chose to step away from it into an independent business following the example of other teachers in the area. Last year went well, she said, and she plans to continue for the foreseeable future.
One of the daunting things about homeschooling for parents can be that they may know enough to teach one subject, but be missing another, like art. She said that’s where teachers like her come in, who can take over those subjects in her in-person classes at a facility on K-Beach Road. Plus, then she can make the mess in her classroom and parents don’t have to deal with it at home.
"My passion is to teach kids how to cook, how to do science, and how to be lifelong learners, and so teaching these science classes and art classes, I get to get messy in my studio, and then they get to go home and I’ll clean it up! Parents don’t have to!" she said. "I have the space to get messy and get loud and stuff like that."
Both Knutson and Martin say they’re not sure what homeschool enrollment will be like in the fall, but they think some of the families who were new to it last year will continue this year, trying something new.
The school year in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is due to begin on August 17.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.