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Roadschooling

Illustration by Brian Cronin

Editor’s note: This story was written by Matt Crossman and originally appeared in the Deseret News.

Chelsea Forsythe was a teacher early in her career, ran a preschool out of her home and earned a master’s degree in education. The idea of homeschooling long percolated in the back of her mind, a backup plan in case of emergency.

That emergency came last fall as her kids returned to school. When the physical building reopened after the COVID-19 shutdown, the kids encountered drama about masks, drama about outbreaks, drama about how to safely do just about anything.

“Being a kid was pressure enough,” Chelsea says. “And to have to add that on top of it I was like, nope.”

Thus began the Forsythes’ foray into homeschooling. The reckoning over what kind of education Chelsea and her husband, John, wanted for their six kids turned into a reckoning about what kind of life they wanted.

Life is short. Did they really want to spend so much of it on Zoom? If education doesn’t have to be done in a school, does life have to be done in a house?

“Why are we just stuck in this home, stuck in this hamster wheel?” Chelsea wondered.

An idea — strange, exciting, bold — coalesced in their minds. They called a family meeting to discuss it. Their children, now ages two to 14, gathered around the dinner table in their Richfield, Utah, home to hear a bombshell: Mom and Dad wanted to become roadschoolers. That is, they wanted to buy a pickup truck and trailer, travel the country full time and hold class along the way.

It did not go over well.

What about school? the kids asked. What about friends? And dance lessons and music lessons and chess club?

John and Chelsea countered with questions of their own: Of the places you’ve seen in movies and TV, which do you want to visit? What experiences do you want to have? What’s on your bucket list?

Eventually, the kids flipped from worried about what they’d miss if they embraced roadschooling to worrying about what they’d miss if they didn’t.

Together the family cooked up a plan to visit all the lower 48 states, every temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and each national park. It seemed like a dream, even as the Forsythes put their house on the market, even as they sold it, even as they bought a used truck and a 400-square-foot, fifth-wheel trailer, packed as many books as they could fit and hit the road.

“When we actually drove away,” Chelsea says, “we were like, ‘We’re really doing this. This is it.’”

Homeschooling exploded during the pandemic, both in interest and in practice. As a homeschool dad, I watched this with a benevolent smirk. Suddenly we weren’t just a bunch of cloistered weirdos.

Brian Ray, director of the National Home Education Research Institute, says the number of homeschool students roughly doubled from March 2019 (2.5 million) to March 2021 (4.5 to 5 million). A Census Bureau study of the number of households with homeschooled children found similar growth: from 5.4% at the start of spring 2020 to 11.1% at the start of fall 2020.

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