Homeschool students are facing off against their public-school peers in U.S. robotics contests, and they are winning.
The “Family Instructors of the Northern Suburbs” Christian homeschool team placed second in T-shirt design and third for overall achievement in a regional championship this month in Colorado.
“This is our first year coaching, and my husband said all along this is a learning year,” said coach Amy Farrey. “We were amazed. We had a lot of tears and a lot of surprised looks.”
Perhaps Farrey shouldn’t be surprised, given the experience of other homeschool students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Some showed early interest and potential in these pursuits; others discovered them later by chance. But all their stories point to homeschooling as a foundation to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving – skills many educators agree are crucial for today’s workforce and even our national security.
Freedom to pursue interests
Perhaps homeschooling’s most obvious advantage lies in its flexibility to adapt to each child, instead of a one-size-fits-all package to encompass as many children as possible.
Take Sam Krug, who struggled when he started first grade at a public school in Washington.
“I was very bored in school,” he said. “My brain just shuts down. I couldn’t stand sitting in a class for six hours.”
Fortunately Sam’s parents recognized his potential, as they saw his projects at home – including three-dimensional structures with 3,000 dominoes and coding modifications for the Minecraft video game.
“I developed a fascination with problem solving and patterns,” he said. “It seemed like a game that I could figure out.”
Because his parents advocated for Sam, the family worked out a hybrid homeschool program for him at the military base school he attended in Japan. Although he took some classes at school, he and his parents selected homeschool courses to supplement his education.
“It was one of the first times he was really stretched,” said Sam’s mother, Alli. “I think it’s important to experiment with the outer bounds of what your kids can do – especially in the safety of their own home.
“Instead of feeling frustrated and powerless, he was helping find his own way forward and charting a course that is not very typical, but which allowed him the freedom to learn at his own pace, and across a breadth of subjects and activities that is not really feasible on campus.”
Exploring diverse communities, experiences
Does this mean homeschool students can grow too isolated as they focus on their own interests?
Hardly, as the story of Evan Erickson shows. He won a gold medal at the 51st International Physics Olympiad in 2021 as a 17-year-old Minnesotan representing the United States.
However, this gold medalist has found plenty of time to socialize with people of all interests and abilities. He’s worked odd jobs ever since he was 11 years old.
“He started as a paper boy and now is a manager at an ice cream shop,” said his mom, Rena.
Erickson also found time to participate in the Minnesota State High School Mathematics League, placing fifth in the league and being named captain of the all-state math team.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, Erickson launched an online math camp with a friend to help students who were experiencing lockdowns. Over 100 students participated.
As to his win at the Olympiad, Erickson wished the competition could have taken place in person instead of online. But he appreciated the attempts that organizers made to facilitate social activities among the participants.
“I was on a trivia team with the Netherlands and Norway,” he said – crushing the stereotype of a sheltered homeschooler living in a family bubble.
Creating ‘life lessons’ by solving modern-day problems
Homeschool students don’t always know where they will excel, but they can turn this to their advantage by solving problems others may not even know exist.
For example, 13-year-old Lacey Blamire used to struggle with math until her mother pulled her out of public school in 2020.
Homeschooling allowed her to advance to a year ahead of her public-school peers. She also found time to hone her dancing and gymnastics skills outside school hours.
But that’s not all Lacey does. She’s an entrepreneur, managing a café in the online gaming platform Roblox with an estimated 1 million customers.
Even with a virtual café, the administrative load is real – hiring real-life gamers to work as chefs and cashiers, designing outfits and enforcing codes of conduct.
“It amazes me that she’s learning so many real-life things through this game,” said Lacey’s mom, Lindsay. “I’m hoping she can earn some real money for what she’s doing.”
Because of the inherent risks in online gaming, Lindsay has put rules in place to help Lacey explore safely. These include monitoring usage, keeping copies of passwords, and turning off computers and other devices at certain times of the day.
However, even these risks can provide learning opportunities for her children, Lindsay says.
“I personally believe that when kids go out in the real world, I can’t protect them from everything,” she said. “I try to be proactive and have these conversations ahead of time.”
All these homeschool success stories demonstrate that STEM-related opportunities don’t necessarily have to come from costly, government-funded initiatives.
Instead, our best hope could lie in bringing educational policy-setting back to families as parents help their children flourish in practical skills that prepare them for their future careers.
“I want my kids to be able to come and talk to me when they’ve made mistakes,” Lindsay said. “We look at these things as life lessons.”
STEM resources homeschool families recommend in the Kansas City area
If you’re looking for STEM-specific opportunities for your homeschooled child, check out the following links:
- Metro Homeschool Robotics forms a team to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition each year. Competition season starts in January and lasts until March.
- A homeschool dad and owner of a robotics integration company is planning STEM classes in Greenwood for children 6 years and older.
- Coding centers Code Ninjas have locations in Lenexa, Leawood, and Lee’s Summit.