Jenna Baillargeon reads out loud facts about Egypt as her daughter Sophia, 8, works on a coloring assignment on Egypt during their first week of homeschooling. Sophia began homeschooling this fall after enjoying her time at home when the coronavirus shuttered schools in March. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Jenna Baillargeon and her daughter Sophia were in the basement of their Orrington home on Wednesday morning, working on a lesson about Egypt.

Over the summer, the family had converted the space into a classroom for the third grader. As Baillargeon read the lesson out loud, the 8-year-old highlighted the outline of the country with markers and filled in a blank rectangle above the map with the colors of the Egyptian flag.

Sophia, who previously attended Bangor Christian Schools, ran over to swing on an indoor pod hammock in the corner to take a break for a few minutes before returning to her lesson.

The upending of school last March has led some Maine parents to rethink how they want their children to learn this fall, when schools are generally using a combination of in-person and remote learning. Some parents don’t want their children to spend so much time learning on a computer, while others — including the Baillargeons — simply found that their children learned better in a different arrangement.

Parents said it wasn’t fear of sending their children back to school that drove their decisions to choose homeschooling or learning pods — in which parents band together so small groups of children can learn together while they’re away from school. Rather, the pandemic presented an opportunity to try an alternative to the typical classroom.

“The pandemic ended up being a slight blessing in disguise for us because never in a million years would we have started homeschooling if we hadn’t had the opportunity to do it last spring,” Jenna Baillargeon said.

Clockwise from left: Sophia Baillargeon, 8, watches as two of her goats, Iceman and Maverick, butt heads in play as she tends to them Wednesday morning before starting school; Sophia jumps on her trampoline after homeschooling; Jenna Baillargeon laughs as her daughter Sophia takes a brief break from school work to swing on an indoor pod hammock in their basement/classroom. Credit: Lina Coan O’Kresik / BDN

It’s too early to know whether there has been a statewide increase in homeschooling this fall because paperwork parents have to file with the Maine Department of Education declaring their intent to homeschool is still rolling in, department spokesperson Kelli Deveaux said.

This year will be an experiment for Lauren Cormier, whose 12-year-old son Eli decided to learn mostly from home this fall instead of attending Bangor Christian Schools.

“He liked remote learning, but I wasn’t interested in him being on the computer all the time,” said Cormier, of Hermon. “So I gave him the option of homeschooling or going back [in person], and he decided to give it a try.”

Cormier now works from home while balancing her son’s education, which she said goes by remarkably faster than a regular school day. Most days, Eli is done for the day around lunch time. Since he’s an independent learner, she doesn’t anticipate any difficulties with the homeschooling setup.

Cormier’s two younger children are still attending school at Bangor Christian, and Eli attends in-person math classes two days a week at Hermon Middle School.

Both Cormier and Baillargeon said that so far, they are liking the flexibility homeschooling has afforded their children. Neither parent is worried about their child’s social life, since both Eli and Sophia had enough extracurricular interests that would allow them to meet their friends.

Eli Cormier, 12, goes through the 7th grade curriculum he uses for homeschooling. Eli is homeschooling for the first time this fall after enjoying learning at home when the coronavirus shuttered schools in March. His mom, Lauren Cormier wasn’t interested in him being on the computer all the time though so gave him the option of homeschooling or going back to school in person. He decided to give it a try. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik

Leslie Forstadt and Aubrae Filipiak, both of Bangor who have children in kindergarten and pre-K respectively, had planned on eventually establishing a school heavily based in outdoor learning, and the pandemic just moved up their plans by a year. This year, both their children, along with two other young kids, will participate in a homeschooling co-op the parents put together.

A licensed teacher in Hampden will oversee the group, and the kids will learn mostly outdoors at the teacher’s home. They have indoor space available for the cold weather.

“I was really interested in the ability of my child going into kindergarten to be able to move a lot throughout the day and have both an academic and an experiential learning experience,” Forstadt said. “Especially during COVID that was going to be a unique offering.”

“Our intention is that the kids will be outside as much as possible, which will negate the need for masking,” Filipiak said. “We’re all pretty realistic about the fact that while social distancing will be encouraged, with 4-, 5- or 6-year-olds, that’s not necessarily an enforceable thing.”

Now that some parents and kids have gotten a taste of homeschooling, they don’t want to return to traditional school.

In Orrington, Sophia’s day now consists of taking care of chickens, playing with goats and taking trampoline breaks all while learning from home, and Baillargeon said she doesn’t want to take that away from her daughter.

“She’d be so exhausted when she came home from school because it was so brain-draining for her,” she said. “I really don’t think that she’s missing out on anything, and the fact that she’s emotionally and mentally flourishing is not something I would give up for the sake of being in a classroom.”