By Sue Tiffin
As parents around Ontario learned that schools would be closed for two weeks after March Break and then indefinitely as the province grapples with the spread of COVID-19 educational resources were shared online and some families prepared while some panicked about the idea of “homeschooling” during a global pandemic.
Members of Haliburton County’s homeschooling community shared their thoughts with the Echo on what their typical life looks like and what it might look like as their families are asked to stay home.
Tell us about your family and how long you’ve been homeschooling them?
We are a family of five with various pets that love adventuring in all weather on trails off trails on the water and in our yard. We’ve been homeschooling for nine years if you follow the school years. Stuart works outside of the home and I do a little bit of Guiding and teaching lessons on the side. Stuart and I both volunteer for multiple organizations within our community as well. Otherwise I am home full time with our children.
What does homeschooling look like in our community?
There is a large diverse homeschooling community here in Haliburton County. If I could make my best guess I’d say close to 30 families. Some are homesteaders wildschoolers world schoolers some are (board)game schoolers there’s unschoolers some are classical homeschoolers Waldorf-inspired play-based learning Montessori-inspired and Charlotte Mason-inspired Christian-based schoolers some are online schoolers some families homeschool the early years others the later years of public school. I can think of a family doing at least one of every style of homeschooling here. Most often families use a combination of a few styles listed. We organize field trips to museums and historical sites art classes day programs at Abbey Gardens hikes play dates swimming lessons gymnastics martial arts downhill ski days STEM workshops a monthly bookclub and potluck for anyone homeschooling to join. Within these groups are subgroups of like-minded families who gather for play dates lessons travel dinners and other adventurous fun.
What does a day of homeschooling typically look like in your family?
Firstly there are no typical days for our family personally. Our days change with the seasons and the weather! We do have some regularity with our weekly extra curricular so our schedule revolves around that. Saving the mornings for seated work like math writing languages piano the curriculum part of our days.
During the winter we tend to have quieter days at home with less programming. The bulk of our curriculum and handwork gets completed in the winter months but we still have lots of time for outside fun: cross country and downhill skiing snowshoeing sledding fort building and ice fishing. In the spring our programming picks up again and we soak up the days of bug-free time outside biking hiking gardening and on paddling trips until we are inside for more “seat work” and avoiding peak bug season (May and early June).
Spring also brings the extra commitments of the music festival piano recitals some years Conservatory exams dance competitions out of town and dance recitals too. Summer is jam packed with summer camps live theatre beach days and nights biking paddling and camping trips adventure racing cottage time and visiting with friends and family. But our curriculum work doesn’t always get a break in the summer like our “brick and mortar” school friends do. The fall begins with a Not-Back-To-School trip with some other families. Last year was an east coast road trip together for a few weeks. Then we have some time to settle into our new routines and enjoy the nice weather before programming begins again and our weeks are filled with new great learning opportunities and Nutcracker rehearsals! We are never not learning listening or reading! We are so fortunate to be able to tackle subjects like history geography and social studies as a family. These aren’t limited by age or textbooks.
How will your homeschooling days be different now that we are living during a pandemic?
Our days [now] are quite different too. We are all in this together. But we are lucky because our house is already set up and full of curriculum options and learning opportunities. Truthfully we are taking a few weeks off to settle into being ‘unbusy’ and regroup. We’ve got big lists of projects we’ve been waiting to tackle that have needed time to complete. And are enjoying this time to be quiet and together despite Stuart having to continue to work. (This part hasn’t changed.) The kids call their friends and family on the phone or send messages to each other. We’ve seen friends on the trails and everyone works so hard to physically distance themselves even using six foot sticks to remind ourselves. We have the option to take our piano dance yoga and fitness classes online right now but our poor internet makes even those a choice break.
What was it like for you to see such an interest in homeschooling now that public schools in Ontario are closed?
Let’s be clear this isn’t homeschooling for any of us. At first it was pretty overwhelming and exciting that other people will have the opportunity to see how great it can be to spend time teaching your children at home. Give those families that contemplated homeschooling a wee peek into the possibilities. But I really struggled and worried families would become burnt out in the first few weeks trying to do school at home with their colourful schedules and elaborate plans. Homeschooling is a lifestyle you can’t just start it overnight. It evolves over weeks months and years and needs a community.
What do you want other parents to know about homeschooling?
Honestly we’ve been given the gift of time.
The world is in crisis everyone is stressed and feeling uncertain – trying to do school at home right now might not be the best answer. Parents feel like they need to do school at home but truthfully this is the perfect time to make your home a safe place. Let your children do what they’ve never had time for before. Keep a schedule around meal times and more specific for children that need routine but in this gift of time – let your children be children and learn what interests them. Take this time to be together let your children explore and dive into their own interests. Do the things you’ve not had time to do before.
(Or this combination of options)
Let them blow up things in the kitchen make meals help with renovations change the oil in the car read 100 books! Get to know each other and keep home a safe place. Don’t jeopardize the parent-child relationship for the teacher-student relationship. This is a global pandemic everyone is right here with us. Be kind to yourselves and your children it’s uncertain times. You may want to enforce kitchen rules otherwise you may find yourself doing a lot of dishes in a day! If your child/ren need more routine and seat work there is an abundance of online options but I guarantee that they’ll learn just as much by playing cards a board game cooking or learning a new skill with you. Take this time to live. Learning happens anywhere.
I am so curious to see how much higher the homeschooling stats will increase once schools return to normalcy! And how tight families become after spending so much time together.
“Spending time as a family together and meeting each individual child’s learning needs inspired our choice to begin homeschooling. We started with the birth of our third child six years ago. We have had challenges with balancing full-time work and children’s activities but once we started it was hard to imagine returning to the traditional school system. Homeschooling has worked beautifully for our family allowing us to spend more quality time together.
“With the addition of so many new homeschoolers in the past week I think it is important to focus on families with a whole lot of compassion. Stressed parents cannot effectively teach stressed children. Everyone may be experiencing more anxiety during this time of uncertainty and transition. So it is important not to add the pressure of an academic emergency to the mental and emotional load. Any new learning activities need to start by taking into account already taxed mental emotional and physical states so as not to overwhelm families with all they could and should be doing at home. This is not the time for most of the population with school-age children to figure out how homeschooling will work best for their children.
“Instead focusing on how to depressurize the situation and explore fun novel and interest-led activities online and with family is important for everyone’s health and sanity. In addition to focusing on interest-based learning and supporting families it may also be helpful to focus on familiar routines. For example some classes and teachers are offering online versions of the activities children were already engaged in. Even if these are not of the highest quality the familiarity of the routine may contribute to better learning and less cognitive load for children.
Four places to start…
1. Exercise the Mind
2. Grow Skills
3. Contribute to the Home
4. Build Social Connection from Intoxicated on Life – Christian Homeschool Connection (on Facebook)”
“We have been homeschooling for eight years now. It is a natural extension of ‘parenting.’ My children are in Grades 8 and 10.
“A typical day: we treat it like a work day – we set alarms to be up to do the farm chores and get ready for lessons. They travel to the store (Minden Mercantile and Feed Co. Inc.) with me to work Monday Tuesday and Friday and we have Wednesday and Thursday at home to concentrate on the kids more. We have set times to work on each subject with a variety of bookwork videos and internet resources as well as good old fashioned one-on-one time teaching of concepts. My son is enrolled in the Virtual Learning Centre in order to keep him in line with other high schoolers and so that applying to post secondary won’t be such a hardship when it comes time. He will have the same OSSD as everyone else.
“The store has helped them to learn about people and the world but in a safe and supervised setting and they have learned about business and how to conduct yourself in public. Hopefully this will help them in their future endeavours.
“The beauty of homeschooling: flexibility. If someone is having a rough day and cannot seem to grasp something or if I am having a difficult time settling down to desk work … we can go and tackle a real-world project on the farm or at the store or even take the day to go hiking or an impromptu field trip (not with other people for a while). We can work with each other’s strengths and help each other develop areas of weakness. We love homeschooling but it is not for everyone. It takes discipline and respect for each other.
“COVID-19 had affected us because our physical social needs have been curtailed. It has given us a new subject to discover: human needs and what ‘normal’ should look like.
“Homeschooling is not about isolation; it is about teaching and passing on your morals and your education one-on-one to children who might not appreciate the congestion and lack of attention of a public school setting.”
For more information visit ontariohomeschool.org/homeschooling-during-school-closures-is-it-though.