Before COVID-19 hit (and everyone started to teach their kids at home) there were these parents. Kita Szpak speaks with four Ottawa families who homeschool their children by choice
Families all have their reasons for homeschooling. Although there is no cookie cutter pattern of who elects to teach at home and why they do, a constant is the enthusiasm, dedication and engagement that exist between parents and kids who are on this educational path that was once unconventional but is now coming into its own.
Of her four children, two of Veronique Chiasson’s kids are homeschooled and two go to school. As an occupational therapist with Emerging Minds Est, the Ottawa resident had first-hand experience with children who have learning concerns in a conventional setting – and that comes in handy. Her oldest daughter, Ariane, now 20, has medical issues and learning difficulties, which Chiasson felt were not being addressed at school. Her second child, Philippe, 15, and fourth child, Joliane, 12, elected to go to a mainstream school even though the latter has ADHD and a learning disability. Her third child, Jacob, now 14, had requested homeschooling with the proviso that he finish Grade 6 first. “We have been very happy with our homeschooling journey so far (six years now),” says Chiasson. “Our situation is a bit different as half the kids are homeschooling and the other half are in mainstream schools, but for us it works,” she says. “Family democracy reigns here where learning challenges don’t automatically conclude that home schooling is the sole solution.”
Though Stephanie Barkley-Bequette dropped out of high school halfway through Grade 12 due to mental stress and homeschooled herself through a local institute that provides high school credits, she never thought she would be homeschooling her two older children of a family of four kids. She decided to do so because her kindergarten-age younger son, Emmett, was experiencing severe pre-school anxiety, and lashing out at home after school. He was struggling to adjust to the school setting and was pulled out after four months. Barkley-Bequette notes “It has nothing to do with the school itself, the faculty there are amazing and the students are thriving. School ended up being more stressful for Emmett than anything, so we gave him the option to homeschool (we had to explain to him what that meant) to finish his junior kindergarten year and he couldn’t have shouted a louder, more enthusiastic yes.”
His older sister, Kaia, eight, followed suit once it become evident homeschooling brought a marked behavioural improvement; she was very distracted by the social aspects of school, causing her to struggle academically. Both are happier and anxiety-free. It looks like younger sister and baby brother will follow the same route. Already, three-year-old Ellie participates in every activity with her brother and sister and loves having her own little desk and booklet.
Since her children are older, Chiasson follows a self-directed learning approach where both curriculum and schedule are flexible. Important subjects such as math and French are combined with side projects in history, geography and science. Daily physical activity complements the academics.
Homeschooling is legal in all Canadian provinces and territories. In Ontario, the Education Act states that a person is excused from attendance at school if the person is receiving satisfactory instruction at home or elsewhere.
According to the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, “Parents may withdraw their children from the school system for the purpose of homeschooling at any time of the year. To do so, they should send the school board notification in writing of their intent to homeschool.
The Ministry of Education drafted an official policy, released in June 2002, which directs school boards to accept a family’s letter of intent to homeschool as sufficient evidence that the parents are providing satisfactory instruction.
A teacher by profession, resident Muhaddissa Alarakhia intended to return to her teaching position after the birth of a second child, but with the unexpected arrival of a third baby, and trying to set up a daycare schedule in the process, decided to stay home and teach her own kids. Homeschooling has brought with it flexibility, the opportunity for the children to learn about Alarakhia’s faith as well as removing bullying behavior and the peer pressure which were sometimes experienced by the children in their mainstream school setting. One of her kids “was always coming back home crying and stressed because his friends weren’t nice with him. It broke my heart. Now he’s happy,” Alarakhia says.
Conversely, Gaby LaSouris of Gatineau has no teaching background, but decided to homeschool her two boys aged eight and nine. Although she was initially “scared” about the process, LaSouris later says it’s the best decision she’s ever made. The boys learned faster and more easily than when they were in regular school – putting in the time because they wanted to – even with subjects like math and French.
But there are certainly challenges to homeschooling. Certainly, finding resources and activities daily can be challenging. Ensuring your kids are not isolated also means balancing the at-home routine with extracurricular activities as well as providing opportunities to socialize with other children. This goes for the parents, too. As Alarakhia says, “… having my kids with me all the time has kind of thrown me out of my friends’ circle.” However, she feels the bond she has developed with her children overrides any curtailment to her social life.
Despite these drawbacks, all four families agree the overall benefit to their kids and them far outweighs any challenge that may cross their at-home schooling path. “Erik and I have learned just as much as the kids have on this journey in one way or another,” says Barkley-Bequette of her husband. “We have all grown so much as individuals, and as a family. The bond and joy that we have found in homeschooling has been so rewarding,” she says.
Two provinces, two approaches
In terms of resources provided to homeschooling parents, provinces differ.
In Quebec, at the parents’ request, their school board will provide free access to textbooks and instructional materials for children who are being homeschooled. These resources are the same as those provided to children attending school. In addition, the province through the parents’ school board will provide free access to the following services for children who are being homeschooled: support services for the use of the documentary resources of the school library; academic and career counselling and information; psychological, psychoeducational, special education, remedial education, and speech therapy services.
In Ontario, the Ministry of Education does not provide any form of resources to homeschooling families. Therefore, if you plan to purchase any curriculum materials or instructional support for your child, you will have to pay for them yourself.