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Navigating the Ever-Changing World of Homeschooling

Whether you’re new to homeschooling or continuing the adventure, there are things you need to know to ensure smooth sailing and avoid upsets.

The law of the land

In Alberta, parents can choose to educate their children at home. The Home Education Regulation outlines the responsibilities of parents, teacher facilitators, homeschooling boards and authorities and government with respect to home education. Though the regulation has not changed for a number of years, how it is implemented by Alberta Learning varies from year to year.  

Each year, the parent must file a Notification Form with their school board or private school. The board assigns a teacher-facilitator who offers support and guidance and evaluates student progress twice or more each year. Parents can choose to meet the Learning Outcomes in the Alberta Program of Studies or use those in the Schedule of Learning Outcomes (pages 9 to 10 of the Regulation) to develop their program. Either way, parents are responsible for submitting an Education Progress Plan for each of their children at the start of the school year.

Annually, parents may submit receipts for eligible homeschooling expenses up to $835.40 for reimbursement from their board.

Two homeschooling paths - or perhaps three

When parents opt to register with a public or private school board and have a teacher closely oversee their program, this is called teacher-directed homeschooling.

If they follow the Schedule of Learning Outcomes, the government calls this parent-directed home-education (though many homeschoolers call it traditional home-education). Shared responsibility refers to a combination of both. 

The key difference between these paths is who is responsible for directing the program. In teacher-directed programs, the teacher-facilitator is more actively involved in supervision and evaluation of the program, which aligns with the Alberta Program of Studies. Such programs require regular reporting of student progress. In parent-directed programs, the teacher-facilitator provides support, as needed, as the parent fully directs learning. In this case, the parent selects the curriculum, resources, and activities to develop their program; using the Program of Studies is one of many options. 

Your safe harbor: choosing a homeschool board

Finding a homeschooling board that’s a good fit for your family makes a huge difference, so it’s well worth researching. Visit websites and ask other homeschoolers what their experience with various boards has been and call up boards you are considering and ask what they offer and how they work. Inquire whether they offer teacher-directed, parent-directed and/or shared responsibility homeschooling and how they deliver these programs. Also, take note whether they are based in the greater Calgary area or are province-wide as there are pros and cons to each.

Conflict with your school board due to mismatched expectations can generally be avoided with clear communication at the outset. There are both secular (non-religious) and faith-based boards. If you’re considering a board that holds different beliefs than you do, ask how this might impact practical matters, such as curriculum choice.

Unschooling homeschoolers need to be sure the board they select supports that approach. You’ll want to find out what, if any, support is available to help you address any special learning needs your child may have. Finally, check out the ‘extras’ which may include family outings, field trips, classes, online classes, use of laboratory space, etc. The diversity of offerings by the various boards is a plus, as long as you do your homework and match your needs to what is offered.

What floats your boat? Your approach to homeschooling

It is almost certain that how you homeschool will evolve over time. With this in mind, you can choose an approach to start with and adapt as you learn what works best for your family. Approaches vary along a continuum of structure, with unschooling being less structured and approaches such as classical homeschooling being more structured. They also vary in delivery method: Fully online, book-based, and hands-on/experiential are all popular methods.

An eclectic approach involves selecting the pieces that best meet your child’s needs. Eclectic can describe a homeschooling plan that uses Solaro/The Key (free through the public library) to cover the Program of Studies and Project-Based Learning to pursue individual passions.  Eclectic can also describe a plan that uses structured curriculum for Language Arts and Math, and unschooling for everything else. If you don’t begin with a homeschooling philosophy, you’re almost certain to have one by the end!

Adjusting the sails - hearing your childs needs

Being aware and remaining flexible are necessary tools in your homeschooling toolkit. Most families face ‘rough waters’ at times either because something needs adjusting in their homeschooling or ‘unexpected storms’ arise from the wider world. 

But by stepping back, you gain perspective on what is not working. Parent-child conflict, time management, learning disabilities, age and maturity, learning preferences, and learning strengths and weaknesses are just a few factors that can ‘rock the boat.’

To adjust the sails, begin by really listening to your child, especially when what they are telling you is through their behavior more than their words. Often, your intuition will tell you what your child needs - perhaps to vary the amount of structure, level of difficulty, routine, learning activities, or social time. Other times, you may need to seek out assistance. Your teacher-facilitator and other homeschooling parents are tremendous resources, so take advantage of their experience! You’ll save yourself stress and your child will benefit if you do.

Your even keel - self-care

Parenting is complicated and demanding, even more so when you are directing your child’s education. At times you may feel swamped or experience self-doubt with respect to homeschooling. One of the best things you can do to manage stress is healthy self-care. When you take time to exercise, eat well, sleep, and spend time doing what brings you joy, you recharge your parenting batteries and set a positive example for your children.

A supportive network is also key and can take you from merely surviving to thriving. Social media, your school board, coffee groups, homeschooling associations, conferences, activities, and field trips are great places to meet others sharing the homeschooling journey. 

Get into shipshape form with these basic organizational hacks:

  • Create a system (either digital or written) for tracking your child’s learning. Include informal learning, activities, and special events.

  • Decide what you will keep in order to share with your facilitator. Begin collecting at the start, continue all year and you’ll be ready for the year-end facilitator visit.

  • Label a large envelope ‘Homeschooling Receipts’ with the year and include your school board’s reimbursement deadlines. Keep all original receipts, including hard copies of online receipts, in the envelope. Submit early.

  • Include purchased items in your Education Program Plan and update throughout the school year. 

  • Embrace flexible scheduling. Learning can take place any day, at any time.

  • Realize when you just need to drop everything and treasure the time together and the relationships you are building with your kids.

Home-Schooling 101

Sample of homeschooling approaches:

Homeschooling conferences:

Wishing you fair winds and following seas on your homeschooling journey!

Teresa is a Calgary-based writer, Kindergarten to Grade 12 educator, and homeschooling parent committed to education innovation and lifelong learning.

 

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