An increasing number of Ontario parents are opting to homeschool their kids for the first time amid the pandemic after deciding their families’ needs wouldn’t be met by either sending the kids back to school or by school board-led distance learning.
The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, which provides information and support to Ontario homeschooling families, said its membership has been growing quickly in recent months.
As of Aug. 24, the group had 460 members, which was up about 90 members from a year before. The group’s most recent stats show they now have 554 members.
Sudbury.com spoke to a couple of local moms who have opted to homeschool their kids for the first time due to COVID-19.
Ashley Turenne and husband Rob are the parents of two daughters, Aubrielle, 11 years old and in Grade 6, and Autumn, 9 years old and in Grade 4, who until recently were students at Cyril Varney Public School.
However, due to Ashley’s fragile health (she has a lung disease), sending the kids back to school right now is not an option.
“At first I was saying ‘You know, I’m going to wait it out and see what happens,’ and then the numbers have been rising,” she said. “I refuse to send my kids to be guinea pigs in a big petri dish. I can’t take the risk. It’s just not worth it to me.”
She decided to try out homeschooling this fall because it afforded more flexibility for the family, especially for Aubrielle, who has Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of autism).
She said Aubrielle would have a difficult time sitting still and looking at a computer screen for hours on end for school board-led distance learning.
Turenne, a stay-at-home mom, said she might reconsider school board-led distance learning in the new year, as she’s concerned she might not be able to keep the kids up with their peers, but for now, she’s giving homeschooling a shot.
She said she’s sought guidance from a friend who is experienced with homeschooling, and has also purchased some curriculum workbooks.
“So far it’s working,” Turenne said. “I’m learning new things every day myself. I hope the kids are too.”
We also spoke to Paige Proulx, who has decided to homeschool her two sons, Nashton, 6, and Bryston, who will turn five years old in November.
Nashton was a student at CR Judd Public School and Bryston at Redwood Acres Public School.
Both boys have disabilities (Nashton has ADHD and Bryston autism), and Paige is a stay-at-home single mom. They live with Paige’s parents for support.
Although both of the kids loved school, Paige said she wasn’t sure how she could send them back to school amid the pandemic.
“At school, Nashton picks his lips, and Bryston licks everything,” she said. “There’s no way they can go to school.”
Thinking school board-led distance learning wouldn’t work well for her kids’ needs either — the family has a lot of appointments, and the kids have a hard time sitting still — Paige decided to opt for homeschooling.
“I’m trying to follow the curriculum of Ontario so they can go to school next year, because I’m only homeschooling because of the pandemic,” she said.
Paige said she set up the porch in the family’s home as a school, with desks and books.
“The first week was hard, because they didn’t get the jist of what was going on,” she said. “It took awhile for them to learn the routine. I got a little apron I wear to show them I’m the teacher mom, and then when it comes off, it means they can go play.”
The mother said she’s joined a lot of homeschooling Facebook groups for advice, and has downloaded a lot of educational apps for her kids, because they respond well to them.
“This is my first year,” she said.
“Some parents actually do it all the time, which is very tough. So I give kudos to them because you have to be strict and get them to do the work. I don’t even know. I’m so scared that they might not even pass, because I might not be following the curriculum the right way. I’m just doing my best.”
Carlo Ricci, a professor of education in the graduate studies program at Nipissing University, volunteers with the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents, a volunteer organization that provides information to homeschoolers.
He said he “fields hundreds of calls” from parents as part of his work with the organization — many seem to be at least interested in looking into homeschooling amid the pandemic, he said.
A former teacher himself, Ricci said he teaches graduate courses on topics including holistic education and alternative schooling.
He said he’s not actually a big fan of the traditional school system, as there is evidence that it can be harmful to kids’ mental health.
Ricci suggests that those who wish to homeschool begin by reading Program/Policy Memorandum No. 131, an Ontario government document outlining the responsibilities of parents and school boards when a family decides to homeschool.
They should also fill out Appendix B, which is a letter from parents to the relevant school board indicating notification of intent to provide homeschooling.
“You don’t have to follow the typical school year, and you don’t have to follow the Ontario curriculum,” Ricci said. “There’s all kinds of things that you would learn by reading Program/Policy Memorandum No. 131.
“The only thing it says is you have to provide ‘satisfactory instruction.’ Presumably that means you’ll be doing numeracy and literacy and those types of things, but it’s not really spelled out.”
Many families who begin homeschooling feel they need to replicate the classroom environment in their homes, but Ricci advises against this.
“My sense is to just go into it in a loving way, and really listen to what your children are interested in and what their passions are,” he said.
“Rather than just replicating what the schools do, create an environment and places and spaces where young people can unfold in ways that seem really natural and genuine and peaceful and gentle to them.
“Learning happens best in an environment where people are relaxed, and where people are interested and passionate and receptive to what’s happening.”
More resources on homeschooling are available on the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents’ website. There is also a Facebook group for homeschoolers here in Greater Sudbury called the Sudbury, ON Homeschooling Parents’ Group.