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Thousands of kids across Nova Scotia went back to class today. But some parents whose children were in public schools in March decided that for the 2020-2021 school year, their kids would learn from home.
Krystal Acker-West and her family live in McGee Lake in the Annapolis Valley. She says they started thinking about homeschooling back in June. She had the homeschooling paperwork filled out for a month until she finally sent off the forms online last week. She says she was hopeful about the back-to-school situation until mid-August and made the decision then to homeschool her son, who’s in Grade 2.
“I don’t think the environment is going to be good for the mental health of kids,” Acker-West says. “I know most people are worried about catching COVID. I’m not so much worried about that. I’m worried about the whole, ‘Here’s your box. Stay in it. Don’t touch anybody. You should be scared to touch anybody.’ I’m worried it’s going to put fear into the kids’ heads.”
She says her son is “100%” on board with homeschooling and wants to do it more than she does. To plan, Acker-West went on the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development website and went through the outcomes for her son’s grade. She put together a curriculum on her own based on those guidelines. She says they’ll focus on math, which they’ll work on every morning, but also phonics, and reading. They’ll also do some science and learning about Indigenous culture. She expects they’ll start the day at 8:30am and they’ll be done by dinnertime.
To get advice, she checked out some homeschooling groups on Facebook whose members answered any questions.
“When I started thinking about this, I thought, ‘I can’t do this,’” Acker-West says. “I thought I was going to screw him up and that I would never be able to teach the way they do in school. The more people I talked to and the more I learned about it, it didn’t seem to be that difficult. I don’t expect it to be easy and we could struggle with it, but I don’t have concerns.”
Acker-West is a web developer and graphic designer and works from home, but she’ll be taking a break from her work to teach her son. Her husband works full time.
“My priority has to switch from my work to my son, so I’ll take a break, possibly stopping work for the year,” she says.
Leah Hemeon homeschools her own six-year-old son and is also the secretary for the Nova Scotia Home Education Association. She says the group has been busy the last few months answering inquiries from parents. She says they first noticed the increase in interactions on their Facebook group in the spring. During the summer, she says page views and interactions on their Facebook group grew by about 500%.
“I wouldn’t say they were considering homeschooling at that point,” Hemeon says. “It was more of a curiosity because the distance learning that happens through the Department of Education and the public schools is very, very different from what we do as home educators.”
She says over the summer, the association offered free virtual sessions on how parents can get started with homeschooling. Sessions included advice on topics like options on homeschooling and how to register with the Department of Education. Hemeon says on the association website, there is a page that answers questions parents might have. The website also includes a list of homeschool curriculums. Membership in the association is optional and they don’t track the numbers of homeschoolers in the province.
Hemeon works full-time and her husband works part-time, and they share the teaching duties. She says homeschooling doesn’t take up an eight-hour day and can work around parents’ schedules. She says they recommend parents decide what style of homeschooling they might want to take from, including child-led learning or a more formal curriculum. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development doesn’t provide any particular curriculum for homeschoolers, but rather offers outcomes for each grade level.
“It’s up to the parent to figure out what’s going to work best for their child, their family, and then research those resources,” Hemeon says.
Parents in Nova Scotia have the legal right to homeschool their children. Parents who want to homeschool have to register their children each school year. The deadline to register is Sept. 20, although parents can decide at any point during the school year to homeschool.
All of the information about homeschooling, including how to register, roles and responsibilities, legislation, and regulations, along with some curriculum information, is available at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development website.
Violet MacLeod, a spokesperson with the Department of Education, says they don’t have numbers yet on how many children are registered for homeschooling in Nova Scotia since registrations will be processed later this month. She says in the 2019-2020 school year, there were 1,500 students registered for homeschooling. MacLeod also sent along this statement from the department:
In our consultation with IWK, we know that a very small number of children will not be able to attend school. There are existing processes in place to deal with these rare situations. These students will receive learning materials at home. Those discussions will take place between families and their school.
For parents who feel the best place for their children is to learn from home they have the option to register for home schooling and will need to provide a description of the proposed program for their child. More information about home schooling is available at: https://www.ednet.ns.ca/homeschooling/
Justine Taylor Hyslop of Lower Sackville started homeschooling her 11-year-old twins today. She says her son has a weakened immune system, while her daughter has ADHD and needs more one-on-one attention. She already registered both for homeschooling, although she says the family made the decision to homeschool last minute.
“I didn’t feel that now is a good time to put them back in a normal public-school setting,” Taylor Hyslop says. “I didn’t want to take the risk this year.”
“The closer it got to school and the more I saw what the plan for school looked like I didn’t feel overly confident in there never being any risk of [COVID-19],” she says. “I don’t even know how they could accomplish that. I didn’t like rolling the dice with my kids knowing my son has such a weakened immune system, and the new standard of how they would go back to school and the new procedures would be overwhelming for my daughter.”
She says the family thought it over and everyone was excited about the idea, although she says learning the variety of styles seemed overwhelming, too. Taylor Hyslop is a stay-at-home parent and will do the teaching. Her husband works full time.
“It seemed like all of a sudden I needed to be a math teacher, an English teacher, a science teacher, a French teacher,” she says, “And that I needed to have all that knowledge.”
“It feels like such a daunting task, but at the same time I want to feel like I have the confidence to do it and others can, too. It seems monumental, but when you dig into it there are so many resources available, so many curriculums, so many varieties of how to teach your children, it definitely makes it a lot easier.”
They will follow a curriculum she created based on outcomes
required suggested* from the Department of Education, but they’ll include learning on personal interests, too, like the history of Indigenous people and African Nova Scotians, and the basics of budgeting, saving, and taxes. She expects they’ll do about three hours of school a day.
Sue and Jeff Healy of Dartmouth have been homeschooling their children since the eldest started Grade Primary five years ago. This year, three of their four children will be homeschooled; the oldest is now in Grade 4; the youngest Grade Primary. They say they had parents approach them in the spring asking for advice on homeschooling. Parents have been asking them for tips on everything from curriculum to registration.
“We took years planning this,” Jeff says. “I can’t imagine someone saying, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this,’ and having months to prepare.”
“I tried to assure people ‘don’t feel you need to do this and do it perfectly’,” Sue adds.
Jeff says he noticed two groups of parents who were considering homeschooling: there were those who chose homeschooling because of concerns around COVID-19; and there was another group who said they considered homeschooling for years, but COVID-19 was the push that made them finally decide to do it.
“I’ll be very curious to see when the Department of Education numbers come out to see the increase there and when COVID is gone see how many people keep going,” Jeff says. “I expect to see a spike this year, but in future years I expect to see a permanent, but small bump, in the numbers.”
The Healys started talking about homeschooling when their oldest was about two or three. Jeff does the curriculum planning and Sue does the teaching. They create their curriculum based on the book The Well-Trained Mind. They also use The Ordinary Parent’s Guide for Teaching Reading and Story of the World for history, as well as a couple different programs for spelling.
They register their children with the Department of Education every year. At the end of the year, the fill in another form on what the kids learned and their progress. They also reference Facebook groups like The Comedy of Errors for homeschoolers in Nova Scotia.
They start their day by 9am and try to get everything done by 2:30pm so the kids have playtime.
“It’s a lot of work,” Jeff says. It’s a lot more work than we expected, but it’s not as hard as we expected.”
Sue says the first month back to class at home can be rough.
“There is some resistance there because we just spent two months doing absolutely nothing, but flaking out on the beach,” Sue says. “Then you start to get into a groove and things fall into place and move faster. Give it a whirl and don’t judge on that first month.”
They are planning on homeschooling their kids until they graduate from high school, if it’s all working. Students who are homeschooled don’t get a high school diploma, but the parents are responsible for making their own transcripts and portfolios for their kids.
Acker-West says they will consider sending their son back to school when “things are normal” and students can play with friends and not need to wear masks.
“Even if things change significantly, but there are still some restrictions in place, but right now it’s just too much, I think,” she says.
She has advice for parents who are considering homeschooling this year.
“Find community,” she says. “Go online. Find the Facebook groups. I hate Facebook, but it’s been really good for this. There’s tonnes of stuff online. Get online and find your people.”
Like Acker-West, Taylor Hyslop says they’ll reassess in June and will make a decision about the next school year then. She says it will all depend on how their year of homeschooling has gone, but also what public schools look like for the 2020-2021 year.
“I will love be able to know if there were any COVID risks at school and how they handled it,” Taylor Hyslop says. “Definitely, how well they did in the public schools and how well we did at homeschooling.”
* Kimberly Charron, a “homeschooling coach,” contacted us to say the outcomes are only suggested, not required, by the Education Act.
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