The year the world turned upside-down
Homeschooling was honestly something I had never seriously considered. My husband and I both grew up in the public school system and we are raising our kids in an area with great schools and lots of options. While it wasn't always perfectly smooth-sailing we were pretty happy with the experience our school-aged kids were having in public school and they had the added advantage of attending a Spanish bilingual program, which is something we highly valued. But then 2020 happened, and like so many other parents, we were forced to make tough decisions amidst rapidly-changing conditions and with very limited information. In the spring our kids' school switched to distance learning and we, along with so many other families around the globe, got our first taste of at-home learning. Firstly, let me state with clarity that the pandemic-era distance learning we all suddenly experienced was NOT homeschooling, but whatever it was, and despite the best efforts of wonderful teachers, it was such a struggle and something I didn't want to put our family through again. When Fall rolled around, I had spent most of the summer agonizing over what to do and felt like there was no ideal solution.
Into the unknown
In my mind, distance learning was not a real option for our family. Although I knew a lot had likely changed since the spring, the rigidity of a pre-determined schedule, and lots of time spent sitting in front of a screen, was not going to work for our two school-aged kids, not to mention the two toddlers I had underfoot. I also wasn't comfortable with the idea of sending my kids back to their school with all the uncertainty, new rules and the possibility of repeated closures or quarantines. Notifying their beloved school that we would not be returning was really difficult for me and came with the knowledge that they may not be able to re-enroll later on because they would be missing out on the intense language instruction that we would have a hard time keeping up with at home. What helped us make the decision really came down to the fact that I was a stay-at-home mom and had the ability to be with my kids. We felt that the stability of homeschool could provide a healthy buffer for our children from all the uncertainty that was so present at that time. We know it was a privileged position to be in when so many other families didn't have the luxury of choice. Ultimately we decided to go for it and took a dive into the unknown.
How we got started
When everything else feels so outside of your control, sometimes all you can do is bury yourself in research haha. I spent hours online reading about different homeschooling approaches, curriculums and how things worked on my local level. Homeschooling regulations vary widely, but where we live in Alberta Canada, you have the option of enrolling your children with a homeschool board and being assigned a Home Education Manager (HEM). Your school board takes care of the paperwork required by the province and connects you to the available funding you can use to purchase curriculum and other resources and your HEM is a certified teacher who is there to help support you and provide any needed direction. In Alberta there are three types of programs you can choose from- Home Education (traditional homeschooling), Distance Education (which we knew we didn't want to do) and Shared Responsibility, which is when the parent teaches some of the subjects and a school teaches the others. Since we wanted to have as much control and stability as possible, we chose traditional homeschooling. This was both comforting and terrifying. We could do whatever we wanted, but also...what would that even look like?
If you're new to, or just considering homeschooling in Alberta, my biggest advice would be to lean on your HEM and let them guide you through the process of creating your Home Education Plan. We have had the same HEM since we started and she has been such a comfort and incredible resource as we navigate our homeschooling journey each year. What feels overwhelming at first can be exciting. Realizing I didn't need to immediately invest in expensive boxed curriculum for every subject and could change course when needed really helped ease some of the stress I was feeling. We didn't need to try to replicate what they would be doing in school, we could follow my children's interests and our family's values.
What homeschooling looked like for us our first year
When we started homeschooling in the Fall of 2020, a lot of the things that homeschoolers usually participate in were not options for us. Meetup groups were on hold, museums were largely closed and a lot of sport programs were still not running. Social interaction is a big part of homeschooling life for many families and we definitely wished for that our first year. What was being promoted at the time, however, were cohorts- or small groups of people who gathered together but were otherwise keeping their distance from others. We created a cohort with another homeschooling family and spent the fall getting together for hikes, playdates and projects. Our families celebrated Thanksgiving and Halloween together and it really filled a need for connection for both the children and for us as adults during an otherwise lonely time. As fall turned into winter, case numbers increased and cohorts were no longer encouraged. We spent the rest of the school year mostly doing our own thing and learning a lot in the process. We continued with the math and reading curriculums that worked well for our boys. We held a mock election, did winter hikes and went sledding and ice-skating, created stop-motion videos with Lego and made soda bread on St. Patrick's Day. We planted a garden and played boardgames. As things re-opened at limited capacity, we visited the zoo and Science Centre. It wasn't everything that homeschooling could be, but it worked for us and our children grew and learned in new ways. We moved at our own pace and followed our own interests. It was a sweet spot during a very difficult year.
What homeschooling looks like for us 3 years later
Fast forward to Fall 2022 and life is back to "normal" in many meaningful ways. What started as a tenuous decision during a fraught time has become something that continues to evolve with our family as we learn and grow. We now attend weekly meetups with other homeschool families and the kids are back in sports and other activities that were previously unavailable. Through all three school years we've continued the tradition of kicking off the first day of school with a "fieldtrip", this year going to the site of a 1903 rockslide in Frank, Alberta and exploring beautiful Waterton. In addition to the traditional curriculum we use, my oldest is taking an online paleobiology class and we go swimming at our local rec center weekly. Some other highlights are lots of outdoor time, our Tuesday Poetry and Teatime, Spanish studies, library trips, our monthly units learning about different countries and holidays and our read-alouds.
We started homeschooling when it felt like there were no good options available and now it is something that we continue to choose among many other alternatives. I always say that we'll take this one year at a time, I don't know that we will homeschool forever. Homeschooling was never in the plans but homeschooling has taught me to let go of a lot of the plans I had and instead greet each year, and day, as it comes.