While thousands of children across the region are settling into their classrooms, meeting their teachers and making new friends, the homeschooling community is also gearing up for another year of learning.
On Sept. 11, the North Peace Home Educators Association celebrated the start of the school year with a Kickoff Barbecue at Matthews Park in Fort St. John, where kids dangled from monkey bars, played in amongst the trees and literally bounced off the walls of a giant inflatable castle.
The annual kickoff event is just one of many social activities the homeschoolers enjoy throughout the school year, co-ordinated to help students who learn at home have the social interactions they need.
“Once we went to a farm where me and my little brother and my older brother made a sheep farming association, where a few of us would go out and grab some long grass and bring it back and we’d feed everything,” said Connor Soule.
“We actually got the llamas to come over.”
Homeschooling is a popular choice in the Peace region, with 96 families — roughly 300 kids — having registered last year with the North Peace Home Educators Association (NPEA).
Joining the association, which is primarily a social club that plans regular get-togethers, is optional. There are likely families in the region who are not part of it, explained Jackie Soule, chairman of the NPEA.
While parents that choose homeschooling all desire to be in charge their child’s learning, the reasons for making that decision varies from family to family.
For Soule, a standard classroom education was never an option. Her kids have never gone to public school.
“We do it to avoid government’s opinions on our child’s education . . . we want to be in control of what they’re learning, and what schedule they learn it on,” she said.
In other cases, parents have risen to the challenge of homeschooling to help a child who struggles with bullying or has learning disabilities, and isn’t getting the help they need in the public system.
“My oldest daughter, she needed help in math and comprehension, and she wasn’t getting far along at the public school,” explained Julia Haggstrom. “Plus, we ended up moving out of town, so it made for long days. They would get up too early for my liking, and come home too late.”
This will be the third year of homeschooling for Haggstrom, who teaches her younger son from home.
Although her daughter’s grades rose from C-minuses to A’s under the careful direction of her mother, there was too much that she missed about the classroom experience.
“We actually sent her to public school now because she missed the social aspect, and we just want to give her that chance to see if that’s what she would like to continue doing,” Haggstrom said. “She misses the sports activities and the people, assemblies and teachers and all that, and I don’t want to take that away from her.”
Maureen Sharp is another mother who stepped in when she saw her two sons, both autistic, struggling in the classroom.
Although she describes both of her boys as high functioning and very bright, they were having trouble being accepted by their peers.
“We couldn’t get a handle on the bullying, so we pulled them out and decided to home school,” Sharp explained.
At home and with a self-directed education model, her sons are now thriving, excelling in computer programming and robotics.
There are many different ways of homeschooling. Some parents set up a kind of classroom or kids’ office in the house and follow the standard curriculum while others live life a little more freely, and take the opportunities of learning that arise from day to day.
Although Sharp never wanted or planned to be a homeschooling parent, it’s a system that is working well for everyone. Her kids, she said, come first.
“I know for my one son, I just don’t want him to have to try and assimilate and change everything he is just to fit in,” she said. “Let’s just say your son likes My Little Pony. That’s a problem if he’s going to be bullied for that. This is my way of not making their sparkle go out.”