Friday, January 13, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Homeschooling. It's Serious Stuff.

 When my children's science lessons take the form of sitting on the chesterfield, watching streaming videos of NASA rockets launch, they are benefiting from the political strife of the 19th and early 20th century and from the philosophy that Canada is a mosaic, not a melting pot. Homeschooling is legal in Canada because of legislation (ie the Manitoba Act) that protected the rights of early Canadians to access education in accordance with their religious and cultural heritage (namely English/Protestant or French/Catholic). Today the right to homeschool is guaranteed by the federal government, but education (including homeschooling) is regulated by provincial and territorial governments.

Deciding to homeschool is a big deal. It can be an overwhelming choice to make.  It's actually just the first decision in a long line of decisions that you'll make.

If you're Canadian and you're going to homeschool, the absolutely first thing to do is enter "department of education" and the name of your province into a search engine. I apologize for not posting the actual links to all thirteen education ministries, but with the rate government sites are overhauled, the links would all be dead within a few weeks. There are a few things you must check out:
– the legal requirements for homeschooling, ie writing a letter to your local school district, submitting forms, meeting regularly with a representative from the department
– the amount of support offered to homeschoolers. Contrary to the attitude created in popular media, the government is very supportive of homeschooling. There may be funding, programs, or curriculum available. You might be permitted access to the school's gym equipment or supply cabinet or be invited to participate in special presentations and events.
– determine how your homeschooled child might access counselling services, speech or occupational therapists, etc.
– the documents spelling out the educational goals that the provincial government has set for each grade. These might be describe as curriculum goals, prescribed learning outcomes, or education objectives.

The latter documents will be geared toward use by teachers, but they're vital when picking curriculum. Your family might not always have the financial or emotional wherewithal to homeschool. The smooth re-integration of your child into a bricks-and-mortar school is NOT a trifling detail and I recommend keeping your child on equal footing with his peer group, as much as possible. If nothing else, look at the sections on math and language arts. Familiarity with these educational bench marks will also be helpful if you begin to suspect your child has a developmental delay that must be treated quickly.

When you've got a grasp on these somewhat dull, nitty-gritty details you'll be ready to look at buying curriculum. Here are things to keep in mind…
– kindergarten today is more academically intense than kindergarten ten or fifteen years ago. It reverberates through subsequent grades, and your own memories of school won't jive with the new reality
– the current trend is to emphasize literature-based education at an earlier ages Your children will be expected to write sooner and with greater proficiency than you and your peers.
– foreign produced curriculum doesn't always correlate to Canadian standards. For kindergarten, I bought Klaxon the first set of Singapore Math books. The books that were sold in Canada as Kindergarten level, but were sold as Early Pre-School in American markets. I believe in Singapore they were marketed as Pre-Natal workbooks.
– be careful when ordering curriculum from the US. Translating worksheets and lessons into SI gets old fast. The sections on counting money are completely useless. Your child will be frustrated when texts assume a familiarity with US geography and history that they lack.
– sometimes books that are labelled science are really propaganda generated or inspired by the Discovery Institute with the aim of mis-educating people about real science. Familiarize yourself with the lingo and double-speak employed by this movement. Also be aware that Intelligent Design™ is NOT the same as theistic evolution.

I have made no bones about my complete lack of patience with the push by certain Christian sects to demonize scientific knowledge. I struggle not only to keep these books out of my house, but also with whether or not I will financially support homeschool supply stores who support this agenda. Generally I do not. However, I do deal with the Canadian Home Education Resource store for  language arts, social studies and Painted Lady Butterfly pupa in the springtime.

I buy most of our reference books and programs from or Chapters-Indigo. If time permits I order in titles via a small independent bookstore in the nearest big city. For information about grade-appropriate texts, I recommend a visit to the Sonlight site. Poke around for inspiration. Same thing for the Calvert school site. I'd love to buy more science kits from the Steve Spangler store. But shipping from the US is cost-prohibitive, and there are many similar products on Mastermind Toys.

And this concludes the driest post I hope to ever write. To reward you for making it to the end, I present the men of Leverage...

Le sigh.

• • • •

This is my second post in a series about homeschooling in Canada. I promise the next post won't be so dry. In that installment I'm going to name drop some of my favourite titles for text books, work books, read alouds and reference material. Plus list manipulatives that have been useful to our family.


  1. I have no intention of homeschooling, nor do I live in Canada, and I would not call this post dry. And I read it all.

    I think it's great that you are sharing what you've learned. Most people have no idea where to start. That, and sheesh, it's a lot to figure out! I'm not surprised, teaching is a really challenging career and it was even more challenging to get certified, so it stands to reason that it would be even more so to do all of it from home.

  2. @Omaha Mama -- People who disrespect the work of teachers should be forced to look up the prescribed learning outcomes (especially for upper grades) for their kids' grades. It's amazing what teachers need to keep in mind when planning and creating curriculum. I'm aware that what I do in my home is NOTHING like what you do in the classroom. Teaching two clever children, using curriculum created by others is NOT always a walk in the park, but nor does it really parallel the hard work and planning that REAL teachers go through when starting from scratch, with 25+ students with different backgrounds, skills, & attitudes.

  3. Although I have no intention of formally homeschooling my children (and I cannot begin to express the levels of awe and admiration I have for the families that do), I find your posts about how to do so just fascinating.

    Also, I would just like to share my American reaction to your part about frustration over American references that your children won't have:
    "Really?? Oh..."

  4. Pre-natal workbooks. HaHaHa. I find this fascinating and while I don't homeschool in the formal sense I think of it as my duty to supplement and enhance in as many ways possible.

    I am in awe of teachers, at school, home or otherwise.

  5. Oh thank you thank you thank you!

    (the homeschooling stuff was interesting too).