Homelearning in New Westminster

At the homeschool resource centre, kids benefit from classroom resources and special group activities. Photo: Colleen Baird.
At the homeschool resource centre, kids benefit from classroom resources and special group activities. Photo: Colleen Baird.

The decision to homeschool is a difficult one. For me, it was like a mental tennis game, I volleyed back and forth between the conviction that it was the right thing to do and the certainty that I would ruin my child’s life if I did it.

I tortured myself for weeks before settling into a more reasonable frame of mind. I decided that we would try homeschooling for kindergarten then reassess. After all, school enrollment isn’t required until a child is six. At the tender age of four, I had time to undo any awfulness my homeschooling might inflict on my child.

There were many reasons behind our choice. My son has terrible anxiety, and he was ill far more often than your average child. I had also started educating myself about HOW children learn. And, as we all know, our province’s school system is underfunded and falling apart. In the end, full time school just wasn’t right for him and it wasn’t right for our family.

Colleen's boys play logic games as part of their educational activities. Photo: Colleen Baird.
Colleen’s boys play logic games as part of their educational activities. Photo: Colleen Baird.

Once you make the big decision to homelearn, you are then faced with many, many more choices. In the province of B.C., all children are required to be enrolled in either a brick-and-mortar school, as a Distance Learner (DL) or registered as a Section 12 Homeschooler. It’s important to educate yourself about your legal rights as a homelearner. The BC Homelearners Association is a great resource for this.

As a Section 12 Homeschooler, you are free from government interference. You can choose your curriculum, and you do not have to follow the province’s Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs). You do not even have to do any reporting or testing. You are truly free to approach education in the way you see fit for your family.

I can now see a great benefit to this. Although I do not have experience being a Sec 12 family, I really only see two drawbacks; you do not get any funding from the government to supplement educational costs (although your district still draws $275) and you have to do all of the leg-work and carry the expenses required to get your child into groups and programs. Freedom from government interference trumps those drawbacks for many people, however, and I can certainly see why.

Spending more time in nature is another perk of homeschooling. Photo: Colleen Baird.
Spending more time in nature is another perk of homeschooling. Photo: Colleen Baird.

We decided to enroll as Distance Learners with the New Westminster Homelearners’ Program (NWHLP) – soon to be known as Homelearners at Hume. We chose this route because I felt that I needed the support and guidance of a teacher and wanted the safety of a built-in community.

There are many DL programs available to homelearning families, and you are free to choose any program that fits your needs. You are not restricted to your local district; you can register with any DL in the province.

A great benefit of being in a DL is that your child draws funding from the province and is given an allotment to use for educational materials and field trips. Our $600 (funding was cut from $1000 last year) has helped our single-income family purchase material, but we always have additional out-of-pocket expenses.

An additional (but maybe theoretical) benefit to a DL is that your child will have access to the supports provided by the district such as special education assistants and school counsellors. Should you need these supports, my advice to you is to research every DL, pick those that seem to provide what your child needs and reach out to parents to find out what the actual experience is like.

Just because your child needs and deserves something from the district, doesn’t mean that he or she will receive it. Here at New West Homelearners, we’ve suffered through the loss of our Child & Youth Care Worker. It’s an unfortunate situation that has had a negative impact on some of our families. The lack of an education assistant or Youth Care Worker is the only complaint I have about our New West Homelearners program, which does not reflect on the school, but rather on our underfunded system.

When my son started kindergarten, I was perhaps as anxious and lost as he was. I’m a shy person and take some time to become comfortable in new situations, so spending time in a new place, with new people was very intimidating. I can only imagine how some of our children feel at the beginning of a new school year!

The staff at NWHLP is amazing at making each family feel welcome. I got to know each teacher and administrator quickly because they are so gifted at making families feel included at the learning center. The teachers welcomed me into the classroom when my son needed me, they allowed my youngest to participate in some activities (when he was cooperating) and included him in the yearbook, which has helped foster a relationship that will make his transition to Kindergarten a happy experience.

The layout and atmosphere of the school encourages parents and siblings to come and go as they need, getting some work done while their child is in class, perusing the library for material to use at home or just having a coffee and chat in the kitchen. I’ve made some wonderful friends there, as have my children.

I feel like we’ve had a close to ideal situation, and stumbled into that village that we all crave. I have the unique and enviable position of spending eight hours a week with my son’s friends. I get to know their likes and dislikes, their quirks and strengths, their temperaments and their needs in a way that I wouldn’t in a more conventional school setting.

NWHLP provides my son with a safe, inclusive social environment and time with older children who model very thoughtful, accepting ways. The students all get some academic time with the teachers, which varies according to age and abilities. This year, Kieran had a Words & Numbers class that he enjoyed, a Destination Imagination class that kept him engaged and encouraged him to problem solve with small groups, a PE class and Centres.

In addition to the regular classes offered, the learning center brings in mentors from outside of the school to provide the kids with some stellar arts programs. In grade one Kieran was lucky enough to experience a percussion class with Robyn Lane who was also homeschooled as a child and now travels with his bands, presents workshops through Art Starts and is also an instructor at The Sarah McLachlan School of Music. He thoroughly enjoyed drama class with a woman I truly admire, Stefanie Swinnard, owner of The Stage New West. I credit this class with much of Kieran’s success breaking out of his comfort zone this year. He was also fortunate enough to take a wonderful expressive art class with art therapist Kim Chiem. He’s experienced a range of programs that I couldn’t offer him on my own, time developing trusting relationships with other adults and experience with peers who encourage individuality.

There have been highs and lows during the last two years, many moments of fear and some of affirmation. I’ve experienced the inevitable self-doubt and the occasional moment of certainty, but something that I have felt since the beginning is gratitude.

I’m grateful that I can offer my children the time and space to grow, the freedom to really explore their loves and the flexibility to change our schedule if we feel inspired by something. I am grateful that their time outdoors is not limited and that we spend plenty of time in nature, exploring, gaining appreciation for our land and sparking the desire to care for it. Most of all I’m grateful for the time I get to spend with them, the new ways I come to understand them as they learn and grow and the many things I’ve learned about myself along the way.

2 Replies to “Homelearning in New Westminster”

  1. Very well written article on the HL program. Our son has been going there for 3 years now and I can't imagine a more perfect balance of learning & socializing.

  2. I enjoyed your post. A very personal but very descriptive article.

    I particularly liked the caption to the photo you chose: “Spending more time in nature is another perk of homeschooling”. With the rural and wild areas around us, and the scads of passionate people living and working within them, our area provides so much opportunity for education, immersion and interpretation. A great classroom!

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