Friday, February 18, 2011

My Homeschooling Journey - The Beginning

We thought about homeschooling when our oldest was only a toddler. I had this idea that I would find like-minded friends with children of similar ages and we would share the load. Take turns, teach the children things that we were interested in and then have some free time to ourselves as well. As Sofie got closer to school age, my thoughts had moved on, I looked at various schooling options and then registered her for French Immersion.

During Sofie’s Kindergarten year, my husband took a job in Australia, which meant Sofie would miss about 7 months of school. I wasn’t concerned, as it was kindergarten, and it wasn’t even mandatory. Sofie finished the last few months of kindergarten in Canada after an amazing trip away. We learned so much on our trip that I wasn’t concerned about how she measured up to the rest of the class on numbers and letters.

The last few weeks of the year were quite trying. Though Sofie enjoyed herself when she was at school, each day I had to convince her to go. And then, an end of the year bike safety assembly left Sofie never wanting to return to school, or ride a bike for that matter. In the summer we took an art class run by an amazing woman who was homeschooling her two daughters. These young girls were so bright, so confident, so well adjusted; I just couldn’t help thinking about the possibilities of homeschooling Sofie. Around that time Sam was offered another contract in Australia, a short one, he could go alone or we could pull Sofie out of school and we could go with him.

I looked into the different ways of homeschooling and found out about distributed learning. I researched a few programs and settled on a program called SelfDesign. I liked the philosophy of learner-directed and enthusiasm based learning, and the educational funding was appealing also. We knew a wonderful woman whom we often visited at Kidsbooks in Vancouver and it turned out she was a Learning Consultant with SelfDesign. It just seemed as if everything was falling into place. We registered for our year away from School and got started on learning outside of the classroom.

When Sofie finished her first year of home learning, we were in Australia and her sister Jane was due to begin school. I took the girls down to the local school, began the registration process and ordered uniforms. That night at home Sam and I talked, it just didn’t seem right, the girls were flourishing outside of a schooling environment and we really were enjoying SelfDesign. I called the school the next morning and cancelled the uniforms; we were now officially home learners, not just travelers whose children weren’t attending school.

Sofie is now entering her seventh year with SelfDesign and now Jane and Jack are enrolled as well. We have had the same learning consultant all along, except for the year that she was on maternity leave. I like that she is familiar with our family and our children and she knows their interests and learning styles.

SelfDesign is an independent online home learning program, funded by the BC Ministry of education. Part of the requirement in enrolling is a weekly report of Observing for Learning as well as a log of 25 hours of learning (pretty easy to reach when you look at all the learning opportunities around us). There are also 3 seasonal reports that require a greater in-depth look at what your child has been learning. As long as you maintain timely reporting, SelfDesign provides $1122 per student per year for learning expenses incurred through out that year. This comes in the form of a preloaded Visa card that is loaded 3 times during the year. Another requirement is that your child will participate in the government FSA testing in grade 4 and 7.

I sometimes find the reporting can be a bit onerous, but if I keep myself on schedule and don’t get behind, it really doesn’t take a lot of time, and it is a nice reflection on what we have done in the past week.

One of the reasons I enrolled in the first place was that as a fledgling home educator I felt the need for some accountability to myself and I liked a permanent record being created if my children were to return to a traditional school at some point.

We have over the years tried a number of curriculums as well as learning styles and for now I have scrapped the kitchen table ‘school’ time in lieu of finding the learning in everyday situations. We play lots of music, make lots of art and do lots of reading.

And at the end of the week, I jot down what we have done and send it off to our LC to glean the learning outcomes. If you were to take my children and measure them up with the ‘bricks and mortar’ school measuring stick, they would fall behind in some areas and stride ahead in others but at the end of the day, I am so proud of my children and the people they are becoming and I wouldn’t change a moment of it for anything.

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