CHILDREN | Nature’s Classroom

Distributed learners Sebastian, Hunter, Solomon, Kaeden, and Mackenzie practice their social studies, science, and construction skills during an average school day near Oliver Woods Park in Nanaimo. Photo: Kelly Davalos

Distributed learners Sebastian, Hunter, Solomon, Kaeden, and Mackenzie practice their social studies, science, and construction skills during an average school day near Oliver Woods Park in Nanaimo. Photo: Kelly Davalos

By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor of TheGreenGazette —

When September rolls around, many families head to the mall to stock up on school supplies, backpacks, and lunchboxes, not to mention the yearly closet full of clothing meant to help kick off a new school year with a sense of newness and a fresh start. Us? We go camping. There is really nothing like enjoying all the amenities of provincial campsites when there is barely a soul in sight.

Our kids look forward to this time of year and to the quiet, relaxed approach we take to fall. Our almost nine-year-old son attended Montessori preschool and kindergarten, and although he strolled confidently out of his kindergarten graduation with six years of hands to heart work under his belt, we just knew the traditional classroom wasn’t going to cut it for this little guy. My husband was a little sceptical of our options—continuing with Montessori was way out of our reach financially, and he was still a bit old school in thinking homeschoolers were basically either weirdos or fundamentalist Christians—and although he has nothing against either of those groups, he wasn’t exactly identifying with them either.

But in the end it was our son’s personality and learning style, my work-from-home career, and the sheer joy of fostering creativity, open-mindedness, and passion in the learning process that helped us decide to keep our son home. (I’m not even sure “keeping him home” is the right phrase, because he’s never been as relieved in his life as he was to hear he wasn’t going to have to brave “that great big building with all those kids and stuff on the walls.”)

Everyone has their reasons for their learning at home choices, and be they learning challenges, flexible schedules, the desire for specialty curriculum, weirdness, or religion, the growing number of families who cherish the choice are finding it’s a real plus living in BC.

British Columbia is the only province that has retained a section in its education act to allow real, actual “homeschooling” in the truest sense of the word. Under sections 12 and 13 of the School Act of 1989, BC parents have the legal right to provide an educational program of their choice for their children. This means the parents create, deliver, and assess the program, if there is one, and the students are not required to meet any progress requirements. Homeschoolers have to be registered with a BC certified school, but this essentially helps the province keep track of what children are in what place. Homeschooling families aren’t offered a great deal of support or resources although they do receive a small funding amount that would normally go to the school a child was attending.

In 2006, the BC government enacted Bill 33, which made Distributed Learning programs part of the School Act. Under DL programs students are enrolled in a private or public school somewhere in BC, from which they receive resources, support, and overseeing guidance from a BC certified teacher. DL programs can be as traditional as your neighbourhood school district’s government mandated curriculum completed at the kitchen table and graded by a school teacher, or as flexible as Self Design, in which parents are encouraged to help students and teachers decide on a learning plan for the year under which the student’s abilities are demonstrated in ways that reflect his or her interests. DL families receive a larger portion of funding that can be used for materials and supplemental classes or instruction.

Homeschoolers relish in the freedom to learn from life, to pursue passion in everything from community engagement to video games. Their “programs” are essentially about interacting with the world and learning life skills as their parents offer (or not). Their core principles are often curiosity, fulfilment, responsibility, and play, and skills are often learned through work experience, mentoring, elective classes, and books.

DL programs are better suited for families who like some structure, but who still appreciate a student and family centered program. Flexibility and student-focused are the keys here, in that a student who struggles with handwriting or math may be able to act out, sing about, or sculpt his language assignments or use manipulatives to express her math skills, for instance. Children are encouraged to follow their interests and obsessions with particular projects or subjects, all while being evaluated and supervised to some degree by a BC certified teacher.

In our case, we went with our local school district’s Learn @ Home program, which uses the province’s learning outcomes objectives, but allows a great deal of flexibility in how students meet the objectives. Ours is also one of a handful in BC considered a hybrid DL program in that students are offered three, six-week-long blocks of on-site classes at a local school, taught by L@H-employed, BC certified teachers. The classes are for L@H students only and cover basic subjects like math, language, science, and phys ed, catering more or less to the structure and social components of the school experience. Most of all, it simultaneously met my desire for creative, open education for our son, and my husband’s desire that our son experience structure and interacting with teachers and other students in a traditional way.

This fall when the leaves are falling and the air is crisp, enjoy not just the change in seasons, but also the quiet and bounty of nature’s classroom. I know we will.

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