When Mandy Ford’s two youngest sons began home learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to keep it up as schools reopened. The Edson resident who grew up in Fort McMurray is one of thousands of families that have chosen to keep homeschooling their children since the pandemic began.
Alberta Education says 24,417 children were homeschooled during the 2020-21 academic year, nearly doubling the 13,558 children during the 2019-20 academic year. These numbers count children following a homeschooling program, not students who did at-home learning because COVID-19 left them with no other option.
Ford’s youngest son, James, 10, has autism. Her 17-year old son Elijah is completing his high school diploma at home while taking part-time technical classes. Ford said the pandemic made her family reflect on what kind of education they wanted for their youngest child.
“In the back of our minds, we thought that once he got to a certain age we would probably switch him to homeschool as it would just make more sense for him,” said Ford, who also has two adult children that help with lesson plans. “COVID gave us the push to do that and he has blossomed in a big way.”
Alberta Homeschooling Association president Judy Arnall said a common theme heard from new homeschooling families during the pandemic were feelings of disconnect with current curriculums. Arnall said parents often need their confidence built to make the decision to homeschool.
“Most parents can teach up to Grade 8 level without teaching manuals,” said Arnall. “There are a lot of stereotypes out there that kids don’t socialize while homeschooling, when in fact it’s a better experience because they get more diversity.”
Darryl Hunter, an associate professor of education at the University of Alberta, agrees the pandemic has fuelled Alberta’s homeschooling numbers. But, he disagrees homeschooling offers more educational and social variety to children compared to a school environment.
“They have many more options than they would at home. There are a number of skills that are learned in a team environment that are difficult to replicate in the home,” said Hunter.
Alberta offers two streams for homeschooling. There is supervised homeschooling, which is a home education program monitored by a public, Catholic or Francophone school board. Then there is non-supervised homeschooling, which is not eligible for funding from Alberta Education. Parents have until Sept. 30 to decide if they are going to homeschool for this academic year.
Ford follows the curriculum set out by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools. She reports to a facilitator and receives $850 annually for expenses, including printing, books and swim classes.
Fort McMurray resident Kristy Laidlaw began homeschooling her children after Alberta Education revised its mathematics curriculum in 2014. Her four children have grown up homeschooled. She balances homeschooling with a part-time job as a courier. She also runs a Facebook group that coordinates social and educational activities with other local homeschooling families.
“We’ve had classes at the Discovery Centre, we’ve done tours of the fire hall and the recycling facility,” said Laidlaw. “And my kids are more comfortable interacting with all ages and all spectrums, instead of just feeling uncomfortable talking to people older and younger than they are.”