Although my kids have been homeschooled since kindergarten, the last few years have seen my workload as homeschooling parent diminish significantly as the kids began attending therapeutic day programs (“learning centres”). It has been probably three or four years since I’ve played an active role in their education. But as of this year, my role has been renewed.
Although they have been enrolled in the same provincially-funded homeschool program from the beginning, this year Mira* began the high school program (Grade 10). This is a huge change from the K-9 program, and reflects the brand new curriculum adopted in our province this year. I’ll talk more about our experience with the new curriculum in a subsequent post (spoiler: I’m loving it!). This post is about my renewed duties as a homeschooling parent, and how much I’m enjoying it.
During the elementary learning years, I used a very free approach to learning (thus the name of this blog) that some might call “unschooling”. It was basically a child-led approach to learning, where I simply followed the kids’ natural interests. My job was to ensure they had access to resources, learning experiences, and materials to help them fully explore their subject of interest. In later years, I adopted Lori Pickert’s Project Based Homeschooling approach. “Project Time”, as we called it, was a prescribed time of day when the kids would get my undivided attention for a more focussed examination of their topics of interest, encouraging them to think of what they were doing as learning and to be a bit more self-reflective of that process. But mostly, our homeschooling approach was pretty hands-off in terms of work on my part. I just showed up and facilitated – there were no lesson plans or homework, and the only tests were the required standardized tests given in Grades 4 and 7.
However, now that my eldest is in the high school program, we are following a much more structured approach to learning. The program is based entirely online, and each week Mira is given a list of tasks and assignments to complete. Most of the Grade 10 coursework takes place within a “Themed Workshop”, a place where kids can explore the various “core competencies” (what we used to know as “prescribed learning outcomes”) within a topic that is of particular interest to them. They offer a large selection of Themes to suit every interest, from Music to Video Games, from Animals to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There are also separate courses for Math and an Elective.
Because Mira has executive functioning deficits, she finds it difficult to organize her work and to break down complex instructions into a clear path of specific tasks. The format of the high school program is really neat, but it does take some getting used to. Sometimes I have to play around with the learning materials to figure out exactly what they are asking the kids to do and which materials are mandatory, optional, or recommended. And because this was the first year of this program, there was a huge learning curve for the parents, learners, and teachers. There were several hiccups at first, and some tweaks were made over the first two terms (there are 4 terms in the academic year), but things are running smoothly now.
Through trial and error, Mira and I developed a system whereby each week I write out a list of tasks for her, broken down over the four days she attends the learning centre. These tasks are drawn directly from her course assignments and the learning materials that go with them (videos, quizzes, articles, etc). She gets academic time twice per day at the learning centre, which is when she works through her list. Most of the assignments and learning materials she is able to work on herself at the learning centre. But there are some that are a bit too complex for her to do on her own, and so these we do together at home where I can mentor her (note: the learning centre is a therapeutic program for homeschooled kids with autism and related disabilities; although they offer time for academic work, it is not staffed by teachers – the main emphasis of the program is on social skills and related therapies).
The process of sharing and documenting her work is also somewhat complex, and I have taken on the task of doing that as well. The goal is for her to slowly take on more and more of this work, but since she is brand new to the concept of assignments and deadlines for homework, we are taking this one step at a time.
I cannot emphasize enough just how much I am enjoying my new role as homeschooling parent! The learning platform is really engaging, and I’m so impressed with how well they have put the lessons together. I really enjoy creating her list each weekend, and checking in with her throughout the week to see how she is progressing. On weekends we take some time to wrap up loose ends, or work on any assignments she needs help with. It has been really fun to engage directly with her about her learning – like the old days – but the topics are more diverse and I love getting to see and hear her insights into the subject matter.
She has really poured her heart into this program, even though it has been a huge adjustment for her. The work load is a massive change from her previous learning experiences. At times she felt overwhelmed, but she kept at it and she is improving in leaps and bounds with each term. I’ve also discovered that she thrives on the structure, while also benefitting from the freedom of expression that is an integral part of the new curriculum.
With this new program, my work load has increased, too. I would say I am now devoting several hours a week to tracking her work, reviewing the assignments, creating the lists, working with her on specific assignments, creating new assignments from the supplementary materials they provide (when students need to catch up on certain topics), and then the weekly reporting and uploading of all her work to the online portfolios for each course. But I am just loving it – best job ever! I am so grateful that I get to be this involved with my child’s learning journey.
And, I can’t wait for my other child to start! In fact, even though Luka is only in Grade 8, I have plans to start creating assignments for him along the same format as the high school program, using the supplemental materials library provided to all learners. If I don’t get to it by the end of this year, I will for sure be doing it for Grade 9. This will hopefully save him a bit of the learning curve when he gets to Grade 10, but I’ve also seen what a great tool this is for allowing me to better assess their learning. By working with Luka ahead of time, I’ll be able to identify any gaps in his learning and do some supplementary work so that he is ready for high school when the time comes. I also just enjoy it so much that I’d like to be able to engage with him in the same way as I’m engaging with his sister. It has been a great confidence booster for Mira to see her progress and get feedback, and I think Luka would benefit from that as well. It’s also a nice way to connect with my teenagers!
* For many years now in this blog, I have referred to my two children using the pseudonyms “Miss Em” for my girl and “Mr. Boo” for my boy. These are based on baby names I used to call them as infants and toddlers, and they don’t seem appropriate anymore given they are teenagers now! Therefore, I decided to assign them new pseudonyms. I chose the names that my husband and I had first chosen for our future kids, way back when we were first talking about getting engaged. In the end, we went with different names, but I thought they would be a good choice for my blog. Although I’m not one of those people who fear the Internet and the lack of privacy that comes with it, I believe that my children have the right to choose for themselves how public they wish to be.