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Bringing the classroom home

We have all had to adjust since COVID-19 pandemic began, but students and parents, in particular, have had to adapt to a new reality as March school closures brought educating to the home.

We have all had to adjust since COVID-19 pandemic began, but students and parents, in particular, have had to adapt to a new reality as March school closures brought educating to the home. As the situation continues to impact daily life, Airdrionians may be considering making the move to home education permanent. Whether parents plan to take the reins and take charge of teaching their child’s curriculum or continue to work with the school board through online or blended learning (partially at school and partially at home), there are several things to consider before taking the plunge and creating a home classroom.

“You can homeschool successfully in a tiny apartment, a spacious mansion or anywhere in between,” write the Alberta Home Schooling Association’s (AHSA) Judy Arnall and Laila Maul-Kozlowski.

The authors maintain, “homeschooling should be fun and educational, not a slog to ‘get through the material.’” They suggest a level of flexibility and acknowledge you may need to “toss anything that is not pleasant or intriguing.” Educating at home may mean a bit of trial and error to determine what works best for your students.

Essentially, all you need for a home classroom is a work area with a good-sized flat surface, comfortable seating, adequate lighting and storage space. (If your child is participating in online learning, they will require access to a laptop or tablet and a connection to the Internet.) However, before deciding what to include in the study area, parents need to consider their child’s age and needs.

AHSA said students in preschool and kindergarten learn best through “play, experimentation and discovery,” and that best practices for home educating “dictate that learning comes through free-play-based activities that are child-led.” This means the traditional idea of students sitting at desks and working independently will not work well for children aged five or less. Instead, parents are encouraged to play with the student and allowing the child to decide how and what to play.

According to Arnall’s Professional Parenting Canada, physically-interactive items to include in a classroom for preschool children can include sand tables, paint and other art supplies, playdough, blocks, dolls and dollhouses, cars or trains, building toys, dress-up toys and puppets. As some of these items bring with them the potential for mess, choosing a classroom area with a washable floor is a good idea. Other key spaces for this age include a reading area with lots of books and a quiet space to help an overwhelmed student calm down.

In Alberta, kindergarten is a voluntary program and, according to Arnall, “The Grade 1 curriculum starts at knowledge level zero.” AHSA recommends a kindergarten classroom also be set up to encourage play-based learning, “…while [also encouraging] learning social skills needed for success in Grade 1, which is more formal.”

Students in grades 1 to 6, according to AHSA, do much of their learning through “experiential learning activities such as baking, board games, puzzles and Internet games.” Study areas for these grades should include a comfortable space to read with your child and a surface on which to practice writing and math skills, a large whiteboard or chalkboard, bookcases and – if accessing the Internet – a computer/tablet.

Another great way to explore experiential learning is to take the classroom outdoors to discover the science in gardening, nature walks and field trips to a science centre or zoo. Similarly, social studies can be explored through trips to a museum, attending a play or film or travel to historical sites.

“…Because you are in a flexible home environment, you can use more hands-on, experiential activities to teach about subject matter topics,” AHSA said. “For example, to learn about boats and buoyancy, you can fill the bathtub and have your child test what items are floaters and sinkers.”

If your home-educated child spends most of their day engaged in “play” activities in grades 1 to 6, AHSA said not worry as this, too, is a form of learning.

“They are still learning but with new resources,” AHSA states. “Most children under age 13 will not remember what they studied in their grades 1 to 6 years. The real learning that sticks begins in puberty. “

However, the Rocky View Schools re-entry plan for online learning states the average hours of work per student per week in grades 1 through 6 “…will be similar to those students receiving face-to-face instruction.” Additionally, “students will be expected to be online with their class at least twice a day for synchronous instruction,” and “will also be expected to complete assignments independently.”

The need for a computer/laptop for home-educated students increases as your child progresses through each grade as the Internet becomes more necessary to complete research and online activities. Alberta Education recommends families participating in online learning have reliable, high-speed Internet; a word processing application such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs; and a device capable of opening PDFs. Additionally, it suggests caregivers consider a backup plan if the Internet connection is interrupted, maintain a secure file or app for important passwords and create a desktop profile for the student’s use on a device that will be shared.

Other things to keep in mind for a home classroom, according to print-based curriculum provider, includes a trash container and a recycling bin near the workspace to simplify cleanup, and washable plastic tablecloths to quickly transforming an academic workspace into an art space and back. Additionally, consider creative ways to hide clutter such as baskets, wooden crates, cabinets, or behind doors, curtains or a folding screen, or a fabric “skirt” around a table.

Utilize wall space in a study area by hanging up a large world map, creating an “I made this” gallery out of corkboard and push pins, and displaying a calendar or schedule of the day.

AHSA suggests creating a music corner with instruments and music-related items and books, and making a documentation station out of a plastic rolling cart with multiple drawers to keep notices, class registrations, report cards, receipts and education administration papers. Other options – if you have space – could include a music corner with instruments and music-related items and books, a sewing area utilizing a table with a sewing machine and a bookcase full of supplies or a workshop stocked with tools, supplies and wood scraps.

Ensuring your homeschooling area is equipped with the resources your child needs to succeed can come with a financial burden. Help is available through the province if the student registers in a home education program by Sept. 30.

“Students are not eligible for funding if they register for a home education program after Sept. 30,” the Alberta Education website states. “This includes situations where a student changes from an online or regular program to home education after Sept. 30.”

The $850 available for home education funding can be used for a variety of resources "necessary for and related to the student's program, paid for and supported by invoices, not usually paid for by parents of students in a brick-and-mortar school or not a form of remuneration to the parent,” according to Alberta Education’s Standards for Home Education Reimbursement. For information on what is and isn't reimbursable, visit School boards will also have their own set of reimbursement rules for home educators to follow.

A homeschooling space doesn’t need to look like a traditional classroom. A well-planned area designed for your child’s needs and stocked with necessary supplies can turn even the simplest of spaces into a place for learning.

“The time you invest in setting up your home will help get you off to a smooth start and stay organized throughout the busy year ahead,” said Arnall and Maul-Kozlowski.