Home schooling is the new normal for Alberta parents, as classrooms are closed across the province in an effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
It represents a new world of challenges for many parents, from getting their children away from their phones to keeping them focused on their schoolwork each day.
“We’re still trying to figure out what this new normal is, but we’re instilling in our kids that this is not a holiday,” said Teri Kantor, an Edmonton mother of four kids in elementary and junior high school.
“It’s not hard for my younger kids to get distracted. The main thing is managing their time and to make sure they stay on task. It’s going to be tough, but we as parents have got to do our part to make sure they complete these courses.”
As of March 30, Kantor’s children – and hundreds of others ̶ began their at-home classes through the Edmonton Catholic School Division, with online courses and teachers available through conference calls.
The provincial government announced a series of at-home learning services for students, and Edmonton Catholic Schools has created a list of additional resources for parents and students learning from home.
Kantor expects her main challenge will be keeping her kids focused.
However, it’s an opportunity rather than an obstacle, and a chance to build a strong faith, say Catholic families who have been home schooling even before the pandemic.
“It puts you in a very unique union with your family, and you can focus on who God wants your kid to be,” said Carmen Bussiere of Saskatoon, who has been homeschooling her four children since 2017.
“We see the fruits of it everyday. Our children are just generally happier and more confident.”
“Their interests and friendships aren’t based on secular culture and the expectations of this world,” Bussiere added. “The latest cellphone, the latest brand of jeans ̶ all of these superficial things aren’t a factor in their lives now, and our family has become more whole because of it.”
Kenneth Noster agrees.
“Home schooling is not about isolating your family from the world, but building a much richer world at home,” said Noster, who homeschooled his six children over 23 years.
“There will be so many more opportunities for family prayer, beyond just praying before your evening meal,” said Kenneth’s son, Simon, the principal of Wisdom Home Learning, a Christian home schooling association with 3,800 students across Alberta.
Wisdom Home Learning is one of several private associations for home schooling families in Alberta. They follow basic Alberta Education guidelines, and many have access to the public school curriculum.
“You can have a religion ‘class’ just by reading Scripture together, or reading about the lives of the saints together. You could also have them to do a history project on the life of a saint. That’s a very positive way to both nourish their faith and keep them focused.”
The Nosters and other Catholic home schooling families often connect with each other. They met in Edmonton last month at the annual Western Canadian Catholic Home School Conference. The event brought together more than 50 homeschooling families, allowing them to connect, discover resources and learn from each other.
Home schooling comes with its own hardships. Families sometimes feel isolated or have to adapt their teaching to each child’s abilities. But with that, Kenneth Noster adds, parents grow and learn alongside their children, and from that the family builds a uniquely strong bond and sense of identity.
“Catholics can particularly embrace that because of the wealth of teachings, theology, and history we have,” said Noster, a deacon at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Vermilion.
“As you build that culture from within the home, you don’t have to worry about protecting your children from the influence of secular culture. You’re filling your own world with things that are far more valuable.”
The Alberta government suspended attendance at all public and post-secondary schools two weeks ago to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As of March 29, the province had 661 confirmed cases and 6,308 across Canada.
Families who have never homeschooled their kids expect many challenges.
Teri Kantor has been reading to her children each day, reviewing their school curricula, and researching science experiments and virtual field trips they can take from home.
“Getting creative will be important for sure,” she said. “My kids are very tactile and hands-on in their learning, so those things will be useful. In many ways, this is good down time for all of us. I actually have time to sit down with my kids and read to them and help them throughout the day. I’m fortunate to be a stay at home mom, so this will be my full-time job now.”
Faith continues to be an integral part of their education. Kantor also ensures her children watch the livestreamed Sunday Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Richard Smith.
While she looks forward to helping her children through this new experience, she plans to send them back to school when classes resume. She said the school environment is crucial for her children’s social life and to help them become independent.
Nevertheless, Simon Noster believes the current circumstances could be the beginning of a new generation of Catholic home schooling families.
“I could certainly see an increase in voluntary home schooling going forward,” he said. “I think once people have experienced this type of schooling, see the benefits of it and see that it’s not as intimidating as they first thought, it must just open the door for many people to see this is the right choice for their family.”