After nearly two full years of the COVID-19 pandemic periodically affecting the school schedule, some local families have adapted to homeschooling independently – including two who have gone all-in.

The families chose completely home-based learning materials and instruction rather than the online learning services offered by school boards. The parents say the switch has also better accommodated their children’s learning needs. 

When in-person classes at local schools ended the first time in March 2020, Jennifer Holla of Vankleek Hill began teaching her oldest child at home, and she has done so ever since. Now in Grade 1, and with a younger sibling in preschool, both children are learning at home every day. 

“We change how we do things every season due to interest, resources, and learning goals,” says Holla, who is also a trained teacher. 

Holla notes that homeschooling her children has been an education for her as well. 

“I am learning about my children’s learning styles and ever-changing interests,” she explains. “I’ve been trying out different teaching techniques and attended a few online workshops/conferences for more ideas.”

Services in the community are important for Holla as they are where learning materials are obtained. There are weekly trips to the Champlain Public Library for books and to The Review for printing and copying. When public health restrictions permit, Holla takes her two students to activities at the Family Centre, Early On Centre, and a forest school where other homeschooling families meet to learn about nature. 

According to Holla. she keeps in touch with several other homeschooling families, and others whose children attend regular school, so she can stay informed on how and what other children are learning. 

“We share resources and help each other find different projects, such as raising butterflies, or talk about how we can support our children in meeting learning goals,” Holla says. 

Gina Dragone of Maxville began homeschooling her son Hunter, who is in Grade 3, in September 2021. She also has a daughter in Grade 8 who is attending regular school in Alexandria. 

“We made the switch this year after doing asynchronous (online) learning from the beginning of the pandemic,” Dragone says of the transition from classroom to home learning. “(Hunter) finished Grade 1 in 2020 that way and completed all of his Grade 2 year as well in the same manner.”

“That year and a bit gave us time to see what type of learning style he has, because he was at home and the work was being administered by us via his teacher.”

During that time, Dragone was also able learn the areas in which Hunter was excelling and where he needed more help. She concluded he would do better working at his own pace than in a regular school environment. 

“We ultimately decided to homeschool completely for his Grade 3 year because we could tailor his learning to his actual interests and have much more flexibility to explore different topics though the week, as well as spending more time outside,” Dragon relates. 

With homeschooling, Dragone’s son does not have to be in class for the standard six hours per day. She said Hunter can sometimes complete the work in two or three hours and then have the rest of the day to play outside with friends, work on an interest-based project, go on nature walks, or do a field trip. 

Dragone says the pandemic has been challenging because of the times when facilities such as indoor arenas are closed, which limits activity options. However, there are still weekly meet ups with other homeschooling families in the area, which gives the children opportunities for social interaction. 

“With homeschooling, there are no set times for recess as with traditional school, so children are able to explore their curiosity more freely,” Dragone says. 

Amy Willis of Alexandria has been homeschooling her children for several years. Willis is offering to share resources with other parents who may be struggling to find learning materials.

“I call myself an old school homeschool so I have a lot of resources that I have passed onto other people,” Willis says.

Interested parents may contact Willis at [email protected]. 

Jennifer Holla and her two homeschooled children enjoying some outdoor education on a nature hike. Submitted photo