More Manitoba families than ever have registered to teach their children at home, amid the life and learning disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the end of September 2019, 3,689 students were enrolled in a homeschool. One month into the 2020-21 school year, the province has registered 7,377 students.
The new recruits — albeit, on a temporary basis — include Sara Verwymeren’s two eldest children: Grade 4 student Lucy and her brother, Sam, who recently started the second grade.
“Homeschooling has never been something that I wanted to do, because I love the school system and I love teachers and I think they’re so valuable,” Verwymeren said Tuesday.
“It just felt like we were yanking them out of this wonderful community that they have at our school.”
The mother of three said she had hoped there would be universal remote learning for families who wanted it. Without the option, Verwymeren and her husband decided homeschool was the best way forward — in part, because she only recently entered cancer remission.
Verwymeren now juggles child care for her three-, six- and nine-year olds, homeschool and work as a professional organizer on the weeknights. She has scaled back her hours to ensure she can focus on teaching her children during the daytime.
There are ups and downs, she said — the former being the days her children learn new things that spark their curiosity and creativity; the latter being the ones when she feels guilty they are isolated from friends. The fact their home in St. Norbert is in earshot of the school playground doesn’t make things any easier.
“We’re trying to communicate to them that this is a super-special time with our family, where we have all this time to spend together. They are also appreciating it. They’re getting along better than they did before,” Verwymeren said, adding her family plans to reassess its situation in the new year.
In Manitoba, students can rejoin the public school system at any time. While homeschooling, families are not eligible for provincial funding or any other resources from Manitoba Education. They are required to submit biannual progress reports.
The 100 per cent spike in registrations has both prompted Manitoba Education to reallocate staff to support the increased demands on the homeschooling office and kept the organizers behind the Manitoba Association for Schooling at Home busy.
A long-time homeschooler, Jennifer Gehman of the Manitoba Association for Schooling at Home reported Tuesday membership has reached nearly 1,000 — approximately double the pre-pandemic figure, similar to the official enrolment spike. Gehman said she’s curious about whether the wave of new homeschoolers will realize the benefits.
“We’re just such a busy world all the time and I think, sometimes, we lose sight of how important it is to spend time with our children,” she said, “and homeschooling really gives that opportunity.”
Gehman’s advice to new homeschoolers? “It takes time to find your groove.”