Richmond homeschooled kids embrace nature education in park

Parents say they enjoy the flexibility and freedom of homeschooling, which allows children to pursue their interests

Students are heading back to school this week but some students in Richmond are not going back to traditional classrooms.

If you happen to visit Garden City Park on a Wednesday morning, you may see a group of children sitting in a circle on the grass.

They are from Heartwise – a group of homeschooled students – and they are learning about nature from their instructors. The trees and wild animals in the park make it easy for them to check out their lesson material.

Twelve children, aged from 5 to 13, meet twice a week and their classrooms are all over Metro Vancouver.

Sometimes they learn about shelter building at the Pacific Spirit Park, and the next week, they might study permaculture at Westham Island, then the next time the classroom could be moved to Iona Beach where they map out sounds.

At other times, parents take on the role of teacher to teach their children at home following a curriculum designed by themselves – parents usually follow the B.C. curriculum but adapt it according to their child’s interest.

“We started homeschooling since COVID happened and decided to keep them home because we don’t know the next time we’ll close down. And we just enjoyed it so much,” said Heike Reinhardt, a Richmond mom of two home-schooled children.

“We saw the benefits for my children because they weren’t so happy in public school so it was a little bit of a struggle. And they just really liked to stay home and have their own schedule and more time to play.”

The number of homeschooling students more than doubled in Canada in the first year of the pandemic, with 83,784 students enrolled in homeschooling in the 2020/2021 school year.

Although many students went back to school after the pandemic, some children like Reinhardts’ have stayed.

Sparking children’s creativity and family bonds

Richmond parents of homeschooled children said one of the biggest benefits of this alternative way of education is that children can follow their own interests.

“They don’t have pressure to study stuff they don’t like so much and we have more flexibility with the stuff we study. You have more freedom and time to play with other children. It’s just wonderful,” said Reinhardt.

“I think the system for public schools can just not provide for each single child to unfold like I saw it on my son. He felt stupid and behind and not fitting in. I was really sad about it and I know that he is smart.”

“We have more freedom to choose what you would like to learn, you have more freedom and time to play with other children. It’s just wonderful.”

She said her children used to be under peer pressure in school but now have “bloomed beautifully in their personality” and can spend more time and learn more about the subjects they are interested in.

And for Valerie Heyn, another Richmond mom who has homeschooled her children for four years, it has strengthened the family bond because now they have more time to spend together.

Heyn started looking into homeschooling and giving it a try after her daughter had some challenging experiences in kindergarten, and then the family “just really fell in love with it.”

“Because it gives our kids a personalized education to think about the things that are really important to them. And also it helps us to stay connected as a family,” said Heyn.

She said instead of seeing each other “at the worst times of the day,” after a day of work or at school or in the morning when everyone is rushed, now they can ease into their life and into their day. And her children are closer than before as they spend more time together.

“We read books together and we share ideas together and I feel like we have more of a cohesive family life,” said Heyn.

Homeschooling not for everyone

Parents can also hire tutors for their children on the projects they see a need for, or join study groups for homeschooled children such as the provincially funded Heartwise, depending on their children’s interests.

Meagan Braun, a Richmond certified teacher for the Heartwise group, said many families send their students back to school as they grow older but a few homeschool their children all the way until university.

“For the most part, they excel in the areas of interest of theirs way more than a kid would that goes to typical school every day, because they’re able to spend a lot of time on their passions,” said Braun.

Although homeschooling has many benefits, she said it is not suitable for every family.

“It’s a big commitment for families. There’s a lot on parents in terms of [teaching,] reporting and those kinds of things,” said Braun.

“I think it’s a more inclusive style of teaching and learning than a classroom for most kids. But there are kids who thrive in classrooms in public schools or private schools. So I think it’s really dependent on the child and the family.”

Got an opinion on this story or any others in Richmond? Send us a letter or email your thoughts or story tips to [email protected].

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