Teresa Wiedrick figured out years ago what many parents are only now beginning to understand — a home is not a school.
But that doesn’t mean kids can’t learn at home just as well as they might in a classroom. Wiedrick, who has homeschooled her own four children, says that begins by changing expectations placed on kids as well as with predetermined ideas of what education has to look like.
“If it’s a really academic child then no, they are happy to have that really strict routine. I have that child and she was asking for academics early on,” says Wiedrick.
“And then I’ve also got the child who was like, let me do whatever I want, I’ll be fine if I just read a magazine and put Taylor Swift lyrics up on my wall. And yet she’s the one who right now is going for a Masters degree, so go figure.”
Wiedrick has plenty of advice for those trying to balance the new parenting reality. The Nelson resident is the president of the BC Home Educators’ Association, which advocates for the rights of at-home teachers and their families. She’s also written a book about home schooling, hosts a podcast on the topic and maintains a blog on life as a mother-teacher.
Homeschooling is having a moment right now, albeit one born of necessity. Kitchen tables, bedrooms and front yards are the new classrooms for students unable to attend B.C. public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic after in-class learning was suspended last month.
The Ministry of Education meanwhile launched an online tool based on the provincial curriculum to assist parents while also directing its 60 school districts to continue classes through digital options such as the video conferencing app Zoom.
But as parents are finding out, education via the internet isn’t easily done.
“Often they have more than one child and have tons of appointments for their kids, but most of them have either just lost a job or they are also trying to work at home or having to create their own businesses at home and all of that together they are also supposed to manage their kids education,” says Wiedrick.
“Oh and by the way, there’s a pandemic.”
Wiedrick has homeschooled her kids for 12 years, and what she’s figured out during that time is how key the relationship between a parent and child is to making the situation work. The actual school work? That’s the easy part.
“Nobody believes that until they’ve homeschooled and been with their kids long enough and recognized that an education isn’t because a teacher gives a child stuff to learn. It’s because we as humans are learning animals and we’re interested in learning.”
Practically, that means understanding who a child really is and what their passions are before looking for what Wiedrick calls learning opportunities.
A walk outside to find and study a frog? That’s science class. Online guitar lessons? That’s music class. Wiedrick says one of her kids is taking an online class on human anatomy through Yale University. Another started a YouTube channel and plays online chess with friends.
The key, she says, is to consider ways children can be taught even when the textbook is closed. “You can think about subjects in more of a loose learning kind of way.”
Wiedrick also advises against setting a strict schedule for children, which she says can negatively change how kids feel at home.
“I did that for sure in the beginning of my home school years and realized we’re not trying to create a school in our homes,” she says. “If we do that, we cross that teacher-parent role and we really make it challenging for ourselves and for them to relate to each other.”
As for parents turning to screens to educate and watch their kids, Wiedrick advises screen time is effective if limited and used with a purpose.
That includes giving parents a break. For people trying to work at home, Wiedrick suggests a communal time during the day when everyone is expected to do a quiet activity. Another easy idea for people with older children is to set an alarm clock outside a closed door. When it goes off, the kids have their parent’s undivided attention.
Which, in the end, is what she says will matter most.
“You have an opportunity right now to reshape your perspective of family and really your purpose in life as well. … You are going to be able to watch how your kids are learning, you get to learn about learning, you get to learn about their interests, their challenges, their aptitudes, you get to reconsider what is an education.”