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More parents homeschooling amid pandemic fears

Tara Jeffrey Calla Nicol knew that sending her four children to school this fall just wasn’t a viable option.
Arabel, Graydon, Corbin and Huntly Nicol have enjoyed their homeschooling experience so far, with mom Calla Nicol. Submitted Photo

Tara Jeffrey

Calla Nicol knew that sending her four children to school this fall just wasn’t a viable option.

“We felt this year our kids may not get the help they need,” said the Mooretown mom, whose children range from senior kindergarten to Grade 6.

“With extra rules and procedures added — which is completely understandable — and the focus shifting to health and safety of the students, teachers and staff, we feel students who need extra help with learning may be pushed to the side and forgotten this year.”

With poor Internet service on the family farm, virtual learning wasn’t ideal. So she turned her home business — The Fitness Farm, a studio she operates out of a revamped detached garage — into a schoolhouse for homeschooling.

“We chose to set up a separate learning space and it seems to help the kids shift their minds to school and learning each time we head out,” she said.

“Education is our top priority for our kids and we want to provide them the best learning environment this year.”

The Nicols join a growing number of local families who have opted to homeschool during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lambton Kent District School Board director John Howitt said the number of families that notified the board of their intent to homeschool this fall was more than twice the normal expected. Ninety percent are elementary-aged students.

Across the province, membership in the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents has increased 40% since last year.

“COVID-19 has taken homeschooling out of the backwoods and basically thrust it into the spotlight — it’s really made it more of a viable option,” said Sarah Hornblower, a longtime local homeschooling parent who administers groups in Lambton-Kent and London.

She’s seeing an increase in requests from local families looking for more information and resources.

“I don’t think parents had a very easy choice this year, and as we go forward, parents are still facing difficult decisions,” she said, pointing to some families who, after a few days of trying the virtual learning model, have realized it’s not working for them.

“For some families, public education is what’s best for them, and whatever they are going through … but I do think that if we see a second wave with outbreaks and classrooms shutting down, you may see less parents willing to send their children back.”

So far, the Nicol kids are enjoying the new adventure.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to help them grow intellectually and that we know exactly how they are doing in each subject and where they need some extra help,” said Nicol.

“Life passes by way too quickly so we are going to do everything to enjoy these years with them and provide the best opportunities to make lasting memories.”

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