Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Unschooling' is in

More and more families are pulling their kids out of conventional schools — and it's not necessarily because of Bill 18

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Home-schooled students Daniel McIntyre-Ridd and Maggie Gehman rehearse for the production of Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The cast includes 24 home-schooled students from 10 families.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Home-schooled students Daniel McIntyre-Ridd and Maggie Gehman rehearse for the production of Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The cast includes 24 home-schooled students from 10 families. Photo Store

Dagen Perrott doesn't care for science and sees no need for it in his future, so he doesn't study science.

"It's not something I'm built for," said 17-year-old Perrott. "All my interests are very arts-based. I keep up with math that I think will be practical in my life; if I want to learn something, I'm capable of it."

Perrott represents the "unschooling" faction of a movement sweeping the province. This year, 2,815 students are being home-schooled -- a 17 per cent increase over last year. In all, almost 21/2 times as many registered children are being schooled by their parents compared with only five years ago.

Why the stampede to take kids out of conventional schooling?

Education Minister James Allum says it's simply evidence the province is offering a wide choice of diverse forms of education.

He does, however, acknowledge parents might be pulling their kids out of schools because of their objections to anti-bullying Bill 18.

"The biggest bump (in home-schooling) is in the southern part of the province," Allum said. "Parents are making their choices based on family values. If parents are making those decisions based on Bill 18, we respect their choice."

Bill 18 contains a provision that if a student in any school receiving public funding asks to set up a gay-straight alliance in the school, the school must support that student.

Hanover School Division superintendent Randy Dueck said from Steinbach his division has seen its third straight year of significant losses to home-schooling, but that trend started before Bill 18.

Faith-based home-schooling families have not cited Bill 18 as the reason, said Ian Mogilevsky, president of the Manitoba Association of Christian Home Schools. "What we're finding is an increase in home-schooling as a viable option," he said. Many newcomers have kids ages three to five: "They see the ability to have quality time for their children in the best hours of the day."

That's certainly true, said Jennifer Gehman, a member of the Manitoba Association for Schooling at Home.

"It could be for academic reasons; there are a lot of needs (schools) don't meet," she said. "We're now seeing a lot of second-generation home-schoolers -- a lot of young parents see home-schooling as a viable option" because they were educated that way themselves.

"Most of us desire to raise children who are self-learners," Gehman said.

Perrott, who's already a professional actor, fits that bill. The teen studies what he wants to, when he wants to. Other home-schooled kids have a more follow-the-curriculum school within their home. Some students might study a subject for a few hours, or go off to a play, or even get together with other home-schoolers. There's nothing that says their math level must be the same grade as their science or history; indeed, they eschew such labels. Most home-schoolers would not compare themselves to a school student the same age.

Liam Berry is in university after a home-schooling education capped by Grade 12 at Vincent Massey Collegiate, trying it as "a new frontier.

"It was shocking. I was quite intimidated at first," but he adjusted quickly. "It was much less personal."

In home-schooling, "you learn how to reach out and find something. You're allowed to follow your own interests, whereas in school, you had to learn certain things. There were things I had no interest in -- it was very rigid and very defined," Berry said.

Hannah Beynon, 16, has occasionally taken university-level math and science courses at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate and was taken aback by the disrespect high school students show their teachers. "I would not like to be there all day, every day. I've had a lot of self-teaching," Beynon said.

"It's a home-schooling spectrum," which has so many approaches it can't be easily pegged, said 12-year-old Timothy Gehman. "In our family, we have a lot of discussion and play devil's advocate."

Older brother Joshua pointed out that schools separate by age and sometimes by gender. He's part of a group of 24 home-schooled students from 10 families who get together once a week for activities. Currently, they're rehearsing Shakespeare's Cymbeline, their eighth annual production, with a cast of all 24 students, ages four to 18.

"In this group, we've grown up with every age," he said.

Perrott said he's grown up comfortable talking to both adults and much younger children.

"There are so many ways of teaching," he said. "There's nothing wrong with (schools), just not all kids fit into it."

Daniel McIntyre-Ridd, 15, said when soccer teammates get a ride with him, "they hardly talk to my mom. They're not used to having adults really converse with them."

Jennifer Gehman said one reason home-schooling numbers have swelled is the recent move by universities to have home-schooled applicants submit a letter from the provincial home-school office. This has led some parents to register their children for the first time, thus swelling the numbers.

A University of Winnipeg official said it's not mandatory that applicants submit a letter from the province, but it speeds up the process.

Home-schooling does demand some sacrifice from the parents. Mogilevsky said home-schooling parents not only forgo at least one salary, but buy education materials, pay for tutors and sign up their kids for sports and arts activities.

Parents say they can find much of what they need on the Internet, and older siblings at university or family members of other home-schoolers can be mentors.

"Home-schoolers are definitely choosing their curricula based on what is best for their children," Jennifer Gehman said. "The Internet makes home-schooling easier. A lot of home-schooling families are doing it (on a) single income.

"I school all year round. We just take breaks when it's convenient."

Gehman said home-schooled children get as much socialization as anyone else, taking part in community activities.

They get together as home-schoolers at least once a week in her Winnipeg Learning Centre group of 10 families. The play, performed by the Such Stuff Players, is a great learning experience, she said.

There are home-school soccer leagues, a choir, karate and archery lessons.

Realizing there's a market, the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and the Rady Centre offer daytime swimming lessons, and the Canadian Mennonite University offers music and French lessons during the day, she said.

"It all happens under the radar," Gehman said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 A6

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