Home is where the school is

It's 2 p.m. at Christina Kaiser's home and her six children are sitting around a large kitchen table. It’s snack time. There are enough cantaloupe slices, cheese and crackers to feed a small army.

It’s 2 p.m. at Christina Kaiser’s home and her six children are sitting around a large kitchen table.

It’s snack time. There are enough cantaloupe slices, cheese and crackers to feed a small army. And the army’s hungry, asking for seconds and thirds.

The kids have been done school for almost two hours now. They didn’t come home early by bus – in fact, they never left the property.

Kaiser homeschools her children. They spend the morning studying various subjects, and they practise their instruments and play in the afternoon.

The home’s basement is a veritable playroom of learning.

On one wall it says Kaiserschule, German for the Kaiser School, in bright blue letters.

There are maps of the solar system, Canada and the world on other walls. A large dresser overflows with educational books.

The children’s desks are lined up in a row, and it really does look like a traditional classroom.

“I’m there when they take their first step, so why wouldn’t I be there when they learn the alphabet?” Kaiser said about homeschooling.

“We’re a 90-minute school bus ride away. I wasn’t interested in having the kids spend three hours on a bus every day. I love being with my kids and I couldn’t imagine being apart from them all day.”

Kaiser and her husband made German the children’s first language. When they became proficient enough, she started teaching them English.

The youngest in the family are five-year-old twins in Grade 1. They already speak English fluently. One of them jumps onto the chair next to a keyboard and plays an impromptu rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

The oldest is 13 and in Grade 8 this year. She’s already learning a third language, French.

Kaiser, treasurer for the Yukon Home Education Society, has been homeschooling for about nine years now.

Until two years ago, there was no connection between the family and Yukon’s Education Department.

That also meant no funding for the family. One day, Kaiser ran into someone from the department who told her it was mandatory to have her kids registered in their system.

“I knew we could sign them up but no one said it was mandatory,” she said.

“So we decided that we should sign them up. Last year was the first year the government actually provided funding to homeschoolers. There is money and resources available to us now, which is nice.”

The government now provides a $1,200 allowance to homeschooling families that register with Yukon Education, according to department spokesperson Mark Hill.

Last year, 141 students registered with the department, Hill said, with 16 more likely to be added this year.

“It’s not a perfect system and it doesn’t cover all the costs, but it’s a start,” Kaiser said.

Between 20 and 30 families, or close to 60 children, are part of the home education society.

They organize a lot of activities, such as swimming lessons, to get children together.

The department funds the lessons, since it doesn’t have to cover the cost of a student’s bus ride to school, roughly the equivalent.

Kaiser said the society is still working to establish a better working relationship with the department.

“We just have to figure out how to help them,” she said.

“It’s a learning curve for everyone.”

Her children will also soon get the opportunity to interact with other students through the Internet.

Kaiser signed them up with the Heritage Christian Online School, an independent distance education program Yukon Education provides funding for.

A teacher will be responsible for following the progress of Kaiser’s children, which means she’ll have an official record she can provide to the department at the end of the school year.

“I want my children to have a regular diploma with credits towards university, if they want to do that,” she said.

“This way they can do that. If I don’t like it (the program), I’ll stop.”

In Dawson City, another society is helping families who homeschool their children.

Erica Renaud is chair of the Klondike Home Education Association.

Her children are in Kindergarten, Grade 3 and 6, with the oldest two using a mix of home education, cross-enrolment and full-time school attendance.

The oldest does creative writing, music, math, Spanish, marine biology, English and history at home, but studies Han, the language of the local First Nation, and French at school.

The middle child does English, music, math and cursive at home and takes gym at school.

The youngest goes to kindergarten full-time.

At home, the children learn science, art, equine science, quilting and cooking.

Renaud said it was important for her daughter in Grade 3 to be around other girls her own age.

“The cross-enrolment was very important to her, to continue to be part of that group,” she said.

“In Dawson there are only seven girls born in her year. These are the same kids that are at soccer and the afternoon school programming. If you’re in a bigger city you may have different sets of friends. She’s with the same girls and maintaining those relationships has been important for her.”

Renaud and her husband used to live in Alberta. Homeschooling worked well for them, their schedule and the family dynamic.

“People homeschool for such varied reasons,” she said.

“We lived in a small town and it would have been a half hour ride for my daughter to go to school.”

The Klondike Home Education Association was created last year, and is still in the early stages of putting together programming for the next school year.

Last year, they were able to set up 90 minutes of gym time for homeschooling families per week and cross-country skiing outings.

There have been discussions of music groups this year and interacting with community artists at workshops.

Twelve families and roughly 20 kids were part of the association last year, or roughly 10 per cent of Dawson’s student population, Renaud said.

“The system is changing a lot and there are challenges,” she said.

“A few years ago there weren’t many homeschoolers in the Yukon. There was one guy at the department who took registrations. But in the last few years there has been a surge in the amount of people homeschooling in the territory.”

There are benefits and drawbacks to homeschooling, said Nanette Borud, born and raised in Whitehorse.

She wasn’t progressing naturally in Grade 1, so her mother decided to homeschool her and Borud’s older sister.

“I homeschooled until high school and loved it,” she said.

“What I enjoyed most was the amount of time I was able to spend outside, the friendships I had within the homeschool community and the flexibility of learning in the best way suited for me. I was also able to come out of my shyness and build confidence in myself.”

Public school can be overwhelming for some kids, she added.

Borud and her husband are now considering homeschool for their young son. They may try it out to see if he enjoys it.

For the Kaiser family, the pros of homeschooling far outweigh the cons.

Kaiser admits it can be time consuming, expensive and frustrating at times, but she’d never give it up.

“There are days when I think, ‘If they were in school I’d have a clean house,’” she said.

“But I do love this. I never have to pack lunches for my kids or go to teacher and parent meetings. We have days where I say, ‘Today is potato harvest day,’ and they help me in the garden. School is more than just math and letters.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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