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It's Sort of Like Going to School
An insight into the world of home schooling where parents teach and children prepare for adulthood in the same place where they eat and sleep.

Piece by piece, Karen Workman and Gwen Galster begin shattering the image of home schooling families as overprotective parents with children who live in glass houses isolated from society.

… 80,000 Canadian children and counting, have come to realize the benefits of teaching at home.

These two full-time mothers aren't strict or overbearing but, in fact, quite the opposite when teaching their kids who seem to be well adjusted both socially and emotionally, contrary to the prevalent stereotype.

"We don't shelter our kids; they know what's going on out there," says Mrs. Galster of her two boys, Andrew, 15, and Michael, 12.

While perceived notions of socially inept and academically disadvantaged home-schooled children still exist, a growing number of families, involving as many as 80,000 Canadian children and counting, have come to realize the benefits of teaching at home. Those advantages became apparent for the Galster household when they found themselves often moving from one community to the next—about seven times in the past 15 years.

"Home schooling has definitely been good for us," says Andrew, who previously attended both Christian and public schools before staying home to learn in Grade 4.

"We don't have the problem of changing schools all the time."

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The decision to home school made practical sense but "it became a necessity" when the provincial curriculum for math wasn't challenging enough for Andrew.

So, from a multitude of resources available to them over the internet, they selected an advanced program, recorded on DVD, which displays a taped session of a qualified math instructor teaching the course in front of a class.

"It's sort of like going to school," says Andrew, expressing no concern over learning via the virtual classroom setting.

The results speak for themselves. He ranked in the top 25 percent of all Canadian students participating in the Grade 9 Pascal math contest from the University of Waterloo last year.

With bright, home schooled students like Andrew showing high academic potential, more post-secondary institutions have started paying attention, offering standardized tests for admission purposes.

"It used to be that universities and colleges wouldn't even look at home schoolers," Mrs. Galster notes.

"I almost sent Andrew to high school and it was only because of the diploma issue."

Then she met Mrs. Workman, who had educated her three daughters at home for nearly a decade.

Like many of the original home schooling parents, she wanted to instil her religious values in her children. When Christian school became too expensive, Mrs. Workman formed her own home schooling network in the area.

She is still involved today, leading a group of eight home schooled teenagers who gather twice a week at the Galster residence in Young's Point (Peterborough, Ontario) for several classes, including music and drama.

The bi-weekly gatherings also provide the small group of grade 8 to 12 students the opportunity to interact with each other without worrying about peer pressure or forming cliques.

"They need that social interaction but they don't need 700 people," says Mrs. Workman, whose oldest daughter Katie, 18, is faring well on her own, having recently graduated after nine years of home schooled education.

"She was so horribly shy and she really needed friends. Now she's a professional singer."

Family relations have also improved, adds Mrs. Workman, just by spending more time with Katie and her two younger daughters Kim, 16, and Lauren, 14.

"I know all my children well … I'm friends with them," she says.

"I don't have any challenges with my daughters and they're teenagers."

Asking the students whether they equally enjoy the home school experience, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

"I don't have to worry about being teased," says Rebecca Caldwell, 16, in her final year before taking time off to travel with her confidence fully restored.

"Home schooling, for me, it helps me to do more independent studying on what I really love doing … "

Abby Prentice also plans to spend a year traveling upon graduation but when she returns, the 17-year-old is looking to pursue studying art in college—something she had the freedom to pursue as a home schooler honing her natural artistic skills.

"Home schooling, for me, it helps me to do more independent studying on what I really love doing," she says.

"And it also gives me a lot of free time."

Because of the direct one-to-one instruction and individual attention given to each student, the study period at home is typically shorter than a regular school day, leaving more time for extracurricular activities.

On that front, the internet has proven to be an invaluable tool for connecting with other home schooling families to organize group field trips, hold parent meetings and share resource material.

"Certainly, the home schooling community is a lot larger than people perceive," says Edna Latone, a mother of three young children who moderates an online group at to keep area home schooling families informed on upcoming events. Such events include weekly gym and swim days at the YMCA and daytime programming at the local gymnastics club.

For the Latones, home daycare naturally progressed into providing a home-based education for their children, Bethany, 11, Josiah, nine, and Nathanael, four.

"They've never been to public school," says Mrs. Latone, listing the specific advantages of home schooling for their own family.

"I like the flexibility of it. The children can work at their own pace."

She adds when her husband John worked shift duty from 3 to 11 p.m., he still managed to see and play with his kids whereas, in regular school, they would be returning home at the same time he would be leaving for work.

"It's kind of nice," says Mr. Latone, admittedly hesitant and apprehensive at first with the idea of educating his children at home.

"What were people going to think, and is this going to work?" he had asked himself.

But they felt more at ease after getting to know other home schooling families and realizing a larger support group existed.

Bethany isn't missing out by not attending school with the other neighbourhood kids. They all come over to her house as soon as the school bell rings.

Besides that, "I get to stay home with my mom and my family," she says.

Mrs. Latone runs another forum online at where information on how to lead and organize local groups is posted for present and future leaders in the home-schooling community.

One Ennismore family will be searching for that guidance and leadership as they embark into unfamiliar territory in the world of home schooling.

Given the options, Lisa and Kirk Leonard felt they had no other choice. Their three-year-old son Dare is blind.

"No one in the area has experience with blind children," says Mrs. Leonard.

They had doubts the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario could adequately prepare their visually-impaired but otherwise normal boy for adulthood.

"He can do everything all the other kids can do but in a different way," she says.

Taking matters into her own hands, Mrs. Leonard contacted local families, introducing Dare to other home schooled children.

"Most of them wanted to meet us and wanted to learn how we do things," she recalls.

"He's played with more kids just from home schooling."

She acknowledges the support he requires each year will be a difficult process, especially with curriculum books written in Braille costing a small fortune.

… a proper education at home will give their son the best chance … for a productive future …

Just as the public and Catholic school boards struggle to offer adequate special education programs due to a lack of government funding, the same challenges are compounded for home schooling families with modest incomes giving care to special needs students.

Despite the uphill battle, the Leonards have decided that providing a proper education at home will give their son the best chance to explore and cultivate his interests for a productive future of his choice.

"After investigating home school, we think it's the best thing for every child," says Mrs. Leonard, watching both Dare and his ten-month-old sister Alyssa play.

"So we'll be home schooling our little girl too."

Clark Kim is a reporter with Peterborough This Week.

Originally published in Peterborough This Week, October 13, 2004.




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