TORONTO — As many kids prepare to return to school this fall, the back-to-school season just doesn’t have the same meaning for other Canadian families choosing to home-school their children.
September is in the middle of the school year for Lisa Marie Fletcher and her five children.
“We don’t start a new math book, we don’t start a new language book — we just keep going wherever we are,” Fletcher said in an interview from Whitby, Ont.
Fletcher, who home-schools her kids, says she schedules her kids’ school year between March and December because her husband is off work in the winter.
“My family is kind of a weird twist,” Fletcher said. “We take time off in the winter to spend time with daddy.”
According to Fletcher, September’s only significance to the family is the beginning of fall programs and activities at community centres, accompanied by a “fresh start” feeling and “sense of newness” the time of year brings.
Fletcher says she’s never done fall back-to-school shopping but does use the time of year to celebrate her family’s differences.
“A lot of home-schoolers seem to be into the ‘not back to school’ party, so they get all their home-school friends together and go hang out at a park,” Fletcher said.
Like Fletcher, Kara-Davison-Wildeman, her husband, Rob, and their 11-year-old daughter, Zoey, design their own school year that doesn’t follow the traditional September start.
“We don’t fit into that mould,” Davison-Wildeman said from Clarksburg, Ont. “(In September) we just do what we do normally.”
Davison-Wildeman says she will plan a “fun and special” event with other home-schoolers in September similar to Fletcher’s “not back to school party” to mark the season.
Juliet Forrester of Mississauga, Ontario, also home-schooled her daughter, Katherine, and followed a unique schedule.
“As far as September, our lives were just so different that it really wasn’t part of our routine,” Forrester said.
That will change soon when Katherine begins high school at the Etobicoke School of the Arts.
“(Katherine’s friend) is going to be teaching Katherine how to do back-to-school shopping,” Forrester said. “It will be an event.”
Some home-schoolers choose to conduct class year round, meaning they never experience a back-to-school season. Andrea Nair, a parenting educator, says she believes the year-round schedule works best for her two boys.
Home school is a departure for Nair, a former teacher who sent her boys to school previously. She said not having to worry about the September rush this year is “oddly relaxing.”
“It’s nice not having to buy backpacks and extra shoes and lunch kit stuff; I’m not going to miss that,” Nair said speaking from London, Ont.
Fletcher, Davison-Wildeman, Forrester and Nair’s families are all part of a growing number of Canadians deciding to home-school. A report from the Fraser Institute released in June found a 29 per cent increase in the number of people choosing to home-school their kids over a five-year period.
Each family takes its own approach, with some choosing to follow a September to June schedule.
Mark Simms and his family have chosen to mimic the traditional school year in some ways. Simms and his wife have been home-schooling for seven years from their place in Conn, Ontario, northwest of Toronto.
He says his four kids follow the September to June school year, carry backpacks and take part in back-to-school shopping like many kids destined for classrooms across the country.
Simms says his kids even wear uniforms.
“The reason why is to give them the sense that it’s school, and during the hours of school this is your job, so it just gets them into that mode,” Simms said.
They also participate in a variety of sports and activities outside the home with some kicking off in the fall, according to Simms.
Simms can’t hide his passion for his brand of home-school, sharing a joke explaining his family’s choice:
“There’s a caption I used to have on my Facebook page that said I home-school my children because I’ve seen the village and I don’t want it raising them.”