Life Learning - Canadian Home-Based Learning Resources


A Short History of The Homeschool Movement in Canada

Beyond School by Wendy Priesnitz

Challenging Assumptions in Education

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is home-based learning legal in Canada?
A: Yes, it is legal in all Canadian provinces and territories. See the Resources section of this website for more information about contacting the Ministry/Department of Education in your province or territory.

Q: How many children are homeschooled in Canada?
A: Since many home educating parents do not register with local school officials, an exact number is not known. However, it generally estimated that between one and two percent of all school-age children learn at home. We believe that between 70,000 and 100,000 Canadian children learn at home. That has increased from our estimate of approximately 2,000 children in 1980.

Q: What is the difference between home-based learning, homeschooling, and unschooling?
A: There are many philosophies of homeschooling and many words used to describe the situation whereby school-aged children learn without going to school. And there are even subsets and varying definitions of each of those words! Here is an article about terminology.

Q: Isn't home-based learning something that just hippies and fundamentalist Christians do?
A: This is one of many misconceptions about home-based educating families, their practices and their beliefs. Perhaps these extreme stereotypes originate with people who don’t understand home-based learning. In fact, families who learn at home are a diverse cross-section of the population and include families of all philosophies, religions, cultural and racial backgrounds, economic and employment situations. And their reasons for home educating are also numerous and diverse.

For more about this topic, read some of the research reports listed in the Resources section of this website.

Q: How will children learn everything they need to know – like math, science and reading – if they aren’t taught?
A: Children are curious, independent, active, self-directed learners. They are born that way and remain that way if school hasn’t conditioned away their natural curiosity about the world. They naturally learn by exploring, questioning, experimenting, figuring things out, making connections, getting ideas and testing them, taking risks, making and correcting mistakes, and trying again. This takes time and space (both physical and psychological).

This drive to learn motivates self-directed learners to “study” academic subjects in the same way it propels them to learn how to walk and talk. Parents and other adults play a major role in this process, supporting, encouraging, enriching the learning environment with appropriate resources, modeling behavior, celebrating good ideas and accomplishments, sympathizing about errors, pointing out possibilities, and generally presenting the riches of the world to their children. They must also be careful not to meddle in their children’s learning. For most of us, our own highly directed formal education gets in the way and makes us want to “play school.” But children learn eagerly when their parents create a supportive, stimulating learning environment, then trust their children to learn.  

Typically, a child's curiosity, and love for life and learning, will lead them to most, if not all, of the things we call "subjects" ... and much more ... although probably not in the same segmented way or in the same order as taught at school.

Q: Do I have to be a teacher to home educate?
In most locations, you do not have to be a teacher. And, in fact, teachers often struggle with life learning because it is so different from schooling. There is usually a period of deschooling required for the parent as well as the child. As a home educating parent, it is not necessary - or even desirable - for you to teach your child in the conventional manner. If you have been capable of providing a loving, nurturing environment for your child since birth, you have what it takes to help your child learn what our culture considers to be more academic sorts of things, such as math, reading and science.

Q: What happens if I'm not qualified in a certain subject?
A:  Some families use a pre-packaged curriculum, which is either designed for self-study or includes assistance for the parent. If your child is self-directed and their learning is interest-based (as is described on this website), they may need your help to find resources - such as books and websites - as well as other people to provide information on various topics.  That way, you become a fellow learner! For specific topics of which you have no knowledge or in which you are not interested, you and your child can seek help from relatives, neighbours and tutors, as well as local homeschool support groups, colleges and universities, web-based resources, and libraries. You may find that many adults in your community will be happy to mentor your student in a specific area. 

Q: Where do I get the Canadian curriculum?
A: There is no such thing. The various provinces  produce curriculum guidelines that list what students in attendance at their schools are supposed to know to pass from one grade to another. Some families use them as a guideline in case their child wants to enter the public school system at some point. (Private schools have their own guidelines, which, in some cases, may differ substantially from those of the public system.) There are some commercially-available curriculum packages, but they tend to be American (which affects subjects like history, geography, math, spelling, etc.) and Bible-centred. If you want to use a curriculum (and in most places you are not legally required to use one), it's preferable to create your own, based on the needs, interests and abilities of your child.

You will find that home-based learning requires you to deschool yourself. That means rethinking what education looks like and realizing that this experience will be different than the one you had as a child attending school. Among the adjustments you will be making is understanding that things like subjects, class periods, desks, chalkboards, text books, and curriculum are not necessary for learning…and, in fact, they usually get in the way. Home-based learning focuses on self-reliance and active learning, rather than on having an outside "expert" tell us and our children what to learn, when, and where.

Q: How will I know they are learning?
A: You will know by observing them, listening to them, reading what they’ve written, and talking with them. Learning is a complex process and doesn’t always appear to be sequential or organized. Nor is it always obvious to an onlooker that any learning is happening. But if you are a flexible and patient observer, you will be continually surprised and delighted by the sparks of discovery and insight that light up their faces on a regular basis. Testing, rote recitation and grading are only useful in school settings, when one adult must keep track of the progress of many children...and they are counterproductive to learning.  Some school authorities may want your child(ren) to be tested, but it's not required in all areas, so if you object to testing, be sure it is an actual requirement and not just a preference of the school authorities.  Here is an article on this topic.

Q: How do children become socialized if they aren’t with their age peers all day?
A: Each family’s lifestyle and location is different, but generally, home-educated children develop stronger socialization skills than their peers in school. Like other children, they have neighborhood children to play with after school hours, community teams or church clubs to join, and music or dance lessons to take. But they are also exposed to a wider cross-section of society than their peers who spend most of their days with 20 or 30 others of the same age and background. During a typical week, these children might accompany a parent on neighborhood trips, participate in adult business activities such as working at a food co-op, attend a public political meeting, play with their schooled chums who live down the street, go for a swim with another home-educating family whose children range from babies to teenagers, attend a group skating lesson, take a private French tutorial, and so on. At any rate, the evidence is that the socialization situation in many schools is much less than its proponents make it out to be; one of the main complaints we hear about school is its mean, bullying, overly competitive, hierarchical nature.

Q: Can I homeschool my child with special needs?
A: Many families find that their special needs children blossom in the homeschool environment. For many children, the typical classroom style of teaching is not the most suitable learning method. Their cognitive or motor skills may be developing slower or faster than their age peers. They may learn better by listening than by reading or writing. Or they may simply not be interested in the subject matter being discussed and tune out. When these children have difficulty with their school work, the blame is often laid at their feet and they are said to be “learning disabled.” This label adds to their already high level of frustration and low self-esteem, contributing to a downward spiral of poor school performance and antisocial behaviour. Many parents say that, to their astonishment, these so-called learning disabilities often turn out to have been more like teaching disabilities. And in many cases, they disappear once the parents are able to cater to their children’s unique style of learning. Away from the pressure of a competitive classroom in which they couldn’t keep up, and finally able to make academic progress at their own pace, their self-esteem returns and their behaviour improves. Children with real disabilities also tend to do well in the home-based learning environment. As a parent, you are able to provide just the right amount of individualized attention in a caring, supportive environment, which is often just not possible in a school setting.

Q: Can homeschooled young people get into university?
A: Many unschooled students do very well in post-secondary environments and some universities are now actively soliciting these students, based on the success of those who have gone before. Each university has its own procedures for applications by self-educated students; they can include exams like the SAT, high school equivalency tests like the GED, interviews, essays, and portfolios. Check out our books, articles, and research sections for more on this topic.

Q: How do we get started?
A: First of all, research the legalities and procedures in your province to find out what, if anything, you have to do  and who,  if anyone, you have to inform. Removing a child from school will likely be different than not sending them in the first place.

Decide what sort of home education style you will use: school-at-home, life learning, or something in between. (That may change as you and your child gain confidence in their ability to learn without school,  and as they grow older.)

A homeschooling group can be a good source  of advice and support, and will provide your child with a peer group. You might have to "shop around" to find a group that is compatible with your philosophy.  (The provincial contacts listed on this site will be able to point you to a local group.)

If your child has already attended school for awhile, you should be prepared for a "decompression" time, where they recover from any problems that arose there, and regain their capacity to be an active learner. Depending upon the child, how long they went to school, and their experience there, this can take months.

Q: Does homeschooling prepare kids for real life and jobs/careers?
A: We find these young people successfully attending a variety of post-secondary institutions and working in a variety of jobs and careers. They are musicians, doctors, athletes, scientists, gardeners, computer programmers, construction workers, lawyers, teachers, university professors,  researchers, chefs and more.

Business writers like Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, Richard Florida and even Alvin Toffler point out that the working world is rapidly changing so that knowing how to be a cog in the wheel won't be that useful in the future of work. Warehousing kids in a coercive, spoon-fed, rote environment is not educating them for the "real world" in which they will be living.

Self-educated young people on the other hand, tend to be highly motivated self-starters with good research skills, a high level of curiosity and flexibility, creativity and people skills developed from being around people of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. Universities often recruit them because they do well there, and anecdotal evidence indicates that they are often in managerial positions well ahead of their peers. On this page you will find many articles about and by young people who have learned without school.

Q: How do we contact you?
We are unable to respond to individual requests for information about home-based learning laws or to provide advice on other issues. Under the resources section of this website, there are links to provincial homeschooling organizations that will be able to provide assistance or contacts for your location.

© Life Media 2009-2021

Life Learning Magazine 

School Free: The Homeschooling Handbook by Wendy Priesnitz 

Life Learning: Lessons from the Educational Frontier 

For the Sake of Our Children

Life Learning Canada