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

Learning What’s Important

by Wendy Priesnitz

Many parents who are new to the home-based learning experience ask, “How do I know that my child is learning what’s important?” "What's important" is a highly subjective phrase! It depends upon one’s world view, definition of education, ambitions (or lack of) for a child’s career, and much more.

Your family should decide on a set of learning objectives for your children, aside from any legal requirements of the jurisdiction in which you live. If you want your children to learn exactly what their schooled peers are learning, you can obtain an outline of the curriculum that’s followed in your local school.

My own personal goal for my children’s education was for them to retain their curiosity, love of learning, and self-esteem, and to develop their research, learning and communication skills. The skills and facts they picked up along the way were largely a function of their own interests, rounded out here and there with what my husband and I perceived to be missing pieces of their own personal knowledge puzzle. But the actual body of knowledge is ever growing and changing (for instance, we know now that Saturn has more rings than we did when I went to elementary school!), at an increasingly enhanced pace. So I felt they’d be better served by developing a questioning nature and sound research and literacy skills than memorizing the dates of the battles of the World Wars.

No matter what you feel your children should be learning, don’t worry about being able to tell if that learning is occurring. Because you’re intimately involved with each youngster on a day-to-day basis, you’ll be in the happy position of observing each burst of growth and sharing each new insight.

You might get concerned from time to time that your child’s development seems to have stalled. At those times, it’s important to remember that learning does not proceed in an orderly fashion. Remember how they learned to walk and to talk? Learning is a chaotic, fits-and-starts, trial-and-error sort of experience. Brains need time to process new knowledge. Your learner will move from frenetic bursts of activity through slower periods of seeming hibernation, only to surprise you one day with a pronouncement that makes you marvel at what was going on in their brain while you thought they were vegging out!

Some homeschooling families test their children on a regular basis - and some laws require that home educated children be tested regularly. But a good number of families object to testing as a way of measuring learning.

One of the main objections to testing is that it tries to judge the growth of knowledge by measuring the performance on one test at one moment in time, rather than as a process of growth that occurs over a period of time. It’s a quick and easy measuring stick that is a poor substitute for the observation which you have the opportunity to undertake.

Test scores may be unreliable for a variety of reasons. To be at all useful, a test must reflect learning; standardized tests and those administered to home educated children by school boards cannot, by definition, be directly relevant to the individual's learning process. In reality, all tests measure well is the test taker’s ability to take tests!

An alternative used by many families as a way of assessing their children's learning growth and needs (and for sharing with supervising educational authorities) is the portfolio. A language arts portfolio, for instance, could include compositions, reports, letters, stories, favourite poems, taped recordings of oral reports or readings, book reviews, lists of favourite books, photographs of plays being presented to family members and even artwork. The format can be whatever is suitable for the material being collected...from a file folder for language arts to a large cardboard box for science projects.

Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of this website and has been a Canadian home-based education advocate since the 1970s. She is also the editor of Life Learning Magazine, and author of School Free - The Homeschooling Handbook, Challenging Assumptions in Education, and Beyond School: Living As If School Doesn't Exist, as well as the editor of an anthology of articles from Life Learning Magazine called Life Learning: Lessons from the Educational Frontier. Learn more about her books here.

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School Free: The Homeschooling Handbook by Wendy Priesnitz 

Life Learning: Lessons from the Educational Frontier 

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