Every Thursday morning, a group of moms and kids gathers in the Rotary Room at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library. The kids are school-aged, but they don’t go to school. Their parents have chosen to teach them at home.
Kasia Dupuis, the children’s library associate, has organized two programs for children who are homeschooled, after a request from a mom looking for space for moms and their kids to gather.
“We have a homeschool community,” says Dupuis. “We wanted to have something to offer them.”
She asked whether they wanted an informal drop-in setting for moms and kids, or a more structured learning program for the kids.
The answer was both.
So every Thursday morning, she puts out chairs for the moms and educational toys for kids, and they gather for a social time from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Moms chat and trade tips, such as what is available in online educational programs. Sometimes kids bring board games to play with the others, sometimes crafts to share.
One Friday morning a month, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Dupuis organizes a lesson for kids in Grades 1 to 6. It’s semi-structured, with an hour and a half for the kids to listen and follow instructions, but they can be stretched out on cushions on the floor, discussing the topic of the day, while watching their lesson on a TV screen, or doing a hands-on activity.
“It gives them a taste of a school setting, and they are very engaged. It’s a really nice dynamic,” says Dupuis.
Last Friday their class was on nutrition. Dupuis had them peel and chop up vegetables for an Instant Pot, and then, as they waited for their soup to cook, showed them a video about healthy eating while the Rotary Room filled with the aroma of home cooking, which they got to eat when the soup was ready.
There are about 10 to 12 families who attend regularly, she says, and she’s hoping to attract others from around the region. Last week, she had one family from Fort Erie — there isn’t anything similar provided elsewhere that she is aware of.
“It gives moms and kids a change of scenery, and it’s a good opportunity for kids to become more familiar with the library,” she says.
“I try to do a mix of subjects, such as science and art, to offer them a well-rounded scope of projects.”
While the kids were learning about nutrition, three moms sat and chatted about their experiences with homeschooling, and the reasons for their choice.
Amika Verwegen has three children, two school-aged girls and a young son. Her kids would have gone to Parliament Oak, she says, and when it closed, “I didn’t like the idea of a super-school.”
She says some of the moms who homeschool began meeting in each other’s homes, but now find the library so much easier — all they have to do is show up, and they know their kids have a safe place to play.
She’s been homeschooling for the last five years, but with a baby on the way, and a little one at home, she is going to send her kids to Crossroads Public School in the fall.
Her husband passed away last fall, and she’s on her own. “With number four on the way, I want to give this baby the same dedication and attention I gave the others. I’ve loved having the kids at home — it’s been absolutely wonderful. I feel like I’ve been learning with them, and seeing the world through their eyes. I feel I’m giving them an emotional foundation to survive in this big world.”
Patricia Fry, with two boys, aged eight and 11, adds, “you get to see all their firsts. When they’re learning to read, you see that moment when they get it.”
Shannon Wright explains she feels it’s “very special” to spend that time with her kids, knowing what each child needs and being able to give it to them.
“They really thrive in one-on-one sessions,” adds Fry.
The moms agree they feel it’s important to let each child learn at his or her own speed, to never make them feel they’re behind, and to allow them to spend time on what interests them.
They also laugh about the concern they hear from other parents, that their kids won’t be socialized.
Wright believes her children will have a “more realistic understanding of how society works,” than they would sitting in a classroom with a large number of kids — and, she adds, she’s very concerned about “who is looking after my kids. We’re passionate about foundational learning, and after that, they can learn about whatever interests them.”
“All we do at home is talk all day, and learn,” Wright says. “We also place a lot of value on time outside, exploring the woods. They love it, and it’s another way to learn.”
Fry says her two boys are very outgoing, and very comfortable with other kids and adults.
“They don’t need socializing,” she says. Her oldest son started out in school, but ran into issues with bullying, and when Fry realized it wasn’t going to be an easy situation to fix, decided he was better off learning at home.
“Learning social skills from a group of seven-year-olds maybe isn’t the best idea,” she laughs.
They all also agree the library is a great resource, and they are delighted with the programs that are being offered.
“It’s great to use the library during the day, when it isn’t so busy,” says Fry, whose boys enjoy playing Minecraft on library computers when the homeschooling program ends.
And best of all, “there are no labels. Nobody is ever behind. They are just who they are. Their self-esteem is so fragile. When they’re homeschooled, that’s not a problem.”