There’s been nothing normal about back to school for Charmaine Bloomfield and her son Quinn.
“It’s not a chance that we really wanted to take — to add more possibility of getting the virus from going to school, being surrounded by hundreds of other children,” explained Bloomfield after starting at-home lessons Wednesday.
“I think there’s a lot of people who are sending their kids to school scared just because they don’t really feel like they have another option.”
Bloomfield said she made the difficult decision to homeschool Quinn, who would otherwise have been starting Grade 7 at École St. Norbert Immersion, this year because his grandparents have underlying health issues, and she doesn’t want to risk them getting sick.
And it doesn’t appear she’s alone in that decision.
Numbers from Manitoba Education show a nearly 25-per cent increase in applications for homeschooling this fall compared to last year.
A government spokesperson says the department received 4,591 registrations for homeschooling as of Sept. 4, up from the 3,689 processed last year.
And those numbers could rise. According to the province’s website, parents have 30 days to notify the government after establishing a home school.
‘You have to weigh whether you feel comfortable’
The decision to take the plunge into homeschooling wasn’t easy for Bloomfield, who says she worried about the effects of not seeing his friends, and of course, the work it will take for her to play the role of teacher — something she’s never done before.
To help with the social aspect she’s signed him up for a gym, hoping the smaller group size will help keep him active and seeing other people while balancing the risks of the virus.
“You have to weigh whether you feel comfortable,” she said. “But it’s once a week as opposed to every day, and it’s a group of seven or eight kids as opposed to … a classroom of at least 20 kids.”
But Bloomfield also works full-time, Monday to Friday, at an office outside of the home, and she’s still not exactly sure how she’s going to add being a new teacher on top of all her other roles.
She says other than laying out a list of required outcomes, the province doesn’t offer many resources for parents who are new to homeschooling.
“When you put your child to do homeschooling, you’re 100 percent responsible to provide them with whatever resources they need, find the curriculum, find the lesson plans,” she explained.
“It’s not a thing that at any point becomes someone else’s responsibility to show you — you have to kind of dig it, dig for it and find it, see how it’s going.”
Learning to be a teacher
Luckily Bloomfield has a teacher’s aid in her mom, who is helping to facilitate lessons for Quinn. She says she’s also gotten a lot of help from the Manitoba Association of Schooling at Home, a Winnipeg-based group working to help homeschooling parents, according to its website.
But Bloomfield still knows she’s got her work cut out for her.
“Essentially my evenings, my weekends, I believe, are going to be kind of full of just checking his work and planning for the following week and trying to just make sure that he’s learning what he needs to learn,” she said.
“It could be that this is now kind of my life — I go to work and do work and then I go home and try to facilitate my child’s learning.”
As for how long her life will include being a teacher, Bloomfield isn’t quite sure. She says she’s going to keep a close eye on how school divisions handle cases and hopes to have Quinn back in class as soon as she feels it’s safe for her family.
“I’m going to try my hardest as far as education goes — but this year is about mental health,” she said.
“This is not a year that I’m going to be focusing on trying to push him to get ahead academically. We’re just going to try and stay sane as a family.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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