Which British Columbia Distance Learning Program Should I Choose?

If you live in beautiful British Columbia, you’ll see that there are a good number of Distance Learning options to choose from. The choice can easily feel overwhelming, especially if you are new to homeschooling, and even if you’re not so new. It can be hard to even know where to begin. I certainly cannot give you an educated opinion about most of those programs, but I would like to share with you the experiences my family has had with two DL programs. Then I hope to suggest some questions you might want to ask yourself as you make your own decisions.

My family is in our 3rd year of homeschooling. My son is in grade 8 and my daughter in grade 5, so we’ve experienced the “going to school everyday” thing as well as homeschooling. I am absolutely convinced that homeschooling is right for my kids, and I have no plans to send them back to school as long as I can help it.

My children started their homeschooling journey with a DL school in Langley, called Lochiel U-Connect. As a brand new homeschooling mom, I was so happy to find a place that supported us in developing a learning plan for each of my children. The teachers and support staff are familiar with the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO) as set out by the Ministry of Education. This was a relief to me, because at least someone could tell me if I was on the right track or not. I was new to this, and didn’t know where to begin. With Lochiel, I could be as flexible as I could handle, and yet still rely on the structure they provided.

The many benefits we have enjoyed with Lochiel U-Connect are…
-students attend classes one day a week, which allows them the opportunity to connect with other homeschooled friends
-it allows them to participate in hands-on activities like science experiments
-they can participate in extra curricular activities like robotics, spelling bee, science fair, yearbook club, and the spring musical
-they get to experience “recess” with friends, and mom gets a day off to run whatever errands she needs to run etc.
-the school covers a good amount of the PLO’s in class, which means parents aren’t doing absolutely everything at home
-the classrooms have an open-door policy, and you often see parents sitting in the classroom with their child if needed, and this is not embarrassing for the child as it would be in the public system, it’s simply normal (I know my own kids have felt extra special when I’ve stayed with them)
-bullying is not an issue, and children can often be seen playing with children who are older or younger than themselves, not specifically with their own age group
-they have a resource room, where you can find pretty much everything you need to homeschool your children: textbooks, workbooks, novels, science kits & microscopes, math manipulatives, and the list goes on and on and on
-they hold portfolio meetings at the end of each term, so 3 times a year, and this is a time where we bring in all the wonderful learning that we have been doing at home, and our children receive report cards each term.
-parents can be flexible with what they choose to cover at home, or they can simply work through the modules provided by the school if that’s easier
-the teachers and support staff are a friendly bunch, and love it when the students share with them what they’ve learned at home

Both of my children attended Lochiel for our first two years of homeschooling. My daughter is still there this year, however, all children are unique, and I think it’s fair to say that not all programs work for all kids. My son still had trouble with being in a classroom setting, even one day a week, which was the main reason I pulled him out of full-time school in the first place. So this year, he has been enrolled with a program called Self Design, which is definitely a better fit for him.

Here are some of the benefits we have enjoyed with Self Design…

-students do not attend classes of any kind, unless parents choose to enrol them in various community classes (my son is in a homeschool PE class in Langley)
-Self Design is an independent school, so not as closely structured to the requirements of the public system
-there is a greater amount of flexibility regarding what the student can learn, and they encourage students to take ownership of their own learning (now that I’m not new to this anymore, I like the extra flexibility)
-families are connected with a Learning Consultant (LC), who may or may not live in the same area, this LC supports the family through emails, skype or phone calls as necessary
-at the beginning of the school year, the parent and the LC together create the student’s learning plan for the year
-parents report weekly rather than at the end of the term, what they have done that week (I like this because every Monday I have a clean slate to work with, it’s a new week)
-student work does not need to get sent in to the LC or anyone, simply reporting what they learned and their reaction to it is enough, there are no portfolio meetings
-students do not necessarily need to do paper/pencil work for it to count as learning, simply having a conversation at the dinner table or in the car are acceptable forms of learning
-students do not receive report cards with letter grades until grades 10-12, where they are needed in order to receive the high school Dogwood Diploma
-not receiving letter grades takes the stress off the child, and I have found that my son has come to enjoy learning far more than he used to
-reporting is done 3 times a year through a process called Seasonal Reviews, where the LC sends to the Ministry of Education a written summary of the learning that has taken place
-the weekly learning that can be reported is based on the whole child, not specifically the academics only (math, language arts, socials, science). It includes those areas, but also self-awareness, health and wellness, philosophy, spiritual, applied skills, creativity…
-they have an online village called the Village of Conversations, where you can find conversations about just about any topic, and you can connect with other homeschooling families in your area if you like

So, my two kids are each in very different programs. We are a Christian family, but neither of them are enrolled in a Christian DL program. With Self Design, anything faith-based falls into the category of Philosophy, so unlike the public school, it is allowed. There are many other programs out there as well, some faith-based. So I think if you find yourself trying to figure out which program is right for each of your kids, consider asking yourself these questions…

1. Do I want a specifically faith-based program, or am I happy to apply faith principles to whatever program we choose?

2. Would my children benefit from weekly classes, or occasional classes by topic, or no classes? Will those classes assign homework that we need to complete at home during the week? How do I feel about that?

3. How often do I want to be reporting? Three times per year in a portfolio setting, or weekly? Some programs may require more frequent reporting than once per term, and may require sample work to be mailed to the support teacher on a regular basis. I personally don’t know the details of other DL programs, but it’s something to check out.

4. How closely do I want to follow the Prescribed Learning Outcomes as set out by the Ministry of Education? Do I need that structure, or would I prefer more flexibility?

5. How important are report cards and letter grades?

6. Does the school we enrol with provide resources for us to sign out or purchase? Or will I have to find my own resources? Which do I prefer?

Well, I know this probably has been a lot of reading, but I sure hope it is helpful information. I am happy to share our experiences, but I firmly believe all children are unique, and parents need to find the program that works for their children, even if that means having them enrolled in different programs. Happy homeschooling!!!

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