Hume Park is a beautiful location that has truly given our unique distributed learning program a home. So, what is the Hume Park Homelearners program?
It started formally, or perhaps I should say, experimentally in the year 2002. Previous to this time, I had been allowing my own two children the choice each day to either go to school, or to learn at home. Since we had a home based business, and I worked part-time in the traditional system, teaching in Surrey, we were able to offer this option to our kids, as well as the occasional visit to my classroom for some shared learning experiences. I also had access to resources and the expertise of other teachers. However, what was missing was the community aspect that school often provides. I had also spoken to many parents that were interested in homeschooling their children, but wanted support and resources. And, of course, there was always the age-old concern about ‘socialization’….
I was fortunate that changes were in the wind at a time when I wanted to provide more to my own children, as well as the fact that I had recognized my own need to continue working with children in a learning environment. Teaching is my passion, however, with the stressors continuously being added onto a traditional system, increased bullying, less parent involvement, and learning that was more about supporting a system rather than supporting children and families, I was close to giving up my profession. The changes that came during this time in my life allowed for the development of programs that could be funded by the Ministry of Education when developed and overseen by BC certified teachers. From this change in the education system in BC, came the development of the New Westminster Homelearners Program.
We started with a little group of fifteen students ranging from kindergarten to grade 7. We moved locations six times in our first year and a half, and most of our resources were borrowed, donated and hand me downs. We were actually dubbed the ‘Homeless Learners’ until we established a long-term location in uptown New Westminster. There were many hurdles in the development of a program, however, the Homelearners Program did manage to move ahead, and has become a creative way to teach and learn. Three years ago, we moved to our current location nestled in the beautiful Hume Park, and our name evolved to Hume Park Homelearners.
We are a distributed learning program, meaning that we share learning with the family. The education of each child is a joint venture, a partnership between teachers, parents and children. Sometimes this also involves grandparents, caregivers, tutors and community programs. Our program is somewhat unique in the fact that we celebrate both individualized learning, and a rich community of learners. Our program is not just kids learning at home in a secluded setting, nor is it a curriculum in a box, or, a one sized fits all computer delivered program. Our philosophy starts with getting to know about each child, how they learn, what their strengths and interests are, and then to develop an individualized program to set and achieve both learning goals, and social-emotional goals. It allows us to work with the whole child, and set a pace and style that will support that child in their learning journey, and to support an entire family for many years. This is the individualized part of Hume Park Homelearners. It allows for a wide range of resources being used, and the development of projects and portfolios as a means of demonstrating and sharing a child’s learning. We use face-to-face conferences to celebrate achievements and set next steps in learning.
The other portion of a unique learning environment is the development of a close community. Our learning center has become a home away from home. We offer classes part-time which focus on skills that are best learned in a group setting. Therefore, we do not necessarily have formal math classes. This is a highly individualized area of learning, and one in which traditional school spends enormous energy and time attempting to get all the students on the same page, at the same time. Instead, we prefer to focus on other areas crucial to developing the whole child. That can include critical thinking, problem solving, developing and supporting an opinion, sharing ideas with others in building new ideas or solutions, learning to communicate with others by exploring and practicing speaking, listening, taking turns and working cooperatively, exploring social or environmental issues, fine arts, physical education, group projects and productions, and most importantly, a close-knit community that gives each member a safe place to begin their learning journey. We find that this allows our students to take risks, to share their own expertise, and to acknowledge and celebrate that of their peers.
Our community is more than students and teachers. It is a family. Our parent group is a supportive network of individuals who have all chosen to take an active role in the learning of their child. We have parents who work together and share their own successes and failures, their concerns, and their joys. Parents are encouraged to attend the learning center, often by spending time in the ‘Bistro’, our Commons Area, and sometimes, even coming to classes when a child needs a parents support. They are involved in the development of projects, which are shared at the learning center. They give us feedback about the unique learning styles and challenges of a child, and areas in which they need support when working with their child. Our parents help us with our resource library, yearbook, special events, family camp, the garden, and pretty much anything that needs doing. One thing I always struggled with when I was in a traditional setting was the fact that parents were often not welcomed into a school. The notion that school and home are separate entities never sat well with me, especially once I had children of my own. At Homelearners, we believe that working in partnership with families is most beneficial for real learning. It is a shared venture. This also includes younger and older siblings. It is one where there is not the traditional segregation of age and grade, as many of our groupings are multi-aged, or at least have children within two or three-year age groups. Often, a younger child begins sharing their own ’portfolio’ at about three or four years old. We find our children are able to hold conversations with adults, their own peers, or older or younger children.
Another area that differs from traditional education is that we see learning as an ongoing journey over many years. Teachers usually work with a family for the duration of their time with us. This allows us as teachers to know what goals were in the past, and, then, working with the parent and child, to determine next steps. I feel so fortunate to work with families in this way since it allows me to trust each child’s route. It allows self-directed learning by giving children the opportunity to express what they have learned, and what they would like to learn about. I am always amazed at how much I learn during portfolio conferences! By giving children the opportunity to direct their learning, the understanding is often much deeper since they have decided on a topic, and in that exploration, they are also learning skills such as reading, writing and research. When a child is given the time, it is amazing to see how far they can go, especially when it is them that has determined an area they need to set as an academic goal. I could talk about the need to become a better writer over and over, as could a parent. However, if a child makes that goal, and has a say in how they need to learn that skill, there is no stopping them.
When we anchor traditional skills or learning outcomes in topics of interest, the learning is long-lasting, and is used as a building block in future years. It also gives a child a way to practice the skill of self-determination. As a society, especially the ever-changing one in which we live right now, we cannot possibly know or predict what skills will be needed in the future. The best we can do is to teach a child to follow their passions, to see themselves as lifelong learners, so that they have the skills to communicate their needs, and find strategies to that will help them achieve their goals. By working in collaboration with teachers, parents and their peers, they can become communicators, problem solvers, critical thinkers and leaders in the future. They can use the knowledge of themselves as individuals to find a meaningful place for themselves as adults in a bigger world. They have a better chance of finding a lifestyle that makes them happy, rather than just being…
I have been fortunate in my life to have found and created work that supports my life, and that is truly what I love to do. This is something that I have been able to pass on to my children. They are the product of a family that chose passion over money, and of an education that allowed them to develop their ideas and skills at a young age. They were able to include all their passions in their learning journey, and today, each of them has a career of their choosing, and which they started in their teens. They may not be rich, but they are happy. They also know they can learn anything they need when they want to change paths. My oldest son, Kiefer, who recently moved into his own apartment, says often, “ I’m so glad you raised me the way you did. I’m good at my job because you taught me to think outside the box.” The teachers at Homelearners often comment how they love their jobs. We have each had our own children in the program, so we truly believe in what we are doing. We are able to follow the curiosity of a child, and capitalize on that curiosity. We can recognize areas that a group of children need to develop, and that can be academic or social, and use that as a springboard for all other learning. We have flexibility in what and how we teach, since we try to tailor that with the needs of our community, and because we work in partnership with a family. This allows us, as teachers, to focus on the big ideas, and have parents focus on the smaller details at home.
Learning is a lifelong journey. It is meant to develop skills not just specific to a society, but also to the individuals that are part of a society. When you are beginning your learning journey with your children, remember to listen, to communicate, to advocate, to accept, to have patience, to trust instincts, to play, and to love doing it, whatever path you choose for that journey.