how to start homeschool in British Columbia

We’re a homeschool family with four kids living and homeschooling in British Columbia: here are how you can do it & your present options available.

How to start homeschooling in British Columbia?

Our family has a unique take.

Every morning we meet at 8:30 to discuss our plans for the day. Maybe, one kiddo heads to dance at 3, then we’ll see her at 9 in the evening. Another daughter needs to be brought to the bus stop for a college English class. One is dropped off at youth group in the afternoon too.

Throughout the day, they have predetermined academic activities from mid-September to the end of May (our formal learning season, though very child-directed).

Me and my beautiful kiddos in the Kootenays of British Columbia. This is how to start homeschooling in British Columbia.

I’ve dabbled in many forms of homeschooling, playing the part of a radical unschooler, classical homeschooler, child-directed homeschooler, and Charlotte Mason homeschooler.

I have come to the same conclusion that most homeschoolers do after a decade: I define myself as an eclectic homeschooler. 

I take from every aspect of educational philosophies and educational theories, what seems to apply to my kids, and I leave the rest for someone else.

Because what is an education anyways?

According to my provincial law, I am indeed a homeschooler.

This seems an obvious thing to say because my kids are at home during a typical kids’ day at a brick-and-mortar school.

But in my part of the world, many kids distance learn from home (and because they do it at home, they identify as homeschoolers). These kids have a connection to a distance learning school with a teacher and learning outcomes and grades and exams and all that jazz.

It looks like homeschooling to the schooled world, because the kids are typically at home doing that work, but the government does not acknowledge it as such.

Everyone chooses different approaches for different reasons.

To each their own, of course.

Im long past sticking people in boxes about their educational choices.

But I know the reasons I went into this lifestyle: freedom. Freedom to learn what we want to learn. Freedom to live a less constrained life. Freedom to live a family-centric life.

And now that I’ve done this for as long as I have, I know I don’t need outside intervention to direct my children’s education.

I know that Section 12/13 Registered homeschooling of the British Columbia School Act maximizes our home learning freedoms.

Once upon a time, I had a utopia expectation of homeschooling.

Once upon a time, I wrote about my three little girls in white dresses, slamming screen doors as they ran in from our Prince Edward Island garden, enjoying readalouds, like Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables, on our white couch, and living happily ever after.

You know, utopia.

Good thing I figured out why I homeschool.

Turns out my three little girls are way past wearing white dresses now: they’re 19, 17, and 14. They’re more likely to wear lulu lemons and waist-high jean cut-offs.

There was classical music playing in my utopia homeschool vision.

In reality, there are now Top 20 tunes blasting as they contemporary dance their way across our hardwood floors.

What my reality is and what my original vision was definitely aren’t the same, but freedom most certainly remains a theme.

Though many home learning families choose home learning for similar reasons, anyone entering the home learning world in British Columbia must know that there are two ways to enter it. 

One is considered homeschooling and one is considered distance learning. 

Melanie Wilkins-Ho, BCHEA board member, homeschool mom, and homeschool advocate wrote this for reference in the BC Home Learners: homeschoolers, DLers, unschoolers Facebook group, updated in August 2019:

“Many folks aren’t aware that there are two separate paths you can take with home learning in BC.

REGISTERED HOMESCHOOLING: One path is to completely opt out of the school system entirely, other than registering your child, via a school or Distributed Learning (DL) program, as a section 12/13 homeschooler.

If you choose the Registered option, you are not required to follow the BC curriculum, there is no mandatory testing at any point, and your child is not required to work toward grade 12 “graduation” with a Dogwood Certificate (despite what school officials will tell you).

The only thing you as the parent must do is provide an “educational program” that YOU believe will sufficiently prepare your child to be a fulfilled, contributing member of society (see the definitions section of the School Act as well as sections 3, 12, 13 & 14 for exact wording).

The flip side of having this kind of freedom is that you do not receive any government funding — there are many good reasons for this that have been explored elsewhere, but essentially public monies can’t be spent without accountability, and everyone pays into the tax pool that funds education, whether or not you are/have a student in your family.

One thing to note is that Registered Homeschoolers can enter the school system at any time they wish, with no testing.

They just get placed with their age mates. So there is no need to start with a DL school in order to “keep options open”. In fact, only grades 10-12 count for a high school diploma in BC.

DISTRIBUTED LEARNING: The other home learning route in BC is to enroll in a Distributed Learning program, all of which are authorized by the Ministry of Education and are simply another method of curriculum delivery within the education system.

You are expected to follow the BC curriculum and meet the learning outcomes more or less at grade level, and you are assigned a teacher who is considered by the Ministry to be in charge of your child’s education, not you.

Regular reporting is required, report cards are issued, and the Ministry considers DLs to be the same as brick & mortar schools in terms of rights and obligations. There is a fair amount of variation in the DLs, and there are both public and independent ones — one of the main differences is that independent ones are allowed to include religious materials in the curriculum, although there are also secular independent DLs.

The website LearnNowBC has a complete listing of the public DL programs, although polling other families via Facebook or email groups for their experience is more valuable than just reading the program descriptions.

The Ministry of Education website also has a link to both public DLs and independent ones (it moves around, so search “Distributed Learning Programs BC” to find its current location).

One of the biggest draws to DLs has been the allotment the programs provide to families for third-party services like music lessons or sports activities that the programs can’t provide directly.

Until recently that allotment was generally around $1,000 per child per year, but the Ministry has now capped third-party spending at $600. The total amount hasn’t changed, but the programs are expected to provide more stuff rather than letting families spend funds on outside services.

As well, many DLs organize classes, field trips, and activities for their students that fall within curriculum requirements. It’s important to note that DLs are not obligated to provide an allotment to families at all; if they choose to put all the funding toward their programming, that’s their prerogative.

Another draw has been the access to special needs funding that a number of the DLs are known for handling very effectively, and many families have benefited from individualized access to therapies that otherwise aren’t available via the regular school system.

So, bottom line: section 12/13 registration = not part of the school system, create your own educational program, no strings attached and the government considers you a Homeschooler; OR Distributed Learning = part of the school system, just not a regular brick & mortar school, expected to follow BC curriculum but also funding for classes and activities provided in varying amounts.

For further information on all the rules and options:

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