Airdrie's homeschool families preparing for new semester
While most Airdrie youth may be putting off thoughts of returning to school, teachers, support staff and administrators are gearing up for a return to class.
The situation is no different for 24-year Airdrie resident Charmaine Contos, who has homeschooled her five children for more than 15 years.
Each spring, Contos starts thinking about the coming school year, ordering curriculum for its receipt in mid-August for a late summer start-up.
“That takes me a couple of weeks,” said Contos, who is the president of the Airdrie Christian Home Educating Parents group. “I overview the entire school year.”
Contos’ five children range in age from nine to 22. The two oldest have graduated from high school, leaving Contos with twins who are starting Grade 10 this fall and a student, who will be studying at a Grade 4 level.
Contos said she chooses her curriculum based on research and a strong philosophy about education. She also considers her children’s interests when planning the year.
For Airdrie’s Dustin Lammiman, 23, who was homeschooled for the first 12 years of his education before recently completing his bachelor of theology at Calgary’s Alberta Bible College, studying what interests him is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling.
“I thought a lot about doing computer science, and I was able to start pursuing that and studying that in high school,” said Lammiman, adding that he used some of his computer skills to help pay for his college education.
Lammiman also said he had the opportunity for hands-on learning.
Some of his best memories are of travelling to historically significant sites, and completing projects, such as a basement-sized replica of the solar system and pretending to be an ancient Egyptian for a day, to augment his education.
“It brings it to life,” said Lammiman. “Those are the things that stick with you.”
Lammiman added he was able to develop close family ties with his five siblings and took part in many activities with other homeschoolers, including sports and drama.
According to Lammiman, there is a vast amount of material for those considering homeschooling.
“There is so much good material out there and it is amazing how much a kid can learn on their own too,” he said.
Like the Lammiman family, Contos said over the years, her children have been able to focus on their interests, which has included music. Her children have studied a number of instruments including singing, violin, harp, guitar and piano.
The family has also taken an interest in performance arts, and for the past several years has been involved in the Drumheller Passion Play, for which rehearsals begin in the late spring with performances in the summer.
For that reason, Contos said the family begins their school year during the last two weeks of August.
“We do that because we have to finish up earlier,” she said.
Contos, who has had a longtime interest in education, said an article piqued her interest in homeschooling before she had children.
After her eldest, Micheal, attended school outside of the home for a year, Contos decided to commit to teaching him at home.
“He wasn’t ready to go to school,” said Contos. “So I thought it would be better if I taught him at home so then we (could) go with his energy and interests and he (didn’t) have to sit in a desk all day.”
Micheal flourished under the tutelage of his mother. Now, he is looking at studying criminal justice at college, with an ultimate goal of joining the police force.
Contos’ daughter graduated last year and is interested in pursuing a specialty in child psychology. Emily, 18, also teaches three harp students and does respite care for local foster families.
According to Contos, homeschooling hasn’t been a hindrance in her two eldest children’s career goals.
“A lot of colleges and universities will take homeschoolers,” she said, adding it is necessary for some students to do a few months’ worth of courses or upgrading prior to acceptance.
Although for the most part the family doesn’t use Alberta curriculum, Contos said a number of Airdrie homeschoolers do some or all of their courses online.
Contos said her role as teacher has been fairly easy, although she admits to struggling a bit with high levels of math.
“I have more of a challenge in the high school math,” she said. “So I have computer programs, online, tutorial help.”
Contos said there are a number of benefits to home educating including a flexible schedule, the opportunity to foster friendships with family and the ability to develop personal interests.
“I see in all my kids a real joy of learning and even those who have graduated love to read, they love to research,” said Contos. “(Homeschooling) gave them a chance to know their interests.”
Contos said being part of the Airdrie homeschool group, which includes about 30 families, has been a good experience.
Families get together for field trips, to showcase the students’ talents and for presentations from speakers and video conferences on education.
Contos said the group also offers support.
“When you start out, you don’t know anything, but there are lots of resources out there, there are also lots of people who can assist you with making decisions,” she said. “You aren’t alone.”
For more information about homeschooling, visit www.aheaonline.com