How to Start Homeschooling in Ontario

Please note: the information on this page is for withdrawing your child from the school system (de-registering/dis-enrolling) to take full parental responsibility for their education without support from the school or school board. If you are wondering how to continue your child's education at home during school closures, your situation is not one of "homeschooling" — you are, instead, in the same situation as every other family with children in the school system, and should therefore take the lead from that system itself. See the Ontario government's Learn At Home portal for resources (and eventually, hopefully, information on where things stand for phase two of the delivery of public education during closures — the page is currently not up to date regarding the extension of the school closures past April 5th after all).

Having said that, it is worthwhile for you to apply steps 2 and 3 below in your situation as well. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a time to increase your child's stress and anxiety with school work. It is, instead, a time for affection, connection, reassurance, and a sense of safety.

When starting home-based education, there are both practical steps to be taken and pedagogical choices to be made.

  1. Withdraw your child from school. If your child is currently attending a publicly-funded school in Ontario (public, Catholic, or francophone), or registered to attend such a school in Ontario, you'll need to give the school board written notification of your intent to homeschool instead. Out of courtesy and common sense, so that the school doesn't think the child is just truant, give a copy of your notice to the principal as well (see our page on the letter of intent).
    * NOTE: during school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic response, you don't need to take this step until delivery of public education resumes.
    * You do not need to send a letter of intent if your child has never attended or been registered to attend an Ontario school (see our FAQ about Policy/Program Memorandum No.131).
    * If your child has been attending a private school (or is registered to attend one), then the school board does not need to be notified of your switch to homeschooling, it is only the private school that you should notify in whatever way you usually communicate with them.
    * Please note: If you have plenty of time to make your pedagogical decisions before you withdraw your child from school, then this step could come anytime before step 6 instead, but if your child is suffering in some way (anxiety, depression, being bullied), do not hesitate to make withdrawal from school the absolute first step. You can always figure out the rest as you go along, and even have a period of complete rest from anything deliberately educational to de-tox from the school's effects before you ease back into education with a child's renewed interest in actual learning. If you do take withdrawal as the first step and find yourself having to deal with school authorities questioning your reasons, intentions, or ability to homeschool, you can take the optional step 9 right away too: joining the OFTP can give you more legitimacy in their eyes and a little security because they know we can give you guidance and will have your back.
  2. De-school your child: allow your child to spend a little time (or a lot of it, if need be) to just live freely for a while, with support and empowerment from you, to de-tox from any negative impacts they've suffered from attending school: being bullied, social anxiety, performance anxiety, low self-esteem, feeling stupid, etc. This is basically starting homeschooling with an unschooling approach. Make no mistake: learning will still happen during this phase. But you don't have to make it conform to any institutional model of education, nor place any specific expectations on your child at this point. Once your child is back to their natural curiosity and interest in learning, a more deliberate kind of learning can begin.
  3. De-school your mind: while your child is de-toxing, really think about what preconceptions you might have about what education is about and what it needs to look like. We've been conditioned to think of "proper" education as being the kind we see in classrooms, but that's an institutional model, designed for the logistics and standardization of mass instruction, not what natural learning looks like and not what is best for any given individual child. To help de-school your mind, read up on de-schooling and unschooling, even if you plan to get more structured later on.
  4. Choose your teaching style. The first thing to do for the actual homeschooling part of your plan, is to figure out what approach you'd like to take. This may change over time, as you make responsive adjustments, but you have to start somewhere. To explore your options, see our page on teaching methods and learning philosophies and our page on learning styles.
  5. Choose your learning materials. Then you may want some materials to go with your chosen approach. Some approaches like unschooling don't require anything deliberately educational, just your own daily living supplies and your own responsiveness. Other approaches that are more structured may rely on more conventional educational materials. See our page on curriculum and our list of suppliers of educational materials.
  6. Start your program. Implement your chosen approach and curriculum according to a schedule that works well for you, your child and the rest of the family.
  7. Adjust as needed. Once you've started homeschooling, don't forget to adjust as needed as you go along. Remain responsive to how your child responds to the teaching method, materials used, and schedule. If there is any aspect of your program that isn't working well, try something different. It's one of the main benefits of homeschooling that you can tailor everything to your own unique child and your own unique situation instead of being stuck with a rigid norm-based structure as children are in the school system.
  8. Network and socialize. To keep your child involved with peers, and for opportunities for field trips and other activities, and also for support for yourself, you may want to join a local support group.
    * NOTE: this is obviously curtailed during the physical distancing required in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Make use of the Facebook groups for connecting with other homeschooling families and agreeing on ways to help the kids interact online until they can see each other in person.
  9. Help protect your rights. To help protect your rights and the rights of all parents to "choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children" (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26.3), join the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents.

Some thoughts on "starting" an education

A person's education does not begin at junior kindergarten and end at high school, college or university. Education is a lifelong process. As a parent you have been intimately involved in your child's education from day one. Let's look at some of the principles of home learning:

Principles of home learning

Principle One

Children are constantly learning--that is the name of the game--from initial body movement, to crawling, to walking, to talking. Children have an inner motivation to learn.

Principle Two

As a parent you provide a learning environment and a model. The environment that you help create is one of safety, challenge and opportunity particularly suited and ever-changing to meet the present abilities and needs of your child.

Principle Three

A child learns when a child is ready. We all learn at different rates. Some walk before their first year, some learn to walk later.....and so on. The important thing is to respect the child's timetable. Faster is not better if the child is not ready. You cannot make a child walk--the child will walk when the child is ready.

With these three general principles it can be seen that you have already been involved intimately in home-based education. As a person grows older, and reaches school age, the same three principles still apply.