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Alternative Education - beyond concerns related to Covid-19

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Many parents are wondering (and worrying) about what the start of the school year is going to look like in this new Covid-19 reality and those concerns are more than legitimate. Whichever way you choose to begin the school year with your kids, it’s not an easy decision. Parents are looking to other parents for advice - who’s sending their kids to school or not, who’s homeschooling, and how, and I noticed another option floating around - private tutors. In one of the discussion forums I follow on Facebook, I noticed people offering to do in-home lessons, small group type classes, or video calls as an alternative to traditional school and a solution for parents who can’t homeschool.

This isn’t actually a new idea, homeschooling communities have been helping each other educate their children for a long time. I homeschooled my kids for a time and took advantage of group lessons many times, we all loved it. I found it interesting to learn that private schools got their start this way a few hundred years ago. Dating back to the late 1600s, teachers who needed extra income offered to teach older children and adults - sounds a little bit like what’s going on right now, 300+ years later. But this certainly is a different time and the search for alternative education is being driven by many unknowns. In many instances, (maybe this describes you), people are feeling a bit desperate, maybe even scared. Stuck between wanting what’s best for your kids, unsure what that means exactly, and also needing to work to keep a roof over your head. But, Covid-19 is not the only thing that should be raising concerns.

Unfortunately, this is a climate where child abusers find ample opportunity. You might have a neighbour who has offered to teach your kids, or maybe you connect with one of the people who offers their services in a discussion forum you’re following, or a friend of a friend has homeschooled for years and has offered to open up their home to other kids. All of these options are reasonable and a lot of times turn out to be wonderful experiences. But sometimes they don’t. There are a few red flags you can watch out for and ways to screen potential teachers/providers to help minimize the risk.

The very first thing you can do to prevent your kids from becoming victims of child sexual abuse is becoming aware. Little Warriors has an excellent training module that is available online and is free. They are a charity and ask for a donation in lieu of a fee to take the training. This is also a good first question to ask potential providers, “have you taken abuse prevention training?” If they haven’t, they should. I personally would not allow my kids to be cared for in a daycare or private school type setting unless the teacher and EVERY OTHER PERSON WITH ACCESS to your child while in their care had abuse prevention training.

A recent criminal record check is another necessity - however, it really only means that they have not been convicted of a crime up to the date the check is issued. It does not at all reflect someone’s character, how they interact with children, or the absence of an offence toward children.

Who are they accountable to? This is another important point. In Ontario, in order to teach in a publicly funded school, teachers must be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers. Individual daycare providers are not licensed through the Ministry of Education but are contracted by home child care agencies that are licensed by the Ministry. These governing bodies provide important guidelines and accountability that help keep kids safe. If the provider is not affiliated with a governing body, it would be a good idea to ask why. If they are affiliated with an agency you aren’t familiar with, do some research.

If you’re satisfied up to this point, it’s time to trust your gut. These are some questions you can ask yourself as you reflect on the discussion you have with the provider:

  1. Was anything said or done that seemed off or even odd? I once interviewed a daycare provider who was giving me a tour of her home while she completely ignored and left unattended the 10-month-old baby playing in the living room. She was awkward to talk to, the house was not very well maintained and it had a smell. The unattended baby was enough, but along with the other factors, it was a hard no. Smells matter. Chemistry matters.

  2. If you were to get off work early and show up unannounced, would that be a problem? Can you sit in on one of the lessons? Are you free to walk into the home (being mindful of potentially napping children)? Do you feel free to walk in after you knock and don’t get an answer? Maybe they’re in the backyard or are busy doing something and didn’t hear the knock. Your level of comfort about entering the house tells you something as well.

  3. How does the provider respond to your questions? Do they get defensive? Do they brush things off? Or do they welcome the dialogue because they recognize how precious our kids are to us and we all want a healthy and positive relationship.

  4. How does your child respond to the provider and the environment? You know your child best. After an initial screening make sure to include them in the next visit. Kids often have finely tuned radars that can show us things we don’t see.

If you have any off feeling at all, a feeling in your stomach or the hairs tingle on the back of your neck, pay attention to that. You don’t need to have a “good reason” to make a different choice. This by far is not an exhaustive list of questions, you may have others you could add - please feel free to leave a comment and share your experience or any other questions you would add. We truly are in this together.

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