FAQ about home based learning in Canada
There are four situations in which you might have questions about homeschooling and Canada:
- as a Canadian wishing to homeschool in Canada
- as a non-Canadian wishing to homeschool in Canada
- as a Canadian wishing to homeschool in a foreign country
- as a student, writer or journalist doing research for a report or article
If you can’t find the answer to your specific question on our site, we recommend you contact a provincial or local support group in your area, as listed on the Support page of each provincial section.
If such a group is not listed for your province, you can contact us for help.
Canadians in Canada
The following are questions often asked by Canadians about homeschooling in Canada or about homeschooling in general:
- Is homeschooling legal in Canada?
- How do I start homeschooling?
- What if I feel unqualified to teach a certain subject?
- What if homeschooling doesn’t work out?
Is homeschooling legal in Canada?
Yes, home based learning, or “home school,” as it is often referred to in the regulations, is legal in every part of Canada and comes under the jurisdiction of the provincial Ministry of Education. Each province has its own Education Act and Regulations with sections relevant to home education. You can find links to them on the provincial pages of this web site.
How do I start homeschooling?
First find out what is legally required of you in your province (see the relevant provincial pages on this site) and know your rights. Within the boundaries of what is legal, how you start will depend in part on whether you are homeschooling from “day one” or your child is being withdrawn from the school system. In the latter case, you may need to give your son or daughter some breathing space –time to de-stress from the school’s academic pressures, de-tox from the negative impact of its social environment, and rediscover his or her natural curiosity and joy in learning. How you start will also depend on what educational approach you take. There are as many styles of home education as there are home based learning families –from the very structured to the free-form, from school-at-home to “unschooling”– so read up on the different approaches and the philosophies behind them, to find or create one that suits your individual family’s needs and values.
You can find lists of recommended articles and books to read through the links on our resources pages. You will also find there some links to mail order catalogues, which you may find useful if you’ve decided to take an approach that uses curriculum or other educational materials. Members of a local support group or an online community can give you their individual perspectives on the differences between the curriculum packages and which ones they personally prefer.
What if I feel unqualified to teach a certain subject?
There are many options if you would like some assistance… friends, relatives, neighbours, community clubs, and homeschool support groups and tutors are good starting places.
What if homeschooling doesn’t work out?
You simply take your child back to your local school and Reregister him/her — no matter what time of year it is, no matter how long they have been “out” of the system. They MUST take your child… you are paying their salary! Some principals may want to test your child to determine where he/she should be placed. However, we suggest you strongly encourage your local principal to place your child at the grade level he/she normally would have been at had he/she been in the system all along, and allow a month or two to pass… then the teacher will have a better idea of your child’s level through observation without the stress and upset of testing. Still, the end decision on testing is up to the principal. (Very often homeschooled children are actually further ahead academically than their public-schooled peers.)
Non-Canadians in Canada
Questions about homeschooling in Canada also come sometimes from non-Canadians who are in Canada:
- We are in Canada temporarily. Are we allowed to homeschool?
- As foreigners, are we eligible for enrollment in a distance learning program?
We are in Canada temporarily. Are we allowed to homeschool?
Home schooling is legal in all provinces, so anyone residing in Canada is allowed to homeschool. As far as we can tell, children of foreign nationals temporarily in Canada are not subject to compulsory attendance in any case. By the same token, they are not necessarily eligible for free attendance and may have to pay a fee to attend public school. Provincial legalities determine whether or not this is the case depending on the parents’ legal status (visitor, temporary resident with work or study permit, immigration or refugee applicant). Homeschooling, however, is always allowed.
Relevant legalities that apply across Canada are in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which states in section 30:
(1)A foreign national may not work or study in Canada unless authorized to do so under this Act.
Authorization to work or to study (this refers to study at the post-secondary level) is in the form of a permit. The Act continues:
(2) Every minor child in Canada, other than a child of a temporary resident not authorized to work or study, is authorized to study at the pre-school, primary or secondary level.
In other words, foreign children whose family is temporarily in Canada without the parent having a work or study permit, are not authorized to attend pre-school, elementary school or high school. So homeschooling is actually their only option.
The minor children of parents who do have work permits or study permits, are allowed to attend school. Please note this does not mean they are obligated to attend school. Although this is not stated explicitly, they may homeschool if they prefer.
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations include a section on temporary residents (such as foreign adults on work permits or study permits) but do not address school attendance of their minor children. Each province has its own Education laws and/or regulations concerning school attendance of children whose parents are temporary residents, immigrants, refugees, or waiting for their residence applications to go through.
As foreigners, are we eligible for enrollment in a distance learning program?
Eligibility for attendance at distance schools seems to depend partly on the school itself and partly on the provincial laws and/or regulations concerning eligibility for attendance at school in general. We have not yet investigated all provinces for this aspect of homeschooling legalities (we currently have more details only for the situation in BC), but you should be able to do your own research through the provincial ministries of Education.
Canadians in a foreign country
Some Canadians are living in a foreign country for a length of time (either overseas or within the Americas) and have questions about homeschooling outside of Canada:
- We are a Canadian family living in [foreign country]. Are we allowed to homeschool there? Do you have any information or recommendation for home schooling abroad?
- We are a military family stationed overseas. What are the government’s rules for us to educate our children at home?
- Which countries allow homeschooling?
- I’d like to teach my children the Canadian curriculum. Where can I get it?
We are a Canadian family living in [foreign country]. Are we allowed to homeschool there? Do you have any information or recommendation for home schooling abroad?
Unless you are a military family, the education laws you must follow are those of your place of residence. You will need to find out whether homeschooling is legal where you live (by specific province or state, not just by country), and whether there are any requirements regarding approval processes, choice of curriculum or methods of assessment. Find out also whether there are special laws concerning foreigners with your residence status (permanent residence, temporary visa, work permit, student permit, or whatever your status is).
To find the relevant information for your country and province/state of residence, do a web search in the language of that country, using the country’s expression for “homeschooling” as your keywords, as well as the name of the specific province or state where you are living, and optionally the country’s expression for “support group” and/or “laws” or “legislation”. Support groups are the best place to find someone knowledgeable about that particular region’s legalities concerning home based education.
If it turns out you’re fairly free to do as you choose, then you have a choice between the following options (from the most conventional and structured to the most flexible and creative):
- register with a correspondence school (e.g. the Independent Learning Centre at www.ilc.org or a distance school in the country itself — see the ILC’s page on enrollment for international students)
- buy grade-based or unit-study curriculum materials (see the Suppliers page)
- create your own curriculum and support it with what’s available in local stores or mail-order catalogues
- take an “unschooling” approach to learning (child-led learning, natural learning, life learning, delight-driven learning,…) (see learninfreedom.org or ontariohomeschool.org/unschooling)
We are a military family stationed overseas. What are the government’s rules for us to educate our children at home?
Because military bases are considered to be part of the country whose military personnel is using them rather than part of the country whose soil it is on, you are considered to be residents of Canada. The Ministry of National Defence website has a section on Dependent Education Management – Outside Canada Education of Children How To Book, with chapters on home education options for military families (Home instruction, Distance education)
Note, however, that some of their external links and email addresses are sometimes out of date. Also, as of the beginning of 2018, they’re in the process of transitioning their content to the new DND/CAF site, and it looks like it’s not going smoothly (502 errors) so you may have to try again later.
Which countries allow homeschooling?
Homeschooling laws vary from country to country and within each country from province/state to province/state. To be sure of the legalities in the country where you are living, you should examine the country’s actual laws governing education, through their Ministry of Education. National or regional homeschool organizations are also a good source of information on the legal status of homeschooling. To find one in a specific country, do a web search in the country’s language.
We gather that the following are some of the countries in which homeschooling is either illegal or problematic (there may be others):
- Hong Kong
I’d like to teach my children the Canadian curriculum. Where can I get it?
There is no Canadian curriculum per se. Each province has its own curriculum guidelines, which homeschoolers do not necessarily have to follow.
Arrangements made by the Canadian Ministry of National Defence for its military families receiving secondary school distance education while abroad, are with online programs based in Ontario. The curriculum used is therefore the Ontario curriculum, which you can view and download from the website of the Ontario Ministry of Education.
If you are looking for Canadian content in educational materials (e.g. Canadian history or geography), send an enquiry to some of the Canadian Suppliers of educational resources.
Students and journalists
How many homeschoolers are there in Canada?
by Marian Buchanan
There is no way to know how many homelearning children there are in the many provinces in which there is no legally required registration. While ministries of education may or may not have statistics on the number of students who have been withdrawn from the public school system in order to home school, they cannot know how many homeschooled children there are who have never attended school nor been registered in any other way. Families have no reason to volunteer that information when not required to submit it by law, and in homeschool-unfriendly, repressive climates, may have good reason to keep a low profile.
Alberta has a legal requirement for registration and therefore some official statistics, which used to be found in its Home Education Information Package (no longer available on their website). On the last page of the info package was a chart of numbers broken down by whether the home education was provided entirely by the parents, or included part-time attendance (blended), or was given through distance learning. The combined numbers added up to over 2.5% of the total student population. However, it’s hard to extrapolate to other provinces where there is no registration, since Alberta has the most flexibility in options and support for homeschoolers, and it’s possible there may therefore be a greater percentage of homeschoolers in that province than elsewhere in Canada.
Here are some articles that mention estimates:
Parent-Generated Home Study in Canada (http://www.worldcat.org/title/parent-generated-home-study-in-canada-the-national-outlook-1993/oclc/271459556) is an article written by D. S. Smith in 1993, which has a section on “How many home schoolers are there in Canada?” Keep in mind that it is outdated and also that figures are inaccurate and unreliable whenever they do not include the vast majority of homeschoolers who do not register with any government body.
Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream (https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/HomeSchooling.pdf) is an article by Patrick Basham, of the Cato Institute, which has a section on the growth of homeschooling on page 6. Where it says “In 1979, just 2,000 Canadian children were home schooled (Statistics Canada data, as cited in Wake, 2000),” it is stating that as fact rather than an estimate, even though it is likely the numbers came from sources like Ministry of Education reports rather than the census, and would therefore entirely omit those homeschoolers who do not register with the government. Assuming that, then as now, registration was not compulsory in all provinces, it is likely that the number of non-registered homeschoolers exceeded that of registered homeschoolers which these statistics would represent.
Basham continues: “By 1996, the respective provincial ministries of education put the number of home schooled children at 17,523, or 0.4 percent of total student enrolment – a 776 percent increase over just 18 years. However, Canada’s home schooling associations claimed a much higher figure – between 30,000 and 40,000, or approximately one percent of total student enrolment.” Basham does not indicate how the homeschooling associations arrived at these figures, but it is possible they were estimated based on the speculation that for every registered homeschooler there was bound to be at least one non-registered homeschooler.
Basham continues: “By 1997, the home schooling associations claimed there were approximately 60,000 Canadian home schooled children (Eisler and Dwyer, 1997, p. 64). By 1999, it was estimated that there are more than 80,000 children being educated in private homes.” Again, there is no indication as to what the basis for the estimate is. It could very well be that the speculative reasoning itself is what changed rather than any actual numbers. Even if the change in estimates was based on increased numbers of memberships in the associations, there is still no way to know whether such an increase would be due to greater numbers of homeschoolers or simply greater numbers of homeschoolers interested in joining the associations.
Basham concludes: “If accurate, this suggests a doubling of the home schooled population in only a few years (Wake, 2000).” The numbers are very unlikely to be accurate, given that they are likely derived through compounded speculations driven by reasonings that themselves are not necessarily reliably consistent from one source to another nor over time.
In any case, numbers depend not only on the actual count of children learning at home (which cannot be known), but also on whether one makes any distinctions between the different options and includes or excludes any that involve enrollment in schools, such as the programs in Alberta and BC.
Here is an article on the BC system, that has a section on the growth of homeschooling on p.28: Homeschooling within the public school system, by Fergus Bruce Norman Horsburgh (masters thesis – Simon Fraser University) http://summit.sfu.ca/item/10231
Whether one can extrapolate from U.S. numbers to Canadian numbers is just as speculative as the numbers themselves but, for the sake of comparison, here are two sources of estimates for the U.S.:
National Center for Education Statistics http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2004/2004115.pdf
Homeschoolers: Estimating Numbers and Growth, by Patricia M. Lines
(originally on the www.ed.gov site but link no longer valid)