Student Spotlight: Jared & Michelle Johnson

Student Spotlight Jared and Michelle Johnson on a background of the Johnson family doing outdoor activities

Our favourite part of being educators at Virtual Elementary School is getting to watch our students grow as people and learners from year to year. We love seeing their progress as they advance to the next grade, and it’s doubly sweet when their younger siblings come along after them!

This month, we’re introducing you to the Johnson family: Karen, Wes, Jared (Grade 7), and Michelle (Grade 5). Avid members of their homeschooling community in Northern Ontario, Karen and Wes are striking the perfect balance between education and life’s adventures with their children. Let’s take a closer look at how the Johnsons incorporate VES into their homeschooling schedule.

Can you tell us a little about your family and interests?

We’re an outdoorsy family, and we chose to homeschool from the beginning because of the freedom and healthy lifestyle. We’re able to spend more time outside – hiking, swimming, and skate skiing. We’re able to choose curriculum and books that match our interests and abilities. And we’re able to participate in more activities.

We’re pretty busy! The kids are both on a Nordic ski team and tennis team. Both play piano and violin in a youth orchestra. Our entire family is part of a volunteer gardening team and have received awards for 5 years of service. We’re active with our church community and we also attend homeschool pickleball and badminton. Michelle is taking part in a musical. She’s also done art and design lessons with Outschool. Jared trains all year on a sprint canoe team. He has a 60-gallon aquarium and is part of an Outschool aquarium club with a retired marine biologist.

What is your family looking forward to doing this year?

Our family trips this year will be local ones. We [camped] in Long Point in May to canoe Big Creek and see the songbird migration. On our way home, we [visited] the Stratford Festival for A Wrinkle in Time (after reading the book!). And in July, we’re going backcountry canoe camping in Killarney Provincial Park.

What made you decide to enrol Jared and Michelle at VES?

We chose to enrol both kids in VES because we wanted them to receive feedback from a teacher. We’re impressed by the detailed feedback and encouragement that they receive. We also chose VES for the diversity of projects and interesting curriculum.

The book club is a huge draw! The teacher selects fantastic books and asks great questions.

Having VES handle some of the coursework has allowed both of us parents to scale up our businesses, while feeling confident that the kids are still getting a great education.

How have Jared and Michelle benefited from taking courses at VES?

Again, the teachers are very positive and give detailed feedback. The content is interesting and inspiring, and the projects are challenging and varied.

There are many interesting community activities offered for FREE to students. We take advantage of this and have really enjoyed many of them! They range from forensic science to book clubs. Michelle took two pages of notes after learning about Anishinaabe traditions around maple sugar.

Flexibility, or the asynchronous model, allows us to attend music lessons and work at our own pace. For us, freedom is a big benefit to homeschooling!

What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your children motivated at home?

Now that the kids are older, Karen usually has one meeting a day with them to review their work and help where needed.

When the kids were young, we tried hard to keep them outdoors and off screens, and while we still limit screen time, we’re big into using tech:

  • The kids both track their time in Clockify. They need to show that they spent an hour on math and an hour on English.
  • We use the app Todoist for our checklists. They can check off items like piano practices or chores, and it also alerts them to special events like a VES virtual field trip.
  • Both kids are set up on Google Drive. They use this for VES projects and for taking Cornell-style notes from class. This helps with study skills.

Most days have one special activity. A current favourite is family nature journaling. On Wednesdays, we all complete a nature journal and then share it over Zoom with 3 generations of family. The kids’ days are much like ours. We all get our Todoist checklists done, then we have free time in the evening.

Do you have any advice for other parents/guardians considering online learning as an option for their child?

  • I suggest organizing your time and using checklists to get the most important things done but take advantage of the freedom of homeschooling so you can follow your child’s interests.
  • Decide what you want to do together and what you want to outsource.
  • Realize that you’ll have to spend some time helping your child with things like organization and file management, but that these are important skills.
  • Keep things fresh and fun for your whole family.
Published On: June 27, 2023