I saw the need in our community and was excited to think of something that would help – even a little. — Terry Yaceyko
School-aged children have certainly been hit with challenges this past year, especially when it comes to connecting with the people they love the most. Not only have they been temporarily cut off from beloved grandparents and special family members, but when the global COVID-19 pandemic hit and schools closed their doors to in-person learning, their usual hub of activity shifted, leaving kids craving connections with classmates and friends.
Adapting to Being At Home
Teachers, students and families in public schools made the pivot to distance learning in March 2020. One of the many challenges they faced was adapting to being at home for literally everything. While parents juggled work schedules to become temporary teachers, their students were facing the emotional stress of less social interaction.
Families that had experience with at-home learning through an established homeschool program, who also rely on lessons and extracurricular activities outside the home, felt the absence of community. That feeling of isolation was not easy on anyone, especially the kids.
But there are some “pandemic positives,” like the great opportunities to spend more time as a family to forge a new path. Families took the steps to figure out what worked best for their children and find more control over who, what, where and how their children are being educated. Many families found that with a homeschool curriculum. They could tailor a plan that fit their needs from the comfort of their own home.
Embracing the Homeschool Alternative
As families embrace the homeschool alternative more and more, we want to spotlight one community that can teach us a lesson of the value of connections.
Meet Terry Yaceyko, a mom who knows the ropes of homeschooling. In fact, she homeschooled her own children for 26 years and absolutely loves the homeschool life AND lifestyle. Based on her own experience, Terry is now happy to share with the next generation of parents and students seeking an alternative for education.
From her small rural town in Alberta, Canada, Terry serves as a Home School Consultant with WISDOM Home Schooling, which currently serves 2,702 families (and 5,576 children). She’s now taking that passion for WISDOM to the next level in helping encourage a sense of belonging and connection.
Homeschool Families Making Meaningful Connections
“WISDOM Home Schooling is a wonderful organization,” Terry explains. “In Alberta, home school families need to notify a school board (or associate private school) of their intent to home educate. WISDOM supports parent directed homeschooling by assisting with planning and resources, by matching families with certificated teachers who help guide them and complete necessary evaluations, by providing educational workshops, events and courses, and by channeling government funding to families for their resources.”
“There certainly was a surge in new homeschool families last Fall. Many parents decided they wanted to keep their children home. Our Administration gained 1,500 students in Sept. 2020 alone,” Terry says.
“The pandemic has been difficult for many of our families,” she adds. “A lot of the veteran homeschool families who were used to being out and about — taking part in classes, lessons and more — found it difficult to stay at home.”
“New homeschool families also found it difficult — they didn’t have the connections that families who had already been home schooling had. Many home school parents and children are craving connections and friends this year,” according to Terry.
Elfster Brings the Fun Through Thoughtful Giving
It’s funny how great ideas just come to you when you least expect it! Terry shared this story of just such a moment when she decided to take on the role of community organizer:
“I was driving to work one day — thinking about our families — and talked to my manager if it would be possible to set up Mail Connections for the kids at least,” she relates. “She approved the idea and I set up a couple exchanges on Facebook Events. However, it was a lot of extra work for me (assigning names for 75 participants) and it was also difficult getting addresses shared with partner families — without having issues with Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).”
Terry selflessly saw the need to foster relationships and help this homeschool community make meaningful connections. She was excited to think of something that would help during these difficult times — even a little.
“A friend in the office mentioned Elfster and I immediately started setting it up — figuring out how it would work for our families,” Terry recalls. “I used to advertise it only on our Facebook Page, but have just started an eLetter that will go out to all our families — not just the ones on Facebook. The WISDOM Mail Exchange numbers have consistently grown over the past 4 months.”
Simple & Creative Community Bonding
“Elfster has really helped to manage our Exchanges. Facebook Events worked to an extent, but many of our families are not on Facebook, so that cut them out,” she explains. “Everyone who wants to can take part now with Elfster. It is a one time sign up to make an account on Elfster, is easy to add children under the parent’s name and it is completely safe. I love how easy it is to manage the different Exchanges as the Organiser. I can create new Exchanges fairly quickly right now, share them with the families that are currently interested, and advertise them to our families, too.”
“Snail mail is a little old fashioned,” Terry admits. “But there have been a number of families that have taken part with their children and have really enjoyed the exchanges.” And she has come up with some gift exchange ideas that have sparked some joy for both students and parents.
“This idea was a new initiative,” Terry explains, “so I have had nothing to pattern the WISDOM Mail Exchanges after. I ended up doing one a week — thinking that the different exchanges will appeal to different families and that families could decide how many exchanges they would like to take part in personally. My idea was just to get some mail exchanges going and excitement building.”
8 popular gift exchange themes for homeschoolers:
- Lego Minifigures (fan favorite!)
- Happy Mail for under 11 / for 12 and up / for Home School Moms
- Recipe Exchanges (Snack / Cookies)
- Seed Package
- Chapter Book / Comic / Easy Reader Exchange
- Travel Around the World Mail Exchange (print educational fun pages about a certain country and share them with your assigned partner — this one might be an ongoing Mail Exchange with different Continents highlighted. Great fun for homeschoolers!)
- And, of course, Canada Day! (which is coming up on 7/1)
Imparting Words of WISDOM
And what words of WISDOM would Terry impart to those looking for creative ways to connect?
“I’d recommend thinking out of the box and trying new things. You never know who will be blessed by the ideas you come up with!”
Thanks to Terry for sharing her story of generosity and finding the right fit for students craving connections with Elfster! Kudos to your WISDOM community, learning something new and fun each and every day!
Looking for an easy way to spread joy in your community? Try a Secret Santa generator that simplifies the process. Elfster makes it easy to pair people up, shop for gifts, and start a Wish List. Plus, you can access it all from an iPhone app or Android app.
Top image courtesy of Etsy seller PoshSoiree