Bighorn Trail will have three downhill options

Photo by Aaron Jones
Bighorn trail

Masha Scheele

The Bighorn Trail will not just be made into one loop to the ridge and down, but will have three different downhill options.

Two are being cleared by West Fraser and professional trail builder Jay Hoots, while another downhill trail is being built by the Hinton Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) and contractor Nathan Froehler of Creating Flow Trail Designs.

HMBA raised funds to build a downhill trail starting part way up the Bighorn uphill trail.

“We opted for a flow trail. They have really good dirt out there and enough elevation and the right kind of grade planned out that will make for a fun roller coaster type trail,” said Froehler.

The 1.2 kilometre blue-rated flow trail will have an elevation of 100m with jumps and berms and is completely machine built with a mini excavator.

Many volunteers have helped out and community sponsors have donated tools, fuel, and offered great rates on machinery rentals.

“It’s been a real community effort. It’s been tough making things happen but people come together and make it work,” said Froehler.

Froehler was born and raised in Hinton and spent a lot of time building and maintaining trails in the area, including the Halloween Trail behind Hinton and at the Nordic Centre.

He explained that there are basically two mountain bike trails; tech trails and flow trails.

A flow trail is generally a smooth dirt surface, with not a lot of rocks or roots like a tech trail would have.

While it’s a bit of a climb to get up there, most people with a general fitness level can do it, Froehler said.

“It’s a really nice climb they’re building right now. Hoots is building that climb trail to the top of Bighorn, which is an average grade of five per cent or something so it’s quite a mellow climb but it will still take a bit of work,” Froehler said.

The blue downhill flow trail is great for intermediate mountain bikers but can be adaptable for many skill levels, including advanced riders, Froehler said.

Froehler’s downhill trail is expected to be finished by the end of the season and should be ready by the fall.

“It won’t be until the end of the season but we should be good to go,” Froehler said.

West Fraser finished the first downhill portion from the Bighorn ridge last year, including a small portion of the uphill trail.

The uphill portion is now halfway completed and West Fraser, who is funding that project, hopes to complete the uphill portion this year.

The uphill trail will be 11 kilometres to the Bighorn ridge, followed by the five-kilometre downhill trail.

The project includes a price tag of $500,000 and is being built by the nine member Vancouver-based Hoots Bike Parks crew.

The Hoots crew has also been busy with other projects throughout the summer, but are expected to be back at work in Hinton this season.

The few crew members working right now bike their way up to the worksite each day, but the public isn’t allowed on the trail quite yet.

With machinery and equipment left on the trail, Aaron Jones, management forester of West Fraser, explained that they have to be careful with the public going on unfinished trails and into active worksites.

Kiosks, signage, garbage cans, tables, and other finishing touches also still need to be put up.

Jones added that there could be a possible soft opening this year depending on whether any portions can be opened to the public.

West Fraser’s second downhill trail is slightly less technical than the original downhill trail.

This trail is expected to be finished by the end of this year and will provide a 10-kilometre loop, starting part way on the Bighorn uphill trail as well.

Other future plans by West Fraser include building a trail all along the Bighorn Ridge and connecting the epic Bighorn trail to town trails.

Jones explained that while there is a trail along the ridge, it’s not currently ideal for mountain biking.

Drug trafficking investigation results in several charges

Charges have been laid by RCMP following an investigation initiated Aug. 9  into the trafficking of cocaine in the Town of Hinton.

Evidence was obtained in this investigation and on Aug. 12 a vehicle stop was conducted on Macleod Avenue. This stop resulted in the seizure of 27 grams of cocaine, 15 grams of methamphetamine, and just under 1 gram of heroin. 

Drug paraphernalia, multiple cell phones, and $490 in Canadian currency was seized as well.

Derek Michael Thompson, age 39, is charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking cocaine, possession for the purpose of trafficking methamphetamine, trafficking in cocaine and possession of stolen property.

Laura Lamouche, aged 38, is charged with possession of cocaine and possession of methamphetamine.

Two other individuals had multiple arrest warrants executed as part of this investigation.

Cody Mcintosh, age 36, was arrested on his multiple outstanding warrants for 19 offences including drive while disqualified, break and enter and assault causing bodily harm.

Haley Sjovold, age 27, was arrested on outstanding warrants for driving offences.

Thompson, Lamouche, and Sjovold have been released on bail to attend court in Hinton. 

Mcintosh remained in custody as bail had not been spoken to. The seizure of these drugs has a direct impact on the community and further sends a message that drug trafficking will not be tolerated in the Town of Hinton, reads a press release from the RCMP.

*Editor’s note: The initial RCMP press release which was published on our Facebook page incorrectly  stated Haley Sjovold had outstanding warrants for possession of cocaine and theft under $5,000. The RCMP have since corrected that statement to her only having warrants for driving offences and have apologized for the error.

– Filed by Voice Staff

RCMP investigate arson at St. Gregory School

Tyler Waugh Photo
Emergency crews responded to a late night fire response call Aug. 17 at St. Gregory School that the Hinton RCMP is calling an act of arson. There was also graffiti painted on the school, including what’s shown in the image below.

Tyler Waugh

Hinton RCMP are asking for public assistance in the investigation of a late-night fire Aug. 17 at the St. Gregory School on Rispler Avenue.

Emergency crews – including three fire trucks, multiple RCMP cruisers, and an EMS vehicle – responded to a complaint of a fire on the roof of the school at 11:54 pm.

The fire was extinguished and nobody was injured, in an incident that the Hinton RCMP are calling arson.

The investigation revealed that a number of youth were in the area as early as 11:20 pm and graffiti, some of which were of a graphic and offensive nature, was also painted on the school around that time.  

Hinton RCMP are asking the public’s assistance for any information in relation to this incident or identifying those responsible. 

Please contact Hinton RCMP at (780) 865-2455. If you wish to remain anonymous, you can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS), online at or by using the “P3 Tips” app available through the Apple App or Google Play Store.”

Girl, 10, killed in highway collision

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A 10-year-old Edmonton girl was killed the morning of Aug. 18 in a multi-vehicle collision on Hwy. 16 around 10 km east of the Jasper Park gates.

Preliminary investigations indicated a pick-up truck travelling westbound crossed the centre line into the eastbound lane a little before 10:40 am and collided with an eastbound sport utility vehicle with seven passengers, including the 10-year-old girl.

The other passengers, aged 13, 14, 16, 19, 44 and 56, were also from Edmonton and suffered injuries that RCMP  believed not to be life threatening.

RCMP stated the name of the deceased will not be released.

The pick-up truck’s lone occupant, a 36-year-old male from British Columbia, suffered minor injuries. 

Westbound highway traffic  was backed up past the Hwy. 40 south exit at one point. The highway re-opened to restricted traffic at 3:30 pm, while Hinton RCMP and the RCMP Collision Analyst remained on scene along with emergency crews.

The collision remains under investigation.

STARS demand increases, funding drops

Masha Scheele

The Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) foundation carried out seven inter-facility and scene missions within and near the Town of Hinton in 2019.

The year prior, they carried out 13 missions, while in 2017 they carried out 20 in the same area.

An additional 13 missions were carried out within the Town of Edson and Yellowhead County last year.

The air ambulance organization thanked the Town of Hinton for their ongoing support and for including STARS in their annual budget as an emergency protective services asset.

The Town of Hinton contributed $19,764 in 2019 to support flight operations last year.

While the demand for STARS is steady, the financial difficulty of municipalities due to the pandemic is also weighing on the organizations.

STARS downsized several staff members across all six bases while the requests have increased.

The organization anticipates a reduction in donations while they are also unable to host fundraising events like golf tournaments, galas, and rural community events.

STARS has experienced a substantial increase in the volume of incoming calls to the Emergency Link Centre in Calgary since the COVID-19 crisis erupted. 

Across all six bases in Western Canada, STARS saw as high as 650 incoming calls within one week.

They did not fly on all requests but STARS air medical crews responded to numerous COVID related cases, as well as other daily demands of medical distress.

Summer comes with an increase in motor vehicle collisions and all-terrain vehicle types of accidents, STARS is also experiencing an increase in calls related to pregnancy complications and distress such as gunshot wounds, and overdose circumstances, stated a letter from STARS addressed to the Town of Hinton.

STARS flies an average of eight missions daily for the communities and rural residents they serve. 

Hinton receives support from all three Alberta bases, which include Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Calgary.

Those bases combined flew 1,434 missions in 2019 and trained 1,106 medical personnel across the province.

The STARS Emergency Link Centre responded to an average of 63 emergency requests per day, totalling to 22,697.

Those calls include scene calls, inter-facility transfers, patients in rural hospitals, industry emergency requests, search and rescue missions, charter helicopter coordinator, and on-line medical control for ground EMS. For more information on STARS or to donate, go to

Cougar causes trail closure

Masha Scheele

One local received an unwanted surprise while biking along the Happy Creek trail system near the lookout this week when a cougar jumped across the trail upon her approach.

Chris Watson, Fish and Wildlife officer, said that other than walking adjacent and parallel to the individual, the cougar was not aggressive.

In speaking with the individual after the encounter on Aug. 18, Fish and Wildlife determined that the cougar had made a kill and cached or buried it right on the trail itself.

“From what she described we believe this to be a whitetail buck,” stated Watson. 

Reluctant to move away from its fresh kill, the cat didn’t appear to want to leave the area near the trail known as Halloween.

Watson explained that in nearly every instance, cougars lie within a hundred yards of their kill or even lay on top to protect them from birds or other predators.

Watson concluded that it appeared the individual in this instance was prepared and handled the incident properly.

“This cat appears to have been startled and the person who had this encounter took all the proper precautions to address the matter and was adequately prepared with bear spray – although it wasn’t deployed from our understanding,” Watson said.

A Fish and Wildlife officer attended the area to ensure public safety and to post signs and tape off this section of trail.

The trail and the immediate vicinity of this encounter is expected to be closed for a week to 10 days.

This natural food source was moved away from the trail where the cougar could finish its meal and move on. 

This was not to take away the kill it needs to survive but to move it off the trail in its established home range and away from disturbance of recreational users.

Cougar information signage remains in place behind Maxwell Lake and near the bike park, discussing cougars and what to do if one encounters a cat.  

The Hinton Voice reached out for comment from the individual who encountered the cougar, but they would not comment.

Earlier this week, Fish and Wildlife looked into what was believed to be a cougar attack on a dog at the south west end of Seabolt Estates west of Hinton.

The dog was attacked off a deck where it was sleeping overnight and remains missing, Watson stated.

The predator responsible remains at large and Fish and Wildlife continue their efforts in identifying what occurred.

Any encounters with wildlife should be reported to Fish and Wildlife through the Report A Poacher hotline at -800-642-3800.

Pilot program to expand electronics recycling

Photo submitted by Anne Auriat

Masha Scheele

The Alberta government approved a two-year $43 million pilot project to expand the electronics recycling program.

“Everyone is really happy about this in the recycling industry. They’ve added about 600 different kinds of household items that can be accepted and go through the program,” said Anne Auriat, manager of the Edson and District Recycling Society, which oversees Hinton’s Rowan Street Recycling Centre.

The expanded electronics program will kick off on Sept. 12, the same day as the annual Fall Toxic Roundup.

“We’re following the COVID rules so it might look a little different but we will be doing that,” Auriat said.

Staff will be serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and canned pop, and there will also be some draws.

The spring toxic roundup was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions and this event will be limited to a certain number of people at a time.

Auriat added that the issue is making sure there is a good stream of people coming through while managing the numbers at the same time. All staff will be wearing the proper personal protective equipment.

“You can bring your tires down, your oil products, all of your household hazardous,” Auriat said.

The Town of Hinton is organizing their annual cleanup the week prior to the Toxic Roundup, from Sept. 8 to 11.

“We’re working in conjunction with the Town on that,” Auriat said.

The Town noted that residents should contact Hinton’s Infrastructure Services to be placed on a list for the free pickup and are expected to have their waste out and ready to be collected on collection day.

Due to the environmental regulations at the landfill, residents are asked to sort refuse in separate piles of wood, metal, furniture, tires and trees.

After the Toxic Roundup, electronic items no longer have to go in scrap metal or into the landfill, but will be accepted at the Rowan Street Recycling Centre.

Auriat added that there is a huge chunk of microwaves that end up in the landfill and the expanded electronics program will enable those items to be recycled and repurposed. 

The Rowan Street location is open every day of the week, and attendants will help residents put the items in the right spot. 

“These items all have lots of heavy metals in them, like mercury, lead, phosphorus, so it’s really good that it’s being diverted and not put into the landfill,” Auriat said.

The expanded electronics program is a two-year pilot project that has been in the making for 10 or 15 years, she added.

Alberta set up Canada’s first end-of-life electronics recycling program in 2004. 

Over time, the electronics program in the province stalled, and this is the first step forward.

The Edson and District Recycling Society takes all materials to a processor in Edmonton, Shanked Computer Recycling Inc., that takes all items apart into various components.

“The real important part is all the wiring and all the precious metal in the circuit boards. They take it back and everything gets recycled,” Auriat said.

Part of this pilot is also about collecting data, to record which items are being recycled more and how they can better address these items.

The Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA) will conduct community and stakeholder engagement prior to launching the two-year pilot, but this pilot could inform the possibility of a permanently expanded electronics program.

ARMA acts on behalf of the province to oversee all aspects of end-of-life processing of electronics, paint, tires and used oil materials.

Reserve funds will be used by ARMA to recycle up to 24,600 tonnes of electronics products that were not accepted previously in the program.

“An expanded electronics program has the potential to inject $30 million annually into Alberta’s economy and support 360 additional full-time jobs in the recycling sector,” stated Jason Nixon, minister of environment and parks.

Currently, municipalities do not receive compensation to manage electronics outside ARMA’s program, but with this expansion, municipalities will receive funding for collecting additional electronics.

The expanded electronics recycling products include audio visual equipment, telecom, cell phone and wireless devices, electronic gaming equipment, small home appliances, portable power tools, toys, musical instruments and solar panels at no additional cost to consumers, according to the provincial press release.

There are a couple of exceptions to the list of electronics, including lamps, lawn mowers or weed whippers.

“Lawn tools because some of those are gas related and so they want to just say no to the whole line,” Auriat explained.

This expanded program would divert up to an additional 12,300 tonnes from landfills annually, which is the equivalent weight of 8,785 average cars.

Since 1992, ARMA recycled 10 million electronics, which is an average of six per household in Alberta.

According to ARMA’s website, electronics are quickly becoming one of the largest contributors of waste around the world, with 20 to 50 tonnes of e-waste generated each year, and only 15 to 20 per cent of it being recycled.

In 2018, the Alberta recycling sector’s annual economic value was estimated at $700 million in gross value add (GVA) and created more than 7,500 direct, indirect and induced jobs, from which $180M and 1,570 jobs are attributed to ARMA specific programs, stated the provincial press release.

Of the $180M in GVA, the industry injects into Alberta’s economy, about $50M and 400 full-time equivalent jobs are attributed to ARMA’s current electronics recycling program.

There are currently 365 municipal electronics collection sites throughout the province, within 20-minutes from 96 per cent of Albertans.

Toxic Roundup day will run from 10 am until 2 pm on Sept. 12. For more information contact Rowan Street Recycling.

Contact Infrastructure Services at 780-865-2634 for further information on the annual town clean up and to be placed on the pickup list.

Full HTC expansion still in queue, cost now $101M

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Current renovations of the Hinton Training Centre (HTC) are not expected to affect operations or regular work at the centre.

Premier Jason Kenney visited the HTC on Aug. 4 to announce a provincial funding investment towards the HTC updates and improvements.

Renovations are isolated to one residence building, and as a result this is not impacting staff offices or regular work run out of the academic building, stated Derek Gagnon, provincial information officer, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF).

“The timing of current renovations are not impacting business, as we are maintaining very-low occupancy levels to comply with Alberta Health Services COVID-19 requirements,” Gagnon said.

The first phase of the HTC updates and improvements is underway with the exterior of the Mountainview and Valleyview residences. 

The other two phases, which are expected to begin this fall, involve upgrades to the interiors of residences, as well as replacements of major parts of the physical plant of the centre’s main academic building.

The timing and impact of future interior renovations are unknown at this time, as the scope of work and contracting process is not complete, stated Gagnon.

All non-essential training onsite was postponed and resulted in limited training use of the centre this wildfire season.

This has permitted the Centre to be used as bunk houses for Edson Forest Area wildfire crews, to meet COVID-19 requirements of single occupancy.

Alberta Infrastructure owns and maintains all facilities at the HTC, and establishes needs for renovations, maintenance.

As the client, AAF is in regular discussions about needs and challenges, Gagnon added.

“Updates and renovations do improve the comfort and security of staff and clients attending training onsite,” Gagnon said.

The $3.8M in updates to maintain the HTC are not a part of the proposed Hinton Training Centre Renovation and Expansion but are necessary for ongoing maintenance and renewal of the facility, stated Premier Kenney.

The Hinton Training Centre Renovation and Expansion has been included in the list of unfunded capital projects, Gagnon explained.

These are projects that have been presented by departments because they meet priority criteria, but have not yet received funding due to the limits of available funding. 

When the renovation plans were completed for the HTC in 2015, the early estimate was $75M. 

Each year an assessment is done to update costs based on any new building code or construction changes. The latest figure for the renovation plan is $101M, stated Justin Laurence, press secretary for AAF. Currently there are no timelines for implementing additional HTC renovation plans, according to Laurence.

Programming at the HTC will continue to meet the needs and priorities of Alberta’s government, stated Laurence, adding the government will continue to explore ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in delivering all programs.

Eliminating the rappel program this past spring resulted in a reported annual savings of $1.4M in operating costs for Alberta’s government, but these savings did not result in a loss of operating funds for the HTC. The Training Centre develops and delivers technical and safety training programs for forest and wildfire management, providing services to more than 10,000 clients each year. 

Council requests infill development policy

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Council directed administration to bring back an infill development policy to a standing committee meeting by March 31, 2021.

This followed a discussion around a request from a developer to defer obligations for security and installation of the service connections of a newly subdivided lot along Gregg Avenue to its development permit stage.

Council directed administration to amend the development agreement (DA) between the Town and the developer to allow for the deferment, during the standing committee meeting on Aug. 18.

In his written inquiry, the developer stated the deferment would result in less up front costs and less construction costs.

“I would prefer to have a site plan along with a building plan in order to correctly size and place the site services on the property,” the inquiry read.

Deferring the items would allow the property to be developed and provide growth opportunities, it continued.

Peter Vana, director of development services, explained that the only legal mechanism the town has to ensure lands get serviced appropriately is the DA.

The only time the Town can enter into a DA is for a subdivision or for a development permit.

When lands aren’t serviced properly and buyers inquire about them and its cost, deals fall through, noted Vana.

It is the obligation of the developer to service those lots, otherwise they can sell and leave the Town chasing after someone else to service the area, he added.

Mayor Marcel Michaels questioned the difference in risk of requiring securities at the DA stage or including in the DA that securities are deferred to the development permit stage and that the development permit would not be issued without paid securities.

Vana stated that this is possible, but if the property sells they have to deal with a new developer.

“One of the realities is that most people coming in to build business on it are not developers per se, they expect to come in and develop on a serviced parcel,” Vana said.

Michaels stated he would support a one-off deferment for the developer of 467 Gregg Avenue with the intention of changing the policy to encourage development.

During a pre-application meeting, this developer expressed interest in developing the parcel with commercial and residential uses.

Public Works confirmed that there would be enough capacity in the existing lines to support this type of development, however it was reiterated to the developer that it is the developer’s responsibility to assume costs to tie into municipal services.

Subdivision Approval was issued on Feb. 6, 2020 conditional to the developer entering into a DA for the installation of municipal infrastructure.

Under the municipal government act (MGA), a municipality has the ability to ask for security as part of the DA to ensure the infrastructure is constructed and meets the Town’s minimum engineering standards. 

The DA is registered on the title of the new lot to advise all parties that may have an interest in the lot of the development requirements. 

Within the DA, there is the requirement to install or pay for the installation of public utilities for the proposed development. 

Security is required in the form of a letter of credit or cash to be posted prior to execution of the DA and before endorsement of subdivision to get the parcel registered at Land Titles. 

Security is based on 100 per cent of the estimated construction costs provided by the developer’s consultant.

An infill development policy will come back to council in early 2021 to further address the issue.

Learning at Home

Submitted Photo
Shea Harasymiw, who is homeschooled in Hinton, copies words out of a dictionary she inherited from her late great-grandmother.

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

As parents consider a traditional in-school return or online learning, there are some locals touting the virtues of organized homeschooling

Parents were thrown into at-home and online school this past spring due to the pandemic.

While many struggled with the sudden change, it was nothing new for several local parents who were already formally homeschooling their children before COVID.

“I have a lot of compassion because they were thrown into it. I have all this time where I’m allowed to plan and prepare and I feel a lot more secure with that plan in place,” said Andrea Sommerfeld, one local homeschooling parent.

“That must have been really tough, but my number one piece of advice is to read your child. Nobody knows them better than you and that’s the main reason why I love homeschooling.”

Alberta parents have the option to choose how children receive their education, this includes school-controlled learning, parent-controlled learning, or a blended program.

This past spring, parents supported their children through their school-at-home arrangements and made sure their children did the school mandated lessons. 

This online schooling is still considered school-controlled and is much different from true ‘homeschooling.’

Homeschooling or parent-directed learning varies widely depending on the parent’s chosen education style or curriculum. Traditionally, the parent is in control of all decision-making and curriculum choices, and some parents involve their children in choosing their own curriculum. Homeschooling gives parents the freedom to choose what, who, when, where, and how anything is taught.

Sommerfeld is going on her third year of homeschool teaching in Hinton and now has two school-aged kids.

“I really wanted to be in charge of what my kids are learning, and 100 per cent I am. I get to pick every single thing, and it’s wonderful, I love it,” Sommerfeld said.

She recently ordered their curriculum online for the next school year and her kids sat down with her to pick what they wanted to learn about. She loves the flexibility of being able to choose things they are actually interested in but also to see how they learn and what works best.

“Sometimes your kids can get a little frustrated or whatever and you just read them and take a day,” she said.

Each day, they start school at 10 am and they work through that day’s work, with the focus on doing the work and understanding everything properly instead of focusing on the time.

Sometimes the work can take an hour, sometimes two, and the rest of the day is filled with activities.

They started with a five day work week and halfway through the year they found that four days was better.

The kids had more attention on Monday morning when they had three days off rather than two, and they could easily make up for the extra work in four days. 

“There are so many families in town now that are homeschooling that the one downside everybody is always worried about is socialization, but let me tell you, these kids make friends so easy, they’re very social. It’s just a really positive experience for us,” Sommerfeld said.

Sommerfeld ordered a curriculum through her registered school board for her first year, but then switched to a curriculum ordered through an online organization called Learning House. The school board sent a complete pack with subjects, but Learning House allowed her to choose specific subjects.

In Alberta, home education provides each child $850 per year to offset the cost of resources, such as the curriculum, musical instruments, or anything to better a child’s education, according to the Alberta Homeschooling Association. 

A child needs to be registered with a school authority partner by Sept. 30 to access the funding. That school authority doesn’t have to be the school board in their specific location but can be any school board that suits their learning style in Alberta.

A certified teacher facilitator is assigned to them through that school board partner to help select curriculums and make sure a child is learning properly. Curriculums can be chosen through the school but parents can also select a curriculum online. Everything has to be approved and the facilitators will help if anything is missing. 

“We have to write up a lesson plan with all the curriculum and all the outcomes, the facilitator has to approve that,” Sommerfeld explained.

Twice per year, the facilitator comes out to visit and meet the Sommerfeld kids.

They look through their books and schoolwork together and assist with any questions they may have. Throughout the year they have continuous contact as well. Sommerfeld didn’t have any prior teaching experience and hadn’t heard about homeschooling until she met her husband. He was homeschooled by his mother until graduation, Sommerfeld explained, and his whole side of the family was also homeschooled.

“It never occurred to me until my daughter was getting closer to school age and I thought what we really wanted was to have a faith based learning. We wanted to introduce and incorporate God into our schoolwork,” Sommerfeld explained.

Seeing how her children learn has made their connection deeper and teaching her daughter how to read was incredible, she said. At the end of the year, her daughter took her grammar, writing, and spelling books with the instructions and said she would figure it out by herself, giving her some time to focus on her sons’ lessons.

Sommerfeld’s biggest piece of advice when considering or starting homeschooling is to reach out to other homeschooling parents and ask for help.

“There’s so many people going through the same thing that can help,” she said.

Listening to other moms talk about their experience with online schooling in the spring sounded more complicated than it needed to be, she added. While the impacts of COVID-19 on Sommerfeld’s family were different than those who are in school, the social aspect of their lives was hit hard just like anyone else.

They finished school much sooner than expected, but they couldn’t go see their friends or play in the park.

Miranda Wulf, another local homeschooling parent, said COVID-19 also changed their daily routine. Her children followed a loose routine around certain benchmark activities throughout the week like piano lessons or gymnastics. When these activities shut down due to the pandemic, Wulf had to create her own benchmark activities at home. Wulf’s homeschool style is called “unschooling”, which she plans to continue for as long as her kids allow her.

“I prefer learner-directed home education. I see myself as the facilitator for my children’s curiosities and kind of infusing school into everything that we do,” Wulf explained.

Unschooling is learner-driven education and is the fastest growing methodology of children learning without power struggles, according to the Alberta Homeschooling Association.

Unschooling empowers children to learn about what sparks their curiosity, this is believed to increase their motivation. Grades one through nine can be taught without any textbooks, workbooks, or paper-based curriculum at all, states the Alberta Homeschooling Association. They learn through projects, sports, games, internet research, socializing, discussions, play, jobs, volunteering, Worldschooling, and self-directed pursuits.

Wulf noticed that part of the recent online at-home-learning struggle for some parents may stem from trying to recreate institutionalized school at home with the added pressure of the parent child dynamic.

“They’re trying to still make it that structure, but the beauty of home is that you can make it whatever you want it to be,” she said.

In Wulf’s perspective, humans learn by following their curiosity and observing what’s happening around them.

“They learn to walk by themselves, they learn to talk by themselves, by being immersed in people who are walking and talking. We don’t have to teach them. They watch and do it. Humans will continue to do that if they’re allowed,” she said.

Her oldest daughter is six and wants to learn to read, so Wulf provided different approaches to reading.

Coming from the Montessori method of learning in her early childhood, Wulf believes having things available for children to explore will encourage learning without having to force them to learn.

In short, the Montessori method is a specific child-centered method of education that involves child-led activities in classrooms.

Wulf added that for many kids, their passion for learning fades throughout school as they are forced to learn and do things they aren’t interested in.

“There’s a punishment reward scenario. Nobody learns that way,” she said. “That’s not learning, that’s just performing.”

Before Wulf had kids she decided she wanted them to receive their education through unschooling.

Wulf’s passion is to keep her children curious about learning, and if they end up asking her if they can go to a brick and mortar school, she will let them choose that.

“But I’m also here to say that their grades aren’t a reflection of their self worth,” she stated.

Wulf remembered she did well in school because she had a great memory but that others were gifted in other ways and weren’t rewarded the same way.

“I’m rewarded for my particular gift with grades, I’m supposed to find self worth in that. But I don’t want my children to, because I can see what a waste of time school was for me,” she said.

Even though she could rush through school work and get good grades, children with great musical or athletic skills were sometimes made to feel stupid. 

“It’s an interesting heavy emphasis on one ability. But we all have various abilities. The beauty of home education is that we all know our children the best and what sparks their curiosities and what their abilities are and [we can] kind of let those soar a little bit,” she said.

Throughout high school, Wulf questioned why she was learning certain things that she would never use, and that she wasn’t actually learning but just temporarily memorizing them.

Instead, she wants to encourage her children to learn about things they are passionate about and that will actually stick with them.

Once her oldest daughter was four years old, she began collecting Montessori materials for her to access and included her in certain tasks around the home, like cooking or gardening.

Wulf will be working with a facilitator who interprets what they are doing into learning outcomes.

The school board she chose  advocates for unschooling, and their facilitators will help them meet the education requirements in Alberta. If one facilitator isn’t the right fit for their family, they are able to request a new one that understands their learning techniques.

“There are a lot of resources out there and a lot of homeschool conferences online right now,” Wulf added.

One of her homeschooling friends has a fourteen year-old son who worked with his facilitator to map out his education specifically for the university program he plans to take. Some homeschooling parents move to online programs in higher grades with certain subjects that tend to get more technical.

Students in home education can apply for credits to earn an Alberta Government high school diploma. Wulf suggested that curious parents reach out to different families or groups to learn about the different options.

“You were their teacher from [age] zero to five, you’re not ill equipped to be their teacher from five onwards.You know your child best and you have a unique opportunity to really dial in and do what sparks their joy and their curiosity,” she said.

She added that it’s also not a lifetime commitment and that parents can try it out one year only to return them to school the following year. Kids that re enter the school system after homeschooling will be placed in the grade based on their age, and no knowledge testing is done to place them.

The first step to start homeschooling is notifying their current school authority that they won’t be returning the following year. Then they must be registered with any school board in the province before Sept. 30 to receive funding. Reach out to local homeschooling groups, the Alberta Homeschooling Association, or your local school authority for more information.