When my children were younger, I invested a considerable amount of energy into finding the best elementary school I could for them. At times this endeavor felt like a full-time job.
In addition to the usual concerns over private vs. public school, educational philosophies and tuition costs, I had a persistent, nagging sense that our day-to-day routine – the way we were already living – could continue to work well for my kids. They delighted in visiting libraries, museums and gardens. They soaked up information like sponges and shared what they learned freely and frequently with peers and adults alike. They had a natural learning pattern that fit their needs; at times deeply focusing on topics of interest at the expense of all other activities, and at other times wanting exposure to such an array of resources that it was as if they were six kids instead of two. I knew this dynamic would not be feasible even in the most flexible, child-directed school environment. Also, even though they both enjoyed structured environments in small doses, I knew neither their stamina nor their blood sugar levels were conducive to the typical modern-day kindergarten schedule. It felt a bit discouraging.
One morning at the playground, I struck up a conversation with another mom. She was reading a stack of books about homeschooling. I was surprised; she was neither religious, a hippie nor a libertarian, and therefore fit exactly none of the stereotypes I had rattling in my brain about what homeschooling, and therefore homeschoolers, looked like. In fact, she was quite a bit like me.
Intrigued, I hit the library. I found extensive titles on the topic and discovered that there are a wide variety of homeschooling methods, rather than homeschooling conforming to a one-size-fits-all model. Methods range from a structured, school-like model on one end to an exploratory, child-led model at the other, with numerous permutations in between.
But, I wondered, what about socialization? Homeschoolers of all stripes cite this as their most asked question. Fortunately, in the Bay Area there is no lack of remarkable opportunities. There are many groups, classes, gatherings and special events available every day. The hardest part is choosing which event to go to and actually finding time to be at home! The numerous local homeschool groups center around educational philosophy, age group or geographical area. There are several dozen of these in San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Alameda counties alone. Generally, these gatherings consist of at least one regular “park day” meet-up per week and an online message board. There are usually other scheduled or spontaneous activities as well.
These days, my children attend a variety of classes geared for homeschoolers. They take wilderness hiking, Spanish and science classes, as well as a nature class at a local garden conservancy. In the fall, they will also attend an all-day creative arts program once a week. Some of these are homeschool-specific classes offered by organizations that also offer educational programs to many audiences, such as the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy and Rock-it Science. Others, like the amazing Wild Child Freeschool, were created specifically for homeschooled kids. Additionally, we belong to a few close-knit and stimulating homeschool groups. At all of these activities, we are surrounded by others in a highly interactive and engaging way.
Just exploring the real world with me every day has instilled in my children a natural, comfortable way of communicating with adults and kids alike. They are confident and interested in engaging with people of all ages, and others frequently remark on this. If anything, my children experience more naturally occurring interactions on a daily basis than they ever would in school.
Although publicly I express that we take it year by year, I cannot foresee a time when a traditional school would seem like a more enriching, motivating environment than what we’re providing now. Maybe some day our future will include a brick and mortar school, but right now we are just so happy that it includes lots and lots of learning in the world together.
In California, it is fairly easy to homeschool. The legal ways to homeschool in this state include:
- filing a private school affidavit form with the California Department of Education designating your own private school, or joining a private school satellite with someone who has already done this;
- or, joining a charter school homeschooling program, which still enrolls your children in public school but you control the curriculum and learning can still be done at home;
- or, enrolling your child in your local public school’s Independent Study Program, which makes your child an attendee of your local district, although learning is done at home, rather than at the school site;
- or, hiring a credentialed tutor or teacher, which can include yourself if you have such credentials.
There are many excellent resources available for those who are interested in homeschooling. One I enjoyed was David Guterson’s account of homeschooling his children, Family Matters: Why Homeschool Makes Sense. Another resource I enjoyed is a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on education, creativity and innovation. He argues that schools based upon standardization squash creativity. He says that our world is so rapidly transforming, it makes little sense to educate kids toward the present-day workforce, and we should instead instead to allow them the freedom to learn in this ever-changing world.
In addition to the links mentioned above, here are just a few resources for people interested in exploring homeschooling:
- The Homeschool Association of California: a statewide umbrella organization that offers legal information and a message board, as well as sponsoring a popular annual conference and quarterly magazine.
- A to Z’s Home’s Cool Homeschooling: a resource for finding most of the local homeschool groups and contacts in the Bay Area, as well as other areas around the US.
- Life Learning Magazine: an informative magazine focusing on homeschooling, unschooling and self-directed learning of all kinds.
- Ocean Grove Charter School and Connecting Waters Charter School: local options for people who choose to homeschool through a charter school.
Matilda Parrish is a homeschooling mom in San Jose. In addition to child-wrangling, she does freelance copyediting, volunteers at the library, keeps a book blog and writes fiction.