Private Does Not Have to Mean Expensive

I have to get something off my chest. It’s about what education is and what makes home education work. It starts with money. Education is not about buying the right stuff. A good education is not expensive. I’ll admit that in the past, people were limited educationally because they couldn’t get their hands on books or see outside their own farm or neighborhood, but that just isn’t the case in the United States today. We have public libraries in every city and an internet connection is a must in every home. Yes, there may be exceptions, but I’m talking generalities here.

The most important thing you need to educate your own kids is to be able to be at home with them. If you have a partner that can support you and the kids while they are young, you have a huge advantage over any expensive education system. If you have a vehicle and gas to get you around, you’re sitting pretty!

How can you give your kids a practically free education? Again, it starts with you. Educate yourself and take your young children along for the ride. That doesn’t mean go back to college! It means read an article online, open a book, visit a museum, watch a movie, or have a discussion. Create and cultivate in yourself the life long learner first. Do it right in front of your family. Your kids will follow suit in their own way.

Go to the library and check out any books you and the kids like and read them. Don’t study them, just read them! Go the park and explore. Walk around your neighborhood. The grocery store, the post office, the bank, etc. are all potential field trips when you look at them like a child would. Instead of rushing through the grocery store with your list, involve the kids with making the meal plan, the list, and the budget. A couple of dollars of their own to spend at the grocery store or save for the future is a lesson plan all of itself. Actually working with money goes a lot farther than talking about it. Go through the store and answer all the questions they have, have them find things, substitute things, and explore the store like you’ve never been there.

When we allow our kids to explore their world, if we can be patient and quiet while they do so, they get so much out of it. They become more interesting people. And we can see the world in a whole new way. We can do this everywhere we go.

When my boys were very little, the regional park was amazing to them. We spent hours there every week. We loved amusement parks but rarely went inside. They thought the shopping area, pond, and Independence Hall was Knott’s Berry Farm. And Downtown Disney, its fountains, people, shops, and hotels was the best part of Disneyland. We went to beaches, parks, free museum days, all over Southern California. Small local museums are usually only a couple of dollars donation and we always brought a picnic lunch for all of us. My sons wanted lunch boxes like school kids, so they each had one with their name on it and a backpack to carry it in.

My point is that you don’t need a packaged curriculum, the monthly craft/science box, the big organized field trips, or extra-curricular classes to give your kids a great education. You just need to be with them, be patient, and help them explore the world around them safely. We unschooled the whole time, but even if you want to home educate in a more traditional way, there are tons of free resources on the internet. You may have to piece it together and you may have to open your mind to some unconventional ways of doing things (i.e. Mad Libs instead of grammar workbooks), but it is very possible to do this on your own without the state school system breathing down your neck.

I always see private home education as an entrepreneurial thing, a do-it-yourself, be your own boss, kind of thing. What are the benefits of private education? No state standards to keep up with, no grade levels, no mandatory number of days, no testing. That’s just the start. To me, the best thing I got out of it was a sense of self-reliance. I second guessed myself all the time, especially when my sons weren’t behaving the way I thought they should. I’m lucky I had an amazing partner that could see outside my day to day life and remind me that many of my perceived “problems” were just parenting/relationship adjustments. It had nothing to do with school.

I don’t begrudge people the choice to use the public charters to homeschool. If the education the public schools are giving is what you want, without the crowd control and classroom bullies, then charters would be fine for you. But if you want something different, if you want the education outcome to be different than the seniors graduating this year, then there are other options out there.  Private education is feasible, even on a tight budget.

Homeschooling Thru High School

We homeschooled all the way through high school! Yep. We did it.

I’m not surprised that we continued to homeschool through high school. It was the plan from the start really. I was open to changes along the way and we did make some adjustments over the years, but whether the road was rough or smooth, whenever we looked at another road, the road that formal school was on, just didn’t seem to fit. What has really struck me is how early and quickly my sons have moved toward independence.

Let me start by saying we have used an eclectic style that started with “attachment parenting” and moved into a leadership education model. The leadership education model was really for me. It’s what I’ve been doing for myself the last twelve years and my children benefitted from my personal education journey by getting to hear my stories, hear me read books aloud, and knowing first hand what a love of learning looked like. I didn’t “teach” them when they were younger. We decided to delay any academics and allow them to be children. We helped them with the projects they took on, took them places that looked interesting, spent lots of days exploring the world. It was a magical time and I only wish I was aware of how short that time would be while I was in it.

As they grew, we took more of a “radical unschooling” approach. Our home had no hard and fast rules. We used no formal curriculum. We spent our days much like we would if the kids were on vacation. We went places like zoos, museums, and camping trips. We read books, watched tv, went to the movies, and played video games. We met with other homeschool friends and had parties.

The traditional “school subjects” were “offered” as required by our state, but we offered them in very different ways and they weren’t required to study them. Language Arts was offered through books and games. Science through museums, experiments, and videos. History through movies, tv, and historical sites. Math through cooking, games, and other adventures that needed basic math skills. Once my sons hit their teens they took on a new sport, motocross. They bought old bikes, fixed them up, found out about race tracks, and we’ve been supporting them through that for the last four years. Most of their “education” has been centered on that sport since then.

All of this has been pretty expected and a slow and steady progression for all of us. And then they turned sixteen!

At fifteen and half they were both chomping at the bit to get a driver’s license. They took the online class and the behind the wheel training through a private company in town, made an appointment one day after their sixteenth birthday and came home with a license. That was the first test they ever took.

At sixteen they began looking for work. The oldest lucked out when a restaurant opened in town and they had a mass hire. He worked there for about six months and saved most of the money. He had a plan to visit Europe when he turned seventeen and nothing was going to stop him. The week before his seventeenth birthday he took off for a two-week trip on his own. I’ve never been so terrified. The boy had never spent the night away from home! But he had the whole thing planned out, the ticket, a place to stay, a cell phone that would work. Long story short, he ended up volunteering on a farm, deciding to stay a year, and going through immigration for a work permit. I made him a diploma from our own high school and emailed a “permission slip” for his immigration papers. At the time I write this, he’s not yet eighteen. He’ll be back in a few months with his new girlfriend and they’ll be finding ways to start their lives together here.

The youngest has a different path so far. He’s still looking for work. It’s no small task in a small town. He’s been doing odd jobs for a neighbor for cash. He’s taken up reading, guitar, and 3D modeling. He enrolled in the community college and will start classes in a couple weeks. When he took the assessment tests for the college, he tested into college English and almost into college Algebra. Not bad at all. He’s still considered a high school student for this semester because I was under the impression that high school “dual enrollment” students could take some classes for free, but it turns out that’s only at the big city schools. That’s ok though. He enrolled as a private high school student with no trouble. I made him traditional transcripts and he’s taken on the responsibility just fine.

So here I am. One kid graduated and out in the world. One almost so with one foot in college. They seem happy and well adjusted, almost normal. I say almost because they are very different from kids their age and they are very much “nerds” by any standard. Homeschooling works. You don’t need a curriculum. You don’t need oversight. You don’t need to fight and argue with your kids. You can just live with them, support their dreams, treat them like roommates, and they will eventually just take off.

Grade Level?

Whether you use a pre-written, all-in-one curriculum, a pieced together “eclectic” style, or you’re a full-fledged unschooler, you don’t need to think about the dreaded “grade level”. My opinion? Abandon the idea all together. Grade levels were created for institutional schooling. Your child must be able to read by the time they are five years old at school because teaching to so many kids at once requires independent study. Kids need to read to keep up and to test. in the same vein, we don’t want a classroom of thirty kids all studying a different part of history at the same time, so we teach World History one year, American History the next, California History, and so on. So far, it looks like the best way to be sure everyone gets a similar education at the same time. But isn’t that why we are going against the grain and homeschooling? To give our kids a unique personalized education?

We watch kids get left behind at schools, told they are not at grade level and pushed to achieve in all subjects instead of master one. We’ve all seen the school of fish cartoon or the one about judging a fish by it’s ability to climb. Let’s try another approach!

Homeschooled kids learn throughout their lives. And just because they can’t read fluently yet, doesn’t mean they aren’t learning. If they can’t read for themselves, read to them. They’ll catch on in time, especially if they don’t see you hovering over them and giving them the idea that something is wrong with them because they are “late.” Everyone is born with the innate drive to become independent. I’ve personally seen kids that do not know how to write at all, decide they need to or want to, practice for a week, and be right up with their peers. As to science and history, it’s all around us every day and it doesn’t need to be taught in any chronological order. Just dive in where they are interested! You’ll find elementary math and basic algebra all around you too. Counting, roman numerals, addition and subtraction are in all kinds of games. Basic algebra and the dreaded word questions? Go to the toy store and they’ll be working those problems with you pretty quickly. “If I have $5 and each toy is $1, how many can I get?”

Instead of grade level, let’s keep up with interest level. Watch your kid specifically. Do they love to explore? Do they seem interested and excited about the world around them? When they are younger, watch for what lights them up and offer ways to explore that more. Books, movies, websites, museums, parks, etc. When they lose interest and wander off to look at something else, go with them instead of redirecting them to what you brought them there for. Have you ever gone to store for one thing and been distracted by something more intriguing? Kids are the same way! That’s a good thing. It’s how we find our passions!

Are they asking questions and having them answered? When they ask a question about how something works or how to spell something, it’s better to help them to find the answers than to tell them to google it themselves. After a while, you will be too slow for them and they’ll be zipping around the internet themselves!

If you’re using a curriculum, skip around in it and look for what peaks their interest. Or you could go through it chapter by chapter and skip over and come back to things that seem to bore your child or cause them to become antsy, angry, or distracted (those are signs of boredom or a lack of interest). The great thing about pre-written curriculum is that the same things come up over and over again, year after year. The subject will come up again. Don’t worry. Or it won’t and, if your child doesn’t miss it, he doesn’t feel the need or interest to know it, he probably doesn’t need it right now. When she needs it, she’ll learn it! There is no statute of limitations on real learning.

Instead of asking, “Is my child at grade level?” a homeschooling parent needs to ask, “Is my child excited about learning? Is my child exploring his world? Is she asking questions and finding answers?” The only way to know that is to watch and interact with them. A young person’s enthusiasm for learning is contagious. Soon you’ll be the one on the hunt for new and interesting information!

I’ve found a couple other articles about ditching the idea of grade levels on the web. Check them out!

https://www.thehomeschoolmom.com/homeschooling-grade-levels-relax/

http://simplehomeschool.net/stepping-outside-the-grade-level-box/

https://www.theunlikelyhomeschool.com/2017/03/without-grade-levels.html

Our Kindergarten

I’ve been going through some old paperwork and photo files and came across pictures of my kids when we were just getting started with homeschooling. I’ve been thinking a lot about what we used to do for “school” back when my boys were elementary age, so it’s strange that I found those photos. Or is it? I thought I’d post here a bit about what Kinder was like at our house!

We had come across the idea of homeschooling while searching for private preschools. I found the California Homeschool Network and started reading. It just happened to be close to their annual conference, so my Grandpa and I went to check it out. I fell in love with the idea right then! So essentially, the boys have always been homeschooled.

Since Kindergarten isn’t mandatory in California, we decided to not enroll in any school and see how it went. If it went well, we’d continue to file as a private school and keep schooling that way. I’d say that year went pretty well! Do I change things? Yes! Our school always changes according to what is working and what is not. That’s the real beauty of homeschooling in the first place. Each child’s education is tailored to their individual needs. And even though I desperately wanted to play teacher at home, my boys weren’t having it. It wasn’t for them. I had to be honest about my own personality and theirs, and change things up. “School” has evolved over the last eleven years and it still is, but the underlying current is an “unschooling” style that has worked well for the whole family.

Here are some pictures of the first months of “school” at our house so you can get the idea!

When you start homeschooling one child, you start homeschooling the younger kids, too! No one wants to be left out. And you HAVE to have a “First Day of Kindergarten” picture!

sept-6-033

sept-6-034We had a playgroup of kids and Mom’s that came to our house every Monday for the last couple years. It wasn’t a homeschool group, just an evolved Mommy & Me group. Most of us weren’t planning on homeschooling but we didn’t want to send our kids to preschool, so we did this instead. It was wonderful for all of us. Even though only two of us really ended up homeschooling in the later years, we are all still great friends!

sept-6-001We spent a lot of time at the Regional Park in our area. It had a small zoo, loads of trails, a pond, a train, and several playgrounds. Since we lived in the city at the time, it was also a great place to escape the noise of the neighborhood and safely ride bikes!

sept-6-011We took very long walks here, climbed trees and rocks, brought sketchbooks and drew pictures of plants and animals, talked about and explored natural science, not to mention lots of picnics!

sept-6-016

One thing that I’m glad we spent money on was a membership to the big Natural History Museum in LA. It was an hour (sometimes more) drive away but there was so much to do there. Some days we would spend hours in the children’s “hands-on” area. Some days we’d rush through all the mammals and dinosaurs, and then spend an hour looking at the bird exhibits. The best part about it was that the boys came to know that museum, and many others, as a place to play. It wasn’t boring for them. They knew there was a lot of very interesting stuff there and lots of great people that would answer any question they had.

sept-6-026

I remember walking behind them as they came into a giant domed room. My older son stopped in his tracks and was amazed by the ceiling and the sound of the room. They both dropped to the floor to get a better look and made loud and quiet sounds, listening to it echo off the walls and ceiling.

You can’t do this on a school field trip!

They spent several minutes lying there looking at the ceiling and then wanted to draw pictures like it when we got home.

Better than any toys you can purchase and have at home are ones that are available only when you’re at a certain place! The children’s section in museums is worth the cost of an annual membership every time!

sept-6-030So this is how our homeschooling journey began. There was no curriculum, no “school” time, no co-op. There was just me and the boys exploring the world around us while Dad was at work and then sharing it with him at the end of the day. Camping trips on weekends, weekly trips to the library, grocery shopping, amusement parks, stories before naps and bedtime, video games, and movies. That was it. It was a joyous time and a little nerve wracking. We were different. Everyone else was starting school. Kids were being dropped off and crying for Mom. Mom was crying to leave them behind. Kids were coming home with packets of notes and homework. Bedtimes and packed lunches. School clothes and buses. But mine weren’t. We were on, what felt like, a permanent summer vacation. We were happy. They seemed to be learning a lot every day. It was working. Why is everyone not doing this?

 

Self-Directed Education

There’s a new movement out there and my hope is that it grows!

Check out Peter Gray in this video introducing a movement that hopes to liberate children and empower them to take charge of their own education — the way nature intended.

 

Learning Together

Do you do things with your kids or do you take them to do things? I’ve found there is a big difference. As homeschoolers, we have many opportunities to take our children to classes and events that are “good for them” or that we expect them to learn something from. The kids do get something out of those activities but I’ve found that they get so much more out of it when we put aside the ideas of school, put aside the notion of an “educational” activity, and just experience something together.

Take for instance a field trip to the zoo. Which do you think your child will get more out of, an organized field trip with a bunch of children grouped together and led by a docent of the zoo or a spontaneous trip the zoo with the family? I think it’s the latter.

When we attend a “field trip” with a group the parents tend to flock together and chat while someone else leads the group of kids. We can’t help it. Parents want to socialize as much as the children do. We crave it. So when a child needs extra attention, isn’t interested in what the docent is talking about, or just needs to do something else, we don’t notice. We’ve created “school” in a homeschool environment, with the same problems as the local public school.

When we take our kids to the zoo, we are more involved. We can follow our child’s interest, answer their questions (thank God for smart phones), and be there to notice when they’ve found something to pull them into the deeper waters of learning. And the best part is that we are doing it ourselves, right along with them.

We aren’t educators when we homeschool. We are fellow learners with more experience, communications skills, a driver’s license, and some cash. We ask questions. We find new interests and expand our minds. We’re there to show our kids what real life-long learning looks like. It’s so much more than school.

The next time you think about attending a field trip or class, consider attending with your child as if you are the student as well. Show your child through your actions what giving yourself an education looks like. They will be learning so much more than what the tour guide is leading you through.

There Is No “Behind”!

This something that is imperative to wrap our minds around as parents. Homeschoolers are never “behind”. Your children are right where they need to be. We don’t need to compare our kids with others their age. As long as you and your children are happy we are all learning! The goal of education is learning new things, opening our minds to the world around us, not checking off boxes and staying at the level of our peers. We aren’t all on the same path and our education should match our life’s mission. Childhood is for figuring our what that mission is!

Read this and be inspired to change that paradigm! Dear Homeschool Mom Who Worries About Her Child Being Behind

Online Mentoring?!

If you’re just getting started homeschooling this year, or got off to a rocky start last year, and you didn’t get a chance to go to one of the great conferences this summer, Sue Patterson is offering an online 3-month group mentoring program starting August 1st. Check out the link for more details about this awesome opportunity!

“World” Schooling?

I ran across this article over the weekend and saved it to read this morning. Have you ever come across someone’s words and been inspired, not because the concept was so novel but because they spoke words you wish you would have thought of? This was an article like that for me. This young girl is amazing! And we aren’t actually “world” schoolers in the sense that her family is. In my opinion, you don’t need to be. You can live and learn locally in a way that gives you a connection with the wider world. Setting our children aside in schools cuts them off from the bigger world and limits their view.  Having them at our side in our daily lives brings them closer. Spending our days experiencing the world around us brings them out into the world to learn more about it on their own terms.

Check it out and see if this lifestyle can enhance your family life, even if you can’t travel extensively.

“I go to school but it doesn’t have four walls. My school is the world!” by Reka Kaponay

 

Legal Options to Homeschool in CA

To throw a wrench into everyone’s thinking, I’ll start with asking you to wrap your head around the following idea, there is no legal “homeschooling” in California. I know! The term “homeschooling” isn’t in the legal code, so it doesn’t exist but that doesn’t mean that you can’t school at home. The compulsory education law in California states that all children between the ages of 6 and 18 must be enrolled in some kind of full-time day school. To satisfy that law you can enroll your child in a public or private school, or have them tutored. To “homeschool” your children, you will be doing the same thing in a different form. And now there are several forms to choose from. For more details, including the education code, CHN’s Legal Options page is a good place to start. HSC’s Legal page also has great information.

The options you can choose to homeschool are summed up here.

Choose a Private School

 

  • You can create your own private school and enroll only your own children.
  • You can enroll in a private school with a “satellite program.”

Choose a Public School

 

  • You can enroll in a local public school’s independent study program.
  • You can enroll in a public charter school with a home-study or virtual study element.

Credentialed Tutor

  • You can hire a credentialed teacher for the grade your children are in.

There are pro’s and con’s for each option and which one you choose depends on several factors. I’ll get into those in a different post. But first you need to ask yourself things like: What kind of education do we want for our children? How much oversight do we want? What are our teaching and learning styles? I’d recommend looking into different education styles to see what is out there. The neighborhood school is only one way of educating children, a kind of “one-size-fits-all” thing. There’s a nice overview of styles on Homeschool.com about different approaches to homeschooling. Once you have an idea about what kind of homeschooling you’d like to try, you can make a better decision about which legal option to use.

For all the options, except creating your own private school, you’ll be enrolling your kids in a program and that new school will help you get started. The only thing you’ll be responsible for is withdrawing your kids from their current school if they are already going to one. If your kids are not currently enrolled in a school, meaning they are under 5 years old, then there is nothing you need to do at this time.

To withdraw your kids from their current school, you are only changing schools just like if you were moving to a new town. It’s the exact same process. You go to the school office and tell them that you are changing schools and need to formally withdraw from this one so that they aren’t looking for your child when they take attendance. The school is legally required to know what school your children are transferring to. All you need to do is tell them the name and address of the new school. You also may need to tell them the last day your child will be expected at the old school and what day they start at the new school, so have that information ready as well. Even if you’ve chosen to create your own private school, you will go through the same process at this point. You’re done!

If your child has an IEP at their current school, there is a nice article explaining the withdrawal process on HSC’s website.

In the next few posts, I’ll go over the options that are available and link you to some lists of schools that fall under each one.