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.

Not Back to School!

It’s that time of year again! Social Media posts, online articles, commercials, and news clips all focus on that annual tradition: the great migration back to school. Most parents are posting sniffling bits about their little ones growing up and moving away from them. Some are elated that summer vacation is over and they don’t have to figure out what to do with their kids for eight ours of each day. Bloggers and Social Media gurus are posting about how you can get your kids into the routine of the daily grind.

If you’ve chose homeschooling privately, it’s a totally different story! It’s a much more positive one filled with hope and a bit of anxiety. The park, amusement centers, museums, and theater’s have fewer families there, leaving it the homeschoolers and retirees! For those that live in warmer climates like ours, weekly park days start to meet again as the weather cools. Field trips are planned, libraries are revisited in peace and quiet. It’s an exciting time for us, but not always for our kids.

We’re different. We aren’t part of the norm. Our kids aren’t going “Back to School.” They’ve been there all summer. Our kids see the TV shows and the commercials. They hear other kids talk about “Back to School” clothes and supplies. They may feel left out. How can we make ourselves feel a part of the excitement in our own way? Our family has some traditions we’ve built over the years and I’d love to share them with you and encourage you to build your own.

Since our family chose Radical Unschooling, we didn’t have new curriculum to start on or classes we were planning our lives around. We didn’t really have a “start” or “end” of school year at all, but just like someone who doesn’t celebrate the birth of Christ knows that Christmas is on its way, we could see the signs and sense the excitement that comes in August. When my boys were little, the school bus went down our street and the first day they saw it was what we called “First Day”. We had big plans for that day that preempted any other plans. We dropped everything and usually went to an amusement park!

There were other things we did that day over the years though. We had a long day of hiking in the mountains, a short camping trip, a beach day. We went to a museum and a realy restaurant for lunch or dinner. The possibilities are endless in Southern California, but the idea was to make a big deal out of anything we decided to do. Once all we did was walk as far as we could away from the house and had Dad pick us up when we couldn’t take another step. You’d have thought we were traveling the jungles of India the way the boys acted!

We started the season getting our “Adventure Packs” together instead of “Back to School” supplies. We got new backpacks if they wanted them and we filled those packs with anything we might need on a local adventure. We filled them with, oddly enough, mostly school supplies: a pencil box with pens, pencils, erasers, a compass, a ruler, etc. We went to Target and picked out cool things to add. They also had a pocket knife, a compass, a bandana, a map, a magnifying glass, and a notebook. Those backpacks were the first thing they grabbed when we were going anywhere. I always added a bottle of water, a snack, and a couple dollars in case they needed to buy something. They were always so proud to carry those packs!

Our local group sometimes has a “Not Back to School” party or there was a “Not Back to School” something, somewhere. If you google “Not Back to School,” you’ll find all kinds of ideas for homeschoolers. A great place to start making one of your own is A to Z Homeschooling’s Field Trip Ideas. Don’t limit yourself to your own area if you don’t have to! This is an adventure!

All that being said there is some “work” to be done this time of year for private homeschoolers. We need to be sure all our ducks are in a row for the year.

If you are brand new to homeschooling this year, I’m sure you are having some anxiety about whether or not you are doing the right thing for your child and if you are doing it legally. Rest assured, you are doing something wonderful for your kids! It’s scary, yes, but you’re starting on something that will change your lives. As to the legal, let’s go over that. Everything you need can be found at CHN’s website. They have two documents you can print and note up as much as you like. “Just the Facts” and “Private School Guide” are invaluable resources and can be found on the top right hand side of their home page. If you find them useful or not, consider becoming a member! CHN has been a great resource for homeschoolers for years and they are active in keeping your right to homeschool protected. Membership helps them keep up the work that they do and shows legislators that homeschoolers are not a fringe movement!

Brand new private homeschooler? Kids never been in another school?

-Have you created your school?

-Have you enrolled your student?

Then you’re good to go!

Brand new private homeschooler? Kids are transferring from another school? Same thing plus two.

-Have you created your school? Enrolled your student?

-Have you unenrolled your student from their old school? This needs to be done right away. The school should not be looking for your child come the first day of school. Call or go over there, tell them that your child will be attending another school this year and that you need to unenroll them. They will ask for the new school’s (your school’s) name and address.

-Have you sent a letter (as the school admin) requesting the cumulative file for your new student?

You’re good to go, too! Go have some fun learning in the real world!

Returning private homeschooler?

-Go over your previous year’s files.

-Create your Course of Study for the current year.

-Create your attendance record for the year.

And you’re good for the year as well!

The next thing we all need to do officially is file the private school affidavit in October with all the other private schools in California. I’ll have another post about that in the future. For now, enjoy your freedom!

Unconventional Education

Almost every town has a Parks & Recreation department, right? And there are city and community events planned as well, like summer concerts and holiday celebrations. This stuff is a gold mine for private homeschoolers!

I recently picked up Yucca Valley’s Activity and Events Guide while I was at the library. It made me wish my kids were little again! You can find it online by clicking HERE or drop by the Library or Community Center to pick up a printed one.

When I opened it up I thought of all the subjects the events listed inside would cover, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Private homeschooling in California can be cheap if you don’t buy a pre-made curriculum. Classes and events like these are a great way to offer the same subjects the public school’s offer but in a different way.

The Summer Music Festival is the first event I saw. Free live music all summer. Can you think of a better way to introduce your kids to some performing arts? Different styles of music. Live performance etiquette. They may find an instrument they’d like to learn to play or a new genre they love. When we’d go to concerts like this, I’d be looking up the music, where and when it came from, who was playing, etc. If they liked it, we’d usually find a CD for our collection. And there’s more music at “Chamber Music at the Museum” in June! This event does cost some money to attend, but you don’t hear classical music live much anymore. Pay up and support these folks! This could cover the subjects of music, performing arts, history, social studies, and math (music is totally math).

Earth Day celebration? Not much needs to be said about that! Science, social studies, a little history, all rolled into one day.

The Hi-Desert Nature Museum has an exhibit all about toys all summer. Yes, toys are education too! There’s some serious exploring to be done there! That’d be science, history, and even some language arts if you decide to write about it or read many of the signs and displays.

Dance classes, karate, yoga, there’s a ton of stuff to do that would cover P.E.

Did you know Yucca Valley has a Youth Commission? That sounds like a great way for a homeschooled kid to get involved in the town they live in. You may be raising the next mayor! Civics, economics, language arts…and social skills!

If you’re a little new to this homeschool idea you’re probably wondering how in the world do you document this type of learning, right? In the elementary years especially, tracking can be as easy as keeping a student calendar or a journal. At the end of the day, write about what you did that day. Take pictures and make a scrap book, blog, or just post it to Facebook. I urge you to write about daily activities even if you think you could never forget that glorious day. I’m looking back at my blog posts about my son’s activities from ten years ago wishing I had written more details! And many times I’ve looked back on the last weeks activities and thought it felt like we were laying around in the yard more than we really were. A look at my student calendar (the big notebook ones you find at Walmart or Target in September) showed that we were incredibly active after all!

One more thing, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is or what time of year. And it doesn’t matter what grade your child is in. Like I’ve said before, institutions need grade levels, homeschoolers don’t. If a California history event comes up when your child is 6 or 12, go experience it and then maybe experience it again in a couple years! If it’s Saturday morning when you head to the science center or go hiking in the national park, it’s still education for a homeschooler! That’s what makes it so great. That’s what makes it ok if you spent a week vegging in front of movies with a bucket of popcorn. We are educating our kids year-round, 24/7…but that’s another post!