Homeschooling in California: Beginning the Journey

With growing opposition to Common Core, the number of families that are choosing to homeschool is growing exponentially.

As a veteran homeschool mom, I know first hand that making the choice to homeschool is both exciting (it opens a whole new world giving you the freedom to do what works best for you and your family) and intimidating (your child’s education and future is truly in your hands).

No matter when you choose to take this journey (whether your child is just a toddler, is in the midst of third grade, or has just entered junior high), I want to reassure you that you can do this.

You CAN homeschool successfully.

I have had the privilege of homeschooling (thus far) in two states, initially in Oregon and presently in California.  I am familiar with the laws in both states and will be writing about each over the next few weeks.

homeschooling caliBeginning the Journey – How do I homeschool in California?

When we first moved to California, I debated the pros and cons of the homeschool choices available to me:

  • Establishing your own home-based private school (R4),
  • Enrolling in a private school that offers independent study (PSP),
  • Using a public school independent study program (ISP) or charter school that caters to homeschoolers or,
  • Using the tutorial option (if you have a credential).

Facilitated Homeschooling

For those just getting started in homeschooling or whom simply want someone to guide them along the way, I would suggest any of the three latter methods (private school, charter school, or hiring a tutor). As each school is very different in their approach and what they have to offer, you will want to learn about the specific options in your local area.

Compare and contrast the programs they provide. Some will assign you the curriculum materials they have adopted for your child’s grade level, some will purchase on your behalf the curriculum you choose, and others will provide you with a monthly stipend. Some charters will also provide 1-2 days of enrichment activities (art, science, music, language, etc.) and quarterly field trips.

If possible, meet with the facilitators and find out just how much freedom or flexibility you will have.  How often are you required to meet?  What kind of student work or documentation is required?

Be aware that charter schools are in fact public schools. As such, as a student enrolled, participation in the Common Core exams will be expected. Presently, it may be possible to opt out of these exams. Be sure to read all the materials before signing enrollment contracts.

When we first moved to California, I was intrigued by the myriad of opportunities. Each of these options appealed to me in different ways, but in the beginning, we opted to partner with a public charter school (or umbrella school).  I selected one in which I felt would best meet our needs and I met with the facilitator one afternoon.  I liked her right away and the kids were excited for the weekly enrichment day.

Within a few months, however, we discovered that an umbrella school was not the choice for us.  We had become too accustomed to doing things our way and I felt constrained by the requirements expected of me by the state. The busy work was killing us! 

Unbeknownst to us, many of the enrichment day activities were gobbled up with testing requirements of one sort or another.  We thereby opted to return to what we were accustomed to – doing it on our own – and I thereby filed an R4 to establish our own home-based private school.

Other homeschool families I have spoken with since have shared their experiences with umbrella schools (whether private or public charters). Everyone has a different story – some love the guidance and support. Others, like me, felt constrained by the requirements.

What is important is that you find a match for your needs.  Find what works best for your family. 

Independent Homeschooling

Undoubtably, if you choose to homeschool independently, you will have more freedom. Filing an R4 is a pain-free, simple form that is completed online once each year in early October (or upon disenrolling your child from another school).  It takes just a few minutes; you simply list the number of students that will be enrolled and what the grade range.  There is no need to denote what curriculum you are using or to specify what courses you plan to teach.

Establishing a home-based private school can at times be a little daunting but it is also a very rewarding option. Though you are technically on your own, there are so many resources available today that help is just around the corner.

I will talk more about choosing curriculum and finding resources again next week, Homeschooling in California: Choosing Curriculum & Finding Resources.

To learn more about the specifics of each homeschool option in California, you may also be interested in the California Homeschool Network’s How to Homeschool 

4 Steps to Intentional Planning

I wrote a post recently in which I inquired whether we too busy to connect with others and to make a commitment to community and family?  I haven’t found the answers but I have discovered that I am not alone.  I know balance is something we all struggle with … whether we choose to homeschool or not. Homeschool families, however, have the added burden or joy (depending upon your outlook) of also planning extracurricular activities around the needs to complete curriculum.  As Angie commented,

“People say – you guys are always busy. I say we are always engaged, intentionally. When I ask these same families to join us, I don’t have to ask you to guess their response – we can’t, we’re too busy. We have stacked our days on purpose to have large amounts of free time.”

Like Angie and other homeschool families, we are engaged in intentional activities and varied learning opportunities.  I take advantage of every available resource and seek out opportunities for learning, particularly areas that I can not teach myself.  When we attend community lectures, get involved in fraternal activities or volunteer work, we do so with purpose.  Even so, I constantly strive for balance and to achieve it, rely on the flexibility of our schedule.  Today I would like to share with you our step-by-step guide for intentional planning.

intentional planning

Step 1 :: Create Your Master Schedule

Each trimester, sit down with a master schedule and note the days and times the kids have lessons – extracurricular activities, lessons with tutors, co-ops, etc.  These will undoubtedly vary from family to family but essentially it is any activity you coordinate with another – whether it is attending church service, a private lesson, a sport, or regular volunteer obligation.

In our home, the kids have Mandarin lessons twice a week for an hour each, music lessons once a week for 30-45 minutes, bible study and science co-op are both once a week, and swim team is available five evenings a week (though we generally attend only three times).  On a monthly basis, we have Roots & Shoots outings, Barnesklubb, and lodge business meetings.   I also like to color code activities which also correspond to our family calendar. 

Step 2 :: Plan Lessons & Outings in Blocks

With your master schedule in place, you can now begin to fill in the open time with formal lessons and chores.  I like to do this in chunks and utilize a modified cleaning schedule from the Fly Lady.  Though we do math and language arts daily, we focus on history on Monday and science on Wednesday.  This creates uninterrupted time during which the kids can explore topics of personal interest – crochet, aerodynamics, reading, and of course Minecraft.

winter2014

I also work with the kids one-on-one regularly.  When Sweetie is working with her Mandarin tutor, I work with her brother in math and writing; when Buddy brother is engaged in his piano lesson, his sister is expected to write a letter (and vice versa).   I thereby carry along a school bag wherever we go that contains the kids’ math books, writing paper, notecards and stamps, and a read aloud (a novel or poetry).

I also chunk together our errands around town. Once a month (lodge days), for example, we are away from home for the majority of the day.  I thereby plan our visits to the library (and sometimes the bank or post office) on this day.  Though it makes for a very long day (we depart at 8:30 a.m. and don’t return home until after 9 p.m.); it is easier than making several trips back to the house for only 30-60 minute windows.  On the flip side, our hectic Thursday is always followed by a relaxing Friday with no obligation outside the home whatsoever.

Step 3 :: Allow For Change

When opportunities for play dates or field trips present themselves, forgo your formal lessons.  There is no harm in taking a day off, especially when it is for an educational experience or activity rich in learning.

Peruse your local newspaper, community websites, and bulletin boards – you’ll be surprised at the variety of opportunities that surround you.  Many of which are free!  This week alone, in our local community there is a walking tour offered by the historical society, a hook and needlers club gathering, a vermicomposting class, two fun runs to kickstart the new year, a Roots & Shoots outing, a Mandarin story time at the library, and many more.

Highlight those of interest to you and discuss the possibilities with the kids.  What captures their interest?  Put them on the calendar and go!  These opportunities are not only rich in themselves but provide for experiences the kids can write about and share with others later.

Step 4 :: Let Them Lead

Now that the kids are older and exploring personal interests, conflicts arise more often.  When they do, we weigh the benefits and occasionally make adjustments.  Generally, the conflicts are in the evening when we have swim team.  Fortunately, we have the ability to go to swim practice five times a week (six if we go on Saturday morning), our goal is to swim at least three times a week and we generally able to do so regardless.

My daughter has always had an interest in fly fishing. When I learned of a fly tying class offered in the fall and spring each year (one night a week for six consecutive weeks), my daughter was ecstatic.  It meant giving up swimming on that night but it was her decision. Fly tying has become a passion, however.  She attended Fish Camp this past summer and received a fly rod and reel for Christmas.  She is already learning to balance her own interests.

Next week, I will share a series of video posts describing How I Teach.  Each day will focus upon a different curriculum area – Monday: Language Arts, Tuesday: Math, Wednesday: Science, Thursday: History, and Friday: Fine Arts.  I am really excited for this series.  See you then! 🙂

California Homeschool Choices

In Oregon, if a family chooses to homeschool, they simply need to complete a short form and submit it to their school district.  If a student has been enrolled in the schools, the parents must complete this form within 10 days of removing them from school and beginning their instruction at home.  Thereafter, they are expected to test their children at the end of 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th grades just as they do in the public school.  The district, however, has never asked anyone that I know of for these results.

In California, the options to homeschool are more varied and the state seems to be far more involved.  Essentially, there are four ways to homeschool legally in California.  They are as follows:

Establishing a Private School

“Many homeschooling families find that the independence of operating within their own private school brings an exhilarating freedom that can open up a special way of thinking about education. They can expand and experiment in a variety of ways they might not have otherwise realized were possibilities.”

This is the option that most strongly compares to how I was doing things in Oregon.  While I enjoy the freedom, I have also come to discover that I was predominately the one organizing outings and extracurricular activities for my children and other homeschool families.  My children even began to ask, “Mom, why don’t other moms teach any classes or anything?  Why is it always you?”

Tutoring

“Parents with a valid teaching credential can act as tutors for their children, or parents may employ a credentialed teacher. However, tutors and parents who choose to tutor their own children must fulfill certain legal requirements, including the teacher must have a valid and current California state credential appropriate to the grade level of the child or children being taught.”

This option also appealed to me.  I do have a valid teaching credential in Oregon but would need to jump a few hoops to get a California credential.  However, this option is only valid to the grade level to which I am certified … essentially 8th grade.

Using a Private Satellite Program (PSP)

“In addition to the private schools operated by one family for its own children, there are a number of other types of private schools that offer homeschooling programs.”

Using a Public ISP or Charter School

“Enrolling your child in an public independent study program is the legal equivalent to enrolling him in public school. These are the “home study” programs offered by many school districts, and charter schools. A good ISP can offer support and guidance on your homeschooling adventure.”

The PSP and ISP options are very similar.  The children would legally be enrolled and would be required to meet all the same standards as other students in the district (or private school).  Textbooks (those adopted by the district) and access to other resources (online curriculum, music lessons, etc.) would be made available at no cost.  Some ISPs even provide a small budget (monthly or quarterly) that families can use to purchase curriculum or pay for lessons.  The most intriguing component of an ISP, however, is the opportunity to take part in enrichment days … one day a week of art, hands-on science, foreign language, music, field trips, etc. … classes taught by certified teachers.

~ ~ ~

Before we arrived in California, I was not sure which direction I wanted to go.  Many of my most trusted homeschool colleagues in Central Oregon said … “File an R4 and declare yourself a private school”.  I was honestly leaning in this direction until we arrived and we met with a small group of homeschoolers.  At this informal playdate, I learned that since the ISP/PSP option is so prevalent here, others feel disjointed and have difficulty connecting with other families. One mom has been here 5 years and has attended planned “Park Days” to discover no one shows up.

Additionally, on that same day, we had met with the coordinator for one ISP program and the kids absolutely loved her. She assured me I could do my own thing in regards to curriculum but that she would provide texts if I desired. She would give us projects and assignments but that she would work with me to assure what she expected of us was aligned with my own goals for the kids.  We’d meet only 2x a month to chat.

Yes, we would have to enroll the kids and essentially sign a contract.  However, it is on a trimester basis so I can opt out if I don’t like it. The kids WANT to do the “Enrichment Tuesday” and I could have the day to myself OR potentially take on a paid position and teach a rotation or two myself.

So … since we don’t know anyone and because I am intrigued by the possibilities for both my munchkins and myself (professionally), we went with the ISP option. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

What are your thoughts regarding these choices?  Chime in and take part in an ongoing debate on Squidoo – California Homeschooling.