Back-to-School? Maybe Not
by: Annette M. Hall
The dog days of summer are here, soon fall will be upon us and yet another school year has begun.
The signs are everywhere, even the tin-man down the hill is glad to see school start; he can be seen peeking out the window of his yellow school bus these days. The stores are all having terrific sales on school supplies and we, like many others, really stocked up this year.
The first day of school was always a thrill; visiting with friends I had lost touch with over the summer, the smell and feel of new books, which held great promise for adventure. Excitement was in the air, judging from the youth I've talked with this week, not much has changed.
After the first week, the honeymoon is over and it's back to work. I can still remember sitting in class staring out the window, longing to get outdoors and explore. Those were back in the days when school didn't begin until after Labor Day and even then the first two weeks of September were very warm. Sitting in a classroom during those beautiful waning summer days was torture.
Not everyone participates in the annual back-to-school frenzy. Today more and more families turn to homeschooling, which can mean different things to different families.
Many homeschool families attend one of the annual homeschooling conferences held around the state. The HomeSchool Association of California (HSC) conference takes place each August in Sacramento, CA. The Valley Home Educators (VHE) conference in Modesto is held the end of July each year and the California Homeschool Network (CHN) Expo is held each August in Ontario, CA. Several other conferences are held each year and all provide ample opportunity for homeschoolers to check out curriculum and plan activities for the coming school year.
Those who choose to homeschool do so for various reasons; those reasons are as varied as the families themselves. Some homeschool because of religious convictions, others due to travel schedules or learning disabilities and then there are those of us who do so because we enjoy spending as much time as possible with our children and being the primary influence in their lives.
California Private School Law
While California does not have a "homeschool" law, spelled out in the education code, homeschoolers do so under California's Private School laws. There are three legal private alternatives for homeschooling children under California law: Establish a home-based private school; enroll in a private school "independent study program," or through the tutoring option.
It wasn't so long ago that almost every homeschooling family used some sort of packaged curriculum and expected their children to work their way through these textbooks of standard bits of wisdom, intended to insure children obtained a well-rounded education. Many parents are moving farther and farther away from the school-at-home mode and choosing a much different path for their children.
From the Gold Rush Days to now, education has come full-circle. In the "good 'ol days," as some are fond of saying, education was not the center of life but each family made choices and often sacrifices to ensure the education of their children.
Grandparents and Living History Lessons
Today many kids are coming home to school just as they did years ago, before things got so crazy; before school shootings, mandatory bussing and "No Child Left Behind." I can still remember my Grandmother talking about walking five miles to school "uphill both ways, in the snow." I wish my Grandmother were still here to tell her stories to my son.
She would talk of the days before television, when children played with whatever they could find or make out of ordinary items around the house. I was so amazed that she would make her own baby-dolls and relive her excitement because the beginning of school meant getting new shoes. It was a simpler time. It was as if time had stood still for her all these years, you could tell, it could have been yesterday for her.
Children can learn a great deal from spending time with, and listening to, the wonderful stories from seniors in our community. What better way to get a birds-eye view of history than to see it through the eyes of someone who has been there?
Parents who feel intimidated by the responsibility involved in educating their own child may decide to join one of the many charter schools, which are part of the public school system. We have several charter schools in the area, which provide an opportunity for parents who would like to explore homeschooling, but for whatever reason do not feel comfortable going it alone.
There has been a great deal of controversy over the charter school option. School administrators often aren't fond of it because they believe it takes money out of the local school and transfers with the student to the new school. Those dedicated to the private (homeschool) school option believe that families who choose to enroll their children in charter schools are not "real" homeschoolers but still public school students.
Being home has provided my son with wonderful opportunities to learn from others first-hand. Reading is a great thing, but reading about fishing from a book is not the same thing as experiencing reeling your first fish into the boat. Just ask Dr. John Baldwin who writes "Anglers Notes" if he would rather write about fishing, or participate in the activity. There is just something unforgettable about being there and feeling the thrill that comes when you get your first nibble on that hook.
Why talk about educational things, when you can do them?
Just talk to real fishing enthusiast, you can see the gleam and excitement in their eye, it's almost contagious and technique is everything. Whether a fisherman uses traditional bait, makes his own lures for fly-fishing or creates an exotic mix to catch his favorite fish, strategy is very much a part of the sport.
Homeschool has been addicting for us. I simply can't imagine allowing anyone else experience all those "firsts" with my son. I was there when he started to read, what an exciting moment for the entire family. I was there when he learned count and when he built his first computer with his dad at the tender of age of four. I wouldn't have missed a single "first" with him, for all the world.
Today his interest vacillates from creating his own website, which has grown exponentially over the past couple of months; to collecting, reading about, watching and playing with everything transformers. Last night, he was learning to do magic tricks and enjoying every moment.
We "unschool," for lack of a better term. What this means in practice varies widely from family to family of unschoolers. Some call what we do "child-led learning." Some simply call it living.
We simply do what we've always done. I do what interests me, my spouse does what interests him, and we both help our son find his interests. Instead of learning to read, just because someone thought it was a great idea to do so, my son learned to read because he wanted to be able to read the instructions on some of his games. Reading opened the door for him to achieve his goals.
Motivation Key to Learning
He was motivated to read and because he had a purpose, a reason to learn to read he achieved his goal with very little direction from his father and I. I've watched in amazement as his reading skills and comprehension rate has steadily increased, from his own efforts and motivation. He owns his own education. When a subject grabs his interest he will devote untold hours to its end.
As parents we see our job as facilitators, we attempt to help him tie it all together. We like to expand on what he's already doing, so we provide interesting reading, games and websites that often will take him to the next level of exposure to his current tangent.
Solar Bob (not his real name) is an expert astronomer. He builds his own high- powered telescopes and each year spends weeks in the desert viewing the stars and recording data. He travels around the state sharing his knowledge and skills with many astronomy groups. When asked, he quickly agreed to treat our homeschool group to an outdoor astronomy class, which the children enjoyed tremendously.
The great thing about these sessions is that the instructor who truly loves what he's doing will spread that excitement, which can be infectious. Each child took away from the classes what he was mature enough to grasp but all were fascinated and amazed at the huge telescopes, which they were actually using.
The Twain Harte Area Homeschool group is gearing up for an exciting year with many opportunities for students to enjoy nature and learn about science and the world around them.
If you see us around town or traipsing through the woods on our latest excursion, feel free to stop us and ask about our latest adventure. We love to meet new people and make new friends.
Updated October 26, 2006