Homeschooling, California Style
by Ronnie Ugulano
The Small Print Comes First
When you hear a commercial on TV about a child's toy, towards the end you'll hear the little disclaimer: "Batteries not included" or you might see a label on a toy that reads: "Not intended for children under 3". Or in the political world, the message would be: "This message paid for by friends of so-and-so". There is a good reason for this. These messages tell you what to expect concerning a product. Before you buy, you have some idea what you are getting. So along these lines, we will begin by telling you what to expect of the next few pages.
First of all, I know that I could not tell you everything you might want to know about homeschooling here. It is just not possible to do in a few pages. Also, you may be comforted to know that I am not trying to convince you that homeschooling is the only way to go. How a family chooses to educate their children is a very personal matter. There are some that for one reason or another are unable to devote so much time to such a project. Also, there are many that I have spoken to that even though they can see the benefits that might come from homeschooling, just can't get comfortable with the idea of doing it themselves.
However, when I first began thinking of the possibility of homeschooling myself, I had absolutely no way of knowing where to begin. None of my friends were doing it, nor remotely interested in the idea. While I had once heard (over the radio) about a woman that taught her own children, I had no idea what was involved, or if it was even legal. When I finally got up the gumption to call the school district office, I got very indistinct, sidestepping answers. But I knew I wanted to know more, at least to satisfy my curiosity about it, to see if it was something I wanted to try.
So, that's what these few pages are about. They are the bridge to the most basic information about homeschooling. They are a bridge to others that homeschooled before me, and how they did it. Also, this is a bridge to practical information on homeschooling, such as where to find materials, specifically in the state of California. Along the way, there are a few comments on my own experiences in the last couple of years. Now that we've gotten through the disclaimer, what you really want to know is:
What is homeschooling, and why would anyone want to homeschool when schools are common and already supported by our own tax dollars? Homeschooling is teaching your own children at home instead of sending them to a public school. As far as why would anyone want to do homeschooling, there are many reasons. Some parents enjoy having their children with them in the younger years to build a good relationship with them. In addition to this, many parents are unhappy with the public school system and feel that they can do at least as good of a job as the professionals. Other parents are satisfied with the schools themselves, but are concerned with proper association for their children.
Dealing With Your Own Fears
Not everything comes easy, though. Among the needed qualifications, the most difficult one is convincing yourself that it can be done and that you can do it. Since most parents send their children to public school, homeschoolers are somewhat outnumbered. If you are not overly concerned with being somewhat different, really, you've won half the battle.
The next task, is finding out how to homeschool legally. In California, there are three major options. First, you may privately employ a credentialed teacher to teach your child. The teacher will take care of all legal requirements, and handle all of the teaching. This option is understandably expensive, and not many choose this option, and for that reason, except for mentioning it as an option, I will not say more.
Another option is to enroll your child in a Charter School or Independent Study Program that offers curriculum to enable you to homeschool. These programs are paid for out of the public school budget and your tax dollars, allow varying amounts of parental input, depending on the program, while receiving school credit, just as if your child was in public school. However, not all counties have this option available. You will find a small but growing list of Independent Study Programs, Private Schools and Charter Schools here.
Finally, there is the option as registering as a private school. Our family has chosen this option, and for the most part, when the term "homeschooling" is mentioned on this site, it is my focus.
In order to register as private school, you must fill out the R-4 Form, also known as the Private School Affidavit. To receive your copy of the Private School Affidavit, you must obtain your form directly from the California Department of Education (CDE).
It is recommended that in order for you to obtain your Affidavit with the least resistance from the CDE, that you do your registering online at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/ps/rq/ap/form.asp?formtype=blank. It is further recommended that you take care to register specifically online and specifically between the calendar dates of October 1 and October 15 each year. Once the traditonal school year starts, you might be anxious to get your affidavit filed and out of the way. Wait until October 1 to be sure that the affidavit that is on the site (if any) is for the current year. It is likely that the server will be highly busy October 1st and 15th, so choose a day and time between those dates when traffic might be slower, such as early morning or late evening. It is understood that prospective private schools with fewer than six students are probably homeschoolers. In addition, it has become clear that the form will be available after October 15, to register schools that may not become operational until after the usual deadline.
If a prospective private school does not have internet access, a paper Affidavit can be had by writing to:
California Department of Education
Policy and Program Coordination Office
1430 N Street, Suite 4309
Sacramento, CA 95814
Attention: Private School Affidavit
Homeschooling seems to be ever under the microscope, and there are those that will argue that a single family operating as a private school is not a legal option. However, when questioned closely, examining the law instead of personal opinion, those that have made this challenge have had to concede that this is a legal option for families looking for alternative ways to educate their children.
The homeschooling community has worked hard to educate the rest of the state as to the legality of using the R-4 to be recognized as a private school. One homeschooling organization Homeschool Association of California (HSC), has put together a couple of resource booklets that have been especially helpful in this regard. You can find online versions of these booklets at:
These booklets refer to the specific legal statutes and help us to explain clearly to others, such as school officials, why our children are not truant if they attend our homegrown private school.
Where do I get the gumption to do this?
By reading about the experiences of other families, you become aware of the wide range of methods that can be used in teaching. Homeschooling has become popular enough so that most public libraries now have several books of personal experiences, state legal outlines and catalogues all in their own section. I suggest that you spend an afternoon at your largest local library and thumb through their selection. You will probably be amazed at the wide variety of methods, materials and viewpoints used among homeschoolers. You will learn that some parents believe in allowing their children to learn absolutely unhindered. Others, prefer structure and drill work. Most parents would like to be somewhere in between, a pace that provides a basic framework for getting things done, but allowing freedom for personal interests. As you read along, you will find yourself developing your own tastes as to how your private school "should" be run, and the courage to do so will begin to build. And the best news is, that as the head administrator of your private school, you will have the freedom to choose how the educational needs of your children can best be met.
The next step in preparing for your own private school, is knowing where to obtain schooling materials, especially beginning reading materials. If you are just starting out with a pre-schooler, and you are going to teach beginning reading, or are working on remedial reading, I would recommend that you do only one thing. Go to Barnes & Noble book store and request the book Why Johnny Can't Read by Rudolph Flesch. It gives the reason why it is important to teach children phonics, and provides lesson plans on how to go about it. It has all you need to teach reading except actual reading material. For that the library can provide a great deal of what you need with the "I Can Read" series of books. However, if you want something phonically graded, get the book Prescription for Reading Teach Them Phonics by Dr. Ernest Christman. This is a collection of stories that start out with beginning phonic rules and work its way up to stories with more complicated phonic rules. You can obtain a list of these relatively inexpensive reading materials by writing to: The Tutorial Press, Inc. 711-A Encino Place, N.E. Albuquerque, N.M. 87102 or call (505) 296-8636 (as of last information). After going through the Johnny Can't Read book, reading will never be a problem and all you will need to do is to supply your child with plenty of interesting (to them) books.
A Typical School Day
Now you have a rough idea how to become legal, and are a little more comfortable with the idea that it really can be done. You know where to go to get materials and are ready to get down to business. Now, how much time each day should be given to school? Well, that differs depending what age group you are dealing with. If you are teaching a young child, of kindergarten age, perhaps a total of an hour actual school time will be plenty. Spend about 15 or 20 minutes on teaching letters or reading, about 5 or 10 minutes on counting and numbers and feel free to spend the last half hour or so on art or perhaps singing. Then you are done with your school hours. (OK, admit it. Your child is finished with his drawing, but you aren't. You are allowed a few more minutes to finish up.) Does that surprise you? Should you be concerned that you are not spending enough time in school? Not really, when you consider that the whole hour is spent learning. In public school, the 3 or so hours spent at the school during the kindergarten year are mostly filled with moving 30 children around from one activity to another. Also, while other children are in school, you might go shopping or do other activities that provide learning opportunities, such as reading aloud. Children learn a lot just by asking questions. All you need to do is answer them. No extra "lesson planning" involved.
Regarding the schooling of older children, we will assume that your child has spent some time in public school already. In order to make for the smoothest transition, please notify the school that your child will be moving to a private school. Schools will normally accept this as reason to drop a student without further inquiry. This will allow you to go about your business without disruption. Time allowed for teaching older children is similar to that of teaching younger children. Actual school time will probably be right around 2, maybe 3 hours tops.
If your child can read well, you can use this as the basis for learning subjects such as geography, history and social studies. It may seem intimidating to take up teaching these subjects. However it need not be. Public schools tend to use texts that are required to be inoffensive to a wide range of parents. In doing so, usually the study books become uninteresting and dry. This makes the teachers' job more difficult. As the teaching parent, you can choose any book that you want. The library is full of interestingly written books about famous people past and present, and from around the world. Just pick one. Then you can discuss who did what while making brownies, or you can have your child write about what he read. Then find another book. Before long, you will find that both of you are better informed about all kinds of people from many time periods. (Don't worry, even if you don't study in chronological order, who did what when will eventually be figured out.) Many subjects can be covered this way, at least, in a great measure.
A Remedial Reading Student
What though, if your child is not a great reader? You may have even decided to homeschool because the school system wasn't able to help and you are hoping that some personal attention may be the answer. How are you to go about giving this help? Although there are some situations that really call for the help of professionals, usually a more simple answer can be found. One thing that most professionals agree on is that reading aloud to your child can be a great aid to helping him to read better. One of the reasons this seems to work, is because it changes the association of reading from being a laborious task to an activity that brings pleasure. Nearly all of us have happy memories of our parents reading to us. We loved the stories and we loved sitting next to Mom or Dad and getting a little personal attention. Jim Trelease, the author of "The Read Aloud Handbook" says that reading aloud is like a commercial for reading. When we hear about all the wonderful things that can come from books, it makes us want to read more. Perhaps to re-read a story that was read to us before, or to read the sequel, or another book by the same author. And the more you read, the better you get at reading, and so the more you can enjoy reading. In addition, most non-readers are non-writers also. By reading aloud, it helps your child understand how thoughts are put together on paper as well as helps your child become familiar with many writing styles.
The other thing you can do to help your child improve his reading is to review with him the basic rules of phonics. Many times, public schools spend only a minimum amount of time on phonics. A phonics review can greatly assist in remembering or learning what was missed in the mechanics of learning to read. The easiest way to accomplish this, is to use the book "Why Johnny Can't Read" that was mentioned above, and follow the instructions given in the book. Spend about 20 minutes a school day going over the lessons plus reading aloud time. Do not be in a hurry. It may take a year or so to cover most or all of the lessons. The important thing is that improvement is gradually being made. And, a relaxed manner can reduce the anxiety your child may feel about his reading difficulties. After a while, it is very likely that your child will no longer have a reading problem anymore. It is simple and it works.
The subject most parents will feel is the most intimidating to consider teaching, is math. It is true that mathematics can be an exacting subject, but if you have been successful in other subjects you are likely to do well here. It would be good to select a math textbook that you feel comfortable with, one that gives examples of each step in the process. This will remind you of concepts you may not have used for a while, and give you the confidence you need. For higher math such as algebra, or geometry, many other homeschool writers will tell you that if you don't feel you can tackle it yourself, friends can help here. Or, you might choose to enroll your student in an adult school class. Better yet, both of you take the class. Then you can work together at the homework. One way or the other, it can be done. But as with the younger ones you might ask, "Is it enough?" Very likely so. Remember, homeschool is a very concentrated learning activity, and your child is already learning from household chores, interesting projects, and general living. Never discount the learning opportunities of the class "General Living 101". There are a lot of people out there that although they are adults, are unaware of how to take care of the business of life. Most homeschooled children are very aware of this necessary business because they become a part of it. When they grow up, they are well versed on how to do the normal things of life.
The "S" Word
However, when you are in charge of your school, you can provide as much socialization as you feel your child needs. And since school hours are short, "recess" can last as long as it needs to be. In fact, homeschooled children are actually out there getting "real world" experience because the kitchen table is only a small part of their classroom. The rest is made up of all the places a young person will go to buy supplies, walk the dog, visit friends, do projects, and generally do life.
You may find that your child's friend goes to public school. Should this be a major problem? No. Even in the world of public schooling, friends may sometimes find themselves separated by the lines of a school district or other school boundaries. Public school parents affected in this way just naturally arrange for social activities for their child and friend outside of school hours. Homeschooling parents can copy this arrangement for their child. Also consider that while the public schooled child is surrounded by mostly people their own age, a homeschooled child is likely to have friends of many different age groups as well as age-mates. This actually provides more social opportunities than expected. So, rest assured that a homeschooled child is well provided for in areas of socialization, as well as educationally.
The important thing to remember if you choose to accept the homeschooling commission, despite your understandable fears, is that it is highly likely that your child will turn out normal. For some reason it seems to be the greatest fear of many that some essential vitamin will be missing if a child fails to attend public school. However, there are thousands of parents, perhaps even some that you already know, that have already proven this fear to be unfounded. Instead, they have just been given the best opportunity to get to know some of the most fun people around: their own children!