August 12, 2020

Deciding on Distance Learning vs. Homeschooling? Where to Start.

Traumatized from the spring, parents of the 2020 apocalypse have a few months of distance learning under our belts.

Our schools did the very best they could under incredibly difficult circumstances, but support was patchy.

Now that administrators have had the entire summer to plan a better version of distance learning, we were hopeful for more organization but also remained doubtful, knowing that some problems would stay the same. Glitchy Zoom meetings with audio malfunctions. Online learning platforms incompatible with the technology we have at home. Work lost into the ether space of the internet. Family members juggling multiple live Zooms within a 1,500 square foot radius. Zoom fatigue.

Then the long-awaited fall schedule arrives: 230 minutes of online instruction a day! “Synchronous learning” is Governor Newsom’s expectation of California public schools, the newest educational buzz phrase.

Perhaps this is good news for kids who have access to technology but lack access to live human interaction—their parents or guardians work outside the home.

But what if you are a parent who is fortunate enough to be at home, not working? Or working from home with a flexible schedule? And your kiddo balked at Zoom, melted down on online learning platforms, and in general resisted distance learning expectations every step of the way?

Homeschooling is an appealing alternative. You know a few weirdos who’ve done it. I’m one of those weirdos, and I’m also a public school teacher. I’ve decided to go back to homeschooling given the current circumstances.

But where to begin? And is it even legal in the United States?

First of all, yes, it’s legal to homeschool in all 50 states, although the process differs.

To begin, I assume that your child is not one who easily adapted to distance learning in the spring. If she did, you wouldn’t be questioning your decision to remain in the public school system. I also start from this assumption: it’s dawning on you that your child’s teacher is not only the boss of your child, but the manager of your daily schedule as well. And if you are anything like me, you don’t particularly like being told what to do. If schools are making things up as they go along in the time of Coronavirus, why can’t we?

If you are a conformist by nature, you should probably stick with distance learning. If the thought of coming up with your own educational philosophy provokes more anxiety than the glitchiest, most awkward Zoom meeting, then stick with distance learning.

This essay doesn’t attempt to debate the importance of keeping public dollars in the public school system. The moral distress you may feel at withdrawing your child from your local public school is the subject of another article. In the end, most of us decide to do what is best for our families, especially in a crisis. What could be more of a crisis than the worst pandemic in a hundred years?

Homeschooling is daunting, exhilarating, and exhausting—an absolutely one of a kind adventure. Just as no two families are exactly alike, so are no two homeschools. Educational philosophies range from classical education such as the Trivium method, to radical unschooling, and everything in between. I know conservative Christian homeschoolers, progressive Jewish homeschoolers, Wiccan homeschoolers, and many more secular homeschoolers of different political persuasions. In short, anyone can homeschool. We don’t give parenting licenses, and we don’t give licenses to homeschool.

There are many legal ways to homeschool in California, but the three most common are:

1) Establish your own private school in your home by filing a (free) Private School Affidavit online with the state of California between October 1-15. This is much easier than it sounds and allows for the most freedom and flexibility in your homeschool.

2) Enroll in a public homeschooling charter or independent study program. Most of them are filling up, but you may find a spot. The advantage of these programs is having the guidance of a credentialed teacher and access to curricula.

3) Enroll in a private homeschooling program for the same advantages as above, but you’ll need to pay tuition.

Once you’ve decided on an option, call your local school and tell them you are dis-enrolling your child. They will want to know where your child is transferring.

Then the journey really begins.

Take a look at the Common Core Standards to see what your child is expected to learn this year in Language Arts and Math. Then look up California State Standards for Social Studies, Science, Physical Education, and Visual and Performing Arts.

Does it seem like an awful lot? Unsurmountable even? It is.

Keep in mind, though, that the vast majority of classrooms do not get around to teaching every standard, let alone teaching them for mastery. So let go of the idea that you need to meet all the standards. Also let go of the notion that homeschooling needs to last four to six hours a day. Home education takes far less time than teaching 24 to 32 kids.

In your homeschool of one, two, or three children, you can skip what your children already know, and spend more time in areas of need and interest. Interest is key! Ask yourself: what lights up your child’s eyes? What delights and intrigues them? Do more of that!

The knowledge children acquire through their own interest and initiative is the most “sticky” kind of knowledge. It will last long past what was memorized for a test.

Reflect on your own education. What lessons do you remember? What teachers were most influential, and why? How do you learn best? Audio, visual, kinesthetic?

Now think of each of your children. How do they learn best? What could be the best possible outcome for them in these crazy, chaotic times? Perhaps the best outcome of your year of homeschooling is for your child to learn the quadratic formula. More likely, you’d like to lower their stress level and enhance their love of learning. Strengthen family relationships. You’d like more time to play games, make blanket and pillow forts, bake cookies and bread, and teach them how to do their own laundry.

Besides being able to tailor your child’s education to his or her unique learning style and needs, you have the flexibility to ditch what’s not working.

For example, I really wanted my homeschooling son to read the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web with me. He found it too sad and upsetting. It wasn’t worth butting heads over, so we read another book. Over the years, I had to let go of many preconceived notions of what our homeschool would be like. Likewise, the top piece of advice from seasoned homeschoolers is not to spend too much money on curricula, especially expensive “all in one” curriculum. Why? Most of it will go unused as you find what works and what doesn’t for your particular child.

If you take the leap into homeschooling, be sure to find support. Reach out to those you know who’ve successfully homeschooled as well as local online support groups and state-wide organizations.

In these unprecedented times, your family’s well-being comes first. Homeschooling may be the best way to survive the school year with the least amount of harm. If everyone enjoys it, homeschooling might just become your new way of life.


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