Thursday, March 15, 2012

Alternative Education (the movement formerly known as homeschooling)

Originally written as a guest post for Granola Babies, but it was too long! So here in all it's glorious entirety is what new homeschoolers need to know...

The most incredible experience of my life has been having babies. So incredible I did it 3 times and I am about to complete this matching set of unique humans, with a 4th. A new sibling for my offspring to welcome into their merry little band.

An unexpected side benefit of bearing babies is that I discovered there is more than one way to do things- actually, somewhere along our meandering path I suddenly realized that applies to every stage of parenting. From pregnancy through education all the way into self realization, we mamas are faced with many diverging paths. When it comes to education we have chosen the one less traveled.

It has gotten a bit more crowded as we have traversed this county and the next during our first decade of Homeschooling and The Voyage of Self Discovery: a Journey of Original Seeking.” This is title of a book that is one of my absolute favorites, it may have been the first one I read, written by homeschool dad DH Albert. (I am going to provide you with lots of links to many resources- you may want to bookmark this page!)

When I first knew we would homeschool I googled late into the night as I sat NAK (nursing at keyboard). I searched for what a typical day would look like, how we would do it, who we would do it with, where I could take my kids, and when I needed to “outsource”. Even back then the resources were plentiful online, but it took a lot of sorting through to find the ones that matched our “family learning style”. A family learning style takes into account the parents abilities, the kids interests and, for us anyway, the babies, toddlers and critters sleeping, eating and pooping schedules.

Now that my oldest is 10 we have settled into what many homeschoolers call an “eclectic” style, we change things up often- we follow our whims, we set some goals, we step out of our comfort zone- and we use a charter school. There are more and more of these parent driven, publicly funded “schools” to choose from and they all have benefits and drawbacks.

Each state runs them differently, but for you Granola Babies followers who are lucky enough to live near the store in Orange County- here is an interesting article examining the impact of charter schools as they have been developing, since the legislation allowing their existence passed in 1992. It examines the  11 in existence as of the 2008 publication, and the California Department of Education only list 13 now. (Charter Schools can service students in adjacent counties, too.)

We joined our Charter School the year it started and my oldest began Kindergarten- we have been happy with this choice for the most part. I have observed the rise and fall of many others as the parents and educators who believe in this option have worked to create alternatives. The one consistent factor I have found is your relationship with your ES- Education Specialist. It can make or break your experience.

Charter schools all provide either funds, learning centers, curriculum, activities, oversight- or some varying combination of these things. Teachers, (Education Specialists) meet with parents to assist them in creating a learning record for the children enrolled as students. Here are some of the local favorites. Sky Mountain (managed by IEM who services charters, nationwide)

  1. Dehesa
  2. Julian
  3. River Springs
  4. K12 (CAVA in CA)
  5. CHEP

An even more comprehensive list can be found here at

One consideration is that since Charter Schools are publicly funded they do require testing and certain other caveats- as the “price of admission”. For us these was not a deal breaker. We have encouraged her to do her best, and not put a lot of emphasis on the testing and it has actually been a very positive experience for my 4th grader who has enjoyed the testing as a way to stay connected to the many friends we have made on our field trips, excursions, and in classes.

Each state has different legal options, and in California “homeschooling” is not the technically correct terminology. Here are your options in California

  1. Public Charter School (virtual, brick & mortar, or a combination of both).
  2. Public School Independent Study Program (closely follows public standards).
  3. Private Satellite Program (PSP).
  4. Private School n (you file R4, formerly a PSA with the state).
  5. Private Tutor (a separate legal category exists for Tutoring).

My family and I have always enjoyed a strong community of support, discovered through park days and other shared learning opportunities. There are 2 large organizations that also support families who choose this path- both provide yearly conferences, newsletters, information and various activities throughout the year- HSC ( and CHN ( Other organizations that work at a national level are listed on They all have support group lists and for those in Orange County- there is which has a slightly dated list of support groups, but can often lead you in the right direction.

Which brings me to the S word. Socialization. Some parents fear that homeschooling will rob their child of the opportunity to learn social skills. But I ask you, when else in life will you be sent into a situation where you are one of 30 others who are the same approximate age and social status? This style of learning allows for multi-age interaction, teen mentors and even adult friendships with other family minded people. Children learn how to be comfortable sharing the world with a tapestry of culturally, economically, philosophically different people. (And that is just at park days, the best part of a mama’s homeschool week, IMHO).

Finding your support system is vital, and it starts with developing your family’s “mission, vision & values”. There are sooooo many types of groups you can join from secular to religion based, from highly academic cooperatives to radical unschool families, from seasonal field trip friends to thrice weekly “mom”schools. New ones are always forming as children come to the age where the are the driving force in seeking out friendships- we move past the preschool playgroups and into the pleasant park days. I notice the trend is, that most support groups come together for a period of 5-10 years, as the parents of those children tirelessly plan science experiments, book clubs, local tours and seasonal celebrations.

As the kids get into their teen years, the mamas often remain close friends and those amazing young adults take on the tasks of organizing and connecting. But there are a select few who have lasted and been reinvented as the littles become the leaders... in OC Rainbow Kids, Homeschool_COC, Christian Home Educators and Dragontree are several that come to mind- search Yahoo groups for local support groups in your area.

More and more “cottage schools”, enrichment centers and specialty classes are sprouting up to additionally meet the needs that are created by this always evolving educational system. They are a terrific local option for finding your tribe, and connecting with those who share your style. Forgive my shameless plug: Learning Barefoot currently offers classes and is branching out into the national scene next fall with curriculum kits you can order & utilize online.Our family style learning program will soon be much more than a place to take classes- we are creating a landing place for our homeschool community for resources, information and (soon) used curriculum.

And as we come in for the home stretch on this very long winded blog post- I want to give you a lengthy list of links. These are the online places where we go to use programs, seek information, expose our children to new concepts, allow them to play games and find inspiration for in-the-moment learning, craft tutorials, building blocks and basics. Homeschool moms (and dads) are often readers, and readers are very often writers. One of the best sources I have found is other mom bloggers. I have a few favorites, but you will find your own. Or maybe I will soon be following one of you on your Journey of Self Discovery.

Before the listing begins I will leave you with the words of an awesome mama I met during a backyard family yoga class (it’s these special things we find ourselves doing as we meet our own needs alongside our children’s that makes family style learning so special). Cheryl Etzel is an unschooler, one of the many methods alternative education parents embrace. Many AP mamas find themselves drawn to this style. Cheryl is also a volunteer for the aforementioned organization, HSC. She posted this response to a question on the HomeschoolingCOC message board as I was finishing up writing this blog post- and it is so well worded and covers some great information, I just had to share it with you.

“I highly recommend you check into the *state homeschool organizations* to gather your legal information.  Their purpose is to maintain and improve the legal status of homeschoolers - so that's the BEST place to gather the most current *accurate* information.  You may also find that word-of-mouth information can be very confusing and/or just plain wrong - so go strait to these organizations, instead.  In addition to the CHN site [previously referenced], below, is --- ---  where you can order the booklet, "Empowering Families" (or download the pdf): -

Unschooling... is a philosophy and one that has developed a variety of interpretations from "radical" to "eclectic". As such it has also been highly misunderstood and misjudged by non-unschoolers & unschoolers, alike, and something you would need to do deeper research to get clear about.  We unschool so feel free to chat with me if you need resources. Since you have heard of this philosophy already, and are curious to learn more, try the Yahoo forum, "Unschooling Basics":

As you delve deeper into the world of homeschooling, you'll hear lots of terms that discuss educational approaches & philosophy that are **not at all releated to the legal options** ...such as "unschooling", "lapbooking", "relaxed", "montessori", "charlotte mason", "eclectic", "classical education"/"Thomas Jefferson education", "themeschooling", "waldorf homeschooling", "unit studies", and the list goes on & on.   Locally you'll find learning centers which provide classes, field trips, etc.  Parents will develop their own coops, or groups.  We even have a gal, locally, who runs "Disney Schooling"!  The range of approaches for you is broad, indeed, and only limited by your imagination.  All of these can be utilized whether you're in the public or private options of homeschooling.

Some approaches have similarities, or are starkly different. No matter what approach you take, you can incorporate various philosophies, online materials, books, library resources, field trips, classes, etc into your own broader "curriculum" standards for your child. And, depending on your needs, you can do this whether under a state sponsored option, or a private one.  Private options allow you the most flexible, wide-open opportunities since private schools, who do not receive tax dollars, do not have to follow public standards.  But many families thrive under a public option as well, depending on their needs.”

Recommended reading
My Top 3 (“must reads”)
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
How Children Learn by John Holt
The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith

Instead of listing out all the other “best books” I decided to give you links to other sites that have already compiled good reading lists, you will find some of them cross over, while others support their style strongly- this will give you even more resources to surf)

Other Links by Category

Craft Activities
Making Friends a paper doll activity
Making Books by the author of “Handmade Books for a Healthy Planet”
Making Art a great site with lots of ideas

Planning & Online Resources
Learning Calendar changes monthly Free printable pages science fair project wizard, ideas & resources writing prompts by grade level places homeschoolers get teachers discounts

Printables teachers club

Curriculum Suppliers lapbooking & theme units resources, lapbooks and affordable curriculum group buying power

Music & Visual Arts podcasts, games & online listening lots of lyrics, audio products for sale has a membership fee, some free samples 130 elementary quizzes, puzzles and games about music

Online Activities & Interactive Programs a programming language for creating/sharing games and more reading helps

Just plain cool (barn owl cameras)

Some favorite blog posts

Want to keep chickens?

And of course if you are local to OC...
Fun Orange County Parks — OC kids playgrounds and outdoor play ideas

Happy Homeschooling!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Time Travel Tuesday

As I was preparing for my guest post on Granola Babies I came across some fun times... here is one worth revisiting...

Learning Barefoot- Fall

Make a slide show, scrapbook or ecard

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