The State Of California: The How-To Guide For Homeschooling

Evianna Van Santvoord, who is in kindergarten, does her schoolwork at home on March 18, 2020 in San Anselmo, California.
Photo credit Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

California’s children are getting ready to go back to school.

In some cities, school has already begun. But it looks nothing like it usually does.

Most districts will be teaching remotely, while some use a hybrid model and very few teach fully in person, with social distancing measures in place. That has parents scrambling to find help for their kids who will be learning from home, while others are opting out of the public school system entirely.

Some parents are forming pods and hiring tutors while others are just wondering how to manage the kids’ Zoom classes on their own. Some people are even moving to counties where the schools will open in person. Still, others are embracing true homeschooling.

Many parents in all of these categories are looking for help and that’s why Jamie Heston’s phone is ringing off the hook. She lives in Hayward, where she has homeschooled her kids for a dozen years. She is a homeschooling consultant and is Secretary Treasurer of the Homeschool Association of California. Heston joined KCBS Radio’s "The State Of California" for more.

Who are you hearing from the most? Is it people who want advice on how to manage their kids remote learning or people who want to opt out of the school system altogether?

At this point, it definitely is people who want to opt out. They want to keep their kids safe and not necessarily bring COVID home, since that’s such an unknown right now. We’re seeing a large amount of people who are maybe wanting to homeschool for about a year, at least to start and a smaller contingency of people who are probably coming to homeschooling no matter what. Then, of course, you do have those parents who are looking for pods and ways to do that and make sure that they’re legal.

Historically, homeschooling has represented a much smaller percentage of schooling happening in California. Do you see the coronavirus pandemic changing that?

I do. I think right now though, everybody is sort of in panic mode and just trying to make sure their kids are safe. I think that there’s going to be a percentage of parents who try it and like it and maybe don’t come back. There are still, the majority of parents who both work. They don’t want to do this. They’re only doing this because of health reasons. They’re not super into the whole homeschooling idea and probably will never come to it. It’s truly a quick fix for a lot of people.

What’s your advice for parents trying to get their arms around their kids remote public education?

If they’re doing remote learning, as much as possible, just know that unless they have a live class, anything else, the homework, can be done on evenings or weekends. If you do have working parents, you can be flexible. With homeschooling, you can be completely flexible and do everything whenever its convenient for the entire family. At least with the distancing learning, try to make it fit the family as much as you can because everybody is trying to make a living while all this is going on at the same time.

Can the kids learn just as much from thing like gardening and exploring?

Absolutely. In fact, that is a really huge part of my Homeschool 101 that I do for the Homeschool Association of California especially for the younger kids. You’re looking at gardening, cooking, baking, boardgames, building. We have a million boxes from all the deliveries we’ve been getting. Build something out of duct tape. Take old electronics apart and see what’s inside. There are so many ways you can do something in real life and then jump off from there. There are so many resources on YouTube and on the Internet. If you just do a search on kitchen science or educational podcasts or educational YouTube channels, so many things will come up. You do not necessarily have to use a book and a particular curriculum. You can get so much learning in by doing certain things. That’s way more fun for the parents as well as the kids.

What about the concept of "pods?"

As far as we can tell, legally, people are creating those by filing the private school applications, which basically create their home as a small private school. Then, those families are getting together to do some learning. We’re advising people to do some zoning laws, to look into insurance for their home and to look into daycare laws as well in case they have younger kids there and they might qualify as a daycare. So they really should look into all of the things that might be applicable. They’re doing a little bit of what parents at homeschool have done all along. We use outside resources. We might share a class with another family, a parent. We go to other people’s houses to share in the learning. So that’s no necessarily out of the ordinary here.

In more affluent districts, kids are enrolled in the "pods" and in the classes in the schools. Does that put other kids at a disadvantage?

I think that type of thing is happening when it’s not a COVID year. I think that parents that have means will always get their kids tutors or extra-curricular activities. They’ve done studies that show that even parents with a high school diploma do a fine job of educating their kids. I don’t think that somebody who doesn’t have the money to buy all of the bells and whistles is relegated to doing a bad job with their kids. It’s possible to still offer your kids quite a rich education even if you don’t have the budget that some do.