Foundation Homes co-founder Darcy Alkus-Barrow is a board member (and the current President-Elect) at local non-profit Southern Marin Mother’s Club (SMMC), serving and connecting over 900 families throughout all of Marin.
With homeschool pods, distance learning, “mico” home schools, and other homeschool topics a trending conversation among our local families, below find an interview Darcy held on the topic with with Ruth Blanding of This Joyful Village for SMMC’s print magazine, The Crier:
Homeschooling in Marin 101
For many of us, the concept of homeschooling – prior to mid-March of this year at least! – was unchartered territory. While some parents can’t wait to send their children back to school, others are exploring new possibilities in the realm of yearlong home education. Enter Ruth Blanding: Homeschool Coach and Curriculum Concepts Designer (and mother of four homeschooled children!). With nearly 12 years of homeschooling experience, today she gives SMMC’s mamas an overview of the different homeschool options available.
Ruth Blanding, Photo credit: Anne McNeil Photography
Q: Let’s start with a basic overview of the different approaches available for homeschooling. What are the main categories in homeschool?
Homeschooling options and the homeschoolers who use them are as varied as flowers in a magnificent garden! And while homeschooling through a charter or public school seems to be very common, presently, these options are actually the most recent ones available to the homeschool community. More often than not, homeschooling families fall into a handful of styles or groupings:
- School-At-Home homeschooling is often used by first time homeschoolers as the first step into the homeschool lifestyle. Many times this style of homeschool involves using grade level based complete curriculum packages (secular or religious in nature). The “students” have a designated, structured space in the home to do their learning from and some even have a traditional length school day.
- One of the most common styles of homeschooling is Eclectic Academic Acquisition. Homeschoolers in this grouping tend to use multiple styles of homeschool learning materials and concepts to build, piece by piece, an academic experience that best suits their child’s needs. Oftentimes they have structured daily activities (like math on Mondays and science on Fridays, etc). But within this structure there is a lot of wiggle room. They most likely will set aside a few hours maximum for structured studying everyday and leave a lot of space for experiential learning time.
- Equal in popularity is Unschooling. Unschooling, also called child-led or interest-based learning, is unique in many ways to any other learning style within the homeschool lifestyle. Unschoolers often do not keep scheduled learning time or create formal lessons. Rather they are in constant dialogue with, and observation of, their child and the places that their child’s focus and curiosity strays. They maintain the belief that “academic” learning unfolds in the same fashion as learning to walk or talk; naturally and organically, in it’s own time, when the child is ready. Children pursue interest and parents hold space and offer guidance, always maintaining that the child is in charge and that the parent is there to support as needed. Media and electronics are strongly discouraged, especially for younger children.
- Not to be left out, and definitely not last, are the homeschoolers who work within specific learning pedagogies; Waldorf, Montessori, Charlotte Mason to name a few of the most common. Waldorf is built on the importance of educating the whole child; mind, body, spirit. It has a very strong art base and much learning is in the format of stories and rituals. Montessori learning is child paced and believes that each child will develop to their full potential when allowed to learn at the rate that is best for them. Natural materials and manipulatives (items easily touched, handled, and used by the small hands of children) and clean uncluttered environments are a large part of Montesori learning style. The Charlotte Mason learning style believes that children should be given real life situations from which to learn. Taking field trips, nature walks, having farming experiences, and reading books that truly bring to life the experiences that were had to help deepen the learning experience are all ways in which learning comes alive. While academic work is important, the Charlotte Mason style of learning stresses the importance of time spent in nature. The materials to be used are deep, unique, and varied in their nature such as Latin or Calligraphy rather than just basic writing and language.
- The new kid on the block in homeschooling is the use of Charter Programs. Within charter homeschooling, there are several options for families to choose from; public, online, and self-directed. Homeschooling through a traditional public school is more often called Independent Study. In independent study, a student is guided by a public school teacher. They might pick up assignment packets or print up emailed pdf files with their designated work for a specific time period; usually a week. The student does not attend classes on campus. In the Online Charter style of learning, the student takes all of their lessons online with designated teachers on a regular daily schedule. (This style of homeschooling could also fall into the school-at-home style of learning.) With the Self- Directed Charter homeschool option, students are essentially free to learn in any style they would like. The charter offers a budget for each student/family to use for academic materials and each student or family unit has an Educational Specialist (think a teacher who isn’t teaching but keeps records). The extra resources that can be purchased with the funds can be incredibly beneficial to families who otherwise would not have the finances to purchase materials that they truly desire. The trade off is that students are responsible for handing in work samples that meet the core standards for education in every learning period (generally a month).
Q: About how much time should a parent plan to spend overseeing the learning each day?
For the most part, homeschoolers do not “oversee” the work of their children. More so they work alongside their child or observe their child at work. We assist our children in their learning in an organic way. We guide them through their lessons (for those who use lessons or curriculum). We give them space to discover. We learn old subjects, ideas and concepts anew and deeper while helping our children to gather the information they seek from each topic. As for actual minutes or hours spent that also depends on what is being done. Personally, we spend between 1-3 hours a day on “structured” learning. If we are deep in experiential learning, we might spend the entire day working, reading, talking, researching, and discovering. Field trips may take an afternoon and in depth field studies (such as whale watching) might become a family learning vacation that takes the weekend!
Q: What questions might parents ask themselves to help narrow down the homeschool curriculum choices?
When it comes to curriculum, sorting through the many available choices can be overwhelming; even for a “seasoned” homeschooler. Before you become overwhelmed, take a deep breath and check out these ways to simplify the task:
- Make the process easier by narrowing down what it is you seek as a parent/educational facilitator. Do you want a more traditional learning approach? Waldorf? Nature-based? Religious or secular?
- Think about what you wish to spend. Some curriculum is inexpensive while others are on the pricier side. Budget may dictate options.
- Are you seeking a complete curriculum package or just subjects? Especially for those who practice Eclectic Academic Acquisition, building a curriculum from multiple places can be far more fulfilling than a set.
- Join a few local or digital homeschool groups. Many times there are families who have used the curriculum you are interested in — you might even be able to find the curriculum you want being resold or given away by a family who no longer is using it.
- And remember, even if you purchase a curriculum, and it doesn’t end up being the “right” one for your child, you can always choose something different in the future. Homeschool isn’t a one and done deal. It can take several attempts to find just the right thing for your family and that is 100% normal.
Q: Are there homeschool “common newbie mistakes” parents should be aware of?
I think that the most common mistake made by beginner homeschoolers is feeling like they need to replicate how schools teach in their home. This can generate so many hours of unnecessary stress. Try to remember that public and private schools are put together to attempt to educate as many children as possible. In this way, the structure must be as clear and defined as possible to make it possible to meet and fix problems that might arise for the children who the “one size fits most” does not fit. In your home, this is not the case. You are there to walk with your child through their many shifts of growth and to grow with them academically and as whole beings. Do not worry over being perfect and make the choice to be aware, open, malleable, and available. In this way, even on days where you feel like you are not “doing the right thing” academically, you are always aiming to do what is right for your child, as an individual.
Q: How can readers get in touch?
For readers who would like to be in touch for my services as a Homeschool Coach and Curriculum Concepts Designer, I can be reached via email at email@example.com, on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/thisjoyfulvillage/, and on Facebook at my community curriculum creation group Plotting the Course (Homeschooling) https://www.facebook.com/groups/493720304722036.
Remember always to trust your own abilities as a homeschooler. You can do this! I am here for you! -Ruth
Darcy Alkus-Barrow is co-founder of local luxury property management company Foundation Homes, offering performance-built property management for results-driven investors; she also serves on the board of the Marin Foster Care Association and Southern Marin Mother’s Club. She makes a mean crockpot Bolognese and lives in delightful chaos with her husband, Christopher, their two children and their two dogs. Get in touch: FoundationHomes.com.