There are plenty of reasons why parents consider homeschooling their kids. But what it comes down to is the difference between wanting to do it and knowing how to do it. Fortunately, it’s a lot simpler than you might think to homeschool (legally) in California. Here’s everything parents need to know on how to homeschool in California (and in our county, too), even amidst coronavirus concerns.
At What Age Do Kids Have to Attend School in California?
Each state has its own rules about school attendance, including specifics on how long kids must stay in the school system. In California, compulsory attendance—the age at which children must legally attend school—begins at six.
Essentially, if your kiddo would be eligible for school attendance the year they turn six, that’s the year you have to officially begin homeschooling. Our local school district often changes its requirements for enrollment, but most commonly, kids who turn six before sometime in September are eligible for enrollment in first grade.
That’s right—kindergarten is not compulsory!
Kids do have to continue attending school (in some form!) until they turn 18, graduate from high school, or pass the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) and have parental approval to end their secondary education.
But just because a child turns six years old doesn’t mean they must enroll in public (or private) school to learn.
How to Homeschool: Choices in California
According to the California Department of Education, there are several ways to homeschool in our state. But if you ask local homeschoolers, there are actually three main methods of educating your kids at home. Those include filing a Private School Affidavit, enrolling in a charter program, or using a distance-learning school.
Here’s more on all three options—plus other ways to “homeschool” in California.
Private School Affidavit
Filing a Private School Affidavit essentially means you’re opening your own school, in your home. You’ll enroll whichever of your children you plan to homeschool, and you have control over lesson planning, curriculum, and just about everything else.
Facts About Filing a PSA:
- You must file yearly, as each document covers October 1st through September 30th
- It’s your responsibility to print the PSA for your records
- Technically, you must keep attendance
Benefits of a Private School Affidavit
- You’re, technically, opening your own school
- You get to name it, which is fun!
- You maintain records and therefore can provide a diploma
- There are no curriculum limits or guidelines, as far as religion or schools of thought
Drawbacks of a Private School Affidavit
- The local school district may not have access to the records, causing issues when they “check up on” school-age students who don’t attend public school
- You must keep attendance records
- It’s your responsibility to teach to the state standards (with few resources)
- No financial help with obtaining materials or curriculum
Who Should Choose a PSA?
Plenty of parents who want maximum freedom of choice file a PSA. You can choose all your own curriculum (religious or otherwise), decide on grading methods, and print up a fancy diploma once your kiddo graduates.
Of course, you won’t receive financial help from the state for schooling your kiddo, so this is the best option for those who have the means to obtain materials on their own. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on curriculum—but extracurriculars can add up!
Want to know more about this option? Check out my related post, How to File a Homeschool PSA in California (updated for families new to homeschooling due to COVID-19!).
Homeschool Charter Program
Homeschool charters are popular at the moment—especially in our area as more charters expand into rural communities—but they’re also at risk. New and pending legislation threatens to shut down charter programs or cut their funding when they come up for renewal. And with the coronavirus messing up public schooling options, many programs are full up for fall 2020.
That said, charters are an extremely popular homeschooling option, and it’s the option we chose when we decided to start homeschooling for first grade a few years ago.
Facts About Homeschool Charters
- You can enroll anytime (pending impaction and wait-listed programs)
- They tend to serve specific geographic areas
- You receive funds to spend on curriculum and materials
- You work with a teacher and must attend meetings every so often
- Requires a set number of hours of “instruction” per day
Benefits of a Homeschool Charter
- Each child receives funds for school materials, classes, and activities!
- You have a teacher to consult with for teaching strategies, questions, and concerns
- The charter provides educational and other resources, including networking events
- Flexibility in choosing above or below grade-level materials
- You keep most of the materials after you use them (some items are returnable)
Drawbacks of a Homeschool Charter
- State testing is often, if not always, required (in our experience, it is “strongly suggested” for students to participate in testing!)
- You must provide grades for your student
- Charters limit acceptable curriculum (IE, religious materials must be purchased out of pocket) per state standards
- You must meet with a teacher, commonly one time per learning period (about once a month)
Who Should Choose a Homeschool Charter?
In my experience, most homeschooling families choose a homeschool charter because they love having funds for their children’s education! It’s not a free spending account: the materials you order must be educational, often consumable, and line up with your lesson plans for the school year or learning period.
Some families appreciate having a teacher to consult with as their child grows, and most programs aim to keep students with the same teacher year after year. If you’re new to homeschooling, want financial help with classes and curriculum, or just want some guidance with planning your resources, a homeschool charter is an excellent option.
Common Homeschool Charter Programs
Things change often in the charter world, but here are the most popular homeschool charter options in our area (Amador County) and surrounding areas!
- Mountain Oaks School (note that Mountain Oaks does not currently offer student funds—but they do offer curriculum and enrichment classes)
- Visions in Education
- Inspire Charter Schools
- Horizon Charter Schools
- Pacific Charter Institute (has multiple campuses, including Heritage Peak Charter School, Rio Valley Charter School, Sutter Peak Charter Academy, and Valley View Charter Prep)
Distance Learning Program
Distance learning programs or “virtual schools” are often the programs advertised on TV as solutions to public schooling challenges. Most programs operate entirely online, requiring your student to log around six hours per day in an online classroom (with your help, as needed).
Facts About Distance Learning Programs
- Often have attendance requirements, IE set numbers of hours students must work
- May or may not involve an assigned teacher
- Children often must work independently (or with your assistance); not much formal instruction
Benefits of Distance Learning Programs
- Kids can complete their work from anywhere they have an internet connection
- Students who are at or above grade level may find online education easy and rewarding
- Curriculum is pre-set and aligns with state standards
- Most are free (though private, paid options do exist)
Drawbacks of Distance Learning Programs
- Attendance requirements may not leave much time for extracurriculars
- Children must use a computer or tablet for hours each day
- Programs often lack teacher support/parental instruction
- No funds for purchasing curriculum
Who Should Choose a Distance Learning Program?
It’s more common for older students (or just more mature ones) to opt for online education via distance learning. For most of us with younger kids, an entirely online program isn’t ideal, but for a high schooler who is having a rough time in the public school system, it can be a welcome alternative.
Common Distance Learning Programs
Most of these options are free, but there are also paid schools parents can choose. In some cases, they offer unique curriculum packages or international homeschooling help, ideal for traveling families or those without internet access.
Other Homeschool Options
Back when I was a high school student, the only “homeschooling” I knew of was independent study via one of our local school campuses. A friend who did independent study received his assignments weekly, completed them on his own time, then met with his teacher to go over everything.
Nowadays, there’s likely a bit more interfacing between parents and teachers, and technology has its place in the process, too. But independent study is still an alternative to the public school experience for kids who need a bit more attention than a regular classroom offers. Parents are more involved in their kids’ learning, but teachers are on hand for assistance, too—and your student will likely complete the exact assignments other kids are working on in class.
Final Thoughts on How to Homeschool in California
The reasons parents decide to homeschool are as varied as the homeschooling options we have available! And the best part of it is, no matter what option you choose for educating your child(ren), you can always change your mind at any point!
Flexibility and personalization are key—which is why you’re thinking about making the leap to homeschooling in the first place, right? We’d love for you to join us in our homeschooling adventures, and we’re happy to help with any other questions you might have about how to homeschool in California!