Picture a child working on lessons at the kitchen table and you’ve pictured just a tiny sliver of the modern home-schooling landscape in SoCal. There seems to be an assumption that home-schooling is synonymous with staying at home, but parents, advocates and many local attractions are tackling this misconception with dynamic extracurricular programs for home-schooled students. These programs transform the greater L.A. area into a classroom in and of itself, where home-schoolers are taking advantage of a curriculum filled with a wealth of lessons to last a lifetime.
A Learning Triple Threat
The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens (www.huntington.org/school-programs) welcomes groups of 25 or more homeschool students from the same grade to participate in a 90-minute, docent-led program exploring the art collections, botanical gardens and library free of charge.
On non-holiday Mondays, home scholars can also enjoy a self-guided Homeschool Mondays visit. Admission is free for up to 50 students each Homeschool Monday, with one chaperone admitted free for every three students. A Huntington School Program booklet is provided for note taking and sketching, and the Huntington’s homeschool kit includes magnifying glasses, color paddles, prompt cards, lesson guides and scavenger hunts.
This multisensory accompaniment encourages exploration for all types of learners and, most importantly, promotes fun. “Whether a student is interested in botanical, art or literature, The Huntington provides a creative and innovative experience,” says Kristin Brisbois, school partnership and programs assistant. “A Homeschool Monday may include hands-on learning in the conservatory’s plant lab, listening to sounds inspired by satellites in space at Orbit Pavilion or watching a conservator work on a priceless work of art in the Thorton Portrait Gallery.”
An Undersea View
For kids who are into aquatics, The Aquarium of the Pacific (www.aquariumofpacific.org) is a great space to socialize and engage in hands-on learning with marine life. The aquarium offers a range of resources, including homeschool field trips, dedicated homeschool days with discounted admission rates and family volunteer experiences where parents or guardians learn side by side with up to two children ages 9 to 15. Volunteering includes 4½ hours of learning and interacting with aquarium guests on a weekly basis. This offers home-schoolers the chance to practice public speaking and science communication.
During a typical volunteer day, students engage every half hour in various stations that each include 30 minutes of instruction on a new marine science or aquarium-related topic. Aquarium webcam resource kits and career connections are paired with other learning materials for continued online support. Eventually, young volunteers can graduate into teen or adult groups, including the Student Eco-Ambassadors study abroad program, the Junior Exhibit Guides for middle schoolers and the acclaimed VolunTEEN program for high school students.
“Sixty-four of the 92 families that volunteered with the Aquarium of the Pacific in 2018 were homeschool families, and another 23 exhibit interpreters currently come from homeschool communities who started as part of a family volunteer group,” says Cassandra Davis, manager of volunteer programs. “This year, while attending Homeschool Days, families will also have the chance to visit Pacific Visions, the Aquarium’s new expansion wing, where students will explore innovations that shape the future of our planet.”
Brains at Play
Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena (www.kidspacemuseum.org) will help you get your home- schoolers out of the house with 3.5 acres of mostly out-door, kid-driven experiences. These include more than 40 hands-on exhibits where kids ages 1-10 explore natural environments and investigate science and artistic forms of expression. The museum is dedicated to the proposition that all kids are curious explorers, engaged learners, creative and critical thinkers, thoughtful individuals and kind friends.
Homeschool families are supported via quarterly homeschool days, with an admission fee of $15 per adult-child pair. The next one, Nov. 13, will highlight how cultures around the world use masks and body language in their oral storytelling traditions.
Programs Manager Heather Grimaldi says homeschool families can also use any exhibits throughout the museum – the Galvin Physics Forest, for example – to support learning objectives they are currently working on. “Kidspace believes in the power of play and strives to provide an exciting, active and special experience for homeschool students,” she says.
Digging into the Past
For exploring the prehistory of L.A. right in the heart of the city, visit the Natural History Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits (www.nhm.org). These venues welcome approximately 5,000 homeschool families each year.
“Through Homeschool Day events and programs, NHM aims to support homeschool families with free access to the museum, unique opportunities for engagement and interactive endeavors that speak to the institutions’ vision to inspire wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds,” says Rachel Fidler, manager of school and teacher programs.
Each Homeschool Day has a theme, from dinosaurs to urban nature, gems and minerals and ice age L.A. Students, admitted free of charge, participate in hands-on craft activities, grade-appropriate scavenger hunts and tactile “Exploration Stations” and “Discovery Talks” with museum researchers. “By celebrating and illuminating the richness of Los Angeles, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County serve as an educational resource through authentic, adventurous, intentional and inclusive experiences for homeschool communities,” says Fidler.
The NHM and Tar Pits also offer free, downloadable museum activities and lesson plans for homeschool educators.
P.E., Character and Confidence
Physical education can help home-schooled students embrace the values of socialization, character and fun. Play to Your Health (www.playtoyourhealth.com), a mobile P.E. program in the greater L.A. and Orange County areas, recognizes the importance of healthy living through physical education classes for home-schooled students. PTYH combines practices from sports and other physical activities into one physical-education program. Classes can be customized to meet the interests of particular homeschool communities.
Play to Your Health is a passion and a profession for founders Ashley Weisman and her brother, James Weisman. “The benefits of physical education are limitless, including coordination, balance and agility,” says Ashley. “But more importantly, we use physical education to build character and confidence. We desire to teach kids that they can fall down, but they can also get back up, which are lessons my brother and I carry with us from our childhood.”
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Through socialization, teamwork and sportsmanship, the program becomes an exercise in emotional intelligence that uses physical education to accomplish its goals. It also offers a space where kids can learn that they don’t have to be the best to be an athlete. “Being a good sport is a thousand times more important than kicking a ball really hard,” Ashley says. “Playing with peers while developing a lifelong love of movement can have even adults discovering they miss playing Capture the Flag.”
The Flip Side of Learning
If buckling down to study has your home-schooler bouncing off the walls, Tempest Academy (www.tempestacademy. com) is one place where that is welcome. Freerunning encourages the unlimited expression of oneself within the environment around them. Parkour, also taught at Tempest, is a movement-based art form where individuals move from point to point in the fastest, yet most efficient manner – including moves such as vaults and jumps.
For Tempest CEO Gabriel Nunez, both practices are really about taking students back to the natural impulse to play. “We build big playgrounds so that all ages can come in and explore movement,” he says.
In this creative and physical style of training, students learn to overcome challenges, reach goals and achieve progress each time they visit. “The barrier to entry is very small,” says Nunez. “Within one class period, you can learn so many things, whether you are a beginner or a super-advanced athlete. You also learn how to fail a ton, but it’s not failing at someone else’s expense. You are in control of the failure as well as the success, and you learn to have fun while failing, which promotes tenacity and a growth mindset for our students.”
There are no special rates or classes for home-schoolers, but there are many class options during weekdays, while traditional learners are in school. Kids of all ages are welcome, and there will be constant moving, jumping, climbing and rolling. Mostly, however, there will be community. Building a community is a major theme for this sport, and students grow, learn and collaborate by taking on challenges alongside their fellow freerunners and parkour practitioners.
Studies show that participating in extracurricular pursuits improves students’ grades and their view of education. In addition to the aforementioned options, you can join a local homeschool support group, take classes at the neighborhood Y, sign up for music lessons, perform community service, encourage high schoolers to enroll in local community college courses or talk with your public school about home-schoolers joining extracurricular activities. With L.A. as a syllabus filled with possibilities, discovering the wonder-filled world outside the home is one key to home-schooling success.
Ryane Nicole Granados is an L.A. native, writer and mom of four sons. Her work has been featured in The Manifest-Station, Mutha Magazine, The Good Men Project, Expressing Motherhood, The Nervous Breakdown, Scary Mommy and L.A. Parent.