Back to school — homeschool style

Posted on August 15, 2018 by Sonoma Valley Sun


Sonoma's Halloran family on a visit this summer to Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. From left are Harvey, Audrey, friend Ryan Crawford, Fred, Drew, and mom Belinda Halloran.
Sonoma’s Halloran family on a visit this summer to Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. From left are Harvey, Audrey, friend Ryan Crawford, Fred, Drew, and mom Belinda Halloran.

By Sarah Ford | From The Sun archives (Aug., 2017) — “Back to school” means different things to different people. Students who are returning to school, and their parents, may welcome the return to routine, or they may mourn the loss of freedom and family time.

For many homeschooling families in Sonoma, it can mean that their online charter school or homestudy program starts up again, or they could be planning for the year and gathering curricula. However, it might be that September means just another month of learning through everyday life, not much different than the summer months.

Here is what a few Sonoma homeschoolers had to say about the new “school year,” and why and how they homeschool.

The Halloran family of Sonoma homeschools all over the Bay area, all year round. Audrey Halloran, who is in 8th grade, said, “Most people think you have to give up so much to homeschool. In reality you gain so much more. Homeschooling gives me a lot more freedom to focus on the subjects I am interested in, in an environment with a lot less distraction.” Audrey and her mom, Belinda, started a teen girls writing workshop at the library for homeschoolers, sometimes bringing in published authors. Belinda has also conducted sports and running camps at Maxwell Park and led many other homeschool activities.

Belinda described their “back to school” routine as follows: “For the last two years we have kicked off the year with a camping trip to Samuel P. Taylor State Park to reconnect with other Sonoma County Homeschooling families and as a way to re-start our structured academic learning year in the best possible environment—nature.”

Homeschoolers, Belinda said, learn all year round. “But as a lot of us have friends in school we do have downtime over summer too. Our family takes homeschooling year by year and each year re-evaluates if this is the best thing for our children. Right now it is, but that’s not to say we might not change in the future.”

Her approach to education has always been to find what works for each individual child and help them flourish and love learning, she said. “Just as my parents helped me.”

The Ahos are another Sonoma homeschooling family for whom learning goes on year-round. Daughter Naomi, 13, is currently doing online classes through Brigham Young University, as well as studying different things with her parents and with adult mentors. Naomi also participates in the Halloran’s writing workshop. Dad Erik Aho said, “One of the reasons we like homeschooling is its flexibility. Because there are so many educational options, parents can tailor schedules, curricula, and outside activities to meet the needs of the student and the family.”

Every student’s needs are different, Aho said. “Some kids need to work more slowly; others want to dive deep into a subject or explore something that is entirely new. At the end of the day, parents simply want—and have the right to demand—the educational solution that’s best for their child. For many kids, a public school or charter school is the way to go. For others it will be homeschooling, independent study programs, online classes, private schools, or community college courses. You do what’s best for your child, and the rest will work itself out.”

The Shirleys have been homeschooling daughter Savannah in Sonoma for over six years, although she will be attending Credo High School in the fall. Mom Monette described their experience: “Regarding homeschooling/independent learning, obviously, there are many approaches that range from regimented structure to practically no structure other than self-directed exploration, and a universe in between those two approaches. We’ve experimented with many of those homeschooling and independent learning approaches during the past 6 1/2 years and have learned so much about life, ourselves, and others by doing so.”

During the process of homeschooling, Monette said, “Our confidence grew about designing our own curriculum and encouraging Savannah to discover and pursue all of her passions and interests. It’s been nice to have the flexibility to try new things when old things get old.”

It’s wonderful that on any given day you can choose to do something inspirational that breathes new life into the learning process, Monette said. “We loved all of the visits to museums, outdoor education, music and theater events, maker camps, art and learning co-ops with friends, and more. Most of all, we’ve had many wonderful experiences with socializing and learning with other homeschoolers we’ve met. What an amazing and diverse community filled with resourcefulness.”

Each and every day of homeschooling certainly wasn’t perfect, Monette admits, “but we definitely grew and we cherish our amazing friends who still inspire us to this day to live our lives creatively.”

Homeschooling has allowed Savannah to explore her personal interests. “She has a very clear understanding of what she enjoys and how she would like to design her life,” Monette said. “She knows that she can dream big and that there are endless opportunities and avenues for learning and cultivating her personal vision for her life.”

For more information about homeschooling in Sonoma County, vist the Sonoma County Homeschoolers Nonprofit at or the Homeschool Association of California,


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