Last week at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., 120 homeschoolers launched rockets, created solar etchings, and mixed moon sand. From a second story deck, they dropped “lunar landing modules” made with shoeboxes and bubble wrap enclosing raw eggs.
“I got a little flack about the egg drop from our facility director, who had to power wash dried egg off the pavement. But it was worth it,” said Jessica Ruskin, 44, the museum's education director.
The Schulz museum is one of many museums, libraries, universities, and businesses creating learning experiences that cater to an estimated 2 million homeschoolers nationwide. In the San Francisco Bay area alone, the California Academy of Sciences, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Exploratorium, and University of California-Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science all provide programs or workshops that supplement children's at-home learning. Classes range from organic beekeeping at Sebastopol's Root Farm to Lego Engineering at Play-Well Technologies in San Anselmo.
Twice a year the Schulz museum plans a three-hour educational program for homeschooled students during school hours. The cost is $5 per child. Ruskin said she appreciates parents and older siblings who help younger children. “Another exciting benefit is we don't have to worry about rigid schedules, curriculum requirements, or buses the kids have to catch,” Ruskin said. This fall's theme, “Starry, Starry Night,” drew a sell-out crowd, a common occurrence since the museum began reaching out to homeschooling families in 2007.
“Hiding in your home is no longer necessary,” said Susan Beatty, director of the Christian Home Educators Association of California. She taught her two sons and daughter at home in the 1980s when the practice was viewed skeptically. As homeschooling becomes increasingly popular, parents now have a variety of choices. Beatty advises those who “try to do it all” to cut back and focus on activities that are difficult to do at home such as debate, foreign language, and science.
At UC-Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science, one-hour workshops featuring fresh squid dissection, laser light shows, and liquid nitrogen experiments routinely sell out. Parents pay $20 per student. The hall recently opened a second session of its fall monthly classes for homeschoolers based on demand. Parents are encouraged to attend. “Part of our goal is to empower the parents so they have confidence to guide their child's learning,” said Janet Noe, a spokesperson for Lawrence Hall.
Elsewhere in the United States, Florida's Disney World offers two days for homeschoolers a year and will expand its program next year, according to spokesperson Angela Kline. As military families increasingly homeschool, on-base libraries are responding to the need. For example, the library at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia offers special presentations for kids on Benjamin Franklin and static electricity.
Santa Rosa parent Kelly Meirik, 32, left the Schulz Museum with a grocery bag full of crafts made by her two sons, aged 7 and 5, who said the egg drop was the highlight. She appreciates that the boys can participate in classes and programs together. She adds, “Let's be honest, some of this I just can't do at home.”