Petaluma homeschoolers used to distance learning

Soneile Hymn, of northwest Petaluma knew early on that she would homeschool her daughter. Hymn’s homeschooling style puts a focus on supporting her daughter’s own learning journey, inspiring a drive to self-realization.

“I have always been about freedom and nonconformity, and school just felt the opposite of that,” said Hymn. “I felt that what I learned in school was often shallow, racist, and sexist. I felt institutionalized, like my time was being wasted and I was being micromanaged.”

As parents everywhere have had to adjust to a new kind of “distance learning” during the coronavirus shutdown, Hymn has been teaching her daughter at home from the beginning.

Hymn appreciates the writings of authors Gustavo Esteva and Ivan Illich and her homeschooling style is influenced by their work. When her daughter was three, Hymn went to Oaxaca to attend a summer program in community education at Universidad de la Tierra, founded by Esteva.

Hymn explained that Uni-tierra is a University where students tell the teachers what they want to learn and the school supports them by opening their space, their library and by connecting students to resources, study partners, teachers and apprenticeships.

“Kids are hardwired with a strong desire to learn,” Hymn said. “Coerced education can be detrimental to this natural desire. Therefore, my daughter’s education is primarily her responsibility.”

Her daughter Ramona, who is now 13, said she likes learning independently.

“It’s fun to learn about what I want to learn about,” she said.

Hymn is her “facilitator,” she said, teaching her things and helping her find resources to learn on her own.

“I observe and help fill in the gaps,” she said. “When she is stuck, I try to determine what knowledge or skills might help her unstick herself. When math gets hard, we go back to where it was easy and start reviewing.”

Ramona’s learning is integrated, Hymn said.

“Music, social sciences, and language arts do not need to be separated into three class periods,” she said. “Start with something they are passionate about and incorporate the subjects. We are using The Story of Science, which is both social studies and science.”

Her daughter just finished studying Muddy Waters in the context of the Great Migration and wrote a biographical essay about it.

“I believe this is the more natural way to learn,” Hymn said.

They belong to the Sonoma County Homeschool Nonprofit where they find community and attend events, like an entrepreneurial fair, swim parties and open mics.

“Since we have been homeschooling from the beginning, we have a good size group of homeschool friends,” Hymn said.

Hymn’s daughter has also chosen to work with a homeschool charter so that she can pursue her performance arts.

“They pay for her music and theater classes, her electronics and robotics components, and other curricula that I would not be able to afford,” Hymn said. “She plans to start taking classes at the JC when she is 14.”

Every day is different, Hymn said.

“It’s up to her,” she said. “My daughter sleeps in, as teens do in their natural state, then she gets up and reads or something.”

Her daughter then figures out what she needs to get done, such as deadlines and projects to wrap up, as well as what she wants to do.

“She is usually in at least one long class, 3 ½ to 4 hours, one day a week,” Hymn said. “This year it was a Writing Critique Group/American Sign Language class. It was in a friend’s home. The first hour was ASL, then lunch, then the rest was writing. Last year she took the homeschool theater arts class at 6th Street Playhouse. The year before it was a class that studied herbs and the natural world.”

Before the shelter in place orders her daughter was in dance about 10 hours a week and she has performed in many Musicals around the county.

During the shelter in place orders, like everyone else, they are mostly stuck inside, where before, they were out and about a lot.

“Zoom dance classes just aren’t the same,” said Hymn. “Friends hang out on Zoom every Friday night, but it’s still not the same.”

Hymn noted that because homeschooling has become so much bigger over the last decade, there are lots of resources out there for kids who suddenly no longer have a traditional classroom to go to.

When asked if she had any advice for parents of traditionally schooled children who are now learning from home, Hymn suggested: “Don’t try to control everything.”

“Let them be bored, this is what leads to creativity and self-motivation,” she said.

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