For any of us who have been involved with homeschooling for any length of time, we have inevitably heard about various homeschool communities.
As the popularity of homeschooling grows, so do the opportunities. The many opportunities also increase the things we must consider to find the right fit for our families and homeschooling styles. Furthermore, as each of us develops a deeper understanding of our chosen philosophy of education, whether it be a Christian Classical, Charlotte Mason, or other approach to education, we are increasingly more concerned with what things are taught and how they are taught. In addition, everything from cost, parent requirements, amount of work for students, and more all play a role in deciding what the best fit is. It can be a daunting decision and unless you are willing to start a community chances are there will be a little give and take in regards to the real opportunity and your current ideals.
In this post I am introducing the three basic kinds of homeschooling communities and outlining what -in general- you can expect in terms of cost, parent involvement, and teacher/tutor/mentor involvement. I am focusing on academic communities rather than extra-curricular or field trip communities. I am sure there are groups out there that are a combination of two or more kinds of homeschooling communities. Nevertheless, understanding these three basic kinds will help you navigate what is the best fit for your family and what is fair for one to expect from a given of homeschool community.
Cost: Free – Almost free
Parent Involvement: Highest
Teacher/Tutor/Mentor Involvement: Varies Greatly
Quality of Teaching & Content: Varies Greatly
The first kind of homeschool community is the homeschool cooperative, more affectionately known as the homeschool co-op. In this model every parent is required to teach, assist, or be involved in some other major volunteer role. It is “ALL hands on deck” at the co-op level. The amount of teaching and assessing done by the presiding teacher varies based on what each co-op has decided. Likewise, the quality of what is taught and how it is taught varies. The bigger and the more diverse the group is, the more the quality will vary. In co-ops, many times moms end up assigned something they have to teach, or they choose a subject they like best or in which they have the most experience. Unless the group started with the understanding that everyone would align themselves with a certain philosophy or method, every class could potentially be taught through a different approach to education. Co-ops generally offer sweet community and ample opportunity for making friends and hanging out. A great example of this done in a Classical/Charlotte Mason way is Sage Parnassus’ Truth, Goodness, & Beauty Co-op. She has written a ton about how they do their group. She even offers consulting for others wanting to begin the same kind of thing. You can also search your local homeschool listings for opportunities. Before you decide, be sure you know exactly what the expectations and responsibilities are for teachers/tutors/mentors, parents, and students.
Anyone can teach
Usually the greatest variety of options for classes
Easiest to find and form
Participants can encounter Community and Fellowship
Anyone can teach
Usually no or very little standards for teaching and content
Little to no integration across subjects/disciplines/arts
There is usually no alignment or a very weak alignment with any one educational philosophy
Experience Centered Community
Cost: Moderate $150-$1200+ per program (A program includes several experiences across a variety of subjects)
Parent Involvement: Moderate, a few things are taken off your plate
Teacher/Tutor/Mentor Involvement: Facilitator and Leader of class experiences
Quality of Teaching & Content: Varies Some
The experience centered community is probably the most misunderstood of homeschool communities and is somewhat unique to the Classical/Charlotte Mason model because of our belief in experiential/poetic knowledge. The goal of most communities like this is three-fold. First, to offer community; second, to offer accountability; and third, to do things together that are more difficult or much less enjoyable when done alone. The teacher/mentor/tutor is there to be a leader in the experiences the class encounters. Common experiences would include science experiments, literature or history discussions, debates, art projects, theater, and the like. With this model, parents are still very present, but not required to teach. Parents who are not teaching/tutoring/mentoring would maintain and support the community atmosphere through helping with logistics, clean-up, lunch monitors, yearbook (if the group does this), end-of-year party, and the like.
The thing that makes this model hard is a couple things. First, this kind of community assumes that everyone wants to walk the path of learning more about the educational philosophy at hand. If this is not communicated upfront families who are not interested in that method of educating will feel out of place. Second, sometimes it is easy for tutors/mentors, parents, and students to view the role of the mentor/tutor more like a traditional teacher. Much of this is because it costs money. However, the cost of this model is still far less than traditional classes cost. This misconception puts pressure on the mentor/tutor to do more than they have the energy and resources to do. If there are parents and tutors who hold to this misconception one of two things happen. One, the mentor/tutor maintains their boundaries and parents become frustrated, and the goodwill the tutor/mentor once had is gone. Two, the mentor/tutor does not maintain those boundaries and burns out, and their resources and energy diminish.
I have heard it said that for work to continue you must have resources, goodwill, and energy. Therefore, for this model to work, the form, responsibilities, and expectations must be CLEARLY communicated. If you are looking into a group, make sure you know what is expected of everyone. The more experiences one program offers the more expensive it will be. Also, the more corporate the group is, the more expensive and inflexible it will have to be, which also means they can provide more resources and support. A couple classical examples of this model are Classical Conversations (corporate example), The Paideia Fellowship (independent example), and most Charlotte Mason co-ops/communities. Schole Groups is another great place to look for groups. The individual Schole Groups may not all be organized exactly according to this method, but would come very close. If done well Experience Centered Community is an incredibly life-giving and joyous way to participate in a homeschool community.
More integration across the different classes
More standards for mentor/tutor/teacher
Most parents who love learning could take on a tutor/mentor role
Usually aligned with one specific philosophy of education
Opportunity to do things in community that are difficult or impossible to do by one’s self
Some work is taken off the homeschool parent’s plate
Mentors/tutors/teachers are compensated a little for their hard work
Community and Fellowship in a context of learning experiences
Less flexibility than a co-op
Costs money (more of a con if a family has several+ children or if they are in financial hardship)
Greater need for precise clarity in communicating exactly what this model is all about
A greater need for collaboration between parent and tutor/mentor
Homeschool “School” Community
Cost: Highest Cost ($400-$700 per year-long class)
Parent Involvement: Very Little
Teacher Involvement: High
Quality of Teaching & Content: Higher quality, with some variation from teacher to teacher usually based on educational philosophy
Homeschool “school” communities offer tremendous help to parents who want to homeschool but do not have the time to invest in teaching their children and cultivating their teaching skills. Homeschool “school” communities also offer great fellowship opportunities for students to develop friendships with other students. It is important to remember that even with Homeschool “School” classes, you are the homeschool parent and according to the state are the administrator of your school. You are still responsible for overarching governance and transcripts, end-of-year tests (if your state requires it), and other administrative responsibilities.
Quality teachers in this model can be expected to teach the content of the class, assess all work, and send regular correspondence to parents about their children’s performance. In this model, the teacher, or presiding organization decides what the class will include. In this model, it is not really fitting for a student or parent to decide what he or she will or will not complete. Students need to be ready to be all in if they participate in this sort of community. Parents also need to make sure they provide enough time on non-class days for their students to complete assignments. These kinds of communities usually meet twice a week and then students complete reading, writing, and other assignments the other three days of the school week at home.
The biggest problem for most homeschool families with this kind of community is that it costs quite a bit more than other opportunities. There are some great programs out there that are more than worth the cost. Search your local homeschool listings for opportunities. You can also consider online options like The Raphael School or Whittenberg Academy. There are many other individual curricula, communities, and online classes as well, but the two schools mentioned provide a comprehensive online homeschool “school” community opportunity, where the same students are taking several classes together.
Takes almost everything off a parent’s plate (teaching, assessing, end of year report -not including transcripts)
Strong Community building opportunities
Teacher intensive help for students
Teachers have usually invested time in developing their skill set and knowledge in the area in which they are teaching
Teachers and organizations are more clear about their teaching and educational philosophies
Extremely integrated across the curriculum (not all programs are this way)
Parents can rightly expect certain things since they have paid for it
If homeschool parents are hired as teachers, they need to make teaching more like their profession and less like simply being part of the community.
Parents are not tremendously involved.
So there you have it. The three kinds of homeschooling communities. I hope this helps you see what kind of group may be the best fit for your family. By using this guide, you can browse through your options based on your main needs. For example, if your family is in a super busy time, you may need to choose a Homeschool “School” Community, or if your family is in a financial hardship, then your best bet might be to look for a co-op. If you are looking for a community to enrich your homeschool but you still really love learning and homeschooling, and can spend a bit, then look for a Experience Centered Community. This guide should also help you clarify what you can expect from each kind of community.
Are you already involved in a homeschool community that you love? I would love to hear about it! Join the conversation here.
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,