For any of us who have been involved with homeschooling for any length of time, we have inevitably heard about the various kinds of homeschooling communities and cooperatives.
As the popularity of homeschooling grows, so do the opportunities. The many opportunities also increase the things we must consider in order to find the right fit for our families. Furthermore, as each of us develops a deeper understanding of our chosen philosophy of education, whether it be Classical, Charlotte Mason, or another approach to education, we are increasingly more concerned with what and how things are taught. In addition, everything from cost, parent requirements, amount of work for students, and more 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 some level of dissonance between the real community you are considering and your highest 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 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 assessment governed 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 based on preference or 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 the sweet community and ample opportunity for making friends and hanging out.
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, very few 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
Before you decide if this is the right structure for your Scholé Group or the right group for your family to join, be sure you know exactly what the expectations and responsibilities are for teachers/tutors/mentors, parents, and students. Additionally, if you are exploring the Scholé Group Network, Scholé Groups can give strength to this form and mitigate some of the cons. For example, in Scholé Groups align with the liberal arts tradition and classical and restful teaching practices. A group can choose to have all parents teach and choose to offer a free group, but still require group members to agree to the group’s philosophy and teaching practices.
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 (They are not coaching skills or assessing work)
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 paying some level of tuition or 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 of 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 happens. One, the mentor/tutor maintains their boundaries, and parents become frustrated, resulting in the goodwill the parents held for the tutor/mentor being diminished. 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 resources, goodwill, and energy must be present. 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.
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
If done well, the Experience Centered Community is an incredibly life-giving and joyous way to participate in a homeschool community. Just be sure you know what you are creating or joining. Most Scholé Groups fit this kind of group structure.
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, coach skills like reading closely, writing, etc., 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 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 once or twice a week in person and possibly more if online. Students complete reading, writing, and other assignments throughout the 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. With that said, by knowing what to expect in these kinds of communities you can determine if a class or program is worth the cost. For example, if a group charges more expensive tuition, but does not provide the value outlined here, it is good to question whether the program is worth the money.
Takes almost everything off a parent’s plate (teaching, assessing, end of year report -not including final and official transcripts)
Strong Community building opportunities
Teacher intensive help for students
Teachers have usually invested time in developing their skillset 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.
If you are looking for more assistance in your homeschool a Homeschool “School” Community may be exactly what you are looking for. While most Scholé Groups fit into the Expereince-Centered category there are a few Scholé Groups that fit this model. Sola Gratia Classical Academy, which is a locally run Scholé Group in North Carolina and Paideia Fellowship, which is an online Scholé Group.
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 or budding Scholé Group. By using this guide, you can browse through your options based on your main needs. For example, if your family is in a busy or emotionally difficult season of life, a Homeschool “School” Community may be of great help to your family. If your family has a limited budget or you want an all hands on deck approach to community, then your best bet might be to look for a co-op. If you are looking for a community to enrich your homeschool, don’t want to do it all by yourself, but you still really love learning and homeschooling, then look for an Experience-Centered Community.
Happy searching as you seek to homeschool in a classical, restful, flexible, and communal way. We are here to help if you should ever desire our assistance.
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Which kind of group are you most interested in joining and if you are a director, which kind of group are you most interested in creating? Come on over to the Scholé Groups Parents Forum or Director’s Forum to discuss and learn more. If you have not registered for the conversation at Classical U Forum yet, it’s a simple (and FREE!) process. You’ll find other classical educators discussing a wide variety of topics, plus a dedicated set of forums for Scholé Groups. Join us today!
Jennifer Dow serves as the Scholé Groups Administrator, is a classical teacher, speaker, and writer. Jennifer has completed the CiRCE Apprenticeship as a CiRCE certified Classical Teacher and has taught humanities, logic, rhetoric, and the fine arts since 2009. She is the founder of the Paideia Fellowship, an organization devoted to helping teachers and leaders, at home and school, teach the classical liberal arts.
Jennifer’s published works can be seen at Paideia Fellowship, the CiRCE Institute, Scholé Groups, and Afterthoughts. Jennifer was a contributing author for The Lost Tools of Writing Level 1, published by The CiRCE Institute. In addition to co-hosting The Classical Homeschool Podcast, she has been featured on Your Morning Basket Podcast with Pam Barnhill and The Commons with Brian Phillips.
Jennifer has spoken at over a dozen events across the nation on how to teach and encounter the classical liberal arts. Currently, Jennifer is writing her first book about the journey of classical learning and teaching, serving as the Director of the Paideia Fellowship, and researching how parents, leaders, and teachers can provide an authentic classical education to all.
Jennifer, an Orthodox Christian, lives in North Carolina with her three children and enjoys spoken word poetry, trying her hand at fancy cuisine, collecting more books than she’ll ever read, and the occasional Netflix binge.