How To Start A Homeschool Group

(The following is excerpted from the ninth teacher/parent training course for homeschool teachers, from Connect The Thoughts.  This course covers how to start and run a successful homeschool group.  I hope you find this of use!)

1.  PLEASE MAKE SURE THAT YOU UNDERSTAND THESE WORDS:

Headmaster – The person in charge of a private school.

Legalese – An excessive use of legal terms in a document or in speaking.

2. PLEASE READ AND MAKE SURE THAT YOU UNDERSTAND:

This is the last course in our series of Parent/Teacher/Tutor courses intended to prepare you to homeschool.  (There’s one more course you can do after this that covers how you can use the techniques you’ve acquired to deliver the Connect The Thoughts curricula.  Once available, probably by late February 2011, it will be downloadable for free.)  The last course (Course # 8) you did dealt with socialization.  Socialization is a buzz word used against homeschoolers on a regular basis.  The stupid claim made is that, homeschooling alone at home, one never learns to be around or deal with others.  (Whereas, they claim, children in school DO learn this, as they carry their weapons through metal detectors and beat each other senseless.  I think that their extraordinarily, disastrously high drop-out rate answers this argument eloquently.)

Assuming you’ve read Poor Cheated Little Johnny, and you’ve done the eight courses (or even some of them) that precede this one, you probably no longer accept the premise of socialization, or the idea that homeschoolers somehow suffer from a lack of exposure to others.  I’m with you.

That said, I believe that people do learn better when working with a few others with like interests, and in a safe and supportive environment.  To this end, this course is dedicated to the creation of homeschool co-ops, groups, and subject-oriented clubs.

If I may, I’d like to share the story of how I started homeschooling my children, and where it led.  As this is a course about homeschooling in groups, I think it will be useful.

My two children went to private schools.  They never attended a public school (I would not allow it).  Their mother passed away when they were ages 13 and 9 respectively.  One year later, unhappy with the education that they were not receiving, I started to homeschool.  I originally did this motivated to provide them an actual curriculum from which they could actually learn, having seen the strained baby food that their school had been serving them under  the guise of curricula.  The night I pulled my children out of their school, I started writing the first history course for Upper School.  I knew I could do this, as I’d already constructed the Creative Writing Program and tried it out at their private school, with some 50 students, over a two year period.  I did not know how much work it would be to author complete curricula, or how long it would take.

Within two weeks, I’d authored the first history course, and science course.  I found it a rough road because I had to supervise the children in their homeschooling while authoring the courses.  Fortunately, I’ve been a writer and teacher my entire adult life, and I was used to both working at home and supervising students.  But wearing both “hats” was actually pretty impossible, demanding I do the bulk of the writing at night.   And, of course, I had professional work as a writer to consider.

I started showing the curricula some friends who were also in a private school.  They were very interested.  Several pulled their children out of school and started homeschooling…at my house, using my curricula.  Two of the moms were trained teachers, a most fortuitous turn of events.  I made a deal with them.  They took turns supervising the children (all the children) through their homeschool day, which freed me to author more curricula.  This allowed the curricula to be authored more quickly.  They would report any difficulties the children ran into doing the curricula, and I’d make changes in it, there on the spot.  In this manner, for almost two years, we homeschooled as a “co-op” out of my home.

I think the advantages to working in this manner, over working alone, are obvious.  Allow me to spell them out anyway.  I had a massive private library including thousands of books, as well as well over 1,000 films and many hundreds of CDs of all kinds of music, as well as computers, Internet access, even animation desks.  I had the curricula, and continued to develop it.  What I did not have was time, or overwhelming resources.  (After about two years of working in this manner, I sold my house so that I could have the resources to continue to author curricula.  That kept us going for about two more years.)  Working with other parents who had expertise they could contribute in way of supervision was valuable.  It gave me back the time I needed.  It provided limited resources that were helpful, as well, as I did start to charge them for electricity, water, etc, as our bills went up considerably.  It also provided the feel of team, united to see to it that our children received a good education.  Our children could see that happening, and understood the level of support that they were receiving.   Perhaps of the greatest importance and value, my children were able to “school” with friends who shared similar interests to their own.  We had constructed a situation that eliminated most of the detriments of “school”, and retained most of the positives.

This all worked well enough that we eventually moved the co-op to several rooms in a local church (that was licensed by the state to have a school, so the “legal requirements” were met), and took on a few more students.  (At the most I think we had about 15.)  But the closer that we got to trying to function as a school, the less well it worked.  We moved into “classrooms” divided by age groups, and that simply did not work well at all.  Some of the students had fine abilities in certain studies, beyond the “level” of their age group.  Others were “remedial” when compared to their age group.  It just did not work.  Though I enjoyed playing “headmaster”, I did not particularly enjoy the rigorous state requirements we had to meet, the paperwork, or any of the trappings of being a “school”.   We shut down before the first year ended and went back to working out of the house.

In retrospect, I would have approached numerous elements of the “expansion” into a more school-like situation differently.  In the book, Poor Cheated Little Johnny, I explain much of what I believe might work in that situation.   That material is included in this course.  If I had read the book back then, I would have handled things differently.  Unfortunately, I had not written the book yet, or come to all of the views I now hold.

Before we get into the material, there are a few “prerequisites” I’d like you to consider about homeschool groups.

– Each child still needs to be legally schooling.

– There are legal restrictions and requirements for groups, depending on what you’re doing.

– Each participating family needs to be reliable, and fully participate.

– Agreements must be made before you start.

Taking each point in turn:

LEGALITY –

If you’re going to start a group, please remember that each child must still adhere to the rules and laws of your state or administrative governmental district for home schooling.  Just because you have formed a group, the legalities aren’t waived.   Whatever you were going to do to assure that your child is “legally” schooling, you still need to do it.

As to the legalities associated with starting a group, there may or may not be any.   If you call yourself a “school”, you’re going to run into legalities and requirements.  If you charge people for a service (in as opposed to, say, having everyone pitch in to pay for water and power, or a field trip), then you are probably going to be considered a business, with all the legal concerns and tax concerns of a business.  There’s a huge difference between forming a co-op or club of some sort, and opening a business or a school.

Whatever sort of group you wish to form, you may wish to consult an attorney.  If you are going to have people in your house, insurance liabilities may be a concern.  If someone gets hurt in your house, you may well be held responsible.  If you are “running” the group and some member takes exception to how their child is handled, there may be personal, emotional, abusive and legal ramifications.  All of this is pretty unlikely, perhaps, but you should go into the formation of a group with your eyes wide open.

RELIABLE PARTICIPATION –

I can’t stress to you how important this one’s going to be.  Educating one child requires a real commitment of resources.  Educating a group of children requires resources and patience, and time.  In selecting students and families to homeschool with, you should try to work with people you trust, and who are pretty reliable.  This becomes all the more true assuming you will share teaching, administrative, and financial duties in the group.

Because you are not a school, it’s hard to “require” attendance.  A family can always choose to leave and homeschool alone, and on any pretext.  They can leave due to personality clashes, financial concerns, sensed inequities.  They can leave because the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars.  In other words, they can leave whenever they see fit.

What’s worse, you have no recourse if a parent who made an agreement with you defaults.  Say a parent agrees to supervise the students each Wednesday, but at the last moment calls and tells you they just can’t do it that day.  Let’s say they do that three weeks running, and they “have excuses”.  The result is, you’re stuck supervising on their days, and they are not only guilty of not keeping their agreement, but they are failing to keep in the agreed exchange with you and your group.   Not fair?  Too bad!  You have a few options, including complaining, asking them to make up the damages, or dropping the offending family.

Homeschool groups (of any kind) share the same strengths and failings as all other groups.   They are made up of people, reliable and not.  Groups have the inherent strength of numbers.  In numbers can be found resources, versatility of experience, an ability to spread assignments so that no one person is overwhelmed.  They offer a true possibility for experiences for the student that may lead to real ‘socialization”, unlike the kind prescribed by Cooley.  (You read about him in the last course.)

But they also offer some headaches.   I’m often of the belief that if you ask three people the time of day, you’ll have little but disagreements and a fight on your hands in response.  It’s difficult for people to work together under the best of circumstances.  A homeschool group is rarely going to exist under the best or easiest of circumstances.   It will often be shy of money and volunteers, and no one wants the children to pay for such inadequacies.   Adults are often busy, and the rationale that often worms its way into their head is that there are other adults involved in the group who can carry the burden while they do their own thing out there in the real world.  Such rationales are quite destructive of the group and its chance for success.  They are abusive of the group dynamic, and self-centered as well.

To mitigate some of these potential woes, I cannot stress too strongly the need for several expedients:

– Pre-semester meetings.

– Regular group meetings.

– Agreements in writing, posted and made accessible to all.

Let’s look quickly at each of these expedients, just as an overview.

Pre-semester meetings are planning meetings.  They should establish the form that your “organization” will take.   Who will be in charge of what?   Who will do which jobs?   Who will provide what wherewithal?  Etc.   I will provide you more specifics in a lesson to follow.   Such meetings should also determine curricula, method of study, spaces to be used for study, and all other “debatable and discussable” issues, and before the semester starts.

There will be regular meetings during semesters, as well.  These can be divided into several groupings.  Perhaps the most common would be “staff and administrative” meetings.   Staff meetings are with the adults, or anyone helping actually teach.  Such meetings would be “student oriented” in the sense that individual students and their needs and wants, as well as indications of progress, would be at the top of the agenda.  They would be teacher oriented in that support and ideas would be exchanged for the work being done.  You may need such meetings as often as once a week, or as rarely as a few times each semester.  Meetings can be a colossal waste of time when not laid out with a step-by-step agenda, and I will suggest one in a lesson to come.

Teacher/Parent/Student meeting should be held only when needed.  In attendance would be the actual “teacher”, the student who is having a difficulty, and the parent.  Such meetings are unhappily common in regular schools.  I say unhappily because they are always done with the idea of communicating bad news about the student.  I believe that such meetings should be re-tasked.  They should instead be an open discussion between the parties where progress made in identified and admired.  They should be as well a discussion about the student’s changing interests and needs, to facilitate better service for the student, more oriented to him.  They should never degenerate into a critique fest!

Another kind of in-semester meeting would be a “whole school” meeting.  Unlike a PTA, in such meetings students should be heard as well. Make a dinner out of it, perhaps, a potluck.  Have everyone over, and then sit and just talk about every facet of your school set-up that anyone wishes to discuss.  Keep the agenda open for these whole group meets, they should be an open forum.  Do them perhaps twice a semester, say once every ten weeks or so.  Limit the discussion only to constructive statements of needs and wants, no belly-aching or complaining for complaining’s sake.  Anyone complaining must also suggest several solutions to their complaint.  After all, they are a part of the group, and so a part of whatever problem that they are complaining about.

The purpose of these various sorts of meetings is to provide the grease to the rails, to keep education successfully happening, facilitated by good and timely communication.  Someone should run these meetings, probably the person who founded the group, or who is most involved in its day-to-day operation.  But his job would solely be as traffic cop in these meetings, as the idea is to get all the communications that need to be heard out there.  This should never be allowed to become a “gripe fest”, as mentioned above.

Finally, the agreement that should be made.  This should take the form of a very simple contract.  (I will provide a template in a lesson to follow.)  Students should have a unique agreement with the group to do their work, spend the designated time, and contribute by doing their own job well.  Each adult involved, even if only as a parent, should have an agreement designating responsibilities and expectations.   That should be its own agreement.   Teachers and administrators should have an agreement with each other.

All agreements should be in writing.  They should be simple, in common language and not legalese.  They should be signed and dated, and each agreement cover a designated period of time.   Templates to follow in an upcoming lessons, with far more information.

Does all of this sound like a lot of work?  It is work, certainly.   But you have decided to take the full responsibility for your student’s education.  Forming such a co-op or group is a potential key to success for this noble assignment.

3. EXERCISE:

Explain in your own words why it might be a good idea to form a homeschool group or co-op.  Define for yourself in writing what you’d want to accomplish by forming such a group.

4. EXERCISE:

Describe in writing for yourself the sort of children you’d most like your student or child to school with, in a homeschool group.  What would they be like?  What might their interests be?

5. EXERCISE:

Describe in writing for yourself the sort of adults you want to work with in forming and operating a homeschool group.

6. EXERCISE:

What sorts of resources can you as a teacher, or as a parent (or your spouse, for that matter) bring into a homeschool group situation, in order to help support it?  The resources most needed will include:

– Space to work in, clean and safe, well lit, no odors, no distractions.

– Financial support as needed.

– Supervision of students.

– Expertise (something you know about that can be used by the group to keep it working, or shared with students as a part of their education.)

– Books, recordings, films, courses, curricula, other materials.

– Transportation of students and materials as needed.

– Administrative training and views, and time to administrate.

There may well be other needs that occur to you.   Take up each need in writing, and looking at your own resources, determine what you could contribute.  And then, take a hard look at what will be needed that it would be difficult for you to contribute.  Outline your findings in writing, please.
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As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Connect The Thoughts (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

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