classes for homeschoolers

By Kathy Kuhl     How do you homeschool? At the kitchen table, in a co-op where you teach, with DVDs or online classes, or via a paid service? I’ve done them all over the years, as have many other homeschooling parents. Do you know all the options? Do your friends who have children struggling in school? [Share this post with them.]

When people tell me, “I could never homeschool,” the main reason I hear is “I don’t have the patience.” Or they worry that their children won’t learn social skills. They think homeschooling means staying home, isolated. They also overvalue the quantity and quality of interactions at school. 

One homeschooler told me that since her child struggled academically and socially, he did better when not having to work on both at once. Being home, she could help him with social skills, without socializing and misread social cues interfere with his lessons.

Another mom said she didn’t consider homeschooling for years, because she thought it was for “anti-social weirdoes who stay home all day.” But when the local private and public schools didn’t work for her son with learning challenges, she gave homeschooling a closer look. She tried it and loved it, as she explained when I interviewed her for Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner. She had discovered what many homeschoolers enjoy: ways to blend personal instruction at home with groups that lighten the load for the homeschooling parent.

EdChoice’s 2017 Schooling in America survey reported that seven percent of parents said they would homeschool if they could. Many people don’t homeschool because they can’t imagine teaching their child all the subjects, particularly the high school subjects. Even if you never struggled in high school, it’s hard to imagine how homeschooling could be possible.

As a former junior high teacher, before I homeschooled I could not imagine how anyone homeschooled through high school. I couldn’t imagine producing daily  lesson plans for six or seven subjects a year for four years. At least in public school, I could reuse and refine my lesson plans! How relieved I was to find excellent, dedicated teachers in the homeschool community. There were–and are–many ways to homeschool without doing everything myself.

The Future, or the Present?

A recent article in Forbes asked, “Is Hybrid Homeschooling The Wave of The Future?” By “hybrid,” author Mike McShane meant a mixture of classes outside the home a few days a week with home instruction the other days.

I wouldn’t have said it’s the wave of the future. My son was taking group classes twenty years ago—and it was not new then. Our group, CHESS, now numbers over 150 students. Most teachers are homeschooling parents, teaching classes that meet once or twice a week. We’re not unusual. There are grassroots groups like CHESS all over the country.

Other groups are small. My first experience with teaching in the homeschool community began when I asked my friend Cindy where my son could take Biology in ninth grade. A former nurse, she promptly replied, “I’ll teach your son Biology if you’ll teach mine English.” Two friends heard about it, and a tiny co-op began with four young men. We met twice a week in Cindy’s living room. (Biology lab was conducted in her kitchen.) It was so effective, we continued for tenth grade, covering chemistry, more English, and logic.

In his Forbes article, however, McShane meant that as these hybrid options grow more families will find homeschooling combined with small group classes an attractive alternative to public and private schools. Very small class sizes and customized instruction meant our sons were engaged and motivated. What parent doesn’t want that for their students?

Options for homeschool group classes

Along with local groups like CHESS and our little co-op, there are homeschool groups providing classical education. I’ve talked with the organizers of a private classical group in Connecticut, for example. Classical Conversations groups have proliferated around the country. Eden Hope Academy groups are growing, too, providing a similar classical approach, but in an inclusive model with accommodations for special needs.

Beyond the classical approach, there are many commercial ventures providing small classes. Around the country and the globe, Fusion Academy offers one-on-one classes, with full- or part-time enrollment. At their campus nearest me, tuition for full-time enrollment (5-7 classes) would cost over $40,000 a year. This is far beyond the reach of most homeschoolers, but it’s helping some families.

As I help local families find alternatives, I also see many tutoring businesses expanding, offering daytime instruction for homeschooled students.

Umbrella Schools

Umbrella schools offer classes a few days a week, such as Cedar Brook Academy in Maryland and Coram Deo Academy in Texas. Officially, this means your child is very like a private school student, because these umbrella schools provide record keeping and liaise with your local school district, sparing you that burden. This in itself is a benefit to many parents.

Not every umbrella school provides group classes, however. Some umbrella schools or PSPs (Private School Satellite Programs) provide only the record-keeping services and the liaison with the public school districts. You’ll need to investigate a given umbrella school for yourself.

Private schools

A very few private or public schools allow part-time enrollment of homeschooled students. In my experience, however, most schools do not offer this option. Schools see their first duty as providing classes for their full-time students. Any homeschooled student wanting a seat in a class would be bumped from a full class if a new full-time student arrived and wanted that class. That creates uncertainty for the homeschoolers.

A la Carté Classes, Not a School

More common than umbrella schools–or private or public schools with part-time enrollment–are the many programs offering a la carté classes. Such groups may sound similar to umbrella schools or a private schools, but there are important differences.

One key difference is that in these hybrid programs parents retain control of their child’s education. At CHESS, for instance, parents choose how many and which classes their students will take. CHESS teachers are independent contractors, choosing or developing their own curriculum. If enough students sign up, a class will be run. Beyond meeting prerequisites and age requirements each individual teacher may set, it’s up to the parents and students to choose what the child will take. Parents also create their own transcripts. (It’s far easier than it sounds. See below for resources.)

Online options

There are too many online program options for me to discuss in this post. There are many excellent options, and websites to help you find what your child needs. I will only mention Verticy, since it is designed for students with learning disabilities. 

But let’s consider the related issue of state-funded online programs. At a homeschool convention several years ago, my exhibit table was near K12, an online, state-funded program. I heard a few homeschoolers object strongly to their being present. The fear is that if state-funded programs take off among homeschoolers, parents might give up their hard-earned right to choose curriculum and direct their child’s education.

Today it’s common to see K12, charter schools, online programs, and others exhibit at homeschool conventions. But it’s important to understand issues related to some of these programs. Particularly for those of us with kids who struggled in public school and need customized curriculum and instruction, the right to plan a course of instruction and adapt it as needed is not to be given up. Learn more below about the struggle to secure that right in one state. We have so many options now that it’s important to understand what we have, and how it came about.

What works for your family?

The biggest issue for us was finding programs that could adapt enough for my child’s needs. (See my blog post below on what to say to your child’s teacher.)

What homeschool options have you found most helpful for your family? Which have instructors who adapt for your student with learning disabilities or special needs? 

Please comment below.

Resources