- Tuesday, July 9, 2024

I was homeschooled my last few years of high school, way back in the dark ages of the early 90s. I can still remember the first day.

My siblings and I sat around the kitchen table as Mom (a certified teacher) told us that this was a new adventure, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do first.

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We figured it out. And one of the very first things that Dad and Mom decided was that we were going to get together with other homeschool families for classes and activities.

There were five or six other families in the area, all from our church, who were also new to homeschooling. And we met with them as a group every Monday and Wednesday afternoon through that first year.

The grades ranged from second to 11th, and we did fun activities like geography contests, field trips to Boston, and swimming at a local Bible camp. There were four of us teens who were doing Algebra 2, and one of the grandfathers (a math whiz and World War II veteran) answered our math questions and then introduced us to fascinating math games involving log tables and slide rules.

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Many of my favorite homeschool memories are from these afternoons. We didn’t have an official word to describe this group of homeschoolers, but as I joined the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and started serving the homeschool community, I found out most people would call it a “co-op.”

And when the group’s parents decided to meet at our church once a month to pray for each other and talk about how homeschooling was going, I realized that’s often referred to as a “support group.” Indeed, research since the 80s has consistently shown that homeschooled families tend to belong to at least one homeschool group.

As director of group services for HSLDA, an organization that works to make homeschooling possible through legal advocacy and care for families, I talk with homeschool group leaders across the country. And the services these groups offer are multitudinous: some are high-level sports teams, and others are focused on academic achievement.

I’ve taught at a co-op where students are sitting at desks and must raise their hand before asking a question, and I’ve taught the same class at our local “homeschool hangout co-op” where students are expected to come and go between various classes and activities depending on what they’re interested in that particular day. I’ve also counseled groups that offer drama, STEAM, Latin, or nature walks.

The diversity is incredible!

Fast forward to the early 2020s. So many people started homeschooling during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lot of them realized exactly what my parents did — homeschooling with others can be really good for parents and kids alike.

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Some of them still used the terms “co-op” or “support group,” but I also heard new vocabulary to describe new concepts, including “pod,” “homeschool network,” and “homeschool hybrid.” Eric Wearne of the National Hybrid Schools Project has suggested the name “community crafted education” to describe some of these new halfway-between-school-and-homeschool opportunities.

Whether these groups are called “pods,” “community crafted education,” or “co-ops,” they have at least one element in common: they provide resources to help parents homeschool their children.

States have started to take notice of these new groups too. Homeschool co-ops often operate with some parents on-site and others who drop their children off. Because not all parents are present, I’ve seen numerous efforts around the country where counties have tried to shut down homeschool co-ops using daycare laws or zoning regulations.

Thankfully, states including Georgia, West Virginia, and Utah have passed laws protecting new educational options such as learning pods and micro schools from intrusive government regulations. And that protection can work in favor of homeschool co-ops!

Just recently in Ohio, a bill was introduced to prevent local authorities from using daycare licensing restrictions to forbid parents from banding together in a homeschool co-op setting.

In Jennifer Pepito’s article “Homeschool Co-ops, or How Not to Be an Independent Ear,” she lists numerous benefits of belonging to a homeschool group: socialization opportunities, competition with other students, learning communication skills in a non-threatening environment, and fun crafts and activities for preschoolers.

I don’t have exact statistics to back it up, but in my experience, one of the main reasons families stop homeschooling is that the parent burns out — it’s a lot of work.

My wife and I know! We’ve graduated three of our four children, and we’re pretty happy that we’re almost done.

Homeschool co-ops and support groups have helped us avoid burnout. And our kids have enjoyed the various co-ops we’ve been involved in.

I’m a homeschool advocate. I believe that one of the ways the homeschool movement can stay relevant is to keep homeschool groups strong and active. That’s why when I am advising groups, I am always pushing for more parental involvement, not less.

And when I’m talking to new homeschool families, I always encourage them to sign up with a homeschool co-op. Co-ops have worked for many homeschool families in the past, and I want to see that continue to the next generation.

Darren Jones is senior counsel and director of group services for HSLDA. He and his wife are both homeschool graduates, and they have homeschooled their 4 children as a team (3 have graduated). Whether speaking at homeschool events or counseling homeschool groups over Zoom, Darren offers a wealth of legal and practical information on issues ranging from child protection policies to statements of faith.

HSLDA is a non-profit advocacy organization that makes homeschooling possible by protecting homeschooling families and equipping them to provide the best educational experience for their children. We have been trusted for over 40 years to care for homeschooling families as we safeguard their freedom and secure the future of home education.

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