As spring approaches in our area of the world, many local homeschool co-ops and tutorials are opening up registration for the 2017-2018 school year. Our own family is applying to join a cooperative tutorial after 10 years of homeschooling independently.
Maybe you are wondering: should I join a co-op?
Let’s explore some of the reasons for and against joining a co-op or a tutorial.
First of all, what is a co-op? What is a tutorial?
Generally, a homeschool co-op is an organization where home educators come together to offer educational or extra-curricular opportunities for their children.
It is called a “co-op” (or cooperative), because the parents all work together to make it happen. Many co-ops have rules about what volunteer responsibilities each family will have, the idea being that the co-op can’t function unless each member does his or her share. Some co-ops have the parents teach, some hire teachers, and some do a combination of both.
Volunteer responsibilities might include: teaching or leading a class, baby sitting, assisting a teacher, crowd control, clean up, planning activities, etc. Co-ops typically meet once a week during the school year at a space they rent or perhaps a church. Expenses are shared, so there may be a registration fee, supply fee, and/or tuition.
The exact nature of each co-op varies a good bit. In our area, a co-op typically offers classes once a week for a 1/2 day and there is a set schedule of classes that cater to various age groups. Some co-ops are highly academic in nature, some are intended solely for enrichment, and some are somewhere in between.
Tutorials in our area are a little different---they meet twice a week for a full day and have a more formal environment (those that I am familiar with even require uniforms).
They have a more school-like environment. The children are divided by grade/age group, go to classes, have homework, and so on. At the tutorial we are applying to join, you can take a full day of classes or pick a few classes for the year and work on other things or homework during the study halls. Some tutorials use hired tutors to lead classes and for others parents are the tutors. Tutors may (or may not) grade homework, papers, tests, etc. There is typically a set syllabus for each class.
As I said before: our family has been homeschooling independently for 10 years. While we have been members of various homeschool groups that provided varying levels of support over the years, we’ve never been a part of a group calling itself a co-op or a tutorial. Most recently, we have been a part of a group that organizing things like monthly book clubs and unique opportunities (like a weekly ballet classes taught by an area college student).
So, why would I want to join a tutorial now, after all this time?
Truth here: I’m not sure that I really do want to, but I do think it may be the right thing for my kids right now.
The reality is that it is really hard for one person (me) to see to all the intellectual needs of all four of my children. I would loooove to discuss every bit of my son’s history reading with him, for instance, but I don’t have enough time to do that on top of all the other things I do each day. The past couple of years, I’ve been really selective about what specifically I do with each child, because I simply cannot do it all.
So, I choose priorities (we all do this in life) and make sure that those priorities really are prioritized, that they definitely get my full attention. But that also means that there are many things that they will do on their own or that they won’t do at all---and that’s ok. Life if full of compromises. It is much better to do some things really well than to try to do everything and stink at it.
Over time, this method has worked well, because the focus changes as it needs to and slowly the kids become more independent in those areas in which we’ve worked really hard such that we can then work really hard in another area. Their education grows and morphs to fit their particular needs. They are really blossoming as individuals and they really becoming well educated.
But in spite of all that, when you live in a small town, in a rural area, and most of your kids’ friends either attend school or a tutorial, it can get really lonely going it alone.
My kids have mostly outgrown the opportunities available at our local homeschool group, because most of them are aimed at very young children. We don’t see people as often was we would like to and my teens would love to have more opportunities to discuss their studies and passions with other folks---not just peers, but other adults. Past attempts to organize things (like a writing group, for instance) have flopped, primarily because people are already so invested in what they already have going on.
So, I floated the idea of possibly joining a co-operative tutorial and we did a “shadow” day.
None of my kids were really onboard with the idea, but they all agreed to give it a fair shot before shooting it down.
Interestingly, both of the teens were in favor of the idea after the shadow day. Yes, even my nearly 17-year-old who has been anti-school or anything that even smelled a little like school since he was in 2nd grade. He is a little waffley (the idea causes him some existential angst apparently, because he takes after me), but he’s still in favor of doing at least a few classes with the tutorial, even though it means wearing a uniform. Yes, he’s actually willing to wear a uniform. That’s saying something.
The youngest is excited because there is a special program in place for her age group in the afternoons (this tutorial doesn’t have classes for under 5th grade) and she already made a new friend.
The only child who isn’t sure is Peter, but I expected him to be ambivalent.
So, what made the older kids change their minds?
I think it was because it was a little like “school” and yet it wasn’t “school” at all. In many of the classes they sat in on, there were only a few kids and a tutor, which meant plenty of opportunity for small group discussion. They ate that up. My son really enjoyed talking with the other adults.
I think the interaction will be a big positive for our homeschool, but let’s talk about some of the other pluses and minuses:
- Opportunities to learn with peers and other adults (besides Mom)
- Regular assignments with feedback from someone other than Mom
- Deadlines imposed by tutors---two of my kids have trouble staying on task and getting things done on time
- Science labs with a group
- Schedule set out by the tutorial
- Materials chosen by the tutorial---we wouldn’t take every class with the tutorial, but I won’t have to research and choose our entire curriculum myself
- Opportunities for my older children to pursue challenging academic material with more support
- More time for Mom to work with the kids who need Mom’s undivided attention
- Possibility for Mom to tutor other kids---this could be fun for me
- More social opportunities
- Schedule set out by the tutorial---yes, both a plus and minus! I lose a lot of my flexibility. The tutorial will rule our weekly schedule.
- Materials chosen by the tutorial---yes, also both a plus and minus! It would make it harder for me to tailor my kids’ education and I would be relinquishing a lot of control.
- Noise---my children are all highly sensitive to noise and this was an issue on shadow day. I hope they will adjust.
- Adjustment---I expect that it may a bit of a rough adjustment for some of us. It will be a big change.
- Participation in fundraisers---not exactly a minus, more of a consideration.
- Packing lunches
There are some things that are impossible to fit into a list of pluses and minuses and there’s one thing that keeps coming to the top: is this whole thing contrary to my philosophy of education? I can do this and still call myself a homeschooler?
I’ve told more than one person in real life, “I’m a bit of a rebel.”
Typically they tilt their heads and look at me like, “uhum.”
I don’t fit the picture of a rebel. I don’t dress like a rebel. I don’t wear my hair like a rebel. I don’t ride a motorcycle. I look like a straight-laced suburban housewife, and here I am calling myself a rebel.
What I mean is that I’ve been swimming against the current so long and doing my own thing that the thought of trying to fit into a box is, well, it just isn’t happening.
Here’s the thing---I’ve always been in this homeschool thing because I felt that it was what was best for my children.
The minute that ceases to be the case, the homeschool thing will go away. I may be a rebel, but I’m not an extremist. I homeschool because it fits our needs, not because I believe that it is the only way or even the best way to educate a child. The reason I educate my children myself is not a matter of principle. It’s a matter of giving them what they need.
Every year, we reevaluate what we all need as a family. This year, after looking at how things are going, our family has decided to try a tutorial. I think a year or so ago, it would not have been a good choice for us, but that it might be just the thing we need next year.
And this is why it’s so important to evaluate your homeschool each year. What was a definite no before might be just right now.
We are entering this commitment with a lot of prayer and reflection, but I do worry about losing our independence. Will we gain enough to justify what we are giving up? I think the only way to find out is to try and see how it goes.