If you homeschool, you may consider joining a program, co-op, or school that partners with you to educate your child. Gone are the days of all homeschool students sitting separately at home with no other options. Today, homeschool students can choose from part day, full day, online, or co-op programs taught by multiple parents, depending on the subject area.
Many times, these options offer free, low cost, or moderately priced courses for students. As programs multiply across the U.S., it is important to ask questions before signing a contract, spending money, or allowing your children to attend a program like this.
- Is the program secular, inclusive, or religious?
A secular program will include religion sometimes, but only as a historical or multicultural topic. An inclusive program may choose to celebrate a variety of multicultural holidays and may also choose to add religious information based on history and multiculturalism into lessons. Neither of these is guaranteed, though, because not all programs encompass all topics. If the program is religious, tenants of the religion may be included. There is, again, no guarantee of this and the program organizer may or may not include history or multicultural studies. It is important for parents to find out exactly what will be taught and from what perspective the lessons come.
- How do the instructors handle discipline issues and is there a set of rules/expectations which is easily understood by students and families?
Discipline is tricky. Every parent and course organizer will have their own ideas about what a wise choice is in the classroom. Be sure your ideals line up with expectations during your child’s time in class. If not, then consider the differences and if they are deal-breakers or something you can accept and work with.
- If there is a contract, what are the terms? What happens if these terms are broken?
If there is a contract regarding behavior and/or money, be sure to read it carefully many times before signing. Check into the organizer’s reputation and don’t feel bad asking for references. If the person is new to the job, ask for personal instead of work references, if needed. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions about background, where the program is headed, and other important topics.
- Are families required to purchase curricula or other items separately to bring with them to classes?
Find out if there are any fees. Make sure you know about fees on top of basic tuition. Sometimes materials fees, cancellation fees, or other fees find their way into contracts. Having fees is standard in most programs, but you will want to note specific fees, due dates, and be sure you understand your responsibilities before signing a contract.
- What are the backgrounds and certifications, if any, of your staff and parent volunteers? Are they experienced with special needs?
While teaching certification is important to many people, it is not necessarily the only way to prove that you are qualified in a subject area and to work with children. For example, many times artists make great art teachers even without going to college to become a teacher. You may, however, consider being present if your child has special needs or if the program is new. Safety is important. Second to that is your child having fun while also learning. By keeping a consistent set of expectations and understanding student needs, instructors and parents can produce a developmentally appropriate environment where learning is constant.
- Find out what type of educational model is being used.
Generally speaking, students need hands-on activities to help them recall information later. This means games, science projects, discussions, books, and other similar tasks. Lectures should be kept to a minimum. Students should have ample time to learn together to separately depending on their needs and the topic. Make sure to ask which educational model is being used (unschool, classical, thematic units, eclectic, etc) and have the organizer explain what a typical day looks like before assuming they see the style of homeschool the same way you do.
Joining a program, such as a co-op or school, can greatly encourage you and your children to reach higher and learn more. Finding the right program for your child’s needs and family’s beliefs is a large part of the success or failure when joining a program.