This is the second article in a multi-part series on alternatives to government schools.
I was an early era homeschooler. The materials and curricula have changed since I graduated high-school but my experiences and the things I have seen will be valuable for others.
Many alternatives to government schools have been developed in the last few decades. Just as each child is different, each program is different, and not all forms of education are the right fit for any given child.
The most-recognized alternative to government schools is homeschooling. Often viewed exclusively as a parent teaching children at home, homeschooling covers many approaches, including groups and part-time class work. Variations are myriad but I will cover some of the main ones here.
Homeschooling Exclusively at Home
The most obvious form of homeschooling, this is when one parent (typically the mother) tends to her children’s education at home. Children work exclusively with this parent, who assigns and grades all schoolwork.
The temptation for new homeschoolers is to duplicate the classroom experience in both material and regimentation, forgetting that the government school system is designed to make many students respond to a single teacher instead of optimizing each student’s education. Most homeschoolers soon embrace a combination of self-directed learning and one-on-one engagement with the parent / teacher. Field trips to museums, historical sites, or even travel open up to homeschoolers in ways that government school students cannot experience, especially during off-season.
This model of homeschooling has some weaknesses (as does everything else). Family finances must be vigorous enough to permit a single earner. The teaching parent must be temperamentally and psychologically capable of teaching. Children must work well with the parent and capable of a certain amount of independence. Balancing the role of teacher and parent can be difficult for some. If your child can’t stand being with the family all the time homeschooling will be a challenge. If multiple children are to be homeschooled it may make sense to phase them in one year at a time as children learn to be more independent.
With enough homeschoolers in an area, groups will inevitably come together. Groups take many forms but they share some basic properties. Families still do most of their learning at home but pool their resources for group projects, trips, or sports. Homeschool groups can be valuable for new homeschoolers because they dramatically shorten the learning curve and provide ongoing contact with many local and regional resources.
Homeschool groups are typically controlled by an alpha mother. If the group is associated with a religious community she will typically be prominent there as well. Seeing the same person on both Friday and Sunday (or even more often) can be overwhelming for some.
Homeschool / Classroom Hybrid
Some private schools exist that provide a hybrid between the homeschool and classroom models. Children will typically attend school two days a week and learn at home for three, or vica versa.
This is good for parents and children that need to get away from each other. Mothers can work a part-time job on off-days, or just enjoy time to themselves. Children have regular structured time with a larger peer group. Schools like this can retain talent that less formal homeschool groups can’t organize or afford, such as music and language teachers.
Private tutors are too expensive to teach all subjects, but almost any kind of homeschool set-up can benefit from the addition of a private tutor. Areas with enough homeschoolers will often see private tutors that make it their business to serve homeschoolers. These will typically be specialists in areas that parents cannot easily learn, such as foreign language or music. Private tutors will teach one-on-one or in small groups for an hour or two a week and assign homework.
Homeschool families pay taxes, and some of those taxes are used for government education. As far as I am aware, homeschoolers in the US have the right to participate in aspects of that system as they choose. This can include high-school sports, robotics clubs, or highschool-enrichment courses at a community college.
4-H clubs, FFA clubs, and similar organizations can provide valuable experience and entrepreneurial opportunities to students. Prizewinning crafts and livestock can sell for outsized sums at fairs.
Community colleges can provide an especial advantage to homeschoolers with affordable courses that parents can’t or won’t duplicate. From algebra to music to programming, community colleges are a good supplement to homeschool students while providing an inexpensive step into higher education. Students do not need to be 18 or older to participate in community colleges. I know some people who started at fifteen.
Private schools come in all forms – some useful, some downright loopy. Do your research and talk to parents.
Montessori schools are intended for a specific type of self-directed learner. Montessori schools usually have mixed age groups and free-ranging access to materials in the classroom.
Do your research before deciding on a Montessori school.
A charter school is a special government school designed to operate differently – how differently is determined by each charter. Because of this, charter schools vary from one to the next, but all of them are required to meet certain state requirements.
Research the charter schools in your area for details.
Unschooling is a philosophy of education focused on student-chosen activities. Like most things, it works well for some people and poorly for others. Probably not for the beginner homeschooler.
Many alternatives exist to conventional government schools but parents will have to do their own work to determine what is appropriate for their families.
While the conventional conception of the homeschooler is that of isolation, this is both inaccurate and dangerous. Much can be learned by networking with other parents, and those looking to pull their children from government schools would be well-advised to start talking.
It is advisable to get involved with advocacy groups in addition to local homeschoolers. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association is a US-based group that defends the legal right of parents to homeschool and provides some help for parents to get started.
Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time – you won’t. Iterate your attempts until you find good solutions for your family. The results will be worth it.
Do you have any questions about homeschooling? Send them along to the Homeschooling & Other Alternatives thread in the forum or post them here in the comments.
In the next article I will present some advantages of homeschooling of which prospective homeschoolers may not be aware.