A discussion on Pods vs. Co-ops or Are You A Homeschooler?
This has been swirling in my head for a while. What defines a homeschooler?
You can check out my fun list of what makes you a homeschooler.
Quick summary: PODS AND SCHOOL-AT-HOME (as provided by the NJ public school system) ARE NOT HOMESCHOOLERS.
Virtual schooling, provided by the public school in New Jersey doth not a homeschooler make. Just because the kids are home, does not mean they are homeschoolers. School-At-Home is definitely not homeschooling.
Pods do not consist of homeschoolers. Sure, they might be a step closer, but they are not quite there.
Co-ops on the other hand, are full of homeschoolers. Co-ops are not drop off, sometimes not academic, and not every day of the week. They come in all shapes and sizes. If you don’t have a co-op in your area, and chances are you don’t, consider driving to one further away. Which brings me to my next point:
Homeschoolers are rarely home. They are out exploring the world and having experiences. Homeschool children have friends, and social interactions on daily basis. They are active members of the community. We drive a lot. We don’t recreate school at home, and don’t choose to sit somewhere every single day, interacting with the same exact group of people, who happen to be the same exact age as our kids.
If you have tried many different textbooks, approaches and curriculums, and threw away those that did not work for you, you just might be a homeschooler.
Virtual School is NOT Homeschooling.
Recently, a friend told me that now she finally understands what it is to homeschool. I had to take a step back before answering. You see, her kids have had to participate in virtual school, as provided by their public school system. Ahem, ahem, that is not homeschooling. Virtual schooling was designed on the fly, in an emergency, with well meaning admins, and terrified teachers all trying to do their best to provide an education to kids whose lives were thrown upside down. They did the best they could under the circumstances, but just because your kids were home does not mean they were homeschooled.
Homeschoolers do not spend hours in front of the computer doing assignments. Sure there might be some of computer learning involved, but it is not the same thing.
Every once in a while you hear a request for an accredited online virtual program for homeschoolers. In NJ the public school is the only accredited school. The only thing that comes close is the New Jersey Virtual School.
Pods are a new thing, and I am not so sure they are homeschooling either.
Pods are a Covid development. Oh sure, they existed before, but there was, and still is, a crazy surge of them during Covid. I get why pods came to be. Some claim that they have the same benefits as homeschooling, while creating an environment closer to a classroom. Here is my personal opinion on pods. Pods are not exactly homeschooling. You are putting the bulk of the education of your child into the hands of another teacher. One that might not be as experienced or vetted as a teacher in school. You, as a parent, are now a step removed from your child’s education.
Homeschoolers pay for most of their activities out of pocket, so now on top of that, you add the expense of hiring a teacher. I understand that in this pandemic a pod might be the only viable option, but it is not a long term solution, and it is not homeschooling. While simulating a classroom environment, it also removes some of the wonderful benefits of a well functioning school system. (I am all for schools if they work well for you and your family!)
Pods can be a good thing. Truly. My 8th grade education happened in a pod within a public school. 8 kids to a classroom with a paid teacher, and other expert teachers making an appearance. It was wonderful and I thrived. The pod was part of a school, and came with all the opportunities and pitfalls that a school comes with. It was not the same experience as that of a homeschooler today and it is not the same experience of the kids in current pods. Virtual pods is even worse.
It is true that homeschoolers do, in fact, outsource subjects all the time. Be it a tutor or a college class. It is not the same thing as a pod. We don’t try to imitate school at home. We don’t choose to sit in the same space, with the same group of peers, who are the same age as our kids, for five days a week. That is a simulated school environment, without the benefits of an actual school, and is of little interest to the homeschool community.
Whatever it is that homeschoolers are doing seems to be working well: “The high achievement level of homeschoolers is readily recognized by recruiters from some of the best colleges in the nation,” said Dr. Susan Berry, who researches and writes about educational topics like the fast growing rate of homeschooling. “Schools such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, Stanford, and Duke University all actively recruit homeschoolers.” Source.
Homeschoolers have friends and attend all kinds of fun things, usually.
Often the first question we get when people find out that we homeschool is, “But what about socialization?” Under normal circumstances our kids have all sorts of activities they attend: parties, field trips, science classes, chess tournaments, hikes, dance, soccer, playdates, co-ops, programs, etc. Covid-19 deeply affected our lives, along with the rest of the world. Our co-ops stalled, programs shut down, soccer cancelled, and you can forget about parties. We closed down. Our kids friendships were cultivated over the years. That is who we hang out with at the moment. There is a cautious optimism when we hear that someone wants to homeschool. For now it is difficult and worrisome to accept new members, and meet new people. Everyone does what they must to keep their families safe and well.
When people ask me about socialization, and then right away tell me that once their kid left school they lost all their friends from their class it gives me pause. If my kids were to move to another state tomorrow, they would still be friends, and maintain relationships with their friends they have right now. If your kid left school, and suddenly finds that none of the school friends stuck around, it might be a good time to re-evaluate the skills of relationship building, and how to create long lasting friendships.
Once again, I am never against schools, but looking back at my own experience, I have a single friend from all of the 16 years of schooling (throwing undergrad in there). A SINGLE FRIEND. My skills of building relationships, social-emotional intelligence, and being a good friend were zilch until I had to teach my kid how to function in the world. It is not a subject that we learn about intentionally, and perhaps we, as a society, should.
Let’s talk more about co-ops and what not.
Co-ops can be great, and there are several awesome ones throughout the state that are trying to bounce back. Some never did. One thing folks need to understand is that we drive a lot. A LOT. To co-ops, to Mock Trial, to classes. All the time. Not everything we do is local. Currently my driving limit is 1.5 hours, sometimes 2, if the activity is particularly good and worth it. When people ask me for a co-op in their very specific area I don’t have an answer for them. There likely isn’t one. The solution is to drive out a little farther to find one that works for you, or start your own. Your family will find that not every co-op is a good fit. We have tried a few over the years, and some work, while others don’t.
Co-op means cooperative, so parents participation is expected. It could be to share a skill you have, or just do clean up through out the day, but more often than not, parents need to stay there. Co-ops are rarely a drop off activity, they don’t meet daily, they sometimes are not focused on academics.
How old is your kid?
If you have a child aged between 0 and 5 you are not a homeschooler. You are a parent. I have never met you, but you are probably a wonderful parent, who is thinking about your kids education early on. That is good. Play with them, have a good time together, read stories, go to the playground, join an age appropriate play group, build things, bake things, etc., etc.. It is such an amazing age and they really grow up so fast, don’t waste this magical time trying to figure out the best ‘curriculum’ out there. Believe it or not, but people do ask, “What curriculum do you use with your 2 year old?”. The answer is none! Organic learning and play! You will know your kid best, and will know when they are ready for something more involved.
Final words of advice. If your child is thriving within the school system, please do everything you can to work with them. This is a recommendation against making hasty decisions, NOT a recommendation to NOT homeschool. If schools have worked for your family in the past wonderfully, don’t quit until you have explored all the options available. Homeschooling is not easy. It is a lot of effort and work. It is fun, exciting, and rewarding, but it is not for everyone’s lifestyle. Most teachers and admins in the state of NJ are wonderful, and are working hard to provide a great education.
Homeschoolers are a community. Our goal it is to provide a rich and wonderful educational experience to our children. Under normal circumstances we would welcome you to our world, show you all the awesome classes and fun things to do. For now a lot of that is on pause, along with the rest of the world. Hang in there! We see you, and know that you are doing your best. And if you truly decide to make the jump into homeschooling, then welcome aboard!
***This post contains affiliate links.***
First up, read John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down.
Watch Class Dismissed.
Read more about choosing a curriculum.
Join us for a discussion about homeschooling. Registration here.