Homeschool, Virtual School, Un-school, Co-Op: What does it all mean?


Homeschool, Virtual School, Un-school, Co-Op: What does it all mean? | LazyHippieMama.comI can’t tell you how many times over the past few years I’ve been asked some version of this question:

“You’re homeschooling now? How do you know what to teach? And how do you know how to teach it?”

We are entering our third year of homeschooling. There are a LOT of people out there with a LOT more experience than me.  I’m just sharing a bit of what I’ve gleaned from those wiser and more knowledgeable than myself.

 That said, I have developed two standard answers.

The first is the short answer for people who seem to be just vaguely curious.  It goes something like this:

“Yup. There are harder days and easier days but I’m sure that anyone who is determined to make it work could find a way. There are, literally, thousands of resources out there to draw from.  It’s easy to know what to teach because the states post their grade level expectations online.  Once you know what your child is supposed to be learning you just need to match the kid to the resource.”

Easy and true enough, but some people are genuinely considering doing what we’ve done and those folks desire a little more detail.  For them, I break it down like this:

If you are seriously considering homeschooling your child you should know that there are more pathways than you can even imagine.  Ask 100 homeschoolers what their day looks like and you’ll get 100 answers.

First, you need to know that there are no federal regulations on homeschoolers.  Each state has its own laws. We live in Michigan, which is an EXTREMELY friendly state to homeschoolers. We have more freedom and resources than most.  Most states require some testing, submission of progress reports, or other “proof” that the child is being educated.

Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is an extraordinary resource. They have oodles of information on their website about state laws and regulations.  

After you’ve figured out what your state’s requirements are, consider this: Homeschooling is a scale.  It can be as structured (or not) as you want it to be.

Homeschool, Virtual School, Un-school, Co-Op: What does it all mean? |

Virtual (online) public schools, such as , are exactly what they sound like.  They are public schools that come into your home via your computer. Because you are enrolled as a public school student within that “district” the school will provide everything you need including text books, manipulatives and a computer. I believe (if anyone knows otherwise, please correct me in the comments) that you even get a small stipend to cover the cost of things like paper and printer ink.

The student signs in each day for attendance purposes. They are instructed via online lectures, discussion boards and other media. They have assignments to complete and are tested on their knowledge, just as they would be in a public school.  There are certified teachers on-hand to guide them through anything they need extra help with and the school organizes certain events and classes, such as physical education, in a central location for the area so that the children have opportunities to interact with their peers.  There is some leeway as to how quickly they move through the classes.

I’ve only personally known two families who have used a VPS.

Homeschool, Virtual School, Un-school, Co-Op: What does it all mean? | LazyHippieMama.comOne LOVES it.  The mom feels like her child is free to move at her own pace and free from the concerns over bullying and other issues that caused them to want to homeschool in the first place.  She doesn’t have to worry about coming up with lesson plans or keeping records. She just has to generally keep an eye on her daughter to make sure she’s focused on what she’s supposed to be doing during “school time.”

The other HATED it.  Total opposite end of the spectrum.  This mom felt like their whole life revolved around the computer school. It was too structured. Too many “pointless” repetitions of the same work. Not enough freedom for her child to explore their own passions.

As in so many things with homeschooling, you need to figure out what will work best for you.

Curriculum-based homeschooling is choosing a course of study such as Abeka, The Ron Paul Curriculum, Saxton Math and Core Knowledge,  are a few of the common choices.  You then base your student’s learning time around the material and lessons in the book.

There is A LOT of variance in what that looks like depending on teaching and learning styles and the type of curriculum used.  You and your child might spend a portion of each day at the kitchen table, “doing school.”  There could be work sheets. If you’re doing a “unit study” curriculum everything from math to science to geography and language arts will all tie in together.

Curriculums may be very religiously conservative, very close to what the public schools in your area teach or take an approach you’ve never even considered.  Know what you are buying before you buy it! Do you want your child to learn about evolution? Creation? Human sexuality? How do you want to approach topics like the environment? Politics? Current events?  Different curriculums teach about things in very different ways. The books and accompanying materials are often expensive but can almost always be bought, used, at a significant discount.

The advantage to this style is that you know your student is covering all of the material that their grade level is “supposed” to cover and you don’t have to try to come up with a zillion lesson plans. You just have to guide them through the material.  If you or your student are the type of person who gets terribly stressed out when there is no plan, curriculum-based homeschool may be just the ticket.

Why does she have a net on her head? I don't know. Sometimes homeschool is like that.

Why does she have a net on her head? I don’t know. Sometimes homeschool is like that.

Co-Op learning tends to be a version of this type of schooling where you work with a group of homeschoolers and work out a rotation to help spead out the teaching duties.  Perhaps Mrs. Smith teaches math and science on Monday and Mr. Jones teaches art on Wednesday and so forth, with parents guiding their own children through lessons between the class times.

Curriculum-based homeschooling is how we started with at the beginning of our  journey. We knew pretty quickly it wasn’t going to work for us even though, like I said, it’s perfect for a lot of our friends.  We felt like we were tied to this uber-expensive textbook we’d bought.  Our daughter desperately wanted to learn about space and we were studying dinosaurs. She was struggling a great deal with the way the math lessons were written – she didn’t understand the instructions and would become so frustrated that she couldn’t solve even the simplest problems.  She was reading and writing at a grade level higher than we were teaching and she was bored out of her mind.

For half a year or so we fought and screamed and threatened and the whole thing was a misery.  I was beginning to doubt our choice to homeschool. I felt like a failure. Then, somewhere along the line we tossed the whole plan out the window and all of a sudden the house was peaceful and learning started happening.

We moved on to what I’ve heard referred to as “eclectic schooling.”

Friday I will share what our eclectic school looks like and discuss “unschooling” as well in Part 2.

Homeschool, Virtual School, Un-school, Co-Op: What does it all mean? |

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6 responses »

  1. We have decided to homeschool via online school this year due to our local brick and morter school treating my son poorly and not working with us. He has asperger syndrome. He is once again excited about learning! He is starting to believe he CAN do the work (which he can.) the traditional school had sucked his self esteem and confidence. His teacher at the online school actually has experience with Aspergers and is already very supportive. He is online very little (which was disappointing a little to him.) They sent us almost everything we need and now it is my job as his learning coach to help him get through it. His teacher is there to back me. I like that!

    • I’m so glad that it’s working out for you! I was getting the sense that last year was really stressful for both of you all year long. It’s a wonderful thing to find a path that keeps everyone relatively happy and sane!!!

  2. I use K12, and I love it. I do find some stuff gets overly repetitious, but if the kid gets it, the kid gets it, so I just skip the extra stuff. Then it’s like, woohoo! Bonus. We’re done with that. Someone like me really needs the structure and accountability that the VPS provides.

    • Yup. That’s how my other friend feels about it, too. If her daughter needs the practice then they go through each step. If not, they take the test and move on. I may lean toward VPS as my girl gets older and her learning gets more advanced. We’ll see… one day at a time!

  3. I always did curriculum based homeschooling as our jumping off point. The last couple of years I did Ableside Online, the free Charlotte Mason curriculum, supplemented with a Math curriculum. I liked Saxon.

    I loved Charlotte Mason the most. But in the end I just couldn’t keep up with homeschooling, working, babies, and everything else. This lazy hippie put her kids in the local schools, and joined the PTO to stay involved.

    I still miss the fun we had homeschooling, sometimes.

    • Stages of life! That’s a big part of “part 2.” What is a joy when you have one kid in 1st grade may be a nightmare when that child is in 5th with 3 siblings coming up behind him. I think it’s awesome that you are flexible enough to continue to meet the needs of your family where they are.

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