Should outside classes be part of your homeschool?

Should you enroll your homeschool students in outside classes or co-ops?

I was a hands-on homeschooler. I loved lesson-planning, teaching, and learning alongside my kids. But now and then, and for various reasons, we participated in outside classes.

Often, I was the one who gathered a group of children and taught a four-week art class, a semester of California history, or a year of writing. For several years, we were active in a KONOS co-op. And when my children were in high school, they took an occasional course in biology or chemistry or speech.

True Homeschooling?

I know the value of teaching my children at home. I also appreciate the fresh perspective they gained from experts in various subjects. But I never lost sight of the fact that we were homeschooling, which for the most part meant—and here’s the shocker!—schooling at home.

Don’t get me wrong—co-ops and other classes certainly have their place. But here’s the caveat: They should not become a substitute for teaching one’s own children, nor do they give parents permission to abdicate their role as primary teacher.

Ab·di·cate v. 1.  to relinquish or hand over responsibility.  2. to give up duties.

—Synonyms
1. resign, quit, bail out. 2.  abandon. 3. step down.

Used as a helpful tool, outside courses can be an excellent supplement to your home teaching. However, when one class becomes three, and you’re spending more time in the car than at the schoolroom table, it could be time to question whether you’re actually homeschooling at all.

Falling into the Trap

You are still the primary teacher and the one responsible to oversee the work, so even if your children are taking outside classes, you must know what’s being taught. Believe me, I know it can be a relief to have someone else take over a subject you struggle with, but it’s not the tutor’s or teacher’s job to homeschool your kids; she’s simply in your service.

As a homeschooler, your mantra should always be: I am the parent. I am the primary teacher. But when someone else is instructing your children and assigning homework, projects, or tests, it’s easy to kick back and think: 

  • Ahhhh…I finally get a break. It’s OK to enjoy the time they’re in class, but you’re still the primary teacher.
  • That’s one less subject for me to teach. Someone else may be presenting the material and giving assignments, but you’re still the primary teacher.
  • Julie learns better from other people. Some kids do take direction better from others, but don’t excuse your kids. If they won’t listen to you, it’s not an academic concern, but a character issue. Take the opportunity to work on obedience, respect, teachability, or cooperation. Remember: You’re still the parent AND the primary teacher.
  • Johnny needs to learn to take responsibility for his own assignments. This is true. But whether he succeeds or fails, he must do it under your supervision. You can set schedules and oversee his work, but if he waits till the last minute to write a paper for his class, it doesn’t mean you need to stay up with him till 2 a.m. to finish it. If he gets a poor grade, let it be because you allowed the consequence, not because you were clueless that he was behind. After all, you’re still the parent and the primary teacher.

Availing Yourself of Opportunities

Again, there is nothing wrong with outside classes, so once you accept and embrace your role as primary teacher, you can begin to look around at the many opportunities that exist, including:

  • Homeschool co-ops and classes that teach literature, science, writing, etc.
  • Private tutoring or lessons in art, music, carpentry, etc.
  • Online courses for homeschoolers such as Torrey Academy.
  • Community college for age 16+.

Putting your homeschool students in outside classes can stretch and enrich them, especially when the subject matter is completely foreign to you. Outsourcing:

  • Is ideal when you know you’re weak in a subject.
  • Provides opportunity for group interaction, such as a drama workshop or a speech and debate class.
  • Helps students learn to take instruction from others.

But when choosing an outside course for one or more of your kids, it’s also wise to remember that it shouldn’t become:

  • A substitute for homeschooling.
  • An excuse to get your kids out of the house (or your hair).
  • A purely social experience.
  • The answer to your insecurities about homeschooling.

Keys to Successful Outsourcing

Having made the decision to enroll a student in an outside class, how can you make it work with homeschooling?

  • Meet the teacher and stay in touch. (You’d be appalled at how many parents NEVER ONCE stepped into my home to meet me face-to-face during an entire year of teaching their kids.)
  • Study the syllabus to understand course expectations.
  • Become familiar with requirements and assignments.
  • Plug assigned reading, writing, and studying into your master homeschool lesson plan book.
  • Go over weekly assignment sheets and other materials the teacher sends home.
  • Discuss assignments with your children.
  • Supervise their writing or other work and help as needed.
  • Give feedback.

As with any curriculum you employ in your homeschooling, outside courses are simply tools you work with to enrich and strengthen your children’s academic foundation. Used judiciously, they can expose kids to new experiences and challenge them academically. But remembering that you’re the parent and primary teacher-–and taking appropriate responsibility as such—will ensure that you’re still on top of things, even if someone else is teaching.

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Photo: Vancouver Film School, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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