In these strange times, there are a lot of reasons why parents look for alternative schooling. Homeschoolers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, ideologies, and religions. What these parents have in common is that they all want to be sure their kids get the quality education they need to succeed.
Homeschooling your kids is an increasingly attractive option, but isn’t always an option for parents.
Buying all the necessary supplies and materials can be expensive and difficult, some districts and communities are less supportive of homeschoolers than others, some parents don’t have the time or feel they don’t have the ability, and many parents want their kids to have a more social day-to-day schooling experience.
Setting up a microschool can be an ideal solution to these problems.
What is a microschool?
Microschooling is a relatively new educational paradigm; a return to the basics of school learning and a reinvented one-room schoolhouse if you will. A group of students, usually fewer than 10 and sometimes of different ages, meet and study together somewhere with a single instructor hired by the parents of the group. Once together, they can socialize with and support each other, create a sense of shared community, and engage with the learning material under the care and direction of a teacher.
By their nature, microschools allow for a lot of flexibility in education. The core curriculum is determined by the parenting group, driven by the needs of their students and based on the values and educational requirements of the families involved.
Schedules can be highly flexible, too, letting families fit them into their daily life as needed. Class sizes can be as small as parents wish, giving each student more of the individual attention they may need and letting the curriculum adapt to the students rather than the other way around.
Financially, microschools can make a lot of sense as well. By working together with other parents and combining resources, each parent only has to pay for some of the materials and instruction-. If you have enough students, you can even engage a professional teacher to administer the class.
How to get started microschooling
Make sure everyone’s on the same page
Before you can really get started on microschooling, you have to make sure all the parents involved are in agreement about what they want out of it. Do you want it to be just like regular schooling but with a smaller and more attentive classroom, is there a particular curriculum you want used, should it be taught by parents or by a teacher/tutor that will need to be paid, etc.
Parents really need to nail down those fine details before they start or risk getting into (sometimes colorful) arguments that can break the group up.
To be sure, this isn’t a one-time agreement, either. The parents need make time for regular meetings with each other to make sure they’re happy with how things are progressing, and are ready to make changes if necessary. This doesn’t have to be a big formal meeting, but can be just a few minutes every few weeks to talk about how things are going at the school and to hear any suggestions or complaints.
Most importantly, decide in advance who is responsible for what. Everything from field trips to textbook selection are the parents choice, which is great, but decisions have to be made and implemented.
Set a budget for the microschool…and for yourselves
No one wants to cut corners when it comes to educating their kids, but it’s far too easy to wind up spending more than you can afford, especially when a committee is involved.
Decide in advance how much the group is willing to spend on the various necessities, and how much each parent will need to kick in. How much should every parent pay in is a question that can get complicated and if someone is unclear on their responsibilities to the group, it can turn very ugly very fast.
Find a good space
Next you’ll have to decide where the class will meet.
A popular and more traditional option can be someone’s house. A familiar and controlled environment, both parents and students might be more comfortable with this option. However,, depending on the size of the class, the things they bring with them, and the limitations of the suggested room, this may not always be feasible.
Another idea might be to rent a space that usually empty during the week that is already set up for meetings. Churches, library rooms, open offices or even unused areas at a local school are all popular go-to ideas for microschoolers. The thing to keep in mind is your budget, obviously, and the size and needs of your students.
When considering a space, ask the following questions:
- Will X-number of kids and a teacher, and their learning supplies (backpacks, books, laptops, etc) fit here comfortably?
- Is this space up to code, safe, legal to use, and insured?
- Is it air conditioned/heated?
- Who else might be using this space and will we need to clean up after them/for them?
- Are there neighbors who might mind parents pulling up and dropping kids off?
- Is it close enough everyone can get to it, on time, without complaint?
- Can all the parents involved afford it comfortably for 10 or so months?
Use Your Surroundings to Lower Costs and Enhance Learning
The odds are good that there are things in your local area you can use to supplement and enrich your microschool. A public library can be used as an easy source of books for reading assignments, a retired teacher or professor from a college might be willing to give a guest lecture here and there, parents can supplement a hired teacher with their own skills and abilities, a greenhouse or farm can be used for a life science lecture.
Most of these can be used for a minimal fee, if they aren’t totally free, which can ease some of the pressure on your budget.
What do I need to look out for?
Check the Law
Before you do anything else, check with your local government and a lawyer to see what you need to do to set up a microschool.
Falling under child care licensing laws, some states may be open to the idea, while others might forbid a microschool unless a parent or legal guardian is present providing instruction (considering it an unlicensed service otherwise).
If you do need a license or permit, make sure you check what you need to do to obtain and keep it. If you want to hire a teacher or administrator for the class, there may also be labor laws to consider.
Another thing to consider is insurance and liability. If you’re providing instruction to multiple children from your home, or if you’re going to hire a professional educator or tutor, check with your insurance to insure that your homeowner’s insurance will cover it.
If you rent a space, make sure the owners have coverage as well.
Believe us, you really don’t want to find out the hard way that your insurance doesn’t cover accidents!
Above all: don’t get discouraged
Looking at all the things written above, you might start to feel disheartened, and begin to think that microschooling is too much hassle. But once you get started, you’ll find that it really isn’t as difficult as you might think. So long as everyone involved does their part, it will go smoothly.
We’re sure you’ll quickly find that the advantages of microschooling can easily be worth the effort.
Jennifer Keenes is a writer and a new mom living in Florida. She studied education and, prior to becoming a freelance writer, worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary and middle school level. She is a big fan of the beach, working out and homeschooling her two daughters.