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“I’m new to homeschooling. Is there a group or program that I can join?”

The above question has been asked repeatedly on Facebook groups, blogs, and listserves, especially in this past year of COVID.

Those replying typically share their favorite group, creating a list of local choices in their answers. As helpful as this seems, homeschool organizations are not one size fits all.

When I first started homeschooling in 2001, there weren’t many options outside of the home.  After much research, I found a small group nearby. My membership was approved, and I was excited to begin sharing our homeschool journey with other like-minded families. As a co-op, each member agreed to contribute in some way to the program. My oldest was almost 5 at the time, and I was excited to arrange some fun field trips and social activities for the group.

It did not take long for me to figure the program was not a great fit for my family — and my family was not a great fit for the program.

While I was excited about nature center programs, tours of community organizations, museum visits, and digging for fossils, others in the group were more focused on academic classes for the heavy representation of late elementary and middle school students. As someone just starting out, teaching middle schoolers was not really in my comfort level nor my skill-set. That feeling of not fitting in grew, and I started to wonder if homeschooling programs or groups in general just were not for me.

The mistake I made was assuming I had the same needs as other homeschoolers simply because we were all homeschooling and that all homeschool groups/programs would meet the needs of all.

Different homeschool philosophies can drive what sort of group or program you desire. If you have a strong leaning toward a particular philosophy, a program of a very different focus is likely not a good choice.

I always considered myself an eclectic homeschooler, adopting a bit of this and a bit of that.

With that in mind, eventually, those of us in the group with similar needs came together and formed a new group with a focus on field trips, non-academic classes with hired teachers, and open membership. We had humble expectations but found the group quickly grew with others looking for the same thing.

There was nothing wrong with the first group’s approach or with my family’s needs; we just weren’t a fit for each other, having different approaches, ideas, and philosophies.

Even as a founder of the second group, I occasionally joined other programs with different offerings as my kids grew and had different needs (Renaissance being one of them).

It used to be there were too few groups or programs and most of those had a similar homeschooling purpose, focus, and philosophy. As the homeschooling community has broadened, the options have certainly grown with an overwhelming abundance of options from which to choose.

There are many Education Options in Michigan, including co-ops, hybrid programs, public and private online classes, programs with an academic focus, programs that only offer electives, and groups that don’t offer any classes at all. Which one works for you may change over time, and it may even be that a couple together become the best fit for your family. Figuring out what options fit your needs right now will help direct you in finding the support you need.

But the same question remains — what sort of group or program is right for you?

Rather than asking, “Is there an organization I can join?” a better question to ask would be:

“I’m new to homeschooling. Should I join an organization, and if so, which one?”

The resulting replies would likely include questions such as:

Where do you live and how far are you willing to drive?

What are the ages of your children?

What is your homeschooling philosophy?

What kind of support activities and/or classes are you seeking?

Are you looking for an organization that is religious, secular, or neither?

Are you looking for a drop-off program or one where parents collaborate, make decisions as a group, and do the teaching?

Do you prefer a structured environment or something more free-flowing?

These are all questions to consider before you begin your search.

Keep in mind that there is no perfect program out there. In fact, there may be times in your homeschool journey that you feel it wouldn’t benefit your family to be in any program at all, and other times that one or more would. It is all about finding what works best for your family in any given year.

This group, that group, or no group. Which is right for you?

To assist you, a Program Evaluation Form has been created for your use. Also linked are Renaissance’s answers to the evaluation questions. With registration starting soon, we hope you will take the time to explore all we have to offer. If you think we might be a fit, we welcome you to join us for one of our upcoming info meetings.