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Homeschool Learning Clubs

by Beverley Paine

A few local home educating friends and I are starting a homeschooling learning club. We're calling it the Thursday Club because we meet on a Thursday and club describes what we're doing better than co-operative.

I first read about Homeschooling Learning Clubs a couple of decades ago in an article written by experienced home educator Ann Larhson Fisher, author of the The Fundamentals of Homeschooling - an excellent and practical introduction to home educating children.

It's easy to start a learning club. Basically two or more families get together to study and learn a particular curriculum subject. It can be anything: learning another language, geography, biology, nature study, even boat building! How many families become involved usually depend on the ages and number of the children. Our Thursday Club, because the children are young, will focus largely on opportunities to play, with art, craft and science activities on offer if the children want to do them.

A learning club can often form spontaneously among a group of friends whose children have similar educational needs or interests. Clubs or cooperatives work best when the children in the group really want to be there, rather than simply tagging along to keep mum or dad happy. Clubs can operate for a short specified period, depending on the learning tasks involved, or run for months or years.

It's rare that new members will join a highly structured club or group that is following a sequential course. However, because most home educating groups naturally cater to mixed age range and developmental stages they are fairly flexible. Some clubs may limit numbers and participants to suit the purpose of the club; for example, a teens' literature appreciation club, or preschool age homeschool playgroup. And most clubs don't usually advertise but grow by invitation by existing members.

In many instances the desire to start a learning club comes from the children. In other cases the parents want to fill a gap, either educational or social, or both. Sometimes it is because one parent has a particular skill is happy to share it, and sometimes it is because some things are more easily learned in group settings where resources can be shared.

Unlike some commercial learning clubs - art, dance and martial arts classes can be considered learning clubs for children - home educating clubs are a lot like Scouts and many kids' sports clubs - leadership is voluntary and is usually shared among the parents.

Other than actual expenses occurred, usually by supplying necessary materials for activities, there is no financial cost to club members. Most homeschool learning clubs meet in one member's home, or rotate sessions between homes. Only if the numbers are large will the club consider hiring a suitable venue. Clubs that focus on teaching particular educational skills or knowledge seem to work best with about eight to twenty members, or four or five families. Clubs that involve outdoor and physical activity, such as skating and swimming, are usually open to all. Curriculum subject based learning clubs that get too large start to resemble school and incur all the management problems that beset school teachers.

Learning clubs are highly interactive with lots of activities to encourage participation by everyone. Some learning clubs are set up so that some parents can have respite from the children while their children learn with their friends. Most learning clubs have a definite start and stop time, and go for between one to three hours. Ours starts and 10.30am and is usually over by about 1pm, but that's because some of the mums have toddlers that need an afternoon nap.

You can start a learning club to serve any particular need: educational, social, community service, art/music/literature appreciation, computer games, sports, drama, music, to learn another language, games, camping - anything and everything you can enjoy and learn with other home educating families.

In her book Ann lists the following as important elements of learning clubs: they need to be voluntary, interest based, small groups, limited life, participatory, and allow spontaneous social time frequently following each session.

The advantages of becoming involved with learning clubs are many:

  • children need and enjoy the opportunity to learn in safe, non-competitive group settings
  • because it's voluntary children are there because they want to learn: motivation is intrinsic and this results in less behavioural problems
  • many activities lend themselves to group learning
  • there is a greater pool of skills and talent to tap into as teachers, tutors and learning facilitators
  • your children have the ability to learn things you don't feel capable of teaching or don't have the time to cover at home
  • greater opportunity for children to be exposed to different teaching and learning styles and methods, which encourage them to explore or investigate the subject in different ways
  • children meet interesting adults and make homeschooling friends
  • teenagers really appreciate group learning opportunities
  • parents learn valuable teaching skills from others and share homeschooling tips
  • the structure is reassuring for many families
  • learning particular subjects becomes more affordable because of shared resources
  • single parents or parents of only single enjoy relief from being the main person available to their children
  • could provide an opportunity for children to learn without their siblings present
  • social skills are learned in a supportive, supervised environment
  • there is an increased opportunity for developing leadership qualities, as well public speaking, performance, listening skills, etc.
  • it's great to celebrate learning with good friends.

Follow the general guidelines for starting a homeschooling group when you plan to start a learning club for your children. Working with other parents isn't always easy. Everyone will need to be prepared to give and take and be willing to communicate about their expectations and what they need and want from belonging to the club. You may need to be very clear about if parents can drop children off for the session. For the first couple of sessions you might insist the parents stay and participate, especially if you have only just met the other families. This will help avoid any problems with their children settling into the group. This may be the first time these home educating children have been in a group learning situation!

Experience has shown that learning clubs and cooperatives lose their effectiveness if parents abdicate responsibility for the education of their children, or if the lessons become too much like school. For this reason it's best to avoid adding tests and homework to the schedule. Asking parents to pay fees for tutoring will encourage them to abdicate responsibility and they will expect - or demand - a professional result. Don't let the learning club become a replacement for home educating your children.

If you do hire a tutor, be precise in your communication. Ask them to write their goals, plans and how they hope to achieve their goals down on paper. Sign a contract that makes it clear who is responsible for what. And don't forget to include a reference to the fee and how many hours are involved! Treat both you and the tutor as professionals, even if the tutor is another home educating parent.

If you find learning clubs a joy and your children eager to participate you might consider investigating the feasibility of creating a cooperative home educating resource centre in your region or neighbourhood. The more learning clubs and support groups in any one area the more viable home education becomes for all families. Lack of support and resource is still a barrier to many families barely coping with school based education.

For more information about networking with other families to help you meet your home educating needs read my other articles listed at http://theeducatingparent.com/sitemap.html#networks

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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