by Jessie Mathisen
Posted on Thursday 21st of July 2011
The dominant image of homeschooling involves one child, or several siblings, studying with their mother in a socially isolated household. While those homeschoolers exist, they appear to be a definite minority, at least among New York City homeschoolers. One reason that most homeschoolers are far less isolated than many people assume is the popularity of small group classes.
Group classes take many forms. Some are taught by parents, others are taught by professionals; some are highly academic in nature, others are primarily intended to be social; some are traditional in their format, others are highly innovative. As a tutor who serves many homeschool families, I have come to strongly support group classes, since they provide an opportunity for a dynamic exchange of ideas among students and an affordable way for parents to ensure that their children are well educated, even in areas where the parents may not be comfortable teaching the material.
My primary personal experience with group homeschool classes is in the area of science. Science is particularly well suited to group classes, for two main reasons. First, it takes quite a bit of effort to get together the materials necessary for lab classes. As an illustration, I recently completed a unit on simple machines with a small group of upper elementary school age children. his relatively simple unit involved spring scales, three different kinds of pulley, two kinds of plastic tubing (to make Archimedes' Screws), as well as copious amounts of odds and ends such as cardboard, rubber bands, and popsicle sticks. It took several hours of concentrated effort and about $45 to get all the requisite materials together. While this was hardly a heroic level of preparation, it is far more involved than the preparation that normally goes into preparing lessons in arithmetic. The cost/benefit analysis simply makes more sense when that effort is going into a lesson for several children rather than just one.
The more important reason why science is an ideal subject for group lessons is that many parents feel inadequately qualified to teach science. Even at the elementary school level, they may be intimidated by their lack of knowledge and their own perceived failures in the subject. Of course, as the material becomes more sophisticated, these perceived shortcomings only grow, and in fact often turn into real shortcomings. It is my belief that most educated adults could master enough science to teach their 4th grader with the benefit of some good books, but the same can't be said for a 10th grader. It really does take specialized knowledge to effectively teach high school science classes well.
Just as a lack of real or perceived knowledge in science means that group classes are particularly valuable in science, other topics that many parents are uncomfortable with or lack knowledge in also make good candidates for homeschool group classes. Poetry, second languages, and more advanced mathematics are all fairly obvious candidates.
Since New York Academics has multiple teachers with different specialties, we are well-placed to offer group classes for homeschoolers in a variety of subjects including a wide range of topics and levels in science, most areas of math, Spanish, poetry, writing, and literature. We make it our policy to tailor the content of our small group homeschool classes to the needs and desires of each group that we work with (although all of our instruction is academically rigorous and secular).
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