by Rebecca Kocsis

With the onset of the pandemic, I have admired the effort and ingenuity of parents to see their children receive a safe and high quality education. I applaud them for taking back their children’s education. Many parents’ efforts have been nothing less than heroic. I am thinking of single parent households and those requiring two working parents. And ingenuity? Well, necessity truly has become the mother of invention. 

If you are a little confused by options available today, you are not alone; options abound. And to make matters more confusing, different communities may use different terms to refer to the same thing. Like pods and micro schools. And their perception of what those are can vary widely. Are homeschools pods? Are pods homeschools? Are micro schools co-ops? And no two groups are exactly alike because they are a reflection of the families that create them. Nevertheless, I will do my best to outline the most distinguishing characteristics of each.

Pods or Micro Schools

As we look a little closer at these concepts, you may notice they harken back to the days of the one-room schoolhouse, so they aren’t necessarily new. However, once you’ve added the modern day families and conveniences, it looks quite different. There are so many different variations of these new types of schools that it’s hard to give them a specific definition. For our purposes here, the two terms are interchangeable. These are very basic definitions.

Pods were originally referred to as pandemic pods. These were usually made up of a handful of families who agreed to school their children together. Originally they were created to remove kids from an institutional setting for school and limit their exposure to Covid-19. Hence the term pod or even cohort. Micro schools were already in existence and were usually formed around a specific methodology of education. With the onset of the pandemic, the two have become very much alike.

Unlike a traditional school, class size is limited to 6-10 students and they come from a handful of families. Some pods are even comprised of just two families. Generally, the children will be in a wide range of grades, although I have heard of grade specific pods. Parents take turns teaching for a day, thus sharing the teaching responsibilities. This is helpful for working parents as they are required to take minimal days off. Some pods hire full-time teachers or others may hire different teachers for individual subjects.

Just like in a one-room schoolhouse, where students of all ages are educated together, the teaching methods vary from pod to pod. They can use whatever the parents choose. Some may choose traditional methods, others may be classical, and still others may be project-oriented. They may even simply be a place where there is an adult overseer, and each child has their own coursework. Truly the sky’s the limit when the parents are in charge.  

These are not traditional schools, but they aren’t exactly homeschooling either. 

With the onset of vaccine requirements, school teachers asked us how to start their own homeschool pod or micro school. The thought is that this would exempt them from vaccine requirements. Not necessarily. It really depends on the structure of the pod or micro school. Who files the affidavit? Is the teacher responsible for the child’s education or the parent? Location may also have a bearing. Depending on how the pod is structured, it may be considered a small private school. 

If a teacher or a single parent files the PSA for the micro school, then it is most definitely a small private school and that parent or teacher takes responsibility for all of the children’s education and recordkeeping. If each family files their own PSA, then each family is responsible for their own children’s education. They are essentially saying they each have their own single family private school, but share day-to-day teaching responsibilities with others. And they may have hired a teacher.

That isn’t exactly homeschooling, either.

Co-ops and how are they different from pods and micro schools?

Co-ops, as a general rule, are much larger than pods or micro schools. They are a community made up of an indefinite number of homeschool families. These generally meet one day per week, some more, at a central location.

Co-ops offer various activities or classes. These can be supplemental to your child’s education, or they can be academic.

Classes most often focus on a single subject directed to a single grade. Students may take one class or more. Parents may take turns teaching or volunteering in a class, thus the term co-op. The rest of the week, parents oversee the children’s studies. 

So what is homeschooling?

Homeschooling today has become a catch-all term that includes any amount of education that takes place at home for any amount of time, regardless of who is in charge and who’s paying for it. Talk about confusing terminology!

In its strictest sense, homeschooling can be narrowly defined as parent-directed, privately-funded, home-based, and for the faith-based family, faith-centered education. 

For our purposes here I will stick to this more traditional model of parent-led education that is independent of government school oversight and funding, also known as “private home education.”

Let’s unpack this.

Parent-led as opposed to teacherdirected. This is parents at home teaching their own children. Parents, not schools or teachers, choose the material and methodology for each child based on their unique gifts and abilities. Though parents generally do the teaching, they often outsource some subjects.

Privately-funded as opposed to government-funded. Families take 100% financial responsibility for their children’s education. Thus, they are autonomous from the public school. They are free to pursue an education based on their family’s goals and without needless oversight and regulation.

Home-based as opposed to taking place in an institution. Much of the teaching takes place at home, but homeschool families are by no means confined to the house. Education is a lifestyle, and the world is a rich laboratory offering priceless life experiences for children. Hence most homeschool families I know are very often out and about.

For the Christian family, Christ-centered as opposed to from the secular worldview of public schools. In fact, families of any faith are free to direct their children’s education in a manner consistent with the tenets of their faith. Not a person of faith? You are able to tailor your children’s education based on your family’s values, rather than the worldview of the educational institution. Regardless, wise homeschool parents know that the time they have to mold and shape their children’s character is limited and use homeschooling as a means of passing down their family identity and values to the next generation.

In Conclusion

In the days of changing terminology and fluctuating definitions, we believe that parents know what is best for their kids. Pods, micro schools, co-ops, homeschooling in the traditional sense? You get to decide. And you get to create the model that will work best for your family. 

We are tickled pink at the influx of new families in the community. And we are excited to see them explore the endless possibilities as they navigate away from institutionalized education. 

Regardless of whether you are joining in willingly, or are compelled due to circumstances, we pray you begin to experience the blessings of doing life with your kids. We pray you enjoy to the fullest the freedom to direct your children’s education and upbringing to the glory of God.

We invite you to read more about what a homeschooler is in this recent blog article, What is the Definition of a Homeschooler?