I started School of the Minds, a local gifted homeschool coop, about 5 years ago with a few students. We now have over 50. We focus on extra-curricular classes and opportunities that enrich our students. We meet regularly at least once a week.
What have I learned these handful of years?
1. Membership in School of the Minds is Free; however, membership requires a high level of commitment to our community. This personal commitment has created a more vibrant organization because:
- families actually show up regularly (no slackers here),
- parents volunteer readily,
- students contribute to create a lively learning environment (yes, they do their homework).
Additionally, there is a selection process to join to make sure all understand what is expected and there is a wait list should a member’s commitment wane.
2. Use Facebook to communicate with the group and set up events. It makes life so much easier. You can even use the LIVE FEED option to hold classes and post projects to share, which we used when Hurricane Matthew visited town and we could not meet.
3. Securing a place to meet at little or no cost can be difficult. Inviting people into members’ private homes is not a good idea unless the member has space (including for cars) and does not mind the extra cleaning and mess after every visit. Consequently, our favorite places are public and free:
- local libraries,
- local parks.
4. Multi-Age classes only work to an extent:
- K to 12 students together work for most field trips and art classes, but K to 12 students together in a classroom is trickier for more academic settings. For academic work, we divide our classes into 3 groups according to ABILITY, and not AGE:
- middle school, and
- high school.
5. For the most part, instructional classes have not been the best long-term classroom option (with exceptions) because:
- not all the students are interested in the same topic,
- asynchronous development/accelerated learning naturally means gifted students arrive to class with varying degrees of knowledge and focus,
- most gifted students are independent learners and want to learn for themselves,
- the homeschool teacher quickly burns out if he/she tries to cater to each student in the class.
6. Flipped Classrooms work because:
- the gifted student can work at his/her own pace at home,
- the student can focus more time on topics of his/her choosing,
- on coop days, students are able to present the projects they worked on,
- the students are motivated to lead discussions with their peers,
- sharing and learning from peers has become an integral part of our coop culture.
7. Project Based Homeschooling is essential to how our coop runs and requires a different approach to education. We offer Pokémon Club, DIY Club, TEDEd Club, and monthly Project Fairs. Our Notable Fair contributions are shown in the YouTube Playlist above as an example. We also have Literature, How-To, Geography/History, Science Presentation Days. These clubs and fairs are not run by adults. There is much less explicit instruction from parents/facilitators, but more exploration inspired directly from the children themselves. These clubs and fairs allow the students to work at home and delve deeply into their own projects. Then, they come together to share and present what they have learned weekly and/or monthly and/or once a semester to their peers, local homeschool community, and/or even the world. These offerings allow the students to:
- practice communicating meaningful ideas with others,
- teach and learn from one other,
- experience sharing and presenting their projects with their larger homeschool community and even the world. One of our students was highlighted by TEDEd Club Picks, for example!
8. Document what you do as a group on your blog or website because this will establish your presence in the community, as well as your reliability as a group. Take a look at our blog here and our YouTube channel here. We have been able to avail of many resources because of the credibility of our group through simple documentation.
9. Our Free Range Park Day is as essential to our coop as any academic event or course we offer. Some parents believe it is the most important time we share as a coop. It is where and when:
- gifted children create, hone, and develop deep friendships,
- they encounter various types of situations: both good and bad,
- they learn how different families handle these situations,
- they experience being with a set group of people regularly for years,
- and most importantly, parents get a chance to talk with other parents. Sometimes it is the only prolonged adult conversation our homeschool parents get during the week.
10. Gifted Families enjoy the company of a diverse group of people. School of the Minds is a small group of families who are racially, politically, religiously, philosophically, and educationally diverse. We have unschoolers and very structured homeschoolers and everything in between. Our conversations are never dull. They can push buttons at times but we respect each other and the camaraderie is exceptional. We make sure we are inclusive and welcoming of everyone.
Running a Gifted Homeschool Coop takes hard work, organization, patience, and persistence, but the community you build becomes like a second family and creating a place where gifted/asynchronous/accelerated/independent learners can interact at a meaningful level makes your time spent all the more worthwhile.
I am participating in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum October 2016 Blog Hop: Gifted Children: Academic and Career Planning Beyond K-12. Check out the other amazing GHF bloggers!