When starting to research homeschooling, the lingo often gets confusing. Seasoned homeschoolers are so used to the terms that they don’t stop to define them unless asked. So here is the break-down of the terminology used for different groups that you might utilize on your homeschooling journey.
This is a social group made up of homeschooling families who get together for kids to engage in activities with other kids. The size of the group can vary from a handful of families to over a hundred. The activities can range from informal park meet-ups to organized group field trips to full days of classes that look a lot like school. The cost of joining a co-op is usually relatively low (the ones I have considered range from $10 to $50 per family per year), plus the cost of field trips or classes. However, field trips might be cheaper with a co-op than they would be going on your own because the co-op can get a group discount. Classes are usually relatively inexpensive because they are often taught by parents in the co-op who volunteer their time.
The term “co-op” is short for “co-operative”, meaning that every family has to help in some way. The co-op has a leader or committee that makes the big decisions about who can join, what to offer, where to meet, etc. However, they do this in addition to homeschooling their own kids, so they can’t teach all the classes, arrange all the field trips, organize all the parties, and clean up after everyone. Therefore, they expect everyone to pitch in. Co-ops also usually do not allow kids to be dropped off. Consider it a socializing opportunity for you to exchange ideas with other homeschooling parents while your kids are otherwise occupied.
This is the slang term for what is official legal terms in Maryland is known as “the supervising nonpublic school or institution” that reviews your homeschool. In other states, the term “cover school” or “charter” may designate a similar organization. When you first fill out the intent to homeschool, one of the items you have to fill out is whether you want to be supervised by the school district or by an umbrella. If you don’t want to deal with the school district, then you need to have joined an umbrella to write on the form. If you don’t have an umbrella picked out but need to start homeschooling immediately, just check the box for school district review. You can always change your mind later and notify the school district that you have now joined an umbrella. My thoughts on the pros and cons of umbrellas versus school district can be found here.
If you choose to join an umbrella, there will be some cost. The average hovers around $50 – $75 per family per year. However, some umbrellas may charge twice that amount, but may also provide you with record-keeping for high school transcripts. Each umbrella runs things a little differently, but basically, you will meet with someone once or twice a year to discuss your homeschool and that person will sign off on the fact that you are indeed educating your child(ren) to the standard the umbrella sets. Some umbrellas have a small number of official reviewers, while others allow peer reviews meaning that members just review each other. Umbrella reviews may be more or less stringent than school district reviews. It just depends on the umbrella you choose and the school district you live in.
A tutorial is kind of the hybrid between a co-op and a school. Tutorials offer more structured classes, often for a full day or two per week. They allow kids to be dropped off and do not require parents to be as involved as a co-op might. However, they are not a school, because then they would need to follow all of the legal requirements of schools and your kids would no longer be homeschoolers. The cost of a tutorial is many times greater than that of co-ops because they need a more permanent space, insurance in case something happens, as well as staff and supplies to teach classes. If a tutorial meets for 5 hours once a week for 30 weeks over the course of a year, a tuition cost $1500 breaks down to $10 per hour. At that rate, tutorials are still much cheaper than private school (in the $10,000+ range per year) or private lessons ($1 per minute).
The bottom-line is that you can homeschool just fine without ever being involved with any of these organization types. However, they are part of the homeschool conversation, so it is important to understand the differences. As your homeschool life progresses, circumstances could change and you might need to ask a homeschool Facebook community for recommendations of one of these groups. Your school district reviewers may overstep their legal authority, so you might want to find an umbrella. Your kid may want to try out a underwater basket-weaving, so you might look for a co-op. The stay-at-home parent may need to start working a couple of days a week, so a tutorial could offer childcare and homeschoolish education.