In my last post, I talked about the new learning centre that Mr. Boo is attending. Some people might be confused about how a learning centre fits in with the concept of homeschooling, so I thought it might be helpful to discuss the role of learning centres in homeschooling.
Families who choose homeschooling are usually dissatisfied with the school system, and often try to avoid duplicating the classroom environment. However, as local homeschooling communities grow, they soon realize that having a place you can go – to hang out, learn together, do crafting or chemistry experiments, or listen to a local expert do a show and tell about something interesting – can be very handy. In my years of homeschooling I’ve been involved in several attempts to find such a place, and it can be challenging.
The facility needs to be available during the day, child friendly and preferably baby-proof since the families attending have kids of all ages, have tables and chairs that can be set up as needed, a kitchenette is very handy, and storage is an often overlooked need. It gets really tedious to cart bins of projects and supplies back and forth, and families have to shuffle them around when they can’t attend due to illness or whatever.
If someone has a suitable home, with enough room for everybody, that is a possible solution. But it puts a lot of pressure on the host family, and if they are ill or otherwise unavailable it can mean a cancelled day.
The next step up is to find a community space, but as anyone who has been involved in a non-profit organization knows, such spaces are usually costly. Parents may chip in for the cost, or if the families belong to the same funded homeschooling program (here in BC they are called Distributed Learning programs), that program may provide some funding for the space. Our DL program supported our community in setting up such a space a couple of years ago, but it lasted only one year due to rising rental and insurance costs for the facility, lack of other options in our area, and changes to the DL funding policies. It also required a huge amount of work on the part of the parents involved, and ultimately it folded.
Another challenge for homeschoolers often occurs when the children reach adolescence. While the younger set is happy to participate in family-oriented get togethers with children of all ages, the older kids like to be around other kids closer in age to themselves, with activities that are geared toward their interests. They also love a bit of independence thrown in, such as the ability to go across the street to a coffee shop to grab some pastries! We had a great teen group in our area that met in the centre of a small town where the kids could walk to nearby shops; the space was comfy and had a kitchen and was a great hang out for the parents and kids. Sadly, we lost the space and some of the families “aged out” and it hasn’t been put back together just yet.
The next step beyond a parent-organized space is a learning centre that is run by an organization. Such a centre might best be described a small private school that is geared towards homeschoolers, who generally only want part time programs, perhaps one or two days a week at the most, and who are not looking for school-style academic instruction, but support and facilitation for project-based and learner-directed learning. We are very fortunate in our area to have a number of such centres sprouting up here. They offer a wide range of programs, workshops, and activities for homeschooling families. Some require enrolment on a term-by-term basis whereas others operate on a drop-in basis. Some invite entire families to participate, while others provide full child supervision and parents can just drop the kids off and go.
Finally, there is the issue of homelearners with special needs. The incidence of autism is such that learning centres and special schools for kids with autism are popping up all over the place, it seems. There are two such schools in our area, though they are both a long commute away for us. Also, when I last enquired, they did not allow part-time attendance, which rules them out as desirable options for many homeschooling families. Because families in BC with children on the autism spectrum are eligible for funding from various sources, such programs are usually set up to accept direct funding from those sources.
The distinction between “learning centre” and “small private school” can get a bit blurry. I use the term “school” to refer to a program that runs 4 or 5 days a week, enrols children on a term or semester basis, is not set up for whole families to participate, and has a program of learning and activities that is set up by the administrators and in which full participation is generally required in order to attend. I use the term “learning centre” to refer to a facility that is set up for families to come together with children of all ages for activities related to learning, or a more school-like situation that is only available on a part-time basis (once or twice a week).
In summary, every learning centre is different. They range from programs designed and executed entirely by the parents for no other reason than they wanted to make it happen, to government-funded programs run by organizations that offer alternative educational opportunities. Learning centres can be a valuable way for local homeschoolers to come together and connect, to learn together and grow as a community. They can also provide support for homeschooling parents who are finding it difficult to keep up with their kids’ growing interests, or who need respite for whatever reason.