If you appreciate the concept of homeschooling, but you can’t homeschool because you have a full-time job or maybe you don’t have the temperament for it, then I have an idea for you.
Find some like-minded families to start a one-room schoolhouse with. Your main task is to find the families. After that, it’s barely any work for you at all.
Once you find the families, it becomes a group effort to get the schoolhouse up and running and someone other than yourself does the teaching.
The schoolhouse was the early American model of education when America’s literacy rates were at their highest before government schooling pervaded children’s education in the late 19th century.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept and how it works, let me explain it to you.
In essence, it’s a homeschool but with a few non-family members added. Instead of just your family, you will have four (or more) families, and the children will be taught one-on-one simultaneously. I know what you’re thinking, “You must be kidding!”
But, I’m not. Stay with me, and I’ll guide you through the steps to set one up. You’ll be surprised at how simple it is. Keep in mind, too, that a one-room schoolhouse is not to be confused with a co-op school*. It’s a different concept altogether.
What Are Your Education Goals?
Your first step is to get very clear on what your goals for your children’s education are (you should do this regardless). When your children grow-up and are ready to leave home, what is it you want to be sure you’ve given them or made possible for them?
Two examples might be parents who are determined to have their children attend Ivy League colleges or parents whose priority is for their children to discover their passions and pursue careers they love.
Whatever your primary objective is, it’s always good to start with the end in mind and work backward determining what you will need to reach your goal(s).
Once you decide this, you will then consider the educational philosophy you want to espouse. Are you interested in a self-directed learning approach, a classical approach, maybe a little of both or something in-between?
Also, what kind of a parent are you? Do you let your children use technology? Do you subscribe to any parenting philosophies?
You have to ask yourself these questions and have clear answers to them because this will determine the outcome of your next and most crucial step.
What kind of families will you invite to your schoolhouse?
You have to search earnestly for the right schoolhouse families. You may want to interview people over the phone first. Decide what questions you want to ask based on what’s most important to you.
When you speak to the parents, try to get a sense of their personalities, what their children are like, and what they will be able to contribute to a schoolhouse.
If they appear to be a good match, invite them to attend a meeting with other interested parents. Make sure they understand you are screening people to find the best fit for your schoolhouse.
At the preliminary meeting, present your vision to everyone. Invite discussion on different topics to determine people’s views and observe how they work together. Each family will influence the schoolhouse and affect your children for better or for worse, so you must choose your families carefully.
There are a few things to look for: compatibility amongst the families, shared views on parenting and education, the contribution each parent will make, and a healthy mix of children’s ages (five first-graders is a school).
You will want to keep expenses down, so a pool of parents who can teach and help administrate are ideal.
The older children must be good role models for the younger ones. You have lofty goals, and you can’t afford any bad apples.
Assuming you’ve chosen your families well, you now have a group of committed people who share your vision and are ready to tackle the task of educating the children. At this point, the majority of your work is done.
Everything that follows will be a group effort and once the schoolhouse is running, you just drop your kids off every day, attend a monthly meeting, and you’re done. Easy.
Now you're no longer on your own; let’s look at what’s next for the group.
With the families decided upon, it’s time for the group to move into the logistics of setting up a schoolhouse. The business details are probably your least favorite part (I know they’re mine), but I’ll be quick, so don’t give up!
Legal Matters Made Clear
The group will need to choose a name for the schoolhouse. After you pick a name, you have to register the schoolhouse as a legal business entity. Rather than do this yourselves, I recommend using a corporate lawyer.
There are proper ways to set things up, and you want to avoid costly errors. A lawyer will charge you between $1000–2000 to legally establish the business for you and protect you from future liabilities.
Since you’ll be operating a small school, a non-profit status will be more trouble than it’s worth.
Your group can discuss this with your lawyer, but for an introduction to setting up a schoolhouse, I’m going to suggest you establish a corporate entity and the parents become officers and shareholders like the original schoolhouses did.
Your group will need to decide upon a location. Unless you can afford to rent a space somewhere, the best solution is for one of the families to donate a room in their home. This, of course, implies someone has a house large enough to spare a room.
If this isn’t possible, then converting a living room by day is also an option. Ideally, we want a space that is bright, pleasing to the eye, and comfortable for the children to work in.
What to Teach?
Your group will need to decide upon a curriculum and teaching schedule. Each subject you offer needs to be mapped out according to how long and how often you teach it, and what books or projects you use.
Also, consider outings as a form of “hands-on” learning and build those into your yearly calendar. You’ll have to keep end-year goals in mind. If you’re homeschooling, you can be as thorough or vague as you like here, but with a schoolhouse you must be crystal clear about goals and objectives.
Who Will Teach?
Who will teach the children? Ideally, you’ll have one parent who loves to learn and loves to teach.
One teacher is ideal because the children develop a close relationship with her, she has an intimate understanding of where each child is at, and she has the flexibility to weave different skills through the various subjects.
Having said this, it may be too much for one parent to take on the majority of the teaching, and it may need to be a shared task with one or two other parents.
How exactly do you teach a room full of kids at different levels?
And this is the crux of the matter. It’s actually pretty easy. The teacher makes a rotation. Let’s say it’s time for language arts. She invites the first child to her desk for a ten-minute lesson, while the others are at their desks working on the lessons from the previous day.
You can also give them a poem to memorize or ask them to do a writing exercise or let them read a book while your rotation kicks into gear.
As she finishes instructing one child, the child takes his seat to work on his new assignment, and the teacher calls the next child up. The teacher repeats this process throughout the day. Keep in mind, too, that some subjects she may be able to teach as a group such as geography, science, and history.
If your group is after a more self-directed learning approach, the teacher will use the same method assuming she provides daily guidance for your students. Does it sound too simple? It is.
The only drawback is that if you have only one teacher, she’ll need to have a lot of energy. Not everyone can teach in a schoolhouse.
The Stuff No One Wants to Talk About
When you enroll children in a private school, the tuition can be exorbitant.
There will be a schoolhouse tuition, too, but it should be within everyone’s budget. It will vary from family to family depending upon the contributions each family makes.
If one parent is the full-time teacher, she should be paid. If one family offers space, they will be paid rent and so forth.
There will also be school supplies which everyone will have to finance and the legal expenses of having a business entity. Whatever the costs, if the families are resourceful, you should be able to keep them to a minimum.
Keeping It Local
A word of caution: make sure all the families live within 15–20 minutes of one another. Children don’t need to squander precious hours driving long distances to get to school, and neither do you.
A long commute will add unnecessary stress and will be a reason people leave the school. You want people committed for the long run, not the short run. Your schoolhouse community is your village.
Each family matters.
The benefits for your families and their children will be immeasurable. You’ll each have a built-in extended family; your children will have excellent instruction, a challenging curriculum, and protection from harmful societal influences.
Able to learn at their own pace and in a supportive environment, the children will be free to blossom into their personal best and become well-educated during the process. And, the parents will have the added comfort of knowing they are providing for their children in the best possible way.
Years ago, I made the connection between the schoolhouse and homeschooling and became convinced that they were the two superior models of education.
Truthfully, if I were to do it over again, and I could find the right families, I would start a schoolhouse for the reasons mentioned here.
I had the opportunity to teach in a temporary “schoolhouse” setting once and loved it. The schoolhouse is comparable to homeschooling and may even be a better option for many parents.
If you can’t homeschool, but you don’t want your children in public school, then the schoolhouse is a great alternative.
Elizabeth Y. Hanson teaches parents the secrets and skills to raising brighter children. With her extensive knowledge about the one-room schoolhouse, Elizabeth can guide you through the process and help you build the school of your dreams for your children.
NB * A co-op school follows a modern school model, but it’s smaller and more intimate. The children are taught in groups according to their ages, the curriculum must be approved by the state, and the children must take the standardized test required by the public schools every year.
Charter schools are part of the public school system, whereas, the one-room schoolhouse is an independent organization organized and managed entirely by the parents.