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Aspasia

How do I weed through all the outside class offerings?

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We live in New York City (Manhattan) and there are just so many amazing homeschool resources here: classes at the Historical Society, classes at the Met, ranger-led nature study at Central Park, co-ops, sports groups, chorus, theater classes, debate, Lego robotics, civics/current events, live action role playing, etc. It's all so enticing, but the catch is that almost all of it costs a ton of money. Like, $350 per semester, per class. I have four kids, so this can add up really fast, not to mention the fact that we'd spend the bulk of every day running around the city to all these classes and groups (even though with the subway and our walking proximity to many activities, the older kids can get around on their own quite a bit). I mean, we have to do math and ELA at some point! I'm just having a hard time figuring out what to choose and what to pass up. I'm especially torn about classes for my rising 7th grader. One of the co-ops is offering a year-long biology class, heavy on labs that I can't possibly replicate at home. There's also a year-long Shakespeare acting class that she would love, also that I can't replicate at home. AND this kid is hungry for current events and government information and discussion, which comes fairly naturally in our home because my husband and I read and discuss the news almost daily, but I think it would be great for her to spend time learning and talking about these issues with her peers. I want her to be exposed to other perspectives. I also feel like the younger kids sometimes get the crumbs after we give the oldest all the priority in money and time, so I find myself wanting to give them each some outside classes as well. And of course this is all on top of sports for all the kids (soccer for three, swim team for two, and competitive gymnastics for one) and piano lessons (also extra expensive here in the city).

My head is spinning. I keep trying to remind myself that I am HOMEschooling, and there are plenty of goals I have for home learning, which we will never be able to reach if we sign up for all the classes and groups that look appealing to us. BUT there are also things I simply can't replicate at home, as I mentioned. I think I need some perspective from you wise home educators to help me sort through all of these very costly (in financial terms as well as time) opportunities. 

Edited by Aspasia

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I can understand.  But I have to tell you: Stop looking for opportunities until you’ve determined what you want.  Decide what the single most important thing that you want your children to do outside of the home is and then find it. 

Best wishes! I was always the kid who wanted to do everything, and for some time I was the same way as a homeschooler.  I have tasted the peace of doing less, and it’s beautiful, and I’m much more content and less worried about missed opportunities.  You can do anything but you can’t do everything 😉

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@Targhee's advice is spot on. Also, ask yourself what really happens if opportunity X offers aspects that you can't. Are they really that important long term? A 7th grader doing any sort of lab is not a life altering, never to be experienced again experience if the student is interested in the subject. Don't conflate real-life outcomes with different, but age appropriate, opportunities. 

Prioritize what you want as a family and then seek out what fills those needs. It is a much different philosophy than taking the approach that elsewhere should provide the primary educational needs and you are the secondary provider. (The latter is the predominant philosophy of public education.....they are the ones that can fulfill the needs and parents need to step out of the way. )  If you see yourself as the primary educator and fulfill that role, then your kids will have different educations, but no, it does not necessarily equate to inferior. Just different. There are innumerable paths forward.

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I agree with PPs

So for our family I prioritized:

1. We had to do what we had to do. The fun extras were just fun extras. For our family, I rabidly guarded the time of day from 8am-12 noon. This was our primary homeschooling time. Didn't mean that we NEVER took breaks or did field trips, but MOST of the time, we needed to be at home doing school. Me and my kids do our best work at this time of day. Every now and then I would try to flip things (like for doctor or dental appointments) and we never worked very well after lunch. So for us, recurring opportunities that happened early in the day, we turned down. I had no desire to try to teach a kid algebra at 4 pm when we were already tired and used up from a day spend doing other stuff. Remember, those core subjects are what are going to change your kids' ACT scores and be the foundation of their high school education. Don't skimp on the cores to provide the fun extras.

2. Money. You have the money or you don't. And no, the oldest with the most interesting opportunities shouldn't get more at the expense of siblings. I know lots of families who have the rule of one activity per kid per semester/ school year. Figure out a rule and stick to it. So perhaps one sport or musical opportunity plus one outside academic class per kid, if you can afford it and the timing works for your family. If not, it is totally fine to NOT DO THE FUN EXTRA. And my kids know that academics and family time come first. If they can't get the academic time in or be nice to family because of over commitment, then we cut things back.

My oldest had tons of activities that she had to turn down because of time or money. Know what? She's on full scholarship at University. She is a functioning, capable adult. She hasn't suffered at all (though her 14 year old self thought mom was a big old meanie because I said no.) because she didn't get to do every class and activity she thought would be fun.

Honestly, with the sports and music that you already have going on, I don't know that I would sign up for other activities. One thing that I did was create informal groups myself. That way I could be in charge of the meeting place (close to my house) and the time (so it fit in well with our schedule) 

One thing that is really trying about having a packed schedule, besides trying to live a stress free life and really do well at homeschooling and home life, is that you have little margin for those weeks when you have to get people to the doctor, or when you have a friend who is struggling and needs support. Or when your grandma needs someone to stop by once a week and check on her. There are a million little things that get dropped when the schedule is too tight. I try to remind my kids that leaving time so that we can take unscheduled opportunities to serve others is just as important as that fun, intellectually stimulating thing that we want to do each week. 

Remember that you don't have to do it all right now. In a few years, your kids will be more independent and can maybe jump into those other activities with less stress on you as a mom. And when your oldest is a college student she can have the political and social debates in her classes at university. 

Like my son really wants a dachshund. We don't do indoor dogs. But when he grows up and has his own place, he can have that dog if he wants it. Just because I didn't provide it for him when he was young doesn't mean he had a miserable childhood. I don't have to provide every opportunity during  childhood for their lives. They can do it for themselves when they reach adulthood.

It really is okay to set limits, You won't hurt your children and they won't necessarily suffer for it.

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The above is good advice. A few other thoughts...

When it comes to core academic time, I've found that's it's really useful to decide how many days you can actually be out of the house. My kids do extracurriculars pretty much every day, but during the "school day" I put big limits on the number of days we can be out. It feels like "oh, it's just an hourlong class" but the reality is that it will eat a huge chunk of your day. One way  to deal with that is to stack everything on a single, hectic day and make the rest of the week more of a retreat. Or just to do less.

Before high school, I am of the mind that prioritizing a carpe diem mentality is a good thing. But when you're in a city (and I get this, I'm in DC and we have a huge array of these sorts of opportunities too), you can't take advantage of everything by any stretch. But I think it's okay to take an ebb and flow approach to home academics before that. It depends on your philosophy, of course.

I tend to prioritize quality outside stuff over co-op stuff. And things that give my kids opportunities for social outlets over things that are just an isolated class. So I'd do a short term workshop at a museum or a university with scientists over a co-op class if the goal is the experience. And I'd do a collaborative team type activity over a class if the goal is socializing (unless the class has a built in, we all hang out over lunch afterwards type thing going).

Definitely rely on your older kids to get themselves places. I signed my kids up for one class each at a place that's not subway accessible this fall and I'm kicking myself over it.

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I would not do the biology class, that is for sure. Something that jumped out at me is that you said there is a year long biology class that has lab you could not replicate at home. Okay, fine. But she does not need every single thing possible out there. Sounds like the only reason for the biology is because you feel like you cannot do it at home. But the Shakespeare, you would do that because she would love it. So do the Shakespeare. The amazing labs are not going to be life altering. She can get biology in another way and on a future year. I would pick something each child would enjoy. I would also consider combining. So, maybe with the younger kids, if one would enjoy the ranger thing and the other the met, then do the ranger thing one year or semester and the met the other, so you do not have to run two places.

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There are a couple of things that I'd consider.  First, are you looking for a community?  My kids take mostly fun classes at co-op but we've gone for years, in part because I like us having families that we see most weeks for years on end.  But, if you have roots in other places, this may not be something that you need.  If looking for commumity, I'd maybe look for something that multiple kids could do in one location, with the group continuing from year to year.

I'd definitely look at budget, and while I wouldn't just get good stuff for the oldest, I wouldn't necessarily divide it evenly.  If one kid wants a $300 class while the other's favorite is $150, well, if they both get a good thing that they want within budget, then that would be fine with me.  My kids do different sports, and as long as we can afford both I don't stress over which costs more - both are happy with their choice.

Figure out what kind of out-of-the-house schedule you want. For us, we do co-op on one day and don't sign up for big weekly activities on other days.  We have 2 days that we don't leave the house at all until afternoon/evening activities.  Two other days we have a couple of short, very close to the house morning activities that are actually great because they give me one-on-one time with the other kid, and then we have several hours at home afterwards.  My kids do well doing certain subjects on-the-go, but if they did't, then this schedule would need to change.  I know people who do multiple co-ops or take different lessons each day, and while I have a high tolerance for busy and manage several extracurriculars, I need some uninterrupted at-home time to get school done.  You may be happier with outside things every morning (or afternoon), or only choosing classes that you can fit into T and Th, with the other days at home, or whatever plan works for you.  

Finally, you'll never be able to do all of the good activities.  I know somebody who teaches art lessons, and I'd love to sign up my kids but we can't give up another day and we're not willing to drop anything to make it happen.  Even within our co-op, sometimes I think that there are 2 great classes that my kid would enjoy at the same time, and we have to choose.  For us, taking certain classes that I won't do at home is the first thing on our co-op schedule (and could be the first thing on  your family schedule).  I don't do foreign language, and have them take an occasional composition class as I think they'll benefit from them.  Actually, as I write this, I'd also think about what classes you'd think of as part of school and what would be extracurriculars.  Some people think of this as a false distinction, and something like music lessons or a Shakespeare acting class could certainly go either way.  For us, though, each kid is allowed 2 extracurriculars.  If your student already has the allowable number for your family then I might only choose the Shakespeare class if it could serve an academic purpose, while if they didn't have the extracurricular activities then I'd happily sign them up for an acting class that they'd love and just be glad that they're getting some Shakespeare in a fun way.  

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Thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone! This is exactly the kind of insight I was needing. Definitely going to pass on most of these classes, enticing as they may be! And hey, we're gonna save thousands of dollars, so that's a nice bonus. 🙂 

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Maybe work out what you want the kids to do outside and then look for that rather than looking through all the options.

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I like doing a co-op or homeschool group of some sort because it has something for everyone. So we d put 7th grader in that if there was also something for the littles- any type of class or even just park day get togethers. 

Often homeschool co-ops or support groups will be cheaper than those outside classes as well. In the case of classes at the Met, I'm sure they're great. Our city zoo has amazing camps and classes and even overnight activities for preschoolers, homeschoolers of all ages, and scouts. But I can easily teach the same material to the kids and tour the place much more cheaply with just the cost of admission. So our homeschool group does things like that. I found our zoo had educational boxes with lessons and artifacts and activities broken up by age level that I could checkout with just a deposit which was returned. The lessons were matched to state standards in science by grade level for me. I was able to teach that to homeschoolers once a month last year. We arranged field trips around our topic for the year, had films and crafts and things for the little bitties at each get together on the topic, did additional labs, and participated in some citizen science activities. I'm not a science expert at all, but we did those labs in another homeschoolers living room and it was awesome. I would probably do something like that with the art museum before I'd pay hundreds and hundreds for each kid.

Budget is a big contributing factor for me. 

So groups that we can plan things out cheaply and that give friendships for everyone are what I want. And of course that meet my needs is a factor, which is why I always help plan the groups we are in. I get accountability and help. I'm a good planner and teacher. My friend with the big living room likes shopping and decorating. So she shops for supplies, stores them, and does the online planning on Facebook to coordinate the other members. This year we have a church to meet at monthly, but we did it in our homes last year. 

 

Edited by 2_girls_mommy

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