I absolutely did NOT want to call it “school.” What we were doing was
distinctly NOT school. In the end, though, the students prevailed. The
name Tuesday School met their need for a group identity, enabling
them to talk about “my school” to their friends. Yes, we did meet on Tuesday.
For me, Tuesday School has become a symbol of an incredible opportunity
to expand to the community the good that homeschooling families have been
creating among themselves for the past twenty years. The mini-school concept
is springing up in communities throughout the country.
Students who attend a mini-school benefit from spending time with other
adults. They may learn things that their parents can’t teach them. They
are exposed to rules and values that differ from their own. They meet
other children. They learn to participate in a group. Parents enjoy several
advantages when their children participate in a mini-school. They can
avoid homeschool burnout and enjoy a change of pace. They may pursue personal
interests. Some parents use that time for focused attention for another
Teacher/sponsors of mini-schools generate income. If their own children
participate, the family benefits more. If the teacher has a passion for
a field, they can share that passion with others. Other teachers who thrive
in the presence, noise, and activity of young children, or among angst-driven
teens, can develop successful general enrichment mini-schools. You might
call these mini-schools a private enterprise version of Learning Clubs
as they are discussed elsewhere in this book. Except for the fact that
the sponsor is paid, many of the benefits are identical. Yet key differences
I will describe two incarnations of mini-school. The first is the general
enrichment program that I ran. The second is a high quality art program
sponsored by an artist who has also homeschooled. Both are loosely duplicatable
as long as the teacher/sponsor brings his or her own passions, talents,
interests, resources, and commitment fully into the program.
One way to express the mission statement of my Tuesday School
would be: Within the boundaries of established house rules and my minimal
requirements for order and structure, students enjoy an uncommon amount
of freedom to discover and learn through social play, exploration, and
directed activities. I set the age range at six through twelve, with a
limit of nine students. We met during the nine months of the traditional
school year. Fees were paid at the beginning of the month and covered
most supplies and a snack.
Our days may have looked like an alternative or free school. Tuesday
School met once a week, from 10 AM until 3:30 PM. Parents were free
to stay or go. The core curriculum was the milieu of our home. Much of
the house and resources were accessible to the students. In short, we
were a homeschooling family with interests. The students came to sample
our lives and to share their lives with us and each other. Our day began
with sharing time, important for students who had not seen one another
all week. Next we planned the daily schedule – all the nitty gritty details
of learning together. Art or craft activities, read-aloud time, and open-ended
math and science explorations were typical. Free play and individual projects
were always an option, and often chosen by the younger children. Some
students scheduled and taught lessons of their own. Some studies groups
continued all year. The end of the day brought another group sharing time,
problem solving, discussion and planning for future activities. Parents
often stayed to visit at the end of the day until our schedule squeezed
them out the door.
This program offers weekly art lessons to homeschooling students on
an ongoing basis throughout the usual school year. Sue Stauber, the founder,
has a passion for and knowledge of art that is complemented by a desire
to share her knowledge with youth. Sue understands the unique qualities
of children who have not been schooled and tailors her program accordingly.
Sue divides her time between developing her own art and teaching. The
classes are held in her home studio, and are designed for students with
an interest in art.
Classes are limited to six students. Family-sized classes maintain a
homeschool type of environment and allow for greater individualization.
Fees are paid monthly and cover instruction, a snack, and high quality
art materials. Younger student, age six to nine, meet for three hours
once a week. Classes for younger artists focus more on imagination, creativity,
and exploring a variety of media. Older beginners, age ten to teens, meet
for four hours each week. These students begin each class with direct
instruction, usually in drawing. Each day includes fine arts activities
as well as crafts. Advanced students, age twelve to teens, meet for a
full day from 10 AM till 3:30 PM. Fine arts are taught during structured
lessons and directed projects in the mornings. Afternoons are devoted
Sue’s scheduling methods fly in the face of popular opinion. Homeschooled
students are noted for having amazingly long attention spans in their
areas of interest. Taking advantage of that ability to focus, Sue offers
classes that range from three hours for younger students to five and one
half hours for a class of advanced teens. This model has proven resoundingly
successful, as evidenced by full classes, a lack of behavior management
problems, a high rate of returning students each year. The end of the
day is invariably met with groans of, “ But I’m not finished yet!”
These and other mini-schools generally have the following in common.
May arise from the teacher’s passionate love of a subject or topic.
May arise from the teacher’s genuine love of and enjoyment of being
Are most successful when the sponsor is well-grounded in unschooling
or alternative education philosophies. Many traditional notions of
schooling are detrimental to success. Dividing the day into forty-five
minute periods for math, reading, or spelling, for example, squelches
spontaneity and an in-depth exploration of topics is more difficult.
Additionally, using second hand resources such as textbooks and workbooks
as a primary activity may spawn boredom and behavioral issues found
in some traditional schools that use those methods. Involving students
in hands-on activities optimizes involvement in the activity and minimizes
side issues of boredom and behavior problems.
Generally meet no more than three times each week. One or two sessions
a week may be optimal. Sponsors who need to generate more income should
offer several different programs.
Are typically located in the home of the sponsor – a spare room,
the family room, or a converted garage, a private studio.
Are paid for by fees.
Have optional attendance.
Are family-sized groups. Six to ten students is usually set as a
Are offered to a broad age range.
Are popular at all levels, and are especially in demand for teens.
Mini-schools describe any learning arrangement where individuals are
paid for offering learning experiences and activities to small groups
of homeschooled students for one or two full or half days each week. Programs
offer needed support for many parents. Sponsors may continue to homeschool
their children while generating income. Although the name creates a desirable
identity for students, the most successful models are quite different
from traditional schools. Sponsors have the freedom to create the program
they want out of their passion and commitment to the needs of homeschooling
families. Like Learning Clubs, mini-schools can be developed in a multitude
I look forward to the day that unique mini-schools are organized by
passionate and knowledgeable experts, offer every imaginable topic from
alphabets to zeppelins, and can be found in every neighborhood.
* * * * *
Ann Lahrson Fisher is a homeschooling parent, longtime educator, the
author of Homeschooling in Oregon: the Handbook, and numerous homeschooling
articles. She is a founder of several state and local homeschooling organizations.
Some of her favorite learning experiences have been participating in learning
clubs and Tuesday School with children. Homeschooling in Oregon
can be purchased ($18.95 plus $2.00 shipping and handling) from Nettlepatch
Press, PO Box 80214, Portland, OR 97280. Other writings by Lahrson Fisher
can be found at http://nettlepatch.net/homeschool.