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Microschools? Pandemic Pods? What You Need to Know

by David Engle | Aug 04, 2020 | 8 min read

With so much chaos surrounding the reopening (or not reopening) of schools across the country, you’ve probably heard the terms “pandemic pods” or “microschool” thrown around lately. It’s not surprising, given that so many parents are uncomfortable about sending their kids back to school over the next month due to COVID-19 concerns. But microschools (or “learning pods” as they’re also known), though a somewhat recent addition to the education landscape, are not a brand new concept. They popped up in the early-to-mid 2010s and had been gradually growing in popularity…that is, until the coronavirus pandemic arrived this winter/spring. Since then, microschools (and, hence, “pandemic pods”) have experienced something of a boom and are the subject of much interest recently.

Right now, parents are desperate for an alternative to public schools, where in-person classes pose serious health risks and remote learning did not offer everything that parents were expecting during the spring. Some parents started getting creative, like Lian Chang from San Francisco, who partnered with her friend Carey Knecht to start the Pandemic Pods Facebook group. In less than a month, more than 22,000 joined…membership is currently at 32,500 and climbing. Pandemic Pods serves as a source of alternative schooling information for those who are unsure what to do with their kids this fall. And microschooling is a very popular topic.

What is a microschool?
Simply put, microschools are very small, independent, often one-classroom school settings that offer schooling for classes of 10 children or fewer. According to Microschool Revolution, “they are small, private institutions where students are empowered to personalize their own education and are held accountable for their own progress.” There’s no true universal definition of a microschool, but most tend to be very small with a mix of students from different grade levels. The curriculum can vary by student, but most parents opt for materials tailored to their child’s learning style and personality. Some microschools utilize paid teachers or tutors, others use guides or coaches that more or less supervise the students and answer any questions they may have.

How does a microschool work?
As with the definition of a microschool or learning pod, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this type of education. Some microschools operate through an academy or company, whereas others are literally put together by parents on Facebook or in neighborhoods. Here are a few things to know about how microschools operate:

  • Where and when do classes happen? Classes can take place…anywhere. And anytime. It could be at one family’s house. It could alternate homes each week. It could be at a guide’s or instructor’s home. It could be in a room at a church or library, assuming they’re open to the public. They can even be outdoors if the weather is agreeable. Some microschools opt for a full five-day school week, while others condense school into just a few days during the week.
  • What’s the difference between going through a microschool company and finding my own? Microschool companies often help you locate or even start your own microschool. Most of these companies handle background and reference checks of their teachers and learning guides, which is reassuring for parents. Some of these companies don’t run the actual schools–they simply provide equipment, curriculum, supplies, and support.
  • What does a typical classroom look like? Again, this is going to vary across the board. Many microschools mix and match kids from different grades and ages, though there are some that keep the classes within the same age range. Classes typically have fewer than 10 kids, with most aiming to keep the group even smaller. Depending on the curriculum or learning format, kids might spend most of the day schooling online with their laptops; some days may be dedicated to hands-on projects and activities; others might opt for a more traditional textbook route.
  • Who does the teaching? In some cases, no one. Part of the philosophy behind some microschools or learning pods is that kids personalize their own learning and self-teach–though younger students will probably require more hand-holding in this regard. In these types of classrooms, either a parent or small group of parents from the microschool group will supervise and help when necessary. Others may find a coach or “learning guide” who serves as a proctor to monitor the students and also answer questions. Some microschool groups might pool their funds to pay for a certified teacher or tutor who does more live instruction. It’s ultimately up to the group you decide to join.
  • What type of curriculum is used? Again, part of the beauty of microschool (and homeschooling in general) is that you can choose the curriculum that’s right for your child. Some microschools may not require much in the way of curriculum at all, choosing instead to utilize a strictly project-based type of instruction. If you’re joining a microschool through a company or academy, they will most likely offer the curriculum. Some schools may opt to follow their state’s charter or online school curriculum. Some groups might pool their money together and pay for curriculum as a group. Or you can go on your own through a separate academy or homeschool. Bridgeway, for example, offers excellent options in our Grade Level Kits. Each of Bridgeway’s Grade Level Kits provides a full year of courses for individual grades. Your child can explore the best homeschool curriculum, games, projects, and more, that perfectly fit their learning style and grade level. We can even customize your kit by subject, grade level, and/or publisher. Also included are student materials, instructor guides, and everything else you’ll need for an entire school year. The instructor guides make it easy for teachers and parents to implement our curriculum within microschools and pods. The guides include pacing, instructions for each day’s lessons, extra activity ideas, and graphic organizers.

What are the benefits of a microschool or learning pod?
Aside from the obvious immediate benefit of your child not being potentially exposed to hundreds of children who may or may not be carrying COVID-19, and the fact that your student will be in a controlled environment with the same small group of people, there are quite a few benefits to microschools.

  • As we mentioned earlier, many microschools offer classrooms with kids of different ages and grade levels. This gives kids the opportunity to interact with older children and learn more about them, while providing the older students with the opportunity to serve as a mentor of sorts to the younger children.
  • Similar to homeschooling, microschooling allows parents to personalize the curriculum to their child’s strengths, ensuring he or she will be engaged and set up for success in the classroom. Here at Bridgeway, we have each prospective student take a learning style assessment to determine what type of learner your child is and which curriculum would be the best fit.
  • Microschools generally do not need to attach themselves to public schools, leaving them free of standardized tests and mandatory curriculum that public schools use. Some microschools, however, are regulated by states in the same manner as virtual schools and use the same type of standards as state charter or online schools. To be on the safe side, however, it’s a good idea to check your state’s laws surrounding microschools and homeschooling, because there may be some requirements that need to be met in order to start or have your child attend a microschool.
  • Many microschools forsake lectures, worksheets, and curriculum altogether and go with hands-on, project-based activities and learning. This type of learning tends to lead to high engagement among students, especially those whose learning style leans toward kinesthetic.
  • One of the differences between microschools and homeschools is that microschools give children the opportunity to socialize a bit more with fellow students. Now, we’ve already covered the fact that lack of socialization among homeschoolers is a myth…but, there are generally more kids in a microschool classroom, which naturally leads to more opportunities for socialization. Not just among children, but among the parents and families who find themselves in similar situations.

What are the drawbacks of microschools?

As with any type of schooling, there are going to be pros and cons. Microschooling is no different. There are definitely a few issues that might lead some families to hesitate about enrolling their child in a microschool.

  • Depending on the type of microschool you choose, it can be cost-prohibitive, particularly if the group plans on hiring a teacher or tutor. They’re not cheap (and understandably so), and not every family will be able to afford the cost. Same goes for curriculum–if the group as a whole opts for pricey curriculum, you’re stuck paying your share, and that might be more than you want to spend. Not to mention, education inequality becomes an issue in these types of cases, because lower-income families simply might not be able to afford this type of education. And that’s always a concern.
  • One of the benefits might also serve as a drawback–the lack of regulations or governing body monitoring the microschool. This may not be a negative for many families who opt for microschool, but others may not feel quite as comfortable with the curriculum, absence of formal testing/assessing, or overall direction of the school. It’s important to look into what each microschool on your list offers.
  • Similarly, there may be some discomfort with the lack of a formal teacher in the classroom. As outlined earlier, some microschools and microschool academies do provide licensed teachers, especially those who long for more freedom in the classroom. But others opt for what’s essentially a proctor–someone to simply watch over the kids, make sure they’re doing what they need to be doing, and answer any questions the students might have. Make no mistake, though, these are not actual teachers. And while it’s true that homeschool teachers often don’t have teaching experience, most homeschoolers follow curriculum guidelines and instructor materials; not all microschools do this.
  • The safety and welfare of your children could be a concern as well. Unless you know everyone in your microschool very well, your child may be in the hands and homes of people unfamiliar to you. And while we’d all love to be able to put our trust in relative strangers, our parental instincts generally guide us far away from these types of situations.Not to be alarmist, but if you’re sending your child into someone else’s home for classes, do you know for sure that there aren’t unsecured firearms in the house? Or illicit substances or prescription drugs? All of these are unknowns, especially if you joined a group or met people online. This shouldn’t necessarily stop you from pursuing this type of education, however. Just do plenty of research on the group you’re getting involved with. Fortunately, some microschool academies require the same types of background checks that public school teachers are subject to, which offers some peace of mind.

Though times are uncertain and a bit chaotic, we’re fortunate to live in an age where we have an abundance of options when it comes to educating our children. Microschools/learning pods are another viable choice for today’s COVID-afflicted learning landscape. As with any other schooling option, be sure to do your homework and research the microschools that work for your family.

While Bridgeway is an acclaimed and accredited homeschool academy, we provide plenty of choices for families who want to try something new and not necessarily commit to full-time homeschooling just yet. That’s why we’re proud to offer microschoolers, temporary homeschoolers, and independent educators a wide range of affordable, high-quality programs, including our:

To learn more about our programs, and to find out how Bridgeway can help you with microsschooling, contact us today at (800) 863-1474.

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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