Published Date: 07/21/20
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With school districts across the country using distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are establishing pods or microschools to supplement childcare and help facilitate their child’s education.
There are many things to think about when establishing a pod or microschool, but we can help walk you through all of the details so you can set up your pod or microschool for school-age children or for preschoolers and ensure the process is stress-free.
Look out for the launch of Paper Pinecone’s pod listing and search functionality coming early August (pre-register here) and, in the meantime, wrap your head around these pod necessities.
Space for your pod or microschool
It’s okay to establish a pod or microschool if you can’t host it but start thinking of places that can be used. If you don’t have space to host, you may consider a few options. First, parks are always a great option. Not only is the virus less likely to spread outdoors children need plenty of time to run around and get some fresh air. Many city parks offer free WIFI, so distance learning can be done successfully. Inclement weather can be an issue, so if most of your pod will take place in a park, have a back-up option for those days.
We’ve heard of some parents renting commercial space for their pods and setting up classrooms. With so much commercial space sitting vacant currently, you may find landlords willing to work with you and offer a short-term rental.
It’s also okay if the pod doesn’t take place in the same space every day. You can rotate who hosts the pod by day or by week. If one person in your pod can’t host, consider making those park days.
Backyards are ideal, of course, but even if you don’t have one, you can still create a pod and look for others who have space.
Consider mixed-grade pods and microschools
Mixed-age pods and microschools can have several benefits. For one, they’re convenient for parents with multiple children. Beyond that, mixed-age groupings are the natural way society evolved and children learned from other children. There are many benefits of peer-to-peer learning, as it helps the tutor reinforce concepts they’ve learned, and students often feel more comfortable being taught by a peer. We’re all aware that children learn at different paces, and while you may be beholden to your school’s curriculum, you’ll likely find that your child has more academic success when they’re learning with students in various grades. Read about all of the pros and cons to mixed-grade pods here.
Will the pod be primarily social or academic?
Determining if your focus will be on academics or socialization will factor into who joins your pod and who you hire to facilitate it. It’s okay if you’re strictly looking for your child to socialize, but be clear on your expectations to other families.
How many children will the pod or microschool have?
You’ll need to determine how many children your pod or microschool will include. The pod must be small enough that space is not an issue, but large enough to make it affordable and fun for your child. Remember, this is likely your child’s social interaction as well as their academic education.
Parents work schedules vary. Some parents need a full-time pod and some only need it a few hours a day. Decide in advance what your schedule requires as it will impact who joins your pod and who you hire to facilitate it.
Including children from multiple schools
While including children from multiple schools may seem like a challenge because everyone has a different instruction schedule it can actually be fantastic. Instead of your child learning only from her or his teacher, your child has the benefit of seeing another teacher’s lessons and approach to the material. Children learn in different ways and this may help something ‘click’ for a student who is struggling to grasp a concept.
Neurodiversity within your pod or microschool
It’s never been more important that neurodiverse children get the support they need. Consider how you can include those families in your pod, including hiring a facilitator with experience working with neurodiverse children.
Socioeconomic diversity within your pod or microschool
Our most at-risk children stand to suffer the most during the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s critical that communities find was of supporting them. One way parents can do this by offering sliding scale fees – those who can pay more supplement the cost for those who cannot afford to pay much. They can also include members who are unable to host or bank hours with a tutor - i.e. pay a tutor more per hour with the guarantee that they'll then tutor children in low-income communities at a reduced cost or free. Read thoughts from a BIPOC Facebook pod group admin here.
Every family must determine for themselves their comfort level with various behaviors, and it’s essential that all of your pod members are on the same page. Some pod or microschool members may want all participants to wear masks or they may want children to practice social distancing. You may want to ask questions about a family’s behavior outside of the pod to help decide if they’re a good fit. Can children attend if the family takes a vacation? A camping trip is different than a trip to Disney World but are both treated the same? Think through all of the scenarios you may encounter and put it in writing to avoid conflict if and when those situations arise.
COVID-19 exposure plan
Have a plan in place in case of COVID-19 exposure. Determine how long a child will be excluded from a pod if they test positive, if a parent tests positive, or if they’re in contact with someone else who tests positive.
Soccer, group music lessons, gymnastics – most enrichment activities have been canceled across cities. But that doesn’t mean your child should miss out entirely. Hiring an enrichment teacher for a pod or microschool is much more affordable than private lessons and helps break up the day.
Contract agreements & payments
When entering into a pod or microschool, it’s critical that you have a formal written agreement. Determine ahead of time how the pod tutor or sitter will be paid – monthly, weekly, or daily. Determine who is responsible for collecting and paying the facilitator and what happens if someone doesn’t pay. Consider if security deposits are required, and if so, will they be held in a separate interest bearing account as security deposits are generally required to be? Establish a process for terminating someone from your pod either for nonpayment or for other reasons – does one person hold the decision-making ability or is a vote needed? Who wields the termination power?
Importantly, determine if families are responsible for paying when they don’t attend. This may be when a family simply decides not to send a child for a day, or when a child is excluded because of COVID-19 exposure.
Taxes & regulations
Each state has its own laws governing domestic workers. Depending on the state you're in, you may find that a domestic worker cannot be paid as an idependent contractor. You'll need to research local laws to determine if and when overtime needs to be paid, how many breaks the worker is entitled to, how many hours per day they can work, and if there are any other rules regarding hiring a domestic worker.
States have widely varying regulations over licensing childcare for young children. Some states permit childcare to be legally unlicensed depending on how many children are present, if they're related to the caregiver, and where the care takes place. Other states do not permit unlicensed childcare but permit parent co-ops, where at least one parent or legal guardian is present and providing instruction. Check your state laws regarding childcare regulations.
Insurance & liability
Anyone who hosts a pod should be aware of insurance and liability implications. You should consult with your homeowners or renters insurance provider to determine if you need additional coverage.
Before hiring anyone to care for your child, you should ensure they have a proper background check. You may want to ask all participating pod families to submit a background check before finalizing agreements.
The bottom lineEstablishing pods and microschools can be an excellent way to provide both academic and social enrichment for your child during COVID-19. When setting up your pod, think about all of the varying scenarios ahead of time and that you enter into a formal pod agreement so you can ensure things run smoothly. Consider how you can make your pod inclusive of neurodiverse and low-income children so we do our best to level the playing field and get all families the support they need during COVID-19 distance learning periods. Search and post pods, microschools, and tutors free now.
Paper Pinecone is the leading childcare resource giving you access to the best preschools, daycares, before/after school programs, pods and tutors. Parents always search free and childcare providers always list free. Send inquiries about daycare, preschool, pandemic pods, and microschools to firstname.lastname@example.org.