The River Houses (riverhouses.org) is a national network of local homeschool societies. Each local society is called a house — just like in the Harry Potter stories — and each house is made up of a group of local homeschooling families that have joined together to support one another throughout the year. The houses are strength multipliers for local homeschooling families.
Each house takes its name from a local river — Merrimack House, perhaps, or Red River House, or Cedar Creek House, or Cuyahoga House. The houses are not buildings, they are groups of people — chapters of the national organization — and they are organizationally “light” and inclusive by design: they offer many opportunities, but impose few requirements. Each house has a volunteer dean — a member parent who welcomes new house members and agrees to serve as a contact person and coordinator for house information. Some members may simply wish to get to know a few homeschooling neighbors so they can chat on Facebook or attend an annual cookout; others may wish to meet once a week to socialize and compare notes at the local public library (an excellent plan that we encourage); still others may wish to organize field trips or formal cooperative teaching opportunities. All levels of participation are welcome.
The River Houses network is non-sectarian and non-political, and we welcome homeschooling families from every background. We are not a curricular program: homeschoolers following any curriculum (or no curriculum) are all welcome to join the River Houses. Instead of a network of affinity groups — secular homeschoolers, religious homeschoolers, Montessori homeschoolers, Classical homeschoolers, and so on — the River Houses are a network of proximity groups: homeschoolers of the Onion River valley (Onion River House), or of the Mulberry Creek region (Mulberry Creek House), or of the upper Minnesota basin (Whetstone River House). The River Houses make it easier for homeschooling families to build upon the local opportunities that are available in every community and to accumulate and share local knowledge for the benefit of all.
To provide some common experiences and link our members together as a whole we recommend a small group of six standard reference books for your family teaching library, and we distribute (by email, blog, and Facebook) a rich assortment of informal educational ideas about science, art, geography, history, and literature throughout the year — an approach we call teaching with-out the curriculum. Members are free to take up these ideas, or pass them over, or adapt them to their own local circumstances and interests as they see fit, all in keeping with the freedom of choice that every homeschooling family enjoys.
The emblem of the River Houses is the coat of arms shown here. From time immemorial, schools, colleges, and universities have borne coats of arms that reflect their history and ideals, and our coat of arms represents — can you see it? — three houses beside a river running through golden fields. In the language of Medieval heraldry the design would be described as Or, a chevron azure between three lozenges sable (On a gold field, a blue chevron between three black diamonds). The River Houses motto, from the ancient Roman poet Horace, is Hoc erat in votis, freely translated as “This was ever my wish.” Horace’s simple rural wish was “A handsome house to lodge a friend, / A river at my garden’s end.”
The River Houses network is being developed by Dr. Robert J. (Bob) O’Hara, a resident of the Nashua River valley of Massachusetts. An award-winning science teacher and an academic biologist by training (Ph.D., Harvard University), Bob O’Hara has taught at Harvard, the University of North Carolina, and Middlebury College, and he is internationally known for his work in residential education at the college and university level. Through the River Houses project he is hoping to bring that expertise to the homeschooling community.
The River Houses are now in the development phase — please subscribe to our free newsletter or follow our Facebook page to keep up with our progress! We aim to become a self-sustaining membership organization (which will eventually mean a membership fee when we become fully operational). If a local house already exists in your area, you will be able to join it directly. If a local house has not yet formed, you will become a member of Headwaters House, our at-large society — and perhaps you will go on to become one of the founders of a new River House in your area. (Membership in a local house will be open only to active homeschooling families from that area; membership in Headwaters House will be open to all interested persons, whether or not they are currently homeschooling.) The procedures for house formation, membership development, and other organizational matters are all under development.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do I have to follow a special curriculum or teaching philosophy if I join the River Houses? Not at all. The River Houses network is not a curricular program, and homeschoolers following any curriculum (or no curriculum) are all welcome to join. The individual houses, as chapters of the national organization, are geographically (locally) based; they aren’t focused on any special theme, curriculum, or philosophy. They exist to provide homeschooling neighbors with opportunities to get to know each other, make friends, offer encouragement, and take advantage of the informal social and co-curricular opportunities that exist within their local area.
Is this a co-op program? The River Houses are similar to some homeschool co-ops (cooperatives), but they are “lighter” and more inclusive, and each house is considered a chapter of our national society (rather than being an independent local organization). Homeschool co-ops are quite variable in their structure, but most have formal participation requirements; they often have a specific curricular or philosophical focus (a science co-op or an arts co-op; a religious co-op or a secular co-op); and they often charge their members for specialized teaching programs. The River Houses are simpler, inclusive groups for all interested homeschoolers in a local area. Some members of a house may indeed wish to organize (say) a special weekly science co-op within the house for a year or two, and then move on to something else. Other members may be satisfied with their own curricular work at home but may be interested organizing social opportunities for their students. Still others may be interested in arranging an annual art show at the local library or an annual pumpkin-growing contest each summer. Special programs and subgroups may form and dissolve within each house over time according to individual interests, but the house itself as a local society of members continues year after year, like a good neighborhood or extended family.
Are we required to purchase specific books if we join? No. We do have a simple list of six standard reference books that we recommend to all members — a comprehensive dictionary, a world atlas, an almanac, a history encyclopedia, a bird guide, and a star atlas — but these are not requirements, and no one will be checking to see if you have them on your shelves. We recommend them, however, as permanent additions to your family teaching library, and we often refer to them in our River Houses postings as a way of providing some shared background and a set of common experiences for our members.
I’m interested in this idea but I’m not a homeschooler — can I still join? Yes. Everyone interested in the River Houses is welcome to join us, whether or not they are currently homeschooling. Membership in an individual local house is open only to families who are actively homeschooling in that area, but membership in Headwaters House, our at-large society, is open to all.
What if there are no houses in my local area? Can I start a new one? Yes! We haven’t yet put together all the steps that will be involved in establishing new houses, but they’re coming along. Please follow our Facebook page or subscribe to our free newsletter to stay in the loop.
I live in Australia (or Estonia, or Peru, or Zambia) — can I start a house there? We would be delighted to welcome you into Headwaters House, our at-large society for homeschoolers everywhere. As we get underway with the development of individual local houses we will be focusing on the United States for structural and educational reasons, but we do hope one day to expand and become not just a national network but an international network of local homeschool societies.
I love this idea and want to join! Fantastic! We are a new organization under development and will be making lots of additional materials available as time goes on. Please follow our Facebook page or subscribe to our free newsletter and you’ll be in the loop — thank you!