Differences Between Umbrellas, Co-ops, and Support Groups

Starting to homeschool can be an overwhelming experience. Networking with local homeschoolers provides a critical support system for families new to educating their children at home. With hundreds of resources – umbrellas, co-ops, and support groups – available, how do you know what you even need?

Here’s a quick primer on the differences between three basic homeschooling groups you’ll come across:


Umbrellas are (1) religious-exempt schools, (2) an education ministry run by a church organization, or (2) a nonpublic school with a certificate of approval from the State of Maryland. Registered with the Maryland State Department of Education, homeschool umbrellas charge a fee to provide portfolio reviews to families who educate their children at home. Maryland homeschool families may complete their compliance reviews for free with their local county school board. Joining an umbrella is optional.

Support Groups

Support groups are generally volunteer-based organizations that offer any number of free or for-fee services. Oftentimes, homeschool support groups focus on connecting parents by meeting up for mom social time, playground play dates, field trips, and curriculum swaps. Homeschool support groups may be secular or religiously-based. Or, they may be curriculum-based for families who embrace an unschooling or classical model of homeschooling. Support groups can also be interest-based, such as focusing on hiking outings. While an umbrella may offer support meeting for their paid members, support groups cannot conduct portfolio reviews – unless they are registered with MSDE.


Homeschool co-ops offer small group classes that meet once to five times a week. Co-ops can be an informal gathering where homeschool parents take turns teaching classes or they can operate more like a traditional school with required classes and homework taught by certified teachers. Co-ops requirements may include requiring parents to volunteer a certain number of hours, completing an admission application, signing a statement of faith, or having children wear uniforms.

Last modified on September 13, 2019

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