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Whether you are just starting your homeschooling journey or have been at it a few years, one thing we all have in common is the need for community. There are certainly different ways to find your tribe. Maybe you already know a group of homeschooling moms from church. Maybe you’ve found a local support group that meets for coffee once a month. Perhaps you are going the online route and connecting with homeschool web groups or bloggers. And all of those options are great. But what about our kids? What about those classes we don’t really want to teach? What about group learning opportunities? What about children who long for more social interaction? Homeschool co-ops can be a wonderful way to enrich your homeschool life.
What is a Co-op?
For those who aren’t familiar with the idea of homeschool co-ops, they are simply: A group of homeschool families who get together on a regular basis to pool their collective resources in order to build community, teach specific subjects, and provide support for each other. That’s my definition, and certainly not an exhaustive one, as there are as many styles of co-ops as there are methods of homeschooling.
Yesterday marked the first day of our 13th year at our homeschool co-op. Whew, that’s a lot of Mondays. If you’ve read my homeschooling story, you’ll know that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the beginning. All those years ago, we’d just recently moved to a new home, started attending a new church, and really just didn’t have much of a community at all. An old college friend made contact when she heard we were homeschooling and invited us to join their co-op. Back then, I’m not even sure we called it that. It was just a handful of moms with young children meeting together for science class, lunch and play time.
But it was perfect. And exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for.
Through the years, we have grown in number in many ways. What began as a group of small children sitting in a circle on the floor, doing basic experiments and simple projects has grown into a large co-op of about 20 families with classes and activities offered in grades PK through 12. We even offer an athletics program.
By necessity, we have an executive leadership team to organize, handle applications, make decisions, maintain our website, and manage the mechanics of running a large co-op.
We have always met in churches, mainly because they provide large meeting areas and classrooms. We’ve outgrown two churches and are currently meeting in a large, fairly central church that has plenty of space for us and even offers a gym and stage area. The churches we’ve used have always allowed us to meet there rent-free, which is a huge blessing to us and enables us to keep our membership fees quite low.
Since we don’t pay for the facility, we only charge families what it costs to buy curriculum and other supplies. For most families, the costs per year average out at around $100 plus any supplies or textbooks that might be needed. Of course, this varies depending on the number of children you have and the classes they take.
Our co-op has always met on Mondays, but every co-op is different. We start at 9:00 AM with opening announcements and devotions, and have two, 55 minute class periods, lunch, and third period. Sometimes there is a field trip in the afternoon for certain classes. Middle and High School students are expected to do homework assignments during the week to be submitted electronically or in class the following week. The amount of work correlates to the type of class offered.
During my tenure, we have offered so many different learning opportunities. Our general goal is to offer classes that work best for groups, as that is what we are designed for. Practically, we always offer science classes for all grade levels. This allows us to utilize class time for lecture and labs for middle and high school students, and projects and group time for preschool and elementary kids. Some of the classes we have offered include:
- Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Zoology, Sports, etc.)
- Art and Art History (painting, drawing, wood burning, clay, collage, pastels, etc.)
- Speech, Rhetoric
- Spanish I and II
- Sign Language
- Survival Skills
- Literature (Shakespeare, Anthologies, etc.)
- Writing and Creative Writing
- Film History
- American Government
- Music Appreciation
- Math Drills
- Book Discussion
- Problem Solving
- Health/Nutrition/Phys Ed.
- Home Economics (Baking, Cooking, Sewing, etc.)
- Auto Care
Again, not an exhaustive list, but a good representation of what we have been able to do.
Through the years we have also added some fun extras like field trips, special speakers, student council, and even overnight trips.
All classes are taught by co-op parents. When we begin planning for the new year, we throw out ideas for classes and parents volunteer to head those up. Each teacher is responsible for creating lessons, homework, lab work and maintaining grades (for upper level students) There is at least one assistant adult per class, and is usually the substitute if the primary teacher is absent. For non-teaching parents, there are still plenty of jobs to go around. We staff a nursery for the not-yet-ready-for-class kiddos, set-up, lunchroom clean-up, recess monitors, hall monitors, and tear-down. Every parent must serve in some capacity. Occasionally we are able to get dads or even grandparents to come and teach a class or unit.
Starting Your Own Co-op
If you are not fortunate enough to have a co-op in your area, or one that meets your needs, you always have the option of starting one. All you need is are a couple of families, a place to meet and some common goals. Perhaps you open your home, or ask your church if you can meet there. Maybe your library or community center has a large space to use. You can begin a weekly co-op or meet once a month. You can arrange online meet-ups through Face Time or Google Chat. Maybe you start in the summer with meeting for organized PE class, outdoor games and such. There are so many options that can work well.
Some questions you’ll want to consider before starting are:
- Where will we meet?
- How often will we meet?
- What kinds of classes will we provide?
- What fees, if any, will we need to charge?
- What’s our focus? Are we a Christian co-op? Is our primary interest social, faith-based, academic, creative arts, etc?
- What general rules and guidelines will we need to keep?
- How many families/students can we involve?
- What name do we choose?
- Who will be in charge?
My best advice is to do your research, get together, and decide ahead of time how you want to proceed. There are some great books available to help you too:
Homeschool co-op has made a huge difference in our lives. Our kids love it and have made so many friends there. The classes offered have helped reduce the burden of teaching certain subjects on my own or subjects that I have little expertise in. (I’m talking to you, Science.) Our co-op has enriched and blessed us beyond measure.
Do you belong to a homeschool co-op? Are you thinking of starting one? I’d love to hear any questions or comments that you have to add to my information.
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