It all started with geography – and the idea of two homeschooling moms for a weekly get-together where we would “study” a country each month. We colored flags, picked up a little geography and history, experienced folk music and dancing, and experimented with foreign recipes. My 9, 7, and 5 year olds loved it. I did too. And just like that we were all sold on the idea of homeschooling co-ops.
Over the years, our co-op experiences expanded and grew. Friendships solidified through years of being together. These have been lifelong friendships. My son still kayaks and camps with one co-op buddy. My daughter is living parallel lives with her co-op best friend; both are now wives, mothers, and homeschooling moms. I still have the occasional dinner out with some of those mom friends. Our co-op – in existence now for over 25 years – is still flourishing. Although the original children have grown and graduated and the family names have mostly changed; the group still offers a history-based unit study for elementary, literature/English based classes for secondary, science labs, and choirs.
Co-oping advantages are myriad. My children were challenged in science labs and art projects by moms who knew and were passionate about the subject. They became familiar with a full range of teaching styles, not just my own. They were able to find academic niches where they could excel. They learned what it meant to be accountable to someone other than mom.
Activities that are difficult to do at home (musical choirs, band, drama, foreign language, and speech) are fun and quality experiences in a homeschool co-op. Utilizing specific talents of moms meant that kids had the benefit of experience and education not to mention passion for a subject. Additionally, everyday opportunities for public speaking and group projects are the norm. Literature discussions are meaningful and varied. Foreign language study is enhanced by teachers who are native speakers.
History comes alive because moms throw themselves into their teaching segments (one of our moms reenacted the mummification process). Remember that accountability thing – it’s effective for moms, too; you will get that lesson ready because you know the other moms are counting on you.
Co-ops give your children the opportunity to enlarge their circle of acquaintances and friends beyond family and church connections. Learning how to interact with others; becoming friends with some who not like you at all; becoming more inclusive in your relationships; exploring the differences among Christians; resolving conflict. All of this happens because kids feel safer developing relationships when mom is right there.
Co-ops are springing up all over the homeschooling landscape. There’s bound to be one in your area and, if not, consider starting your own group. Don’t be afraid to start small with just a handful of like-minded moms who are willing to combine their efforts for the advantage of their children. Keep it simple at first – single topic area, meeting once or twice a month. Stick your toe into the co-op pool rather than jumping in with both feet. As the children in your co-op mature, academic needs will change. Be prepared to grow and change with those needs. As you meet the needs of your own members, you’ll likely find others drawn to your group.
Establish good lines of communication. You will need them. The basics are important: who to contact about what and how to get information out to all in the group. Perhaps even more crucial, though, is the general understanding that all opinions are important and will be considered carefully. Another critical “basic” is that when offenses occur members should be honest with each other and speak directly to one another rather than bringing unrelated people into the “information pool.”
Co-ops work because their members are willing to work hard and give more than their “share.” However, what makes that pleasant for all is to have mom teachers well-matched with teaching responsibilities. The larger the co-op, the more niches there are to fill and the easier it is to find the perfect place for a person and her unique capabilities. The feeling of making a valuable contribution is important.
Growth will bring diversity. That’s a good thing and one of the primary benefits of co-oping. However, as a co-op group grows it will help to designate an administrator – someone relieved of teaching duties so she can concentrate on the organization, communication, and record-keeping needs of your group. Likewise, a central planning committee (representative from each teaching area, perhaps) will help provide a variety of opinions and perspectives. It’s just what you’ll need as you encounter the inevitable growing pains.
Somewhere along the growth line, you will want to establish behavior standards – for both students and teachers. Trust me, there will come a time when “you” (someone from the group) will have to talk to either a student or a parent/teacher or both about particular behaviors that don’t seem to conform to what the majority of group members expect. It helps if these have been written down and agreed to long before that time comes.
Lastly (but you may want to do this long before some of the other growth happens), it is a good idea to establish a mission and purpose for your group. If your group has decided you are an enrichment activity group, that will go a long way to counter any complaints that might come that the group is not academic enough. Likewise for vice versa. Groups, like curriculum choices, need to be a good fit for each member’s own familial educational goals and objectives.
The blessings that come from participation in a well run co-op are enormous and last long past graduation or your exit from the group. Find or start a good group and be prepared to make a solid contribution. You may find it’s your favorite way of homeschooling.