Last week we had our final homeschool co-op day. It has been a wonderful year. My kids have had an incredible time even while being pushed really hard. This is our 7th year of co-op and it has been one of the most enjoyable homeschool things we’ve done.
I’m always amazed when people tell me that they don’t have time for a co-op. What I’ve found is that being part of a co-op actually saves me time and money.
First let me say that there are lots of different kinds of co-ops structured in many different ways. I don’t think there is one “right” way to do a homeschool co-op. There are some that are just a couple of families and meet in a home. There are some that have hundreds of families and dozens of classes. There are some that require parents to teach and some that hire most of the teaching out and the parents just pay for the classes. There are some that just have enrichment type classes and some that just have academic type classes. And then there’s everything in between. I think that all of these serve a purpose in the local homeschool community.
So how can you make the most of homeschool co-ops?
~Read the Guidelines… Every co-op should have some guidelines. I’m going to suggest that if the co-op is open to more than just a few families, those guidelines need to be in writing. When we started planning our co-op almost 8 years ago, we read all kinds of guidelines and spent hours putting our’s together. We’ve had to tweak them here and there but once the guidelines are set for the year, they are set for the year and everyone is expected to abide by them. Our guidelines cover what is expected from parents, students and teachers (we have a few who are not parents). It also covers the cost and dates we meet.
~ Know what your children need next year… But be flexible. For instance, I know I want my upper elementary, middle school and high school students to have a writing class each year. But I’m flexible with the curriculum. Because honestly, this is an area that I struggle to get done in our home and I know they’ll get more out of a writing class at co-op than not really doing a super cool, amazing curriculum at home. Same thing with science. We’ve had families not join co-op because we were offering Apologia Physical Science and they wanted their middle schooler to take Apologia General Science. But really, if the student hasn’t taken either one, it’s ok to them out of order. This is not the case with all classes, you can’t take Chemistry if you haven’t finished Algebra, but you get the idea.
~ Offer to teach what you’ll already be teaching at home… I know that sometimes, especially moms of little ones want to teach older students. I get that. But you need to be honest about your time. For most middle school and high school classes there are several hours a week of reading and prep work. You need to be sure you can do that prep work plus homeschool your younger children the way you want to. I usually teach a middle school science class because I love the Christian Kids Explore series and that’s what we use at home. This year I taught Apologia Chemistry which is NOT my first pick of things to teach. But Gabriel needed it and I’ve taught it before and the parent who is really, really great at this class went back to work. So, I could either do chemistry at home with Gabriel (and we could both gripe about it the whole time) or I could teach it at co-op where experiments are much more fun in a group. It didn’t cost me any more time and it blessed other parents. I wanted to do Texas History with Phoebe and Benjamin this year and one of our co-op moms decided she would teach it at co-op. It was such a blessing to not have to wory about history this year.
~Take advantage of being in a group… One thing I’ve noticed over my 15 years of homeschooling is that (as a generalization) homeschoolers don’t work well in a group….parents or students. Homeschooling allows us to do just what benefits our child or family without consideration of others. Usually that’s great. However, our students do need to learn to work together in a group…where no one gets everything he wants but the group is stronger because of the members. This year I taught a logic class which is a class that is designed to have lots of discussion, which are my favorite type of classes. Each student had to do an end of the year project. As we were talking about what their projects could be someone suggested they do a group project. Ok, I’m not going to lie, I thought, “ugh…I don’t have time to do a group project.” But the kids were so excited and they started brainstorming and goal setting. They started discussing ideas and incorporating everyone. It was really amazing to see. They did a re-enactment of Pompeii and it was better than any individual project they could have done. Which leads me to another “group” point, some classes are just hard to do at home….classes like speech or crafts or science labs.
~Decide early… There’s somewhat of a catch 22 for homeschool co-op leaders. People don’t want to commit until they know what classes are being offered but we don’t know what classes students need for us to offer until people commit. If you are thinking about joining a co-op or continuing with one, do your directors a favor and go ahead and tell them you are joining or you’re not. That way, you can be in on the planning and the classes your children need will probably be taught. Not because you’re their favorite but because they know what you need. Then co-op can be a help in your homeschool instead of burden by being just one more thing you’ve added on to your homeschool day.
In many ways, this past year was the easiest homeschool year I’ve had. Esther is only in pre-k and while she’s done some “school”, we’re pretty relaxed with that age and I’ve not felt pressure for her to do school every day or honestly, even every week. Benjamin and Phoebe are both in middle school and through our co-op took science, literature, writing, Texas history and a craft class. They did minimal work for me at home – just math and some stuff that we do together in the morning, ie. Bible reading, Greek & Latin roots and creative writing. Gabriel took chemistry, logic, speech/apologetics and computer skills. At home he did math and world history. Josiah took literature and apologetics at co-op and some classes at our local community college. At home he just did math. As you can see, with my older children I’ve become more of a mentor and facilitator than a teacher. It’s a good transition for all of us.
We’re not quite done for the year. We still have the homeschool drama club and we choose to do math year round. But overall, the bulk of our school year is done and co-op is a big reason for that.
Are you needing some homeschooling encouragement? I’ve read all the homeschooling books in the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle and if you need some encouragement, you’ll find it in the bundle. It will available for purchase on Wednesday, April 23rd. You’re not going to want to miss it.
If you homeschool do you use a co-op? What suggestions would you give?