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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What is a Homeschool Co-Op?

A Co-Op is just short for Cooperative.  It is only a true cooperative if the parents all have a job, helping teach or assist in some way. Homeschool Co-Ops are all different, because they are what the Moms make of it.  Some meet weekly, some monthly, some for field trips.  A Co-op can be big with dozens of families, or just you and one other family.  Some co-ops are for science, some for history projects, and some for cooking classes. You make it your own.

Below are some of the most common FAQs I encounter from new, and sometimes not new, homeschool moms. 

Co-ops can be big or small . My first year homeschooling, I started a monthly Art Co-op with just one other family. We got together once a month to do an art lesson together at her house because it was larger. We split the costs of supplies, and took turns teaching. Our kids ages ranged from my 5 years old to 13 years old. We had about 20-40 min of art (paper mache, water colors, pastels),  then let the kids play together while us moms enjoyed coffee and adult conversation (that was my favorite part).  

We now attend a weekly co-op that meets once a week for 12 weeks each semester, it consists of 50 families. My kids can take classes I can not offer at home. As a former Preschool teacher, I  teach the younger kids, while talented singers teach choir and the athletic-minded teach gym.  

Co-Ops can be anything you want it to be.  They are usually in the morning to not interfere with afternoon naps, but that of course is not set in stone. There are structured, flexible, and/or socializing co-ops.

Usually the bigger the co-op the more structure is required.  Our weekly co-op of 50 families consists of four 45 minutes classes. I teach preschool 3 out of 4 periods, with one period off for prayer and mom's snack (it's amazing guys). We have a variety of classes, all depending on what the moms are willing to teach.

Sample structured co-op
Each Period has nursery & preschool provided, plus 1 to 2 class options for K-1st grade, 2nd-5th grade, and Junior & Senior High. 
  • 9:00-9:10 Morning meeting with announcements and worship
  • 9:15 to 10:00 Period #1  
  • 10:05 to 10:50 Period #2
  • 10:55 to 11:40 Period #3
  • 11:45 to 12:30 Period #4

Some smaller co-ops are super flexible with not much structure. Like I said before, my art co-op was only two families that met only once a month, and consisted of a small half hour lesson and several hours of coffee and small talk with my friend! Sometimes a few moms form a co-op with a family who is doing the same curriculum as them. They might get together for a Roman Feast after a semester of studying Rome in their individual homes.

Sample Flexible Co-Op  1:00pm to 3:00pm the First Thursday of the month- Gather and do an art or history project (paper mache, drawing books, Greek olympics) with fellowship after project (coffee for moms and free play for kids)

We are also part of a flexible Co-op that is just a  field trip co-op.  We take turns arranging fields trips to places like the Fire Departments or to see maple sap harvested in the spring.  I organize a weekly summer park days for this group where we informally meet at local parks to let the kids and moms socialize. 

No, if you can drop off it is a homeschool activity, NOT a co-op.  Co-op means Cooperative, so it is only a cooperative if all parents do something to help. If you are paying someone to teach your child AND YOU ARE NOT teaching or doing anyone else in exchange for them teaching your child (i.e. Drop Off your child and leave) , then it is not a co-op. For it to be a genuine co-op, all parents need to have a job.  

Even though these are not co-ops, these activities are still great opportunities.  With the rise in homeschooling, you can now find more activities that are scheduled specifically for homeschoolers during the weekday.  My twins just took an art class specifically for homeschoolers that I dropped them off each week for 7 weeks.   

Our Skyzone Trampoline Park has a  homeschool hop during the school day. Many YMCA in the country have some type of drop-off homeschool gym program (if your YMCA doesn't have one yet, call and ask if they will offer one). Our area also has The Kroc, a community center from Salvation Army, that has homeschool classes for gym, health, music, and art.   

You teach what you are good at! The one thing that is true of all co-ops is that all the parents contribute out of their strengths & abilities.  

I have a degree in Early Childhood and love preschoolers, so I teach the 3 to 5 years all morning while others teach older kids.  We have a P.A. in our co-op that has taught an anatomy class to the high schoolers, and enjoy doing the dissections that gross me out.  One mom taught crochet to Junior high kids, and another mom came up with a chess class that consisted of tournaments for the junior & senior high kids. You can do simple classes like show and tell for the K-1st graders, or do the experiments together for a High School Chemistry class. 

Everyone has something to offer to a co-op. You don't have to be a great singer teaching choir or mathematician teaching Algebra to contribute.  Holding babies or playing with toddlers so a mom can have her hands free to teach art or gym is a very helpful contribution. Some moms bake cookies and provide snacks for the other moms to enjoy

You don't  have to be an expert in anything to teach. One mom in our co-op taught herself double dutch jump roping via You Tube because her teen daughter wanted a double dutch class at co-op. We can model to our kids what it looks like to seek out information we want, developing a lifelong love of learning! 

Our larger co-op meets together a few months before each semester and list the classes we are willing to teach or classes we think our kids need.  You can go on Pinterest and find a ton of homeschool co-op classes to get you started! For preschool and kindergarten lessons, you can see my Homeschool Page.

Preschool and Kindergarten Lesson Plans

This will again vary greatly.  Do you you have to rent your space?  Are moms pooling their money to buy materials or will each mom buy their own?  My structured co-op is $70 a school year ($35 a semester), and the money goes to pooling our resources for materials, making a love-offering to the church that lets us use their facility, and other miscellaneous costs. Some co-ops are much less, some are much more.

When I had my art co-op we met for free in the larger home, then took turns buying the art materials each month.

There are many ways to cut costs. Trying to find a church that will allow you to use their space for free or lower cost is the best option if you have larger group.  For smaller groups, try to find a free home. 

ARE CO-OPS insert adjective: cliquey, structured, etc?
Unless you find a co-op that doesn't have humans, it will not be perfect.  A co-op is made up of different personalities, so the dynamics and goals of every co-op will be different. 

Did you try a co-op that had too many cliques? That co-op wasn't for you.  Try another one, or make your own.  Humans are faulty.  The dynamics of a co-op that hurt you will not be the same as another.

Did you try a co-op that was too structured and rigid? That co-op wasn't for you.  Find one that meets only once a month for family hikes.  Or was it too flexible and not rigorous enough for your family's  academic goals? The goals of a co-op that hurt you will not be the same as another.

This is a question you can only answer yourself.  Study your children and yourself, then look for  what you need.  

My kids needed friendships, and I needed homeschooling Mom-friends.  Our co-op is a great fit because it values the moms' friendships as much as the kids'. Every mom has a 45 min prayer hour with a group of 5 women.  We also have a yearly retreat for fellowship. I believe this is the main reason why our co-op had a 2 year long waiting list and has been big enough to split into 5 different co-ops.

Some families need an academic co-op to keep their kids in line with specific academic goals.   Some families want their kids to join a co-op that has "fun" classes so moms can focus on academics at home.

Sometimes I sign my kids up for all "fun" classes, like board games and messy art, so that I don't have to do that at home.  Some semesters I sign my kids up for academic classes that I feel ill-equipped to do teach myself.  Sometimes I make them take classes that are impossible for me to teach at home, like Choir, Drama, and Public Speaking. It is a balance.

YOU HAVE TO ASK!  Most co-ops will not have a website that can be accessed by the general public for safety and privacy sake. Ask your homeschool friends, or join an online support group, like a local homeschool Facebook Group.   A Local online group of women will have more info about your area offers, and how to link in. 

If you can not find a co-op that fits you, MAKE YOUR OWN!  Ask around for families who have your same Teaching Style or maybe use the same curriculum as you,  and if they don't have a co-op already, make your own!!! 

Good luck in your co-op search!! We love our co-op, it gives us the community we need.  Even if a co-op isn't for you, make sure you are reaching out and and not isolating yourself as a homeschool mom.  Homeschooling DOES NOT HAVE TO BE LONELY! 

1 comment:

  1. It was very useful for me. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us.