I love getting your questions and this next question is a very common one because if we have a close friend, we have all thought about it at one time or another. Look at this question I recently got. I have been taking inspiration from your blog for years in my own homeschool journey and wondered if you could help me now with some advice. We would like to combine schooling our kids to see if it will benefit them. Do you have any suggestions of how the mother and I could teach subjects together? Look at these foolproof tips for getting along when you homeschool co-op with a friend and how to stay friends afterwards.
I cannot stress communication enough beforehand.
Try to resist the knee jerk reaction to decide one week to co-op together and jump into starting the next week.
It’s easier to address potential pitfalls when you’re not in the heat of the moment when it comes to a disagreement. Try to avoid them by communicating well ahead of time. There are so many topics to discuss and it’s best done when everybody is still excited about the meet up.
For example, how will you handle interruptions?
Do you expect the kids to raise their hands? I know this because it happened to me.
When teaching with another mom, I had a more relaxed way of wanting my kids to address their questions while discussing a topic and didn’t want hand raising when I was teaching. I didn’t have 32 kids so I wanted a natural conversation.
However, my friend thought they should raise their hands. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a control freak and certainly wouldn’t let the interruptions get out of hand, but my friend didn’t know that. In other words, I wanted to bring my style of teaching to the co-op.
Another big issue to address is how to handle acting up by a child. I’m not just talking about young kids, but middle and high school kids have mood swings and believe me they can be way more stressing than a 5 year old.
So if you’re teaching with a friend who has kids similar to your children’s age this could be a good thing because she is experienced.
However, too that can make for some preconceived ideas.
Homeschool Comes and Goes, but Lifelong Friends Don’t
For example, with my kids I’ve always expected obedience regardless of their age. I always allowed room for hormones and mood swings because I want allowances for me when I feel bad. Balance is what I strive for and I won’t embarrass my kids or take away their dignity in public even if they deserve it. It just has not been a good parenting skill that ever worked.
So how is a perceived snippy remark going to be handled? For us, we decided that the parent of the child should address their child instead of the one teaching the group calling down the child. This is why it’s so important to decide carefully ahead of time whether you want to co-op with your friend.
As you can see I use the word perceived because a mom who is inexperienced with an older child may have a hard time finding the balance between hormones and flat out disrespect.
I know that two of my best friends Kelly and Cynthia had teens similar to my boys’ ages and would not be offended by some snippy remark. They have big shoulders and can graciously overlook it as I take my son aside and speak to whoever happens to be the offender at the time. I treat their kids with the same respect.
This doesn’t mean anything ugly will happen, it just means you want to be prepared for the ugly side of your child if it comes out.
In a way when you decide to co-op together it’s like co-parenting. You have to set some ground rules and then trust each other when something happens you haven’t discussed.
Two/ Grade level expectations.
Another thing that could negatively affect your fun is when you have two or more kids who are in the same grade level, but it seems like one child is ahead or behind in a subject. Ouch. That can be a sensitive situation to be in.
First, try to remember something very important so that you are not overly critical or judge harshly another homeschool family.
Remember that just because your child has mastered one concept you believe is grade level doesn’t mean he has mastered all of them. Each family approaches subjects differently and focuses on content that is important to their family.
For example, when my boys were young they were less informed about public school grade level geography and history, which most of the time is American geography and history. I didn’t focus first on American geography and history; I focused first on ancient civilization.
When we met with another family, my kids were more informed about ancient civilization than the other homeschool family. But the other kids, which had been in public school had a more comprehensive foundation in American geography and history than my kids.
This was something I knew ahead and we had to discuss which subjects and topics we would cover and at what grade level. It took some time but we came up with a plan that would fit both families.
Three/Length of class, topics and curriculum.
Again, don’t assume you and your friend on are on the same page when you begin your co-op. Remember, you are bringing your style of how you teach your children and we have many different teaching styles in homeschool.
And just like when you manage a large homeschool co-op where you need an agenda or format for the day, a small co-op is no different. Communicating expectations avoids hard feelings and the best part is that all the kids make memories and benefit from another teaching style.
I highly suggest you format your day with a schedule so that everybody has the same expectations. I don’t mean plan every minute and hour, but do plan a flow to the day. What to expect each day should be part of your plan.
Our plan or flow was to start by 9:00 a.m. and study together for about an hour. We had a quick break while we set up for a hands-on activity. We did a hands-on project every time we met and we tried to get it done by lunch.
The afternoon was for play time because our co-op was just as much about our kids making friends as it was learning together. Later on, we would have a snack appropriate to our theme made ahead of time. For example, we studied history and our snack was some themed history food.
Believe me when I say time flies. You don’t need as much planned time as you think and we never covered as much as I thought we would. Working with a group, just like public school can slow you down. But you also gain many advantages when one child’s strengths can help another child’s weakness.
I need to talk about that for a minute because you may realize that though children are on the same grade level they vary widely in ability. I didn’t want my friend’s children to think I was cross-examining them so I chose to not teach the skill subjects.
If you are not sure what the skill subjects are versus content subjects look at my post Skill Subjects vs. Content Subjects: What’s the Difference?
Also, we decided that any type of writing where we wanted our kids to read aloud what they wrote was to be done privately and on our own time. Then the next school day when we met together we opened our lesson by having each child share their writing.
I preferred to work with my sons on skill subjects like the 3 Rs on our own time. I wanted our time to meet together to be about enrichment.
You have to decide if this will be a homeschool co-op or are you meeting to tutor your friend’s kids?
Unintentionally, a homeschool co-op can turn out where you’re tutoring another homeschool mom’s child.
That is okay, if you agree to exchange your skill set for her kids and she does the same for your kids.
But again, this goes back to the whole foundation for you getting together. Just be sure your purpose is clear.
How to Combine Collective Co-op Strengths and Not Highlight Slip-ups
4/ My tried and true teaching tips.
I have done a co-op with a friend and managed a really large co-op. My tip is be clear what your expectations are. I didn’t need another mom tutoring my children. If I needed help as a teacher, I could ask another homeschool mom.
My purpose was absolutely clear that I was meeting for enrichment, socialization and for my kids to be sharpened by another homeschool mom’s style of teaching.
I knew I wanted a clearly defined scheduled in case the kids get bored and I knew I wanted to cover fun subjects like art, geography, history, cooking, photography, literature unit study or any other kind of unit study, crafts or any enriching subject.
I wanted a beginning and end to each class and to the time the co-op lasted. This was just in case it wasn’t a good fit for my family. If I agreed to 6 weeks, I did 6 weeks and then evaluated if it worked for us and I didn’t have to give any explanation if we decided to not do it again. We stayed friends.
Also, I wasn’t going to a co-op for another mom to teach my kids Latin, sight words or algebra. By the way, been there done that and it wasn’t that fun.
The skill subjects were ones I wanted to teach at home so I could be sure my kids were grasping important concepts.
This doesn’t mean though that you can’t incorporate skill subjects into your study. We studied the Vikings and added in a hands-on math project by learning how to measure a boat. This is something all the grades could do while not focused on one child’s weakness in a skill subject.
It’s just the way I roll.
Again, you may have another idea for how to run your co-op but I’ve learned that skill subjects can pit friends against friends when one family is ahead in one area and the other family is not.
Subjects that multiple ages can do together work best to keep homeschooling friends true friends long past the formal homeschooling years.
I hope these few tips help you as I could write a book on this subject but will stop with just this post.
Have you encountered any similar problems and what worked for you?
Also, grab some more tips from Homeschool Co-op: The 5 BIG Questions You Need to Ask (before you join), 10 Homeschool Co-op Subjects That Are Better Learned With a Group and Homeschool Co-ops Turned Private Schools.
Hugs and love ya,
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