Savoring the food of the Amazon region in a banana wrapped leaf, dancing the minuet like George Washington, creating Native American crafts with beadwork and studying the healing power of plants like Lewis & Clark did are just a few of the adventures that my sons and I have participated in as I led a homeschool co-op.
4 Secrets to Creating Your Own Successful Homeschool Co-op
In my many years of homeschooling, I have seen numerous elaborate definitions of a co-op, but in its most basic form a co-op is simply a group of two or more families meeting together to share their collective efforts in teaching their children all together.
Depending on your personal experiences in participating in co-ops, you may conjure up in your mind a picture of your children engaging in awesome hands-on activity along with socialization or you may picture a mini-version of a very regimented public school that you probably fled not too long ago.
Understanding some basic facts in how co-ops are developed will help you to determine if a co-op is a good fit for your family.
Enhance Your Journey or Encumber It
There is no one set of rules for any co-op. Co-ops can be very informal without many rules or it can be as formal as public school.
Take time to ask questions after you determine if you want to meet for socialization or to meet strictly for academic purposes.
One note of caveat for new and struggling homeschoolers is that sometimes you may join a co-op to ease the burden of teaching, but actually create an environment where you may feel trapped.
Regimented schedules, turning in homework assignments and preparing extra-curricular activities are a few reasons why some homeschool families find co-ops more stressful than helpful. They can feel a little too much public schoolish.
Do not leave the rigidness of public school to trade it away the freedom so quickly to a very regulated co-op.
Co-ops can spring up or shut down at any time. Realizing that most co-ops are ran by homeschooling parents like yourself, you will appreciate that rules are made by the homeschooling parents as they lead the group.
Most co-ops expect all the parents to shoulder some of the responsibility of running the co-op whether it is teaching, supervising toddlers, cleaning or making copies.
Unless the co-op is being ran like a small private school, most co-op leaders welcome the help. Normally it is the few doing the work of the many.
Because there is so much variety in classes like teaching crafts to preschoolers to preparing teens for driving in high school, co-ops can spring up and shut down each year or at any time during the year.
Most groups try to have their goals written down by the start of the school year, but even that can change.
Clear expectations by either a group you create or either join will avoid a lot of misery down the road.
Homeschool Co-op Conundrum
Avoid confusion of which co-op to join by having clear in your mind your purpose for participating. For example, I knew when I formed our private local co-op that my main purpose was for socialization and enrichment.
I was not interested in anybody teaching subjects like the 3 R’s to my sons because I wanted to do that.
Did I mention teaching my three at home was way more relaxing too?
The co-op serves as a refreshing break in our routine so I didn’t want a weekly co-op, but one that met once or twice a month. In addition, I wanted like-mind parents who have Christian values and a place where my sons could make lasting friends and memories.
Too, I purposely kept the co-op small because it is easier to make friends in a more cozier environment.
Activities like doing a lab, presenting a geography report to an audience and drama are better done in a group setting. It is nice to have an audience for projects.
My sons have benefited from doing those activities and have become more well rounded out in their education.
In one area I lived in we had a homeschool mom who use to be a high school Spanish teacher. My older sons took her classes which was ran more like a mini private school.
Though I prefer a more informal and hands-on setting, I took advantage of local resources for enrichment. It has only strengthened my sons’ skills in foreign languages.
When You Gift Others
I can’t hum a tune, draw a beautiful portrait or shoot professional pictures, but none of those things are required to serve others.
Sharing with other homeschoolers and teaching is a gift.
It’s true that when you serve in a leadership position it can have trials. But I have a secret to admit and that is I am the one that always feels blessed after leading the co-op.
Over the years I have learned that each homeschooling parent possesses a gift or two whether they admit it or not.
You do not have to be a former public school teacher to teach a subject, but you do need to love the subject you teach.
Instead of looking into joining a co-op, can you form one near you? Beginnings are important. So start slow with a just few of your like-minded friends.
Meet once a month and use forums like yahoo to communicate and set up polls.
Avoid the modern day quick methods of communication like texting that interrupts your day schooling your children.
In the beginning, it’s easy to communicate like this, but as the group grows, your time can be consumed by taking care of the needs of others.
Don’t neglect your own homeschool routine and family.
When you use something like an online forum or email list, each teaching parent can respond to emails after she has taken care of her family for the day. It also trains others in your group that your priority is your own family and to be considerate of your time.
There are a wide variety of curriculum resources to use from laid out lesson plans to unit studies that make leading a cinch. Unit studies are my very favorite in teaching multiple ages because there is something for all ages to do.
Serving others is a joy and your blessing in giving will be immeasurable not only to your children, but for all others that come your way.
Creating the co-op we had took time. My first attempts at meeting with others wasn’t a fit for our family because of either the scheduling or activities.
Forming a co-op after my previous failed attempts ended up being a blessing for our family because we then met with like-minded families.
Shared experiences and fostering friendships for a lifetime have heightened our homeschool adventures.
Have you been part of a co-op that has changed your life?