Homeschooling Co-Ops: What They Are And How To Form One

Co-ops can provide great educational opportunities to homeschooling families. Learn what they are and for tips on how to get one started in your area.

A homeschooling co-op is more than a support or play group. A co-op is a group in which parents share educational responsibilities by teaching each other's children for certain subjects. For example, the children of a homeschooling co-op may meet at the library on Monday mornings with one parent who teaches the group math, meet up at the parks on Wednesdays where another parent will teach nature science, and gather at another parent's house on Fridays for art lessons.

There are many benefits to being part of a co-op. For one thing, it offers homeschooled children the opportunity to work in small groups and do group projects together. This gives children the benefit of learning from each other and being part of a team. It is also a nice change of pace for a child to work with adults other than their parents on their studies, as it brings fresh perspectives to the table. A co-op can be beneficial to busy parents, giving them a chance to get chores done, spend time with younger children or help out older siblings with their studies. Finally, parents in a well-balanced co-op can compensate for each other's weaknesses and benefit from each other's strengths. One who is better suited in science or math can teach those subjects, leaving arts or literature to another parent who is more learned in those subject areas. The lucky children get the best of both.

If you want to get a co-op started in your area, the first thing you will need to do is to find other homeschooling families who are interested. If there are any homeschooling support or play groups in the area that meet regularly, ask around. Put an ad in a local homeschooling newsletter or on a message board, or see if you can hang a message on the bulletin board of your local library or educational supply store.

You don't need a great deal of people to have a co-op. Even just two families with one child each can begin sharing the educational experience. In fact, the benefit of smaller groups is that they are easier to manage. Schedules and activities are easier to coordinate when fewer families are involved, so don't be discouraged if you don't get many responses- it might be a blessing in disguise! If your co-op is successful, you might find more people joining with you as the months or years roll by.

Having children who are close in ages can be a benefit, but it is not absolutely necessary. Children of different ages can still work at the same ability level, or work on the same project together but with different goals. For example, if you have a group of children studying ancient Egypt, the younger children can focus more on learning dates, vocabulary, and spelling words, while older children can focus on term papers. Don't be too quick to turn someone away because their children are much older or younger than yours- with some careful planning and consideration, you might still be able to work something out that will benefit all. Perhaps you can split the older groups and younger groups up, or let older children help the younger children in some lessons.

When you have your fellow co-op members, have a preliminary meeting with the parents to discuss plans together. Some things you may want to cover:

- Which subjects do people want to teach, and hope to find someone else to teach? If two or more people are interested in the same subject, try to work out compromises. For example, if two people want to teach science, maybe one can teach chemistry for a few months, and another biology for a few months. Encourage other people who feel they aren't very good at anything "schoolish" to come up with something that they can share with the kids. Everyone is good at something: baking bread, quilting, automobile repairs, bee keeping, goat farming, piano tuning, herb gardening-- these are all great skills for kids to learn that are no less educationally valuable than traditional subjects.

- Is the group going to be religious, or secular? This is something you may want to work out from the beginning. Some people who are not religious may not want their kids learning from a bible-based curriculum, whereas some religious people may not want their children to learn evolution at all, or prefer it be taught together with creationism theories. Make sure that if you have a religiously diverse group, that everyone is either in agreement of making lessons secular, or accepting of their children learning from any faith-based materials someone else wants to use.

- What are the teaching approaches that people plan to use? Will people be teaching lessons from pre-packaged curricula? If so, do they own the materials? Is everyone expected to purchase their own text and work books, or will photocopied hand-outs be made available? If so, who will cover the cost of these? Will each parent provide the materials for his/her own lessons, or will everyone have to get their own materials? Will grades be given and homework be assigned, or will the group be less formally structured?

- At this preliminary meeting, everyone should discuss schedule availability. The larger the group, the more difficult it may be to find blocks of schedules that accommodate everyone. Are you going to meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly? Are you going to schedule holidays and vacations around the school calendar, or make your own?

- Where will you meet? At the library? The local park? If someone is offering their home for their meetings, will there be enough room for parents and children to attend? If members of the group are unfamiliar with each other, parents may wish to stick around for lessons until they get to know each other better and are comfortable with each other. You'll need to find a place large enough to accommodate everyone comfortably.

Once everyone has agreed on the issues, you can begin holding your co-op classes. It might be a good idea to have a meeting between parents every month or two to discuss any new issues that come up, or to figure out future schedules or activities. If your co-op is successful, you may find your group meeting year after year and enjoying the wonderful adventures in homeschooling together.

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