If you’ve been active in the homeschool community, you’ve likely heard about homeschool co-ops. A homeschool co-op or homeschool cooperative is a group of local homeschool families who meet on a regular basis (weekly, biweekly, monthly) to provide educational classes and activities for their children. In addition to classes, some co-ops offer Moms’ Nights Out and field trips.
Co-ops are often popular among homeschool families because they provide opportunities for children to enjoy enriching classes as well as fun educational and social activities alongside other homeschool families. An added bonus of participation in a co-op is that the homeschool mom’s educational load may be lightened depending upon the classes and activities offered in the co-op.
Does the idea of a homeschool co-op pique your interest? Have you been thinking about joining one? Before you sign up, here are some things to consider.
Consider the cost of the co-op. Most co-ops charge a participation or registration fee. Fees are often charged on a per child basis, but some co-ops offer a maximum fee per family so that larger homeschooling families can attend the co-op at an affordable price. At our local co-op, registration fees pay for the usage of the co-op’s meeting place (church, community center, fire hall, etc.) In addition to registration fees, some co-ops also charge additional fees to cover the cost of educational supplies and/or activities (fees for Lego League, fees for science materials, or fees for instrument rentals and lessons, etc). Be sure you’re aware of all costs before signing up.
Consider how involved you will need to be within the co-op. A successful co-op is one in which all families actively participate, so most co-ops require that families make a commitment to help out. Some parents volunteer to teach a class, while other families volunteer to set up and clean up. Co-op members also contribute by ordering supplies, organizing events, tackling paperwork, or serving on the co-op’s leadership team. Carefully consider how your involvement will affect you. For example, if you’re teaching, consider the time you’ll need to plan lessons and grade assignments. If your family has volunteered to do set up or clean up, you’ll need to be prepared to arrive early or stay late.
Consider how the co-op will affect your current homeschool routine. I believe that participation in a co-op should enhance, not exacerbate, our homeschool routine. Will participation in co-op interrupt your toddler’s must have morning nap? Will you still be able to get through your math lessons in a timely manner? Will trying to get all of the family up and out for co-op cause stress and anxiety among family members? Will you still be able to teach lessons and complete activities if you’re out all morning or all day at co-op? Remember, participation in a co-op will not be beneficial if it throws off your homeschool routine or sends you scrambling to make up for lost time.
Consider the type of co-op and the lessons and activities offered. Like jeans, homeschool co-ops come in all shapes and sizes and one size does not fit all. If you’re a classical homeschool, a co-op based on eclectic learning may not be a good fit for you. On the other hand, if your textbook teaching has become boring and you wish to include more hands on activities in your routine, you may find just what you need in a Montessori based co-op. Also, as you research co-ops look for ones that will help take something off your educational plate. Let’s say your geography studies include lessons on various regions of the country and you discover that local co-op is offering a class called Touring the Country Region by Region. You may wish to have your child study the regions at homeschool co-op and use that time at home to tackle another educational goal.
Consider the skills, talents, and abilities you have to offer the co-op. No one is good at everything, but we’re all great at something! Think about your abilities and see if they align with the needs of the co-op. Perhaps this is the time you can introduce a new activity or idea that will take the co-op to the next level. Are your fun science experiments the talk among your homeschool friends? Considering teaching a science lab at the co-op. Are you good at planning? Consider serving as the co-op schedule organizer. Did you work on the production team in your high school or college plays? Put your talents to work by helping to organize a drama group in the co-op. The old adage “Many hands make light work” is true. If everyone at the co-op makes a valuable contribution, the co-op runs much more effectively and everyone’s experience is enriched.
Consider if you’re okay with another person teaching your child. At co-op, someone else besides you will likely teach your child. Be sure you’ll be able to handle this before signing up. Talk to your fellow homeschool mom to learn more about her educational style and expectations.
Consider if the goals of the co-op match your family’s goals and beliefs. Are you looking for a co-op that reinforces your religious beliefs? If so, look for a co-op with a statement of beliefs that reflects your own. Are you new to homeschooling and hoping to meet many other homeschool families? Then that large county wide co-op you recently heard about may be worth your review. Learn more about the co-op by talking to the group’s leaders and arranging a co-op visit. Both actions will give you a feel for the co-op and its participants. You can then use this information to help you determine if the co-op is a good match for your family.
Many homeschool families, including mine, have had wonderful experiences in a homeschool cooperative. Children have made new friends, moms have gained support and have honed their leadership skills. Best of all educational resources have been shared. If after pondering these seven considerations, you decide to participate in a co-op, I hope it will be a rich, fun, and rewarding experience. If you’re not ready to join a homeschool cooperative but are still interested in educational activities for your children, read my post 4 Great Alternatives to Homeschool Co-ops alternative options.
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© 2014, Andrea Thorpe. All rights reserved.