I’ve been creating my own homeschool co-op experience for many years. When my oldest five children were very young, we were members of an early American history co-op, and I can vividly recall the picture of my very young son galloping around the corner of our friend’s house on his stick horse singing, “ And The Shot Heard Round The World, Was the Start of The Revolution’ which he had memorized from Schoolhouse Rock.
That group of families were to be my co-op buddies for several years, during which time we dressed up as Vikings and pretended we were on a longship, made soap, dipped candles, built tipis and ground acorns, and did many amazing projects that made history come alive for our children.
Being a part of a homeschool co-op has created some of our best homeschool memories, and it offered some amazing benefits for our family.
Co-ops help us create community.
John Eldridge in the book, Waking The Dead says this about community, ”Small core fellowship is the essential ingredient for the Christian life. Jesus modeled it for us for a reason. Sure, he spoke to the masses, But he lived in a little platoon, a small fellowship of friends and allies. His followers took his example and live this way too. “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”(Acts 2:46)
If community is an essential ingredient for the Christian life, it is even more desperate for the homeschool life.
Our needs for community as families can change throughout the years, and one of the beauties of homeschooling is that it creates strong family bonds, simply because we are always together. It can be a lonely road though if we don’t take the time to create community.
When we gather with a few other families each week or month to learn together, we get the sweet experience of developing deeper relationships. The best way to create authentic relationships is to do real stuff together, it’s really hard to keep up a perfect mom mirage when we are trying to figure out with our kids how to make soap for the first time or how to dissect a frog.
We need people, homeschooling can be a lonely journey, and we and our children need the encouragement and the friendship that comes when we get together on a regular basis with other families.
Another reason to start a homeschool co-op is so that our children can learn things that we know nothing about.
When our kids are little, they just need some other kids to play with who they can get along with, but as they grow, distinct interests start to emerge, which it is important to cultivate. Starting a homeschool co-op is an amazing way to meet specific needs.
One of my sons started expressing an interest in movie making, and so my daughter pulled together a class of teenagers for a literature and film class. They read British classics by authors such as George Orwell and GK Chesterton and then made a short film based on some of the philosophy that they learned.
High school science has never been my strong suit, and so for my children’s high school science requirements I joined with some other families for a multi age co-op. I taught about birds to the elementary students while another mom taught biology to the high school students.
Co-ops provide accountability.
It’s easy as homeschool moms to vacillate between feeling completely inadequate while at other times feeling over confident. We so often are wondering if we are doing enough with our kids and a homeschool co-op can be a great way to evaluate where we are as teachers.
When we gather with other moms, we are able to evaluate where our children are in relation to other kids. We don’t want to fall into the public school mentality of measuring kids worth by their test scores, but as teachers, we are constantly judging ourselves to see if we are on track. A co-op can highlight areas to improve, and help us see the ways that we are doing better than we think.
A homeschool co-op can also help us to keep homeschooling even when we don’t feel like it. When we know that our children have a book report due to present to our co-op we will put in the effort even if we’d rather stay in bed all day watching I Love Lucy. On the other hand, if we have a crisis and can’t homeschool for a few weeks, we have our co-op to help keep our kids learning even when we are MIA.
With a homeschool co-op, we have the accountability for ourselves and our children that comes when we get together with people.
How to get started with your homeschool co-op?
The first step is to pick a focus. Your focus could be a certain curriculum you are studying from, or a certain subject. It could be many subjects in one day, or you could focus on only history or science.
What is an area that you struggle with teaching and need more accountability? What is an area that you are great at and want your children to love?
Next, pick some friends to invite. Write down 5-10 names of friends that you would enjoy meeting with regularly or whose kids your kids click with. If you don’t have 5 homeschool friends, check the location threads in The Peaceful Press FB groups, or look for a local homeschool group through Free Forest Schools or Wild and Free.
Once you have gathered a group of friends, you will want to meet to discuss some details for the group.
You can either plan this ahead of time, and present it to your friends, or have a moms night out to make your plans together.
Create a Schedule
The next step is to create a schedule of how often to meet. One of our favorite co-ops only met once a month. We’ve also had co-ops that met every other week which was the perfect spacing to cover a whole module of high school science, and we’ve had once a week co-ops which are great for developing close relationships.
You also need to decide what to study. We had several years of co-ops focused especially around history, and then another several years that were focused especially around science. Our Peaceful Press co-op guides include a little bit of science and history, and you could even add in some math facts and presentation skills.
You also need to decide where to meet. We rotated the host, and usually had whoever was hosting for the week provide a snack. At other co-ops, every person brought a food item to contribute to a period themed lunch. By rotating homes, no family was overly burdened. If you need to rent space, you will also need to charge a fee to cover the rent as well as any insurance costs.
Make some rules.
It is important to also have some ground rules. For most of my co-op experiences, I had already spent quite a bit of time with these families and I knew their children. We strove to be accepting of the fact that children are all different, and yet also had some rules for behavior such as not talking while a parent or other student is giving a presentation, as well as not running around the house with melted beeswax.
The last step is to delegate duties. In most of our co-ops we simply rotated who was in charge of which activity, with the exception of co-ops such as the British Literature one that my daughter taught where we all contributed to pay her for teaching, or a co-op such our science ones where each mom chose the activity they were most interested in.
Homeschooling in community provided many of our best memories from our school years, and we hope that you can develop this community as well.
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