Homeschool Co-ops can be a great way to enrich homeschooling for your students. Ben and I have participated in a few co-ops, but none compare to the one we have been a part of for the past year.
Ten families, about 50 children, more adopted than not, ages itty bitty to 16, all together, with amazing mommas, who have an unmatched love for Jesus, to go along. It has been a true blessing being a part of this group. This past year we studied about missionaries and unreached people groups, while touching on different religions around the world. Ben was also able to participate in an IEW writing class, while I helped some adorable kids learn to read better. We have played, learned, laughed, shared each others burdens, eaten meals together . . . and danced! Yes, danced. Twice a month, our kids learned how to square dance for the purpose of ministry, and shared this wonderful skill with residents of 2 local nursing homes.
One thing that was really cool with out co-op is that much of our time together was spent . . . together! We did divide the kids according to ability for the literacy centers and writing class, but even with these classes, there was a quite a mix of ages. There were no first grade, fourth grade or high school classes! This was one of my favorite things. The older kids helped with the younger kids. The younger kids helped with the even younger kids. It was awesome!
I want to talk about co-ops in general for a minute. Because while we had a blessed year this past year, not all experiences with homeschool co-ops are as positive. You need to know what to look for and expect!
In my experience, Homeschool Co-ops can vary greatly, from small, informal groups of 2-4 families getting together to study nature together, to large, 100-family co-ops, run by a board, teaching everything from writing to higher level maths to science labs. And everything in between. Most of our experiences with homeschool co-ops have been small, between 3-12 families total.
For clarification, when I speak about homeschool co-ops, the expectation is that parents, usually homeschool moms, are involved in teaching classes to each other’s children. Everyone shares the responsibilities, and costs are low.
If you drop your students off for an algebra class or a day or two of classes, taught by certified teachers, that is not a co-op.
Firstly, I’d like to share a quick list of Homeschool Co-op pros and cons. I’ll follow that with a list of things to look for in a co-op.
Pros of Homeschool Co-ops
- Oftentimes, co-ops offer classes you may find challenging to teach. Science labs, foreign languages, art, and higher level math come to mind.
- Many wonderful friendships, both for you and your children, can be formed at co-ops.
- There are often opportunities your students may not otherwise have — geography and science fairs, spelling bees, singing in a choir or playing in a band, participating in a play.
- Having the opportunity for your children to learn and take direction from another adult can be good for them. Others may find strengths and weaknesses in your kids that you have not realized. Hopefully, they will be loving and gracious enough to share both with you.
Cons of Homeschool Co-ops
- Many times, the homeschool co-op is merely replicating the public school class you are trying to avoid — age-segregated, textbook style learning, with too many students for anyone to get much attention. And cliques. Chances are good, there will be cliques.
- There will likely be at least one student in your child’s class that will have behavior issues that will be interruptive to learning. Sometimes, that student may be your own. Parent teachers are not always equipped for this and things can go downhill quickly if that is the case.
- Unless there are strict guidelines for what is taught, you cannot know if your child’s teacher will have the same worldview you have. This can be especially important in classes such as science and history. The larger the co-op, the more truth this statement may carry.
- Preparing to teach a class or two at a co-op will take a lot of time and effort on your part.
- Depending on how many children you have, co-ops can be expensive.
There’s more, I’m sure, but these are at the top of my pros and cons lists. Some of you will read these lists and decide that the pros outweigh the cons and you will dive headlong into the wrong co-op situation for your family. It happens to many of us. So, I think you need more to consider before making that final decision.
When you are looking for a co-op, here’s my list of things to consider before making the semester (or year)- long commitment:
- From what worldview will the classes be taught? Is everyone in agreement about that? Is there a statement of faith that teaching parents must sign? Do you agree with it?
- How much time can you give personally for class preparation? In my experience, you need to set aside about 1-2 hours a week in order to be fully prepared to teach. That’s per class.
- Why do want to join a co-op? Is it the social aspect? Or do you want strong academics? Make sure the mission of the co-op meshes well with your expectations.
- What are the “rules” of the co-op? One local co-op I know of doesn’t allow ANY children in a family to attend co-op if ONE child is sick. If you have 5 children and one gets a cold, chances are they all will. By the time the cold makes it through your entire family, you will have missed most of the semester. Make sure you’re comfortable with whatever the “rules” of the co-op are.
- I can mention this part, because Ben can be one of these kids . . . Does your child do well in a class setting? And if he doesn’t, due to ADHD or some other issue that can cause poor behavior, is the co-op tolerant of that? Do the parents who will be teaching your child have experience with kids like yours? Some co-ops have rules about class behavior that may not work well with your child. And a mom of 2 little girls, who are always sweet and compliant, may not have a clue about what to do with your easily distracted, always talking, ever in motion little boy. Trust me.
I think that should get you started. And I hope I haven’t talked you out of trying a Homeschool Co-op. No co-op will meet all of your expectations. They take work, compromise, and a lot of grace in order to be successful. But the rewards can be great. Just be picky!
What has been your experience with homeschool co-ops?
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