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A co-op is a short form of the word cooperative. In homeschooling, it means cooperative learning. A homeschool co-op is, therefore, a group of homeschooling families who meet and cooperatively work to achieve their common goals.
Co-ops are organized around various activities such as academics, projects, volunteer services, outdoor trips, arts, or a combination of these activities.
Even though homeschool co-ops have similar visions and values, they do have different perspectives. Nonetheless, they have a common ground to combine their collective efforts to offer learning opportunities they want for their kids.
Types of Homeschool Co-ops
Co-ops are varied in their composition sizes and the activities they perform. However, the common ground is their dedication to providing the best homeschooling experience for their children.
Academic learning and other activities that a co-op engages in may be guided by parents. In other instances, the parents will contribute to pay the teachers or activity guides.
A co-op can be as small as to consist of three families or have as many as several hundred children.
Most co-ops have no fixed meeting points. They commonly opt to meet in homes, community centers, libraries, or churches. Some of them meet once a week, twice, or once a month throughout the year. The meeting times and activities are up to the organizers.
However, some co-ops have adopted a university model. They meet from once to three times a week with slated homework to earn academic credits. These assignments are meant to be completed at home and make up the largest percentage of the child’s learning.
Still, most co-ops are focused on a holistic approach to child learning. They have more focus on social education, arts, and possess a radical deviation in teaching traditional subjects.
The children do most of their learning at home. The co-op simply provides an avenue to supplement their knowledge. This provides them with a chance to make friends and do interesting activities.
11 Reasons Why You Should Join a Homeschool Co-op
- Co-op activities lessen the pressure on the teaching parent. In addition to being tutors, mom or dad still have to handle other responsibilities. It also saves parents from a yearlong effort of teaching a subject that is not their forte.
- It provides a support group for parents to talk to more experienced homeschool parents. Despite unique family plans, parents still need advice, reassurance, and company. Co-ops are also a good place to find help with some challenging course questions or get help on a brainstorming issue!
- Interacting with other children in the co-op equips your children with learned communication skills. Children learn how to communicate clearly and creatively during group projects. This is a skill that your children will find very useful in the future.
- In homeschooling, parents find a method that works well for teaching their children and then stick to it. As children grow, it is essential to learn and experience other methods with other teachers as well. Co-ops hold classes to introduce this concept to their members easily.
- Co-ops provide the numbers needed for large group activities. Homeschooling does not have to be isolated to just your family. Other members of the co-op will eventually become part of your larger family and enjoy similar activities. For example, team sports, spelling bees, graduation parties, etc — they all provide avenues for healthy competition.
- Children in a co-op often grow together and become close friends. If you are the kind of parent who tends to worry about whom their children hang out with, you’ll know the kind of friends they have.
- Co-ops save a great deal of time and free up the parent’s schedule for other things. Children usually take various lessons for the day in one location. For example, activities such as student council, scouts, and more take place in one location at different times of the day.
- Kids interact with other trusted adults in their life as they learn new lessons and skills from them. In group classes with other parents, they experience the joys of being afforded healthy attention, time, love, and wisdom. These parents often turn into mentors or connect them to other mentors in their areas of interest.
- You get the opportunity to give back by also teaching and pouring love and wisdom into your children’s friends and their parents. When your kids see you also helping and teaching other children and parents, they learn the importance of service and giving back. More importantly, they learn that gifts and talents are to be shared with others.
- Co-op membership provides everyone involved with a sense of belonging. Members get close enough to become second families to each other. Co-op membership can either be for a short time or extended over many seasons. You can join and leave various groups according to your situation. However, retaining membership in a group gives your children a sense of belonging.
- Lastly, co-op members provide accountability partners that are so desperately needed. Someone other than yourself will be setting a schedule for some lessons that take place outside your home. Students learn to stay on schedule by taking deadlines for assignments seriously. In a class setting with different teachers, they are less likely to say the dog ate their homework.
What is the Difference Between Homeschool Groups and Homeschool co-ops?
Homeschool groups and co-ops have different settings yet similar goals. There are, however, some distinguishing characteristics of both groups.
- A homeschool group in one location will generally be larger than a co-op in the same locality. They also tend to be more diversified than co-ops.
- Some homeschool group activities are similar to the ones in a co-op. For example, park activities, field trips, parent days, parties, and so much more.
- Home school groups may form a co-op and make it a part of their large catalog of activities. However, some co-ops are not attached to any homeschool group.
- Co-ops usually begin when families meet during a homeschool group meeting and create a spin-off of their smaller co-op.
Co-ops can split into even smaller versions that are dedicated to a single activity or subject. These miniature co-ops are called clubs. Clubs meet less frequently than either homeschool groups or coops, usually once a month (i.e nature club).
Other clubs may be formed for competitive purposes, and they will meet for as long it needs to prepare for the events. Some popular events include the Future Problem Solving Program International.
Who is the Head of a Co-op?
The leadership of less formal co-ops falls on one or two people (usually, the people who formed it). These kinds of co-ops were formed with a particular vision, usually to support the learning goals of their own children.
Small co-op leaders possess a larger authority in calling for planning meetings. They decide the meeting locations and what services the co-op gets to offer its members.
To make this arrangement work, semi-formal co-ops’ members are other parents with similar goals. All the parents are willing to work out the details of academic classes and group activities and the decisions are made by consensus under the guidance of the co-op heads.
Larger or more formal co-ops may be typically governed by a board of directors. In addition, an administrator will be tasked to handle the daily operations of the co-op.
Decisions made in this co-op are usually arrived at after a vote is held by the board of directors. The directors are normally parents of the children who are members of the co-op.
A good example of a formal co-op is those that belong to ministries of churches. The administration of this co-op, therefore, falls under the jurisdiction of the church.
8 Essential Questions to Ask Before Starting a Homeschooling Co-op
Homeschooling is the best educational fit for some families, maybe even yours too.
- However, you may be in an area where there are no readily available homeschooling co-ops.
- Other times, the co-ops in your location may be too far from your residence to be a plausible commute.
- Some existing co-ops may not align with the academic, creative, and social goals that you want for your children.
- There could be a co-op that you really like and is flourishing. The problem is that the co-op has full capacity and there is now a waiting list.
All these reasons are good enough for you to start your own co-operative that works for you.
The following are some questions to help you navigate the process of establishing a new homeschool co-op:
What is the Intended Purpose of Your New Co-op?
To answer this question, don’t look further than the needs of your own children. Identify their needs and then create a co-op that addresses these needs.
- Do your children need more children to play and learn with?
- Do they need more, or less, socializing hours?
- Do you want a classroom setting for academic subjects?
- Are you looking for a holistic education involving the arts, services, and/or field projects?
Make sure that your needs remain central as you seek to establish this new homeschool co-op.
To do otherwise would be to invite yourself to severe burnout while meeting other people’s needs while forgoing your own.
When you are done listing the objectives of the co-op, evaluate the points honestly. Are there likely to be enough homeschooling families in your area who will share the same goals?
A co-op should and can meet multiple homeschooling needs at once. For example, if your main goal is creating a social network for the kids, and another parent wants a group for creative activities. You can make these goals work, alongside several others.
How Involved Should Parents Be?
One of the key distinctions between co-ops is whether the parents should be present throughout each co-op meetup.
What do you expect of parents each time a co-op comes together? The following are some scenarios that parents should expect.
- Parents should be present throughout the co-operative meeting
- Parents should be available only if they are volunteering or babysitting their children
- Parents should just drop off their children at the co-op for tutors to have their time with them. Parents do however chip in for the teachers’ payment.
All of these types of co-ops arrangements are popular, and they all work well. The onus is on you as the co-op owner to communicate these expectations clearly to the parents.
Clear communication prevents misunderstandings on the roles of each person. If this is not well-communicated, parents who do a bulk of the work will end up resenting those who do not understand their role.
How Will You Handle the Decision-making Process?
Small cooperatives have a straightforward system of leadership. The founder of the co-op exercises some form of benign dictatorship. The consensus in decision-making among parents is highly encouraged.
The founder and co-founder typically create the vision of the co-operative. They then invite interested members with the decisions of the place and time.
The co-op leaders usually already have specific ideas concerning the contributions of each parent. The contribution of each parent is based on the talents of each member. You can identify these talents at meetings or emails.
If you have the capacity to form a large and formally run co-op, you have to structure a leadership system in the form of a board of directors. Gather a group of parents to form this board.
Initially, your chosen members of the board will be in line with your vision for the co-op. However, as it is with human nature, these views tend to evolve.
To maintain focus on your vision, take a vote on what the mission should be. This mission statement should guide the decisions made by the board from there onwards.
Set the Logistics of the Co-operative
The most essential logistics include a place to meet, the frequency of meetings, and a calendar of activities.
- The frequency of meetings can either be thrice weekly, weekly, or even monthly.
- The calendar needs to include activities and classes with their teachers.
- If you are the sole decision-maker, then you will have to share the proposed schedule with the to-be members.
- If you are beholden to a board of directors, you should send the logistics proposal for them to take a vote.
- What kind of fees are you going to charge for the tutors and the cost of meeting space?
When all this is in place, either you or an administrator have to make the necessary correspondence to set up everything.
What Kind of Families Will You Serve? How Many?
Different families have adopted different methods of homeschooling.
So, will the co-op only be open to families with a specific type of homeschooling?
There are co-ops the mean towards specific homeschooling types such as:
- Waldorf homeschooling
- Radical unschooling
- Classical homeschooling
However, there are additional questions and points to consider on this front:
- Will your co-op lean towards serving only specific types of homeschoolers? Or would you rather homeschoolers of different learning styles interact together during co-op days?
- After deciding on the system to serve, next is to decide on a number of families and children that can join you.
- You can break it down into more specific requirements such as the age of the child, what stage of learning, or by the set standard of grades. On the other hand, you might consider offering several activities for the different age groups.
- Will your co-op be conducive to families with toddlers? Will you offer child-care services so that the parents will be free to teach and help with other activities of the co-op?
- Will the parents of toddlers be required to watch over them by themselves? Will their contributions then be aligned to ways that are conducive to a young family?
Please note that whatever setting you choose has to comfortably fit in within the meeting space.
How Will You Advertise Your Co-op?
Use the internet to publicize the cooperative on homeschooling Facebook groups and email lists. Design a newsletter for a website if you belong to a larger homeschooling group.
Invitation-only co-ops select their own members. They send invites to families that they think would be a good fit for them. For example, parents who went through the co-op system with kids who are also going through the same system.
On the other hand, this invite-only system tends to hurt feelings of the ones who are not invited.
A volunteer-run homeschooling co-op is not equipped to handle many kids. A high population of children also comes with various expectations from each parent. So, keep it small and focused. This inadvertently means that not all families will be invited.
If the response to your co-op is overwhelming, create a waiting list for when space materializes.
In some instances, co-op leaders have bought together families on the waiting list so that they can create their own co-op.
What Mode of Communication Will You Adopt With Co-op Members?
So far, the best way of communicating with co-op members has been through virtual communication.
The internet provides the following avenues of communication:
- Google chats and hangouts
- Zoom meetings
- Email lists
- Facebook communities
- Any other e-messaging platforms agreed on by parents in the co-op
There will be times when meeting each other physically will be inevitable. For these, create parent and board meetings.
Co-ops love to meet in the summer and spring to plan the agenda for the coming learning year or semester.
Organizing A Co-op Shouldn’t Be Such A Big Deal
Organizing a co-op should not feel like such a daunting task, because honestly, it isn’t. The trick is to start from where you are. This includes approaching the families that you already know, or those you hang out at the children’s park with.
Don’t be shy to reach out to new families who appear to share the same interests with your children. Look out for interests in nature, history, science, arts, technology, and others who would like to get together. Chances are that these families would love for their kids to learn together in a co-op.
You can create your own successful co-op of three of four families. If your capacity is larger do not be afraid to expand to even ten families.
Co-ops that meet once a month or even half of the day are still co-ops. It all depends on whether you are achieving your objectives.
You can also turn to veteran homeschooling parents who have previously organized co-ops for advice. However, we can tell you right now that the best advice you will get from them is to simply start from where you are!
How to Join a Homeschool Co-op
- If you are looking to join an already flourishing co-op, keep in mind that co-ops handle admissions of new members according to their own discretion.
- Some co-ops’ new members’ status says “closed.” This means that they have taken in the number of families that they can accommodate. New members are not accepted when a co-op status reads closed.
- Other co-ops absorb new members every new year or after every few years. This is because children age out, needs change, and families relocate creating a vacancy.
- Some co-ops are more open to new members and invite them for a try-out before they actually join. The purpose of the trial is to find out whether the parents or co-op participants would be a good fit for each other.
You can post about your existing co-op vacancies through the local homeschool co-op database. Facebook pages, groups, and mailing lists are another effective way to recruit members.
Physically, you can put up posters at the church, community centers, and library.
The beauty of the homeschooling system is that there are no bureaucratic nightmares to grapple with. If you decide to create a learning co-op, just turn to your mate and start the process!
Keep inviting new members from diverse backgrounds to provide a fresh perspective and social learning for the children.
If you choose to handpick your members, that is also fine