31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Use Co-Ops

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Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working for us, answering the most common questions we get from today’s first-generation homeschooling moms.

31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips

How to Use Co-Ops in Your Homeschooling Plan

After attending three different types of homeschool co-ops in the past few years and learning about how several others work, here are my personal opinions regarding incorporating a “co-op” (cooperative schooling) program into your homeschool plan:

1) Decide if you are joining the co-op for social or academic reasons. Ask yourself: Am I joining because I’d like my children to learn how to interact with other kids? Or am I joining because I feel like I could really use some more support in a particular academic area?

If it’s a social reason, be ready to train. There are great Christian moms out there — myself included — who still don’t have their children’s behavior down to a science. Be prepared for many learning experiences alongside your kids in loving, forgiving and saying “no” when necessary.

If it’s an academic reason, just make sure you are aware of the responsibilities and expectations of the group. There be a lot more work than you are ready to take on. Or it might be the push you needed to get some science experiments done!

You might also be looking for homeschool enrichment, a place for your children to expand their education in areas you don’t get to cover at home. Whether it is art, physical education, music, foreign languages or science labs you’re not comfortable teaching yourself, an enrichment co-op can be a great addition to your schedule if it fits your overall academic goals for your children.

Girls Working Together

2) Establish common goals. A homeschool co-op can be anything from meeting for a park day once a week to meeting twice a week to cover history and Spanish in a group setting. The most important thing is that you and the other moms are on the same page as to what you’d like (or not like) to accomplish. When more moms start to join your group, be prepared for more ideas — which could help or hinder your co-op. Keep your co-op goals in focus.

3) Lay the foundation first. Whether you are starting a co-op or joining an existing co-op, it’s important to know things like, “will this be a Christian co-op or open to all homeschoolers?” Again, you might think this is a given, but it’s not. And there’s no right answer, only the one that works best for you. Do you want to be a part of a mixed group or do you feel spiritual agreement is important to the education of your child? If these questions aren’t addressed from the beginning, they will likely play a role later when subjects are brought to the table on which you have different worldview perspectives, and this can cause division in the group.

4) Smaller is better. Large co-ops are great, as long as you are breaking up into smaller groups at some point — not more than three or four children per adult for most teaching situations. There should be clear parameters as to how many kids and what ages you’d like to join. Not to be exclusive, but to ensure the time is productive and organized — accomplishing what was expected to be accomplished. I think there has to be a really strong leadership group with a vision to pull off seven or more family groups without details falling through the cracks.

One-on-one groups are still my favorite. Find one family whose kids’ ages are in common with yours and take turns covering subjects such as art, art history, science projects, etc., and meet once a week or every other week. The ideas are endless — and it gives your kids something to look forward to during the week.

5) Seasons in your life change. What was a great idea one year may not be the next. Don’t feel bad about changing course: Do what’s right for you and for your kids. One reason we’ve participated in several different co-ops is that our needs have changed and my children are developing new areas of interest. Currently, we’re participating in a weekly one-day co-op that provides great options for both my 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, who have different learning styles and interests that are met through the offerings of our group.

I am the first to say “yes” to everything. I like meeting new people and getting in on what’s good to get in on. But there comes a point that it truly does more damage than good. You are tired by the end of the week, your kids are tired of you yelling at them to get in the car because you’re late once again, and you find your whole goal of homeschooling — to establish good character, consistent rhythms and routines in your home, and reading all those great books — has gone out the window.

I can say that being a part of a co-op has never failed to allow me to be in touch with other great moms. But once you meet some families that work well with yours, joining a co-op simply to hang out with them is not your only answer, though it might be a good start. Impromptu visits to share curriculum and drink coffee once a month or fun picnics will do just as well — and sometimes save your sanity.

You may also consider starting a homeschool co-op of your own to meet the needs of your own family, while including others who have similar goals and ages of children. My sister Renée started a girls book club co-op two years ago that is still going strong today: Here’s her post on how to start a co-op of your own.

Are there homeschool co-op opportunities available near you? If so, do you participate? What type of co-ops do you utilize (formal, informal, social, academic) and why? Have you ever started a co-op of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Unit Studies

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Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working for us, answering the most common questions we get from today’s first-generation homeschooling moms.

31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips

How to Use and Create Unit Studies for Homeschooling

It took me a couple of years of adjusting to the homeschooling life to realize that homeschooling is about so much more than cracking open curriculum at the dining room table everyday. It’s an opportunity to develop a lifestyle of learning for your family. To me, a lifestyle of learning means recognizing that life itself presents countless learning opportunities. Figuring out how to tap into those opportunities is the next step.

Unit studies are my favorite way to capture a life experience in a simple, effective and organized way. If you’re unfamiliar with unit studies, here’s a quick definition: Unit studies take a cross-subject approach to education, focusing the learning experience around a central, common theme. Unit studies can include history, geography, science, language arts, creative arts, and sometimes even math! Unit studies are also helpful for working with children of different ages: They can study the same unit together, but the details and activities will vary based on their level of ability.

School supplies await the first day of class

Unit Studies for Core Curriculum

Some for-purchase curriculum programs take a unit study approach and provide a year-long learning experience that can take the place of subject-specific curriculum and can be used across multiple ages. We use Trail Guide to Learning, a unit study program, as our core curriculum for the school year. Trail Guide to Learning uses the “spine” of history and attaches multiple subjects — such as reading, grammar, spelling, geography, science and art — around a common time period.

What I personally love about the unit study approach is that I can still supplement along the way in areas of specific interest for my girls or areas where they need more review, while still using Trail Guide as our core curriculum and working together on most subjects. For example, this year we are adding more science from Apologia to dig deeper into areas such as botany and land animals because we want to put into practice what we’re learning in our backyard garden and when exploring the nearby Rocky Mountains.

Creating Your Own Unit Study

You can also create your own unit studies to supplement your year-long curriculum plan, taking advantage of travel opportunities or new interests your children express. For example, last year we took a last-minute trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to accompany my husband on a business trip. I decided to pull together some materials to create a unit study around this trip, so we will be able to continue “school” every day while on the road.

When I create my own unit study, I start with what’s FREE: I do everything I can to pull together free resources for supplemental studies. As homeschooling has grown more prevalent in recent years, you can now purchase a unit study on almost any topic from homeschooling resources such as UnitStudy.com (Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett) and CurrClick.com (Curriculum & Classes in a Click). However, I am a frugal homeschooler, and if I have the time to put something together on my own, I usually start with what’s freely available.

Here are three places to start searching when creating your own unit study:

  • Literature and a trip to the Library: Look for age-appropriate fiction and non-fiction books that tie in to your topic.
  • Google and a trip around the Internet: Look for free printables, research-rich Web sites, videos and photos.
  • Simple supplies and a trip to your supply closet: Pull out three-prong folders, printer paper, spiral notebooks and art supplies.

For a step-by-step guide on what to look for and how to assemble your own unit study, see my previous post on this topic.

Have you ever used a unit study approach in your homeschool? Was it for supplemental learning (like capturing the education taking place on a field trip), or do you use unit studies as your primary method for teaching? Did you create a unit study yourself or purchase one? 

Review: Family Toolbox for Parenting Teens

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FamilyToolboxReview

As the mother of tween (12) and teen (13 1/2) girls, I was very excited to evaluate The Family Toolbox with my daughters as we enter this new phase of parenting with them. Produced by the National Center for Biblical Parenting (NCBP), publishers of the Christian Parenting Handbook, The Family Toolbox is a DVD/video-driven program that brings parents and teens together for constructive […]

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Our Charlotte Mason Influence

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31DaysCharlotteMason

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working […]

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Learning Styles

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31DaysLearningStyles

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working […]

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Save Money

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31DaysSaveMoney

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working […]

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Keep Working

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31DaysWorkingWhileHomeschooling

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working […]

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Manage Chores

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31DaysOfHomeschoolHowToManageChores

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s […]

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Time Blocking

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Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s […]

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Daily Routine

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How to Develop a Daily Homeschool Routine

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s […]

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Giveaway: Family Toolbox for Parenting Teens

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Family-Toolbox-Giveaway

This week’s giveaway comes to you from the National Center for Biblical Parenting (NCBP), publishers of the Christian Parenting Handbook. NextGen Homeschool is a member of The Family Toolbox Blogger Team and is currently working on a review of The Family Toolbox, a DVD/video-driven program that brings parents and teens together for constructive dialogue around significant issues of […]

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Review: The Reading Lesson Delivers Results

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ReadingLessonProductReviewAll

When we started homeschooling in 2010, my two eldest daughters (now 13 1/2 and 12) had already learned to read in school. My youngest was only three, and although she could memorize almost anything put to music, she wasn’t showing much interest in learning to visually recognize or write letters just yet. So I asked the most […]

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Join Us: Be the Voice for Persecuted Christians

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“Let your mouth be open for those who have no voice, in the cause of those who are ready for death.” — Proverbs 31:8 (BBE) Like you, we’ve seen the headlines and read the alarming news reports about persecuted Christians fleeing for their lives and dying in Iraq and Syria — and have felt a world away, wondering […]

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Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle On Sale Now

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We all want to make better health and lifestyle decisions for ourselves and those we love. We want to lose some weight, have more energy, use greener products, create nutritious meals for our families, get fit, and feel confident that we’re doing all we can to prevent serious diseases. But it’s so easy to feel […]

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