Welcome to “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler…” It’s your turn to ask the authors of NextGen Homeschool — four formerly homeschooled moms who are now homeschooling our children — to weigh in on your homeschooling questions. From the practical to the personal, all questions are welcome — whether you’re a current homeschooler or just homeschooling curious!
This week’s question is: What about cooperative — aka “co-op” — homeschooling?
The “co-op” homeschooling landscape has changed significantly since we were all homeschooled. Back then, we were fortunate to have occasional park days and group field trips with other homeschooling families. Today, “co-op” opportunities are more prevalent than ever as the homeschooling community has grown — especially in populated areas. With so much available, what do we choose to utilize and why?
NextGen Homeschool Author Cristina Eklund
Was homeschooled since the 6th grade
Began homeschooling in 2010: Son (6) and daughter (4)
After attending two different co-ops in the past two years and learning about how several others work, here are my personal opinions regarding incorporating a “co-op” into your homeschool plans:
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!
2) Establish common goals. A 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.
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.
Back when my mom started homeschooling in the late 80s, I only had two years left of high school. Most of my college requirements (especially in math and science) were completed already, so I don’t remember my mom looking for co-op educational opportunities as much as social ones. We did attend park days and field trips with other families, and our support group even had a “promotion night” at the end of the year to celebrate graduates at all ages.
When I started homeschooling, I was really excited to learn about the vast opportunities available now. In fact, the support group I joined was offering weekly co-op classes for elementary ages & teens taught at a classroom-like location, covering subjects such as art, language, music, geography and writing. I dove in right away, because in my mind this was the perfect blend between the mostly solo homeschooling I had experienced and the traditional school atmosphere. Even though it was nice to have subjects like art and music covered by parents who excelled in these areas, I was really looking to fill our social needs more than anything.
However, our support group had grown so much that year, the formal weekly co-op wasn’t going to be sustainable for the future without a major shift in the group’s mission and administration. So in our second year of homeschooling, I had to look outside our group for existing co-ops other than the field trips and monthly activities provided by my group. In the end, our only weekly co-op was an organized homeschool PE program, and once a month we did elementary presentation day with our support group. We also did weekly AWANA at our church, and the girls had lots of friends they enjoyed spending time with there.
It was an easier schedule to maintain, for sure, but I found that I really did miss the regular social interaction with the other homeschooling moms. Plus, my eldest two daughters were entering the “tween” phase, and I could tell that they needed more opportunities to develop healthy friendships. The final straw that broke this mama’s back was when the homeschooling family around the corner — who also had three daughters of similar ages to mine, making playdates and impromptu social times a snap — moved to Wyoming in the spring. All three of my girls were losing a close friend, and I was losing a mama friend too!
This year, our homeschool support group decided to hold a co-op workshop over the summer to introduce the idea of establishing small co-ops on our own within the group. We currently have more than 70 families in membership, and the idea was that if we could help connect families with common goals and children of common ages with one another, co-ops could flourish in a more organic way. I knew I really wanted a co-op for myself and my girls, so I was really excited about this idea.
At the same time, I had been feeling a nudge from the Lord to do a tween girls book club, both to give my girls a good social opportunity and turn them on to books with Godly character focus. I shared the idea at our co-op workshop, and before I knew it, I had a handful of moms of tween girls interested in starting the book club with me! God is awesome that way: He really brought a wonderful group of moms and girls together with a common mission and focus. Getting the logistics into place has been a breeze because we’re all on the same page.
The co-op is a little larger than I had planned: We have 13 moms, and more than a few have more than one daughter participating. At our first mixer yesterday, I counted 33 total moms and daughters chatting up a storm in my house — and that wasn’t everyone! We decided to split up the girls into three small discussion groups by age, and every meeting will conclude with at least an hour of social time and snacking. Moms will be taking turns providing snacks, supervising the younger siblings during discussion time, and hosting at their home. We’re reading the “Secret Keeper Girl” fictional series by Dannah Gresh first, and many of the moms will also be doing the group activities from Gresh’s “8 Great Dates for Moms & Daughters” together as well.
I completely agree with the advice my sister Cristina shared. Co-ops can be such a blessing when they meet the needs of your family! But they can also get you off track, keep you too busy, or distract from what you personally want to accomplish as a homeschooling parent. I do think that it’s vital to find some form of support with other homeschoolers in your community, though. Pray about it, and I believe that God will open the right doors for you to find the support you need.
In the past, I have been a minimal homeschool group participant and never did formal co-ops (unless you count the days we school with my sister and her girls). My girls were middle-school age when we started homeschooling, and they didn’t really like going to new things. They had their neighborhood friends and church friends already, so they didn’t feel the need for anything else.
We did participate in one small support group, but we barely met once a month and did about three field trips a year together. I enjoyed the fellowship with a few other moms, and the girls got to spend some time making new friends. But that group disbanded years ago, and we never bothered to try again. We were busy and hanging out with my sister’s family — along with weekly PE class, a random homeschool skate day and some family field trips — and that was enough to get us through.
But this year, I felt a major change was in order. Joel is the only one I am schooling at this time. He is in 2nd grade work, and he needs lots of activity to stay busy or else he just wants to play video games and watch cartoons on Netflix. We already meet with my sister’s family twice a week for joint schooling and go to a weekly PE class, but I felt that wasn’t enough this year.
So we signed up for soccer and piano. So far so good. So I decided I’d also join the Victory Homeschool Group and enroll Joel in their Monday co-op classes. He will be taking art and science, as well as participating in a Lego Club, on Mondays. And I must admit, I am feeling isolated and in need of friendship.
Already I am starting to feel too busy. Monday is co-op from 1:00-4:00pm. Tuesday is soccer practice. Wednesday my toddler Leif is at Mother’s Day Out. Thursday Leif is at MDO again, and from 10:00am-2:00pm my sister Liz comes over here, plus we have 2:00pm PE, 4:30pm piano lesson, and a 7:00pm soccer practice. Friday we are at Liz’s house from 10:00am-2:00pm. Saturday there are soccer games. At least soccer is over at the end of October!
Joel is loving it all right now. He has also had a chance to go skating twice since school started. We went to Homeschool Skate Day a couple of weeks ago, and a week ago we went to the Victory Group Kick-off Party at a skating rink inside a large church.
Yeah… So attending that kick-off party reminded me why I didn’t like joining groups in the past. It is excruciatingly painful trying to meet new people — for me anyway. I’m not exactly shy, but I’m not very outgoing and I just felt very awkward all night. The boys played and made new friends, but I just stood on the sidelines watching and trying to find someone I thought I could start a conversation with.
The biggest problem I realized right away was that I was pretty much the only one there without her spouse (and it wasn’t publicized that this was a bring-your-spouse event). Add that to the fact that most of the people already knew each other and had things to talk about. I’m not saying people weren’t nice: They said “hi” and welcome, but then they moved on.
At one point I went to the bathroom and checked the mirror to make sure my clothes were straight and that Leif hadn’t left stains on my clothes, my hair was still in place (somewhat), and that I still had makeup on — so that wasn’t the problem. I tried to smile friendly and I even stepped outside my comfort zone (even more) when at one point I started a conversation with someone who I thought might have a friend in common with me. Nope — that conversation lasted about two minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging the people there for not inviting me in or being more friendly. I have been where they are, with all my friends around me and so much to talk about and catch up on that I totally didn’t realize there was a new, nervous person in the room. It is hard to think about drawing new people in when you are in your comfort group. Especially if that new person looks awkward and you aren’t sure how to approach them. I just hope that once Joel starts class and we are around the parents a little more, things will get easier. Because I don’t think I can handle another night like last night.
We attended our first co-op day this past Monday afternoon. I took Leif to the childcare, then found Joel’s art class. After taking care of that, I ran a quick errand. I was back by second hour, when Joel had science class. I had a conversation with a couple of moms about curriculum before I picked up Leif, and that was enjoyable.
During the third hour, there is no childcare available so Leif and I tried hanging out in the cafe. After chasing Leif around for 30 minutes, I finally gave up and went to Joel’s third hour class, which was Lego Club. He was having fun and I discovered there were other moms sitting in the back of the room talking, so Leif and I joined them. I talked for a bit with a mom I somewhat knew. By now, the fact that Leif hadn’t had a nap and had eaten very little lunch was quite apparent so we left as soon as class was over.
Overall a good first day, and I will be better prepared with lunch and activities for Leif next week to help make it a more enjoyable experience.
How do you view co-op homeschooling opportunities? What do you utilize and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic!
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