If you are familiar with homeschooling, you will probably be familiar with co-ops. Co-ops are basically groups of families that come together, usually once a week, and pool the talents of the homeschooling parents to meet their kid’s educational needs. In our co-op a gifted ESOL teacher teaches
Our co-op Thanksgiving feast.
Latin for all of our children. I am a lawyer, so I teach Logic and History. This year I will finally get to teach government! Another mom teaches art and a fourth, using Five In a Row for literature, occupies our little ones. Large tuition based co-ops like Classical Conversations (http://Classicalconversations.com) have become very popular, as have support group based co-ops. We joined one last year to take advantage of beginning band class.
My mother discovered co-ops during the KONOS unit study days. I loved the American Indian units. We did such amazing projects. Once when we tried to authentically dip wax candles over an open fire, in a Colonial unit study, the wax caught fire and flames almost caught the live oaks near our house on fire. Good times. Not to worry, It was because mom used an old popcorn gift tin as a wax melting pot and a hole melted right into the bottom. Don’t try this at home.
We have seen quite a few co-ops come and go in our almost decade together. We have discovered a few guiding principles that keep our co-op families excited to tackle new challenges year after year.
Co-op field trip to Creation Studies Institute
Habits of Highly Happy Co-ops:
Find like-minded families. We are an ethnically diverse group, but we all have the same end in mind. For us, it is our children’s spiritual growth and character, then a well-rounded classical education. Whatever your big goals are for your co-op, each family involved needs to catch the vision.
Keep it small. Too many kids requires the addition of classroom management techniques. Too many parents means trying to corral too many subjects and opinions. It heightens the likelihood of conflict.
Agree on a few basic rules and conflict resolution protocol. Our rules are simple: No drop off – every mom must contribute in some way. We want everyone to take ownership in the success of the co-op and to personally monitor their children’s progress. If we see potential for new members, we cannot just invite them; we must see how they fit with us and we with them. We use Charlotte Mason’s methods for early education and classical thereafter. If conflict arises, pray diligently about the issue. Follow Matthew 18: 15-19 if the Lord leads you to further action.
Do not try to tackle too much. Choose subjects within your group’s gifting that are best suited to a group setting. Our mainstays have been history, art and Latin. These are things that some parents find intimidating or messy to try at home. They work perfectly at a park, with a group.
Consider meeting outdoors. Charlotte Mason says to never do indoors what can be done outdoors. We meet in a park so that no one has to host us and clean up a mess or worry about baby proofing. We find it helps kids concentrate. There is the occasional distraction, but natural lighting and fresh air are worth much more to us.
Pray. We pray, as moms, as families, as co-op leaders, separately and together. We drench the whole school year and every student in a flood of prayer. Commit your plans to the Lord and you will succeed. Proverbs 16:3.
Expect the best. Come expecting to have fun.
Learning to build a campfire on a co-op camping trip.
If you are dragging through each week, then something needs an overhaul. Look for the best in your trying students. Give grace when a family cannot help out or has been flaky with attendance or assignments due to legitimate crisis. But do not hesitate to speak the truth in love if, after prayer, you see destructive patterns.
Enjoy the fellowship and talents of other homeschool families. Happy co-oping!