Homeschooling parents are the primary educators of their children and with this comes the responsibility and challenge of making learning fun while covering all academic subjects.
It can be overwhelming at times to say the least! That’s where co-ops come in.
They are groups of like-minded moms coming together with one common goal of creating great learning opportunities for their children while sharing the teaching role amongst each other.
There are many benefits to belonging to a co-op. It is a great place to connect with other homeschooling families in your area and an opportunity to involve your child in activities that you may not be able to provide at home. It is also an amazing support group for moms where you can find encouragement and advice from other moms just like you.
Co-ops come in many different shapes and sizes. From the large group that meets at the community hall to the ultra small with two best friends that share their kitchen table together. They are not a ‘one size fits all’ situation either since they may range in teaching philosophy to age groups to how many classes they offer, and they are definitely not just for homeschoolers!
Mothers of toddlers and pre-schoolers may want to join forces and create art classes, a music and movement group, or a tumble/gymnastic class. If you are looking for a more educational spin you may want to have story time using a great unit studies like Before Five In A Row which is perfect for 2-4 year olds using picture books to teach readiness skills like brushing your teeth, things to do in the kitchen and more, or Come Sit By Me for 4-7 year olds which uses Canadian picture books and activities to cover art, language arts, science and so on.
Older children may be interested in after school co-ops involving book clubs, language or music lessons, sewing, woodworking, drama, photography, entrepreneurial skills and the list goes on.
Generally when you think of a co-op you think big and lots of kids, but it can actually be baking with Grandma or woodworking with an Uncle. You may be really lousy at art and a whiz with mathematics while your best friend is super crafty but couldn’t crunch a number if her life depended on it. Choose one day a week where you both get together and teach the subject that you are good at to all of the children and you have just created a small co-op. It’s that easy.
So you want to start a co-op, but where do you begin?
First, find a friend to start it with. Don’t do it all alone! Share the workload with each other so that you never feel like you’ve taken on to big a task.
Start by doing a little bit of homework. Figure out what the main focus of your co-op is going to be. What does your family need or expect to get from a co-op and what are you willing and not willing to do or offer?
Do you have a certain teaching philosophy such as Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, or Montessori that your family follows, and will it be limited to a certain age group only or will you offer a combination involving multiple ages? These are some of the big questions that will shape your vision of how you see your co-op.
Next, what sort of size do you envision it being? Just your family and a few good friends or do you want to open it up to the community?
There are a couple of really good pros and cons to having large and small co-ops. Small co-ops are easy to run involving a handful of families, can be operated right out of your home, don’t require a lot of book keeping to keep your funds organized and can be highly focused on a certain teaching philosophy or academic subject. Cons to a small co-op are that you may be limited as to how many learning options you can offer due to limited funding and it will include a lot of parent involvement.
Large co-ops will create more funds available to offer a broader range of activities and academics, you may be able to hire outside teachers to come in and lead some of the classes if you wish, and with more parents the shared teaching responsibilities can be spread out with less parent involvement.
Cons to a large co-op are that you will need to open a separate checking account and have a treasurer to keep track of your budget and enrollment fees. Then, find a suitable space to meet at such as a church or community hall that will be large enough and offer the facilities you wish to use such as a kitchen, playground etc. and you may need to provide your own liability insurance in case of an accident. If you are planning to run a larger co-op, figuring out your rent and liability insurance costs will help you to determine the minimum amount that you will need to charge per child.
With all of that answered you are ready to move on to the next step of sending out an invitation to other members of the community or your group of friends, working out which programs you will be offering, deciding which day and time is most suitable, and then watching your co-op flourish.
Remember though, don’t do it all alone. The more the merrier!
Some of you may be interested in joining a co-op with your children but not interested in helping out with the managerial aspect of it and that’s great to but keep in mind that it is still a big commitment if you do decide to sign up.
As the name co-op implies it is a co-operative program between all parents and will include some degree of participation from you. This varies from group to group. Like I had previously mentioned, small co-ops are usually very parent intensive and most likely you will be expected to take on a portion of the teaching in a subject that you enjoy and feel comfortable doing. While with a larger co-op you may only have to help out once or twice a month with craft preparation, monitoring outside playtime or perhaps making the snack at break time.
Don’t be shy though if asked to help out with some of the teaching responsibilities. It is a fantastic way to share some of your knowledge and talents with the children and be a positive role model at the same time.
No matter what role you play as a member of a co-op both you and your children will come out enriched in many ways.