Do you find that you don’t get around to those interesting hands-on projects you envision? Have you found yourself wanting to develop friendships with other homeschoolers and just don’t know where to begin? Consider starting a homeschool co-op. It can be an enriching, rewarding experience in the home education journey.
What is a Homeschool Co-op?
A homeschool co-op is a cooperative learning experience with a small number of families. Parents work together to enrich their children’s education as they share their gifts, talents, and expertise.
A co-op, by definition, is not a “drop off” class situation. It implies parental involvement. Doing a small co-op allows us as homeschool parents to participate in a group learning experience and remain intricately involved in the learning/teaching process with our children.
A small co-op can be an exciting and motivating way to study a particular topic while opening the door to building lifelong friendships.
By being a part of a co-op, everyone can share the load and work on the lessons and experiments together. The burden doesn’t fall on one person.
How Do I Get Started?
Step 1 – Find Your Tribe
It is important to find people who are like-minded in their educational philosophy, parenting style, and worldview. Choose families with children that are similar in age and interests.
Consider the group dynamics. Ask yourself if you are happy with the role your children will have in relation to the other children. Think about if your child will be the only boy or girl, the youngest or oldest, etc. Are you happy for your child to spend time with the other children there? Is it going to help your child grow and mature? Can your children help the other children grow and mature?
Step 2 – Select Classes & Find a Venue
Talk it over with one another. What skills sets do you, as parents, have that you could share with others? Perhaps you enjoy reading literature and engaging in book talks? Perhaps you have a talent in wood-working or knitting?
Often, the classes you want to provide will help determine the venue. If a parent wants to provide lessons in archery, you need a backyard or open area that is distant enough from structures and other people for safety reasons. Consider partnering with just one or two other families and meeting at your home.
Teaching the subject of science can be daunting for homeschooling parents. This is why studying science within a small co-op can be an excellent choice for many families.
I love to teach science and a lot of experience doing just that. I thereby teach our science co-op (STEM Club). Until recently, I also taught our Literature Circle (which incorporates Writer’s Workshop and Book Club). I can’t do it all, however, and neither should you!
I’ve thereby asked the other parents to take over the responsibilities for Literature Circle. Having another parent (or two or three) willing to partner with you can make all the difference.
Homeschool Co-op Ideas
- Hands-on Science
- Writer’s Workshop
- Book Club
- Nature Study
- Field Trips
- Guest Speakers
- Art Classes
- Lego Club or FIRST Lego League
- Foreign Language
- Handcrafts such as wood-working or knitting
- Sports like archery, sailing, or fly fishing
Step 3 – How Will Supplies / Materials be Purchased?
Additional things you will want to consider is the cost of materials. What learning materials will everyone have to purchase? Who will pay for any consumable items needed for experiments?
Teaching hands-on science requires a lot of prep work in advance. Depending upon the topic, it can also require a lot of materials for lab activities. For STEM Club, I charge $40 for each 6-week cycle. This covers the cost of any consumables and helps offset the cost of more expensive items like chemistry glassware and microscopes.
For Literature Circle and Roots & Shoots, there is no cost (unless families choose to purchase the book selected for Book Club).
Step 4 – How Often Will You Meet?
Most co-ops that I participate in (STEM Club, Writer’s Workshop, etc.) meet once a week. Some, like Book Club or Nature Study meet just once a month. This is something you will want to discuss with the other parent coordinators.
You will find that some classes work best on a weekly basis. Feel free to play around with different options to find what works best for your families.
Step 5 – What Will Be Covered?
The last thing to consider as a group is what types of things will be covered together in co-op and what will students (families) need to do on their own?
In STEM Club, we do most of the book learning independently at home. We do the hands-on activities and experiments together in class.
I assign homework and activities for the families that complement what I cover in class. Often, the homework is selected to provide some background knowledge or information to help prepare for the lab.
In Roots & Shoots, I lead a monthly outing or nature walk. At the end of each walk, I lead the group in a nature journaling activity (weather permitting). Sometimes I allow the kids to select something of interest. Other times, I assign a specific sketch depending upon the objective for the outing. Often we are unable to complete these during our gathering so the families are encouraged to finish these at home.
Advice from Seasoned Co-op Leaders
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Have clear expectations for parents and children. Have clearly defined objectives.
- Relax and have fun.
- Go with the flow.
- Show up on time and come prepared.
- Enjoy learning with your kids and other families.
- Be humble and flexible.
- Learn to forgive quickly.
- Voice your expectations and concerns. Listen to what others have to say.
- Let the families share their gifts, talents, abilities, and strengths with the group.
How About You?
Do you participate in a homeschool co-op? What types of classes have you taken through co-op? What tips or advice do you have for families just getting started with forming a homeschool co-op? Share your thoughts and comments below.