Cooperative Learning Archives - Eva Varga

April 10, 2015

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.

How to Start a Homeschool Co-op @EvaVarga.netWhat 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 to Start a Homeschool Co-op @EvaVarga.netHow 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.

How to Start a Homeschool Co-op @EvaVarga.netHomeschool 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.

How to Start a Homeschool Co-op @EvaVarga.netStep 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.



February 9, 20151

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy.

We have been really enjoying our new textbook, North Star Geography. As we have begun formal geography lessons the kids inquired if we couldn’t also resume the geography co-cop as we had done when they were younger.

passportclubThe Passport Club

As I began to gather materials, I discovered The Passport Club, a geography program designed to encourage students to learn some or all of the names of the world’s countries. It was first developed as an enrichment program for schools to encourage parent involvement.

The Passport Club program is operated by Chris and Bob Manning, with the goal of giving teachers and parent volunteers the tools and guidance to develop geographic literacy and a curiosity about the world within their students.

“What a wonderful way for us to learn about the world. This could easily be integrated into our geography co-op,” I thought to myself.

I am delighted to now share how we have begun to use the The Passport Club program in conjunction with the North Star Geography curriculum.

How Does The Passport Club Work?

Each student is issued a Passport Book that lists the countries or locations to be learned each month of the school year. The passports are the same for all grades and students. There are five levels for each month and the student can decide how many levels she wishes to study. Note that the levels are inclusive: if a student wants to study at level three, she needs to study levels one and two also.

Each month the student receives a copy of a world outline map as well as a regional outline map marked with the locations assigned for the month. Over the course of the month, the students study the locations assigned for the month in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Every hardback purchase of North Star Geography from Bright Ideas Press includes a free Companion Guide that includes reproducible outline and reference maps that are perfect for The Passport Club as well as many note-taking pages and graphic organizers.

As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

The optional WonderMaps, also available from Bright Ideas Press, is a customizable collection of over 350 different maps.

The International Luncheon

The Passport Club is designed as an after school enrichment program but it can be easily adapted for home educators. In a homeschool setting, an International Luncheon – with food and presentations from each participating family – can be planned as a culminating celebration each month.

Families are encouraged to engage in Independent Study projects each month – a lapbook, a dance, a costume, a regional recipe, a 3-dimensional map, a poster of an animal in its native habitat, or a short presentation about the country. These projects could then be displayed at the International Luncheon and students can be given an opportunity to present what they have learned.

Families are also encouraged to bring a dish to share from one of the countries. Alternatively, one country could be assigned each month for a more focused study.

Checking Passports

Upon arrival at the International Luncheon each participating student comes to the Passport Check Table for 5-10 minutes, bringing their passports with them.

Starting at level one, the checker (a parent or teen volunteer) asks the students individually if they studied the level, and if so, to point out each location on an unlabeled map. The students must pass a level in order to go on to the next one.

Tips :: In kindergarten and first grade, the students are coached through level one, so that they all pass level one.  

If the student passes any levels, they then take their passport to the Stamp Desk. There they can pick a “stamp” for each level they passed, and it is pasted onto the Visa side of their passport page.

The “stamp” images utilized in the The Passport Club program are photographs, flags, or other graphics from the countries assigned that month. Alternatively, an assortment of cancelled postage stamps can be utilized and provide additional avenues for study (though these would need to be obtained independently by each family).

thepassportclubWhere Can I Find the Passport Books?

Passport Books and “stamp” image pages are available for purchase from the The Passport Club website. You can also find book marks, inspirational posters, T-shirts, and more!

Where Can I Find Cancelled Postage Stamps?

You may be able to obtain free stamps from local philatelists or from the American Philatelic Society.  At local and regional philatelic shows, there are tables of cancelled postage stamps free for children.

I’ve written extensively about using postage stamps in education and have contributed a chapter to the Big Book of Homeschool Ideas titled How to Use Postage Stamps for Learning.  You may also be interested in my earlier post, Stamp Collecting and Exhibiting.