Two frequently asked questions about homeschooling are: 1) How do you teach all the subjects? and 2) What about socialization?
There are many ways to address each of those issues, but one way to take care of both of them is to join a homeschool co-op. A co-op is made up of families who work together to create enrichment or academic classes for their children. Co-ops are usually held in churches, homes, libraries, or community centers. Teachers may be parent volunteers or paid tutors. A fee is collected from each family to pay for teachers, supplies, and the costs of using a building, if necessary.
What is the difference between an enrichment co-op and an academic one?
An enrichment or activity-based co-op is not meant to replace academic subjects taught at home. Enrichment co-ops are designed to provide fun, variety, and new experiences in a classroom setting. An enrichment co-op may also host field trips or park days. Examples of enrichment classes in a co-op include: watercolor painting, drama, fun physics, cooking, chess, or book club.
Enrichment co-ops are offered for all ages, but are usually most popular with younger children. The co-op day is usually no longer than three to four hours and meets once a week.
My family participated in an enrichment co-op for three years. It met at a local church and was completely run by mothers. In fact we called ourselves Moms In Action or M.I.A. for short. We offered classes for preschool through high school every Friday for “semesters” that lasted eight to ten weeks each. Our schedule usually followed the same breaks as local public and private schools. Different classes were offered for different age groups, and kids had a variety to choose from. Our co-op day would start with the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, a prayer, and announcements. Kids would attend three separate classes, each about an hour long. At the end of the morning, families could choose whether or not to stay for lunch. Luckily, a couple of fast food restaurants were within walking distance of the church, but some brought their own lunch. At the end of the semester, we’d have a special night for the kids to show off all the things they had learned and made. We also took field trips to the beach, the fire station, and other places of local interest. Seven years later, I am still close friends with many of the moms from this co-op.
An academic homeschool co-op, on the other hand, is usually more formal. Some operate like a parent-led private school. Teachers are usually certified or hold college degrees in their area of expertise. A variety of academic classes such as math, science, English, and history are offered, along with common electives like music, art, or foreign language. It is very much like “traditional” school, complete with homework and tests. Academic co-ops are especially appealing to middle and high school age students. They typically meet once or twice a week for a full day. Some students may only take a class or two, but for others co-op may be the bulk of their curriculum.
My youngest son took a physics class from a local academic co-op. Our experience was somewhat different than the norm because he only took one class; however, we got a good look at how an academic co-op works. This co-op was also held in a church building that had a lot of individual classrooms. There were snacks for sale in a common area. Classes met on Tuesdays and Thursdays and ran all day. Multiple sessions of the same class were usually offered. In between classes, students were expected to stay in the common area and study or socialize. This particular co-op has been active for several years.
The big thing that all co-ops have in common is co-operation. A well-run co-op has a core leadership team, perhaps a leader, co-leader, secretary, and treasurer. Meetings are held so parents, leaders, and teachers can discuss needs and expectations. In addition to paying fees, parents are often asked to take turns cleaning the facilities or volunteering as teachers or teaching assistants. Some co-ops might provide a nursery for siblings who are too young for classes. Volunteers will be needed to staff the nursery.
What if you want to start your own co-op? Before you take the plunge, spend a great deal of time researching and find at least one or two other like-minded parents you can trust to help grow your vision. First, you need to decide what your co-op’s main purpose and objectives are and find a place to hold classes. After you have established these things, along with the ground rules of how things will be run, hold parent interest meetings. When you determine what subjects or activities are most desired and you find teachers, you can begin preparing classes. Have all co-op rules in writing and ask members to sign acknowledging that they’ve read them. To be successful, each family should have a role or responsibility in the co-op. These are just some basic suggestions for starting your own group. Being involved in other co-ops and talking to leaders is another excellent way to get the background you need for starting your own.
Co-ops are a ton of fun! Your kids will make friends and so will you. Homeschooling is a community, and a co-op is one way to work together to have a broader, stronger, and richer homeschool experience.
Co-ops are also a lot of work, but it’s all worth it when you see your kids grasping algebra concepts, decorating cakes, writing essays, putting on puppet shows, dissecting sharks, or learning formal dinner manners.
Three cheers for co-ops and all the wonderful parents that run them!
Lillian Pluta is a former middle school language arts teacher, a published children’s book author, a seasoned homeschool mom with co-op teaching experience, and a freelance blogger. She currently lives along the South Texas coast with her family and a small menagerie of rescued animals. When she’s not teaching or writing, she enjoys learning to play classical guitar and watching sumo wrestling.