So here’s how it goes:
We all want connection. Every one of us.
We all want acceptance.
And in a perfect world, we want support.
We also want our kids to have pals, and to be able to destroy the “socialization” question on impact:
“WE HAVE A CO-OP, DIANE. PLEASE PASS THE ROLLS.”
And so we find ourselves stepping out, and joining a group. If we’re lucky, they have a website, but I’m going to tell you, from experience, that it’s likely terrible and was created in 2004.
They might have a Facebook group, but you can’t get in without 3 forms of ID and a secret service background check.
So you just have to show up.
You prep your kids the morning of to “act normal,” even though the minute you get there you see a shirtless toddler walking around with marker all over her face waving a toilet plunger over her head and a 17-year-old sitting on his mother’s lap braiding her hair.
OK. Maybe it’s not that obvious. Maybe instead you have to be a co-op detective.
Are people sitting in clusters, not making eye contact with people at other tables? Is anyone crying?
What I’m saying here is that the world of cooperatives (co-ops) can be hard to navigate. But co-ops can also be a wonderful part of your homeschooling.
The key is that for a co-op to benefit your family, it has to be a good fit.
Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of frustration. So let’s break this down a bit:
On Christian, secular, and in-between co-ops
I often have parents ask me what to do if they are a family that doesn’t identify as either completely secular or very religious.
“Are there co-ops for folks who go to church, but maybe don’t do Bible study as part of their homeschool or don’t use only Christian curriculum?”
First, this is important: Most co-ops are made up by families. Like literally made up. They are not affiliated with a state or national group, church or anything.
(This is tricky because a lot of co-ops meet at a church, but aren’t affiliated with said church.)
Many co-ops are 100 percent local and governed by the parents involved. My understanding is that even national groups are governed to some degree at the local level.
Second, this is challenging because a lot co-ops are either VERY Christian or VERY secular. It might be easy to tell based on the name or the info they share, but sometimes, you need to go to know.
It’s kind of like church – churches are really so much the people who make them up. So give it a visit or two and get a feel for the people. You can also ask to see the bylaws, rules, or any statements of faith.
On Weirdos (both kinds)
If you took a random poll of 100 orthodontists or Keto-enthusiasts or bowlers, at least 3 percent of them would prove themselves weirdos.
It’s just math and people.
My definition of weirdo might be different than yours, of course, but what you need to know is that YES – you could very well be walking into a weirdo swarm when you visit a co-op.
Weirdos are everywhere, and some of them homeschool. The end.
Breathe, be open, and ask questions. Get to know that dad who is super into Civil War re-enactments; talk to the lady covered in cat hair (she might be me!). You may have more in common than you think.
On Authoritarian lunatics and leaderless wanderers
Usually when you visit a co-op, you will meet some kind of leader.
Alternately, the co-op doesn’t have a leader, and this can be a red flag. Make sure you ask HOW they make decisions if no one is “in charge.”
Lots of co-ops have figured out democracy, but others are just a bunch of sweet creampuffs so terrified of confrontation that it takes 4 meetings to decide if they want to have an end of the year potluck.
If there is a leader, though, ask this person some questions: What are the expectations for the kids? How are adults expected to contribute? Have you been convicted of a felony?
A leader sets the tone of the group. If this person rubs you wrong, listen to your gut. Because as this person goes, so goes the group.
Sadly, co-ops can be breeding grounds for petty fights, bickering, cliques, sides and displays of both cruelty and untreated mental illness.
If you find yourself in a situation like this early on, it isn’t going to improve without drastic change.
So if you sense drama from the get-go, do yourself a favor and go find another co-op, or start your own, or give things 2-3 years to blow over and try again.
I know a lot of this sounds negative, but learn from my mis-steps, friends!
Here’s the good news: In 11 years of homeschooling, we have had co-ops AND we have gone without, and every one of those years has been filled with fun and adventure and plenty of great memories.
Just remember: It is FAR better to not have a co-op at all than to be in the wrong one.
Being in the wrong one takes up your precious time with the wrong stuff. Your time is better spent looking for or building something better for your kids.
So LISTEN TO YOUR GUT.
You might be new to homeschooling, but you’ve had your gut for a while. Don’t ignore it.
Last, these two posts might be helpful depending on where you’re at in the co-op journey:
- When Something Breaks Your Homeschool Heart
- Making Friends Through Homeschooling (without worrying about socialization)
Have you found a co-op that fits? If not, what helped you determine it wasn’t for your family?
If you enjoyed this post, take Jamie’s personality quiz and check out her newly released book, Introverted Mom: Your Guide to More Calm, Less Guilt, and Quiet Joy.