Written by Kara S. Anderson.
Before my son was born, I’m not sure I had ever heard the word “co-op.”
It speaks to the weird loner-joiner vibe that can hit new mothers, I think, that by the time my son was 2, I was co-op-ing like nobody’s business.
At one point my husband actually asked me: “Is everything we’re doing a co-op?”
Gently, patiently, with the sage wisdom that comes with being a part of something for two whole weeks, I explained that no – everything was not a co-op. Just our two separate buying clubs, and the place I had started doing a lot of our grocery shopping, and a parenting group I had joined that was taking a very democratic approach to its governing system.
Co-op is short for “cooperative,” and essentially means people working together toward a like goal. In the homeschooling sense, co-op means homeschooling families that come together to offer classes or programs, or sometimes just support one another.
It took us a bit of time and a few wrong turns before we found our homeschooling co-op. But once we did, we knew it was the perfect fit for our family.
If you’re wondering if a co-op might be right for your family, here are some things to consider:
The up side:
- Co-ops help you and your kids meet new friends.
- Co-ops usually meet on a set day at a set time, which makes keeping a family rhythm easier.
- Co-ops can help you teach your children. My kids have learned about native plants, worm composting, art techniques, creative writing and more from smart moms and dads essentially volunteering their time.
- Co-ops can help fill gaps. If you aren’t a math whiz or an artist, maybe someone else in your group is.
- Field trips! Field trips are one of my favorite parts of homeschooling, and having a group can mean access to really cool events (with group discounts!)
- Our co-op has helped us connect with great local resources, from organic farmers to yoga teachers.
- Legal support. Our group is part of a state group and annual dues go toward a legal fund. As far as I know, this isn’t an issue that comes up much in our state, but it is available if needed.
- It is a commitment. A co-op model doesn’t work if everyone isn’t willing to get involved.*
- Co-ops can be rough on introverts. It’s a lot at once. Even the most extroverted kid in our crew often comes home a little worn out from all the excitement and intensity.
- Co-ops may break your bubble. When you join any group, you are opening yourself up to new people and experiences. This means that if your kids don’t know about a popular television show, for instance, they might learn about it. But … the same applies to all pursuits. Hello origami, crochet, chess!
Other things to consider:
- Some co-ops are religion-based (or even require a religious commitment), and some are secular. To feel at home, it’s important to find a group that fits your family.
- Co-ops usually mean outside “structure.” Kids might get some experience being in a class, raising hands, taking turns, etc. But you might also encounter new rules or even a formal code of conduct.
- Cost. Our co-op runs between $100 and $150 for the whole year for our two kids. But cost can vary based on several factors, including facility rental, supplies, and dues.
- *Involvement requirements. Some groups require parents to teach or volunteer in another way. Other jobs can include assisting a teacher, working as secretary at meetings, serving as a treasurer, doing public relations for the group or even bringing snacks or donating supplies.
- Not all co-ops cater to all types of homeschoolers. In our town, we have a group that acts very much as two-day-a-week school, complete with textbooks. Another offers classes based on academics and interests and is made up of a lot of interest-led learners. And a few other groups in town cater to specific homeschooling styles, like Classical.
What to do if there are no co-ops that ‘fit’
We feel so fortunate to have found a co-op we love, but I often hear from homeschoolers who can’t find a group in their community that feels “right.”
But starting a co-op can be as easy as joining up with a group of friends on a regular basis.
- My friend and I did a science co-op last year with our kids, taking turns planning activities and visiting each other’s houses each week.
- In our community, a small group of families began a group only to have a thriving co-op a year later.
- Libraries will often “rent” space for free to non-profit groups, and parks and backyards can provide great meeting spaces in good weather.
My experience with co-ops has taught me that the most important thing about forming a group is having some like interests, plus commitment.
The promise of regular meetings about anything from art, to math, to a book club to just packing lunches and hitting a trail together can make you as much a co-op as yearly dues and a class schedule.
Co-ops can provide a wonderful experience for families who find the right fit. The best way to learn if a co-op is right for you is to schedule a visit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and frankly, to run for the hills if the vibe feels off.
Because when you find the right place, you’ll know it – and it will feel almost just like home.
Are you part of a homeschool co-op? What pros and cons have you discovered being part of an organized homeschool group?