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?
Rachel @ 6512 and growing
Thanks for sharing. Interesting to hear what others are doing.
My kids have been attending a homeschool co-op for 3 years. The way it works: the same four kids rotate through each parent’s home week by week. Each parent teaches the group of kids 1x/month on a pre-arranged (by kids and parents) topic. Topics last for 4 weeks. We just finished “peacemakers” and are beginning “the history of play.”
This co-op has given more gifts than I could have expected. The kids have “a learning community,” the parents get a break, I’ve learned about geology, money, the circulation system, and many other topics I may not have otherwise. Mostly, I don’t feel so alone.
Yes Rachel! That is definitely another benefit of finding a co-op — that feeling of community and understanding 🙂
Unfortunately, my reason for not finding a co-op has been the cost. All of the co-ops in our area cost around $500 per year per family plus the cost of whatever curriculum is being used. That’s fine if you have a couple of kids, but when you have ten kids and one income, well…it’s a bit much. It’s really a shame, though, because our neighborhood doesn’t really have any other children, so the only place my kids get to see other kids is at church. You would think that the fact that I live in a pretty big city would give more options, but I haven’t found anything within our price range.
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Why not start your own on meetup.com?
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We joined a co-op this past year and are in our second “semester” currently. The main goal of this particular co-op is for the kids to form friendships with other homeschoolers. I love that because who can relate better to you than other homeschoolers?! It amazes me how different we all are – we range from un schooling to traditional textbook teaching – and yet how similar we all are. All parents are required to teach a class or help in a class or the nursery. This time I am teaching two classes so it is definitely more prep work for me. Our co-op meets on Mondays, and by the end of the day, I am completely drained. 🙂 my autistic son loves it but has definitely hit overwhelm mode by the end of the co-op day. I love it for the connections, the community, and the cool things my kids are getting to learn, and I’m not so excited about the lunch packing, the getting up and getting out the door at a certain time, and the extra work it takes to run the co-op smoothly. 🙂 It had definitely been worth it for my family so far.
Oh the lunch packing! Yes Jeanette!! I am with you on the lunch packing. Can’t we all just eat when we get home? 😉 We are lucky though, that a member of our group donated a microwave, so we do have some extra options!
Hi! This is our first year homeschooling, we live in Houston, TX. Does anyone know of a co-op here? Thank you!
I am not sure which side of Houston you live in, but here is a great link to many Houston area homeschool organizations, classes, co-ops, etc.: http://houston.areahomeschoolclasses.com
There are many places here that offer HomeSchool Days! So be sure and search online for “Houston Area Home School Day” – Hopefully, events like NASA Space Center, Houston Health Museum, etc. will pop up. You will be surprised at how many places and people offer activities for home schoolers. (ex. Aerodrome on the NW side offers 50% discount on ice skating lessons to home schoolers during the week. ;o) Welcome to Home Schooling!
Great post! We’ve done a couple of different co-ops in the last year or so. Both had different things to offer, but we got so overwhelmed with other (family) obligations that we chose to sit out this time around. Now we’re looking at possibly joining 4-H, partly because I think the fit will be better for the kids, and partly because they don’t meet as often. Looking forward to trying something new when they start up in the fall!
We really prefer 4h over co-op, because there is more flexibility and it is spread out over the week, instead of one exhausting day.
Great post! I’m lucky to have found a few families with preschool age kids (all 5 or under) and we are meeting weekly for play dates in hopes that we can add some stories, songs and crafts for next year. We tried a few, but mostly just let the kids play together.
That sounds great Angel! One of my kids’ absolutely favorite parts of our co-op is seeing their friends. I often wonder if that isn’t the most important thing, and if he classes are just a really nice bonus 😉
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We’re just getting our feet wet in the homeschooling thing. We joined a co-op on meetup.com and found that there are 50 families in our area in it (we live in a very rural area)! We are super excited and even found out our local YMCA holds weekly “gym” for two hours (one hour swim, one hour gym with trainers). There are massive field trips and options available. I feel like we’ve hit the jackpot and I’m so excited 🙂 And our “fees” are $5 a year to cover the meet up fee online.
Sadly, I haven’t found any co-ops yet in my area. I have been actively working on it tho. Most of the “local” homeschooling groups I know of are not in my area – I’m in a rural area. On top of that, I live in an area where the primary language is french, we’re english. I would welcome my daughter joining french groups but so far “local” co-ops I’ve asked to join have politely said no, as I would have to take a turn teaching in french. I’ve literally been asking any local parents I meet if they are homeschooling or know of anyone and have been following up on all leads. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. I really want my daughter involved in a co-op so I’m extremely persistent. 🙂 And I didn’t know that about local libraries. I’ll have to look into that.
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Well i want to start a co op for 2-6 year olds, and im super confused on where to start. See since I have the space in my home, I would like to do it here. I am also a certified teacher with a ton of experience. I guess my question is since im providing a location and materials as well as craft and lessons. Should I charge other parents who are interested in co oping? Since I have so much experience and ideas I wouldnt mind being the only one teaching as long as parents are involved by keeping their kids on track. Any advice is good advice. Thank you!
In my experience, you might want to be more flexible about people adding their own contributions to a co-op than just offering to hire yourself as the teacher. Most homeschoolers are extremely independent, and don’t want to put their kids in a school, which is why they homeschool. You could offer to do the lion’s share of the work of teaching, but don’t charge, just offer that people can join and contribute what they want to–you may end up with things you want to farm out, and this will make it seem more co-op-y and less like school to the others. And, you may find it more overwhelming than you think! Dealing with other people’s kids in your home, etc. And, it’s not a formal school situation, so kids may mind you less and be more needful of learning boundaries, etc. Homeschool kids sometimes need to learn to abide by common rules, etc. I did a tutorial with my husband in our home with 4 boys, including our high school aged son, in logic and rhetoric, and we decided not to charge, since basically we were asking for a class for our son to learn with. It’s been a lot of work, but everyone seems happy. And our son has more community than otherwise for learning in, and they learn from each other. Just my two cents. I’ve been homeschooling for 12 years, plus the pre-school years I didn’t do much formal schooling, and I’ve experienced two different co-ops and some informal support groups. This seems to be the course that works best for me…..blessings on your journey, though, whatever you decide to do. It’s hard to mix making money with homeschooling, in general…..MB
However, if you do decide to ask for some payment in return for your co-op leading, I hope it works well. There may be some moms out there that just need a break, and you can deliver it! Blessings on your journey in that regard. Friends I know ended up starting a co-op through our church, and it quickly became a supplemental schooling system that really defines homeschooling in our area. It’s music and arts based with a literature and history basis to the academics, although they also do science, and goes all the way through rhetoric. They are very successful and it’s been a blessing to many in our community, essential two day a week school. Many good co-ops start with leaders like you who know how to do it, so don’t be afraid to try. Even if you feel led to charge money for it, it may become a growing concern. Just try it and see…..but don’t be surprised if you need to open the door to others to help lead, as many homeschooling moms like to be in charge, myself included :)!!!
Such a thorough and complete description and explanation of a co op. Just what I needed. Thank you!
Totally agree! When someone hears that my son doesn’t go to school and is being taught at home, they usually go like: what, who does he communicate with, then? At this point, I always have to explain what co-op means in the homeschooling sense. The fact that a kid doesn’t go to school as everyone doesn’t equal to the fact that he’s socially isolated.