Homeschool co-ops are a great way to enhance your children’s education experience. But, if you are new to homeschooling or to an area, you may be wondering how to start one. I remember when we made a last minute move to a new area, all the co-ops were already full for the year. And, I really didn’t know what one looked like or how I could start one of my own. I just knew that it sounded like a great idea.
Now that I have been a part of different co-ops and started two of my own, I can truly say what a blessing they are. But, you need to know a few things before you begin. So, if you are thinking about starting a homeschool co-op, here are 6 things to know before you start.
Have Clear Purpose, Goals, and Expectations
One of the first things you will want to decide is the purpose, goals, and expectations for your co-op. Here are some questions to consider:
- Will you study a certain subject? Art, science, history, etc.?
- What curriculum(s) will you use, if any?
- Who will be your point person (if not you)?
- Who will send out communication updates to the group? How? Email, text, Facebook group?
- What are the goals for the semester or year?
- What are the expectations for the moms and the students?
- How often will you meet?
- Who will lead each week?
- What is the commitment level?
- How long will each meeting last?
- What will you do about snack?
- Are there any food allergies to be avoided?
- Where will you meet? One person’s home? Rotate homes? A church classroom?
- What ages/grades will you accommodate?
- What will you do with younger siblings that are not old enough for the co-op?
- How will you handle discipline?
Be Organized but Flexible
You will want to make sure that your co-op is organized well. This requires a lot of communication. You will want to establish a guideline for how each meeting session will break down. And, make sure everyone is in the loop each week/month for any updates or changes.
Make sure you highlight the importance for showing up on time. Homeschoolers can tend to be a little more relaxed in this area. But, you want to create a definite start and end time to respect everyone’s time commitments.
Yet, balance that with grace. Everyone is going to have a rough morning/day every once in awhile. Just go ahead and get started, and if a family comes in late, welcome them right into where you are at.
Also, while it is helpful to have a general guideline for each meeting, allow for each teacher to use her own skills and styles. The kids will benefit from that. I know from the co-ops we have been a part of, almost every teacher has been very different and has brought her own twist to the lesson. This is very enriching for the students.
One of the best parts of doing co-ops is the community that can develop from them. However, this usually won’t happen by itself or overnight. You have to intentionally foster community and give it time. There are different ways you can do this:
- Have families stay after the meeting and bring a lunch to let the kids play and the moms chat, if your space allows
- Let the kids color quietly for the first few minutes to allow them to get their wiggles out and and offer moms a chance to chat or pray together
- Set playdates outside of co-op times to meet together
- Go on field trips together
- Have moms do a Bible study together during co-op when it is not their turn to teach
- Send out email or text prayer requests
- Have fun together on holidays and birthdays
Be creative with other opportunities for creating community. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen right away. Hopefully the co-op you create will last for years. Give it time, step out of your comfort zone, and take initiative for fostering community. When it does happen, you and your kids will be blessed.
I know this seems basic, but it really is effective. If you need help finding people to do a co-op with, pray for like-minded families. Or, if you are just starting a co-op, pray for wisdom and unity. Maybe you are struggling with different personalities, pray for grace and compassion.
We can so often get caught up in details and try to make things happen on our own. Remember, God is in this with you!
Remember the Benefits
The benefits of being a part of a homeschool co-op are extensive. Like I mentioned above, they can offer community. Your kids can meet other homeschoolers in your area and develop personal friendships. And, moms get the chance to meet with like-minded moms and gain wisdom and encouragement for any struggles or joys they are experiencing.
Also, it is fun for kids to learn together in larger groups sometimes. They can learn from the older students, not only in the subject you are studying, but also as positive role models.
Homeschool co-ops also offer kids the opportunity to:
- learn from and respect different teachers
- handle peer conflict
- listen well to others
- share their ideas in front of a group
- arrive on time to a classroom environment, and
- just plain have fun with other homeschoolers
I know for my kids, they look forward to our science co-op each week and our monthly art co-op. It really is a highlight of their day or week!
And, for moms, it gives us the opportunity to share the load of doing experiments, crafts, and outdoor experiences. Plus, it can give you a mini-break in your week while another trusted mom is teaching your sweet kiddos.
Finally, if you find yourself wanting to do a co-op but feel overwhelmed, start small. Gather one or two other families – that’s all you really need.
I knew I wanted to teach more art this year but felt very intimidated. I simply mentioned my desire to 2 other families with whom my kids are friends. And guess what, they were feeling the same way! So, we just decided to meet once per month for the second semester of the year and do different art genres. And it has been so much fun!
Don’t feel like it has to be a big group. Pray for a few other families and get started, no matter what time of year it is.
I hope these 6 things to know before you start a homeschool co-op have helped you. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave a comment as I would love to address them. Co-ops can be such a blessing to you and your kids.
And if you have an example to share of how your family has been blessed by co-ops, I’d love to hear that as well!