As the popularity of homeschooling increases, so do the opportunities for getting together with other homeschoolers. One way to do this is to join a homeschool co-op.
There are advantages and disadvantages to joining a co-op. But even if you decide that a co-op isn’t right for your family, you needn’t miss out on the benefits. A co-op doesn’t work for us right now – I’ll share below about some of the things we do instead.
What is a homeschool co-op?
Here in the UK, a co-op is a group of homeschooling parents who get together regularly to teach their children. Each parent offers a different class and children choose which classes they want to take.
Co-ops might meet weekly, fortnightly or even monthly. They can be quite informal, but most groups that consider themselves co-ops rather than social groups have a bit more structure.
Benefits of joining a homeschool co-op
1. You can pool resources and leverage your talents. Your children can benefit from another mum’s artistic flair while you get to run a science course, or vice versa.
2. Variety. Your children have a larger choice of subjects than you might think to offer. Even if you do project-based or interest-led homeschooling, there are topics your children might not come across in your home environment. You never know where that might lead.
3. Exposure to different teaching styles. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we get to know our children’s learning styles and can tailor our teaching to help them learn best. But another adult’s teaching style might be a natural match with your child’s learning style, which could be good for their confidence and help them understand tricky topics.
4. Social benefits for the children. By seeing the same people regularly, your children will have the chance to make friends with similar interests. They’ll have valuable opportunities to learn to work collaboratively. Extroverted children in particular will benefit from co-ops in this way.
5. Of course, the adults also get to make friends and mutually support each other in their homeschooling goals. When I first took my kids out of school, I was like a sponge around the experienced homeschoolers I met in real life – I was so eager to absorb every bit of the wisdom they had to offer. Joining a co-op in the early days of homeschooling provides a ready-made support network.
6. It’s inexpensive. You get the benefit of (relatively) expert teaching without paying for private tutoring. Curriculum costs can be shared, and you can save money by bulk-buying craft or science materials.
Disadvantages of joining a co-op
1. Being part of a co-op means having, to some degree, a common educational philosophy. Most homeschoolers find their homeschooling style changes over time (or with the season). We also tend to be independent and love our autonomy. Establishing shared values with all members of a co-op can be tricky, and staying in synch over time can be even more challenging!
2. Time commitment. If you have a child that already wants to do a heap of activities, you may not have a day or half day a week free to participate in a co-op.
3. Availability. Once co-ops successfully get going, they may not accept new members. (Then again, with more and more homeschoolers out there, you could start your own.)
4. Your children may not be a match. Even if you do find a co-op which shares your educational values and which accepts new members, your children may still not be a match to the co-op environment, particularly if they have special needs. My eight year old son, for example, has Sensory Processing Disorder and still relies on me to help with his emotional regulation. A co-op class probably wouldn’t work for him yet.
What’s the alternative?
What if you can’t or don’t want to join a co-op but would still like to experience some of the benefits of being in one? Here are some alternatives:
1. Joining your local homeschool group will offer many of the advantages of a co-op but usually on a more casual basis. I’ll be sharing next week about our experiences with our local homeschool groups.
2. Set up or join a homeschooling parents’ support group where parents meet without children to talk about homeschooling. I’m in the process of setting up a “Homeschool Inspiration Group” with four lovely local ladies. We all have slightly different homeschooling styles, which I’m sure will benefit the group. My plan is for us to share ideas and resources, to inspire each other by talking about what’s working for us, and to support each other with any homeschool-related issues. I’m very excited about this and will share more about it with you soon. This is a good option if, like me, you have a child with special needs.
3.Tutoring, either paid or on a skill-swap basis with another parent. Tutoring in small groups may not be as expensive as doing it individually, and can provide social and teamwork opportunities. Our family extrovert, C(9), loves her group guitar lesson, and both my children used to do group French lessons with a native speaker in a group of eight.
4. Workshops and clubs. For the social and collaborative benefits of being in a co-op, you could invite other homeschoolers to join your children in a workshop (or series of workshops). Patricia Zaballos’ Workshops Work: A Parent’s Guide to Facilitating Writer’s Workshops for Kids has me excited about starting a writers’ workshop for my kids and some of their friends at some point. Denise Gaskins, author of my favourite maths book Let’s Play Math, talks about how to start a homeschool maths club here.
There’s a season for everything. Just because we’re not in a homeschool co-op right now doesn’t mean I’m ruling it out for the future. But it’s good to know that even without being in a co-op, my children and I don’t have to miss out.
For more ideas about homeschool co-ops, head over to the other Homeschool Help ladies’ blogs.
Savannah @ HammockTracks talks about The Ins and Outs of Co-Ops and asks “Why are you participating?”
Hwee @ The Tiger Chronicle shares her afterthoughts about joining a co-op in Our Co-op Experience
Julie @ Highhill Homeschool shares three different ways to run a co-op in How does homeschool co-op work?
Nicole @ One Magnificent Obsession talks about how to evaluate if a homeschool co-op is right for your family in The Co-op Question: Yeah or Nay?
In Creating Synergy Erin @ Seven Little Australians shares how she fosters synergy in a country where co-ops are not common
Bernadette @ Barefoot Hippie Girl talks about why she looks forward to organizing or joining a co-op in the next few years in Beneficial Co-op(eration)
Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses writes about moving forward in strength when she shares the load – Together Everyone Achieves More