To Co-op or Not to Co-op
by: Susan August

To Co-op or Not to Co-op?

- Sue August

That is the question . . . on everyone's mind as local support groups gear up for a busy semester.  Following are some of the mental gymnastics I've gone through as I've tried to make the best choices for my family.

The holiday season is usually a hectic time for most people.  I seem to operate differently.  Most homeschool classes and co-ops take a nice long break from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.  So, I must say that month or so has been very relaxing for our family.  It would be very tempting to maintain this kind of schedule.  (I particularly enjoyed eating lunch at the kitchen table instead of out of a brown bag.)  I had to stop and ask myself, why do I co-op?  Is it really worth it?  Isn't one of the advantages of homeschooling that one-to-one teacher/student relationship?  What about all the time spent traveling, not to mention the commitment to be someplace on time?  There seemed to be a thousand reasons to become "dyed-in-the-wool" homebodies.

Actually, there are plenty of reasons why we participate in co-ops and classes in addition to our regular schoolwork – “Convenience” just isn't one of them!  Once I reminded myself of that, I could get on with planning our semester.  In Jack's  educational career, we've been a part of a variety of co-ops and activities.  Very few have been perfect; none have been without merit.  

All co-ops and classes seem to have some advantages in common.  The first that comes to mind is the cementing of friendships that happens in a class where all are sharing the experience together and working toward a common goal.  Secondly, it gives our children a place to learn the ins and outs of social graces.  Another benefit is that our children can learn to respect authority figures other than their parents.  And finally, it certainly is reassuring to homeschool skeptics to hear that your children participate in at least some group activities. 

If we're so excited about the group experience, why don't we just send our kids to school?  Here's the difference: I can pick and choose the classes that suit my family.  I can be present to observe and correct my child if necessary.  I can have a say in the content of the class.  My child's experience isn't limited to students his own age.

The opportunities for homeschoolers abound.  The first type of activity is the "class".  A class is taught by the same teacher each time.  The most obvious advantage of this, is that the teacher not only has some expertise in the area, but probably also has a real passion for the subject.  There could be no other reason why she would be willing to make such a sacrifice of her time and energy.   Last year's gym class is the perfect example.  The teacher lit a fire under Jack that  sparked a real interest in track events.  Never in a million years would it have occurred to me to even include track in our curriculum.  Also, almost a year later, some of the older teens ask Jack about his running events.  Even though their ages are so different, they formed a bond over this common experience.  

A "co-op" is when each mom takes a turn teaching.  There is usually some previously agreed upon curriculum that is used.  Preparation time varies depending on the curriculum.  Co-ops stretch students and parents.  At home, I often get lazy when I'm teaching.  I find myself tempted to just "discuss what would happen if we did this science experiment", rather than actually gathering the supplies to do it.  This would never fly at a co-op.  When preparing to teach at a co-op I put my best foot forward.  Admittedly, some of this is my man-pleasing tendency, but the rest has to do with making a commitment to a group of people.  Some of the moms teaching “Story and Craft” class joked about feeling like they were Billy Graham preparing to speak in front of thousands of people instead of a handful of 5-7 year olds.  

I'm also part of some custom made co-ops.  I joined a History and Science co-op with four other families from my local homeschool group in Medford.  The content of the curriculum didn't really fit with any of my goals for the school year, but that seemed secondary.  My sole purpose in joining this co-op was for Jack to learn humility.  At age 6, Jack was the youngest in this group.  The rest of the kids ranged from age 8 to age 15.  I wanted Jack to experience first hand that there are some things that, believe it or not, he doesn't already know.  I wanted him to hear reports written by older students and insights they gleaned from reading the same books we were.  Hopefully, this co-op has helped Jack to set his sights just a little bit further into the future (future, to him usually means 1 hour from now). 

My best experience with a co-op so far has been our KONOS co-op.  If the idea of a whole day of co-ops, from 9:30 to 3:45, for the next 3 months, is overwhelming to you, consider how our KONOS co-op works. There are just 2 families in this co-op.  We meet once a week to do activities related to what we've been studying at home.  These activities are things that would bomb at home by ourselves.  They are activities that lend themselves to groups.  They just seem a little more special when another family is involved.  Neither my friend nor I knew much about the KONOS curriculum when we started.  Because there were just the two of us, we felt comfortable learning together.  We've had some spectacular experiences and some that we certainly could have done without.   

Our schedule is flexible, allowing for family vacations, illness and just plain feeling like we needed to slow down for awhile. 

 Our meetings together have been at different times during the day, different locations and different days of the week - now this sounds more like homeschooling! 

If you've never tried co-oping, this might be the place to start.  If you've come across some homeschool material that you and your kids like, share it with someone.  Invite them to "do school" with you.  Make a short-term commitment to begin with and then re-evaluate after that.  It's a great way to test the waters

Feel free to use this in its entirety, modify this to fit your convention or just use it as a springboard for your own article.