A few months ago a reader asked if I’d write about the homeschool coop we’re part of — she was curious and wanted to know more. It’s not unusual to hear about homeschool coops these days, but what exactly are they, and how do they work?
I’m no expert, but I can share from my experience the past three years, and what I know about coops more generally. People homeschool for all kinds of reasons these days and they do it in many different ways. Coops can be part of the picture.
Homeschool coops come in many shapes and sizes: Some are informal and meet in participating families’ homes; others meet in community centers, church halls, or other locations. Some happen once a week or once a month, while others may be two or three times per week. Some coops are completely parent-run and cost almost nothing, others employ teachers and require fees. Some are religious, some are not. There are coops that focus on younger kids or older kids, on certain subjects or particular methodologies. With some coops, you sign up by the class; with others you must commit to the entire program.
What all homeschool coops share in common, however, is that they’re a place for homeschooled kids to gather, learn, and be together, and they provide parents a support system (and often a little relief!).
Not all homeschool coops function as true coops. The one we belong to this year is called an “academy.” It’s essentially a parent-operated, two-day-per-week program for pre-K to 12. The founders (three moms) make the big decisions and there are uniforms and a set schedule. It mostly follows a classical model, cirriculum-wise, and parents teach many of the classes, though a number of qualified people are brought in (and paid) to handle certain subjects, especially for the upper grades. The day begins at 8:30 and ends at 3, with breaks and a one hour lunch. It’s Catholic so there’s built in meditation and prayer time at the beginning of the day and again after lunch. The classes are small — 10 kids or under (my girls’ grade has only 4 kids, but they join with another grade for two classes). There’s a lot required of the parents, and it functions as a community of sorts, with lots of give and take, and it’s relatively inexpensive.
I know this sounds a lot like a private school — and it’s definitely more formal and structured than most homeschool coops — but the part-time schedule, low fees, and parent-run, answer-to-ourselves nature of it makes it quite different.
Last year we were part of a different homeschool group. It was smaller, classes were generally not taught by parents (though parents had required duties), and you could sign up (and pay) by the class. Our girls took three classes with about seven other kids. A couple years ago, I joined two other local homeschooling families for an informal neighborhood coop of sorts — we met monthly, taking turns leading a workshop — usually related to multi-cultural studies, arts and crafts, or science. One family I know participates in a local coop that’s focused on elementary and middle school kids and seems more focused on creativity-oriented classes, which you can sign up by class for a certain length of time.
There are all kinds of things to consider when it comes to joining a coop. It depends on your families’ needs and the coop’s purpose and offerings. Like many families, we take it year by year, and so far have benefited from being part of a coop. It’s provided S and H a safe and non-judgemental place to develop language and social skills and it’s given me — the world’s worst homeschooler — a chance to not only mingle with and learn from other homeschooling parents (who all take interest in each others’ kids), but also some breathing room: When it’s a week of seemingly getting nothing done at home, I feel better knowing they’re at least getting something done at the homeschool academy. It also helps give structure to our week. Since our physical home environment is such a challenge for homeschooling, this goes a long way.
Of course, there are the tough parts. I teach a class (2nd grade Latin) and have other duties so I can’t just decide that we’re all hitting the road for a month. (Not that we can do that right now, but I dream of such possibilities!) It’s not always fun getting my kids (and myself!), who are not early risers, up and into uniforms while it’s still dark. I don’t have control over the curriculum that’s chosen (though I have some input), or the pace of classes, and I feel the pressure of making sure the homework is done, the same way I would if the girls were attending a conventional school. Also, as a mother with a paying job, it’s hard for me to participate because of the level of commitment and expectations.
So, there are always pros and cons — as there would be to not being part of a coop or similar group, too. As a homeschooler, each year you have decide which set of factors provides the best win-win. Homeschooling is never just about the kids, but the whole family.
All in all, though, I’m a big fan of homeschool groups like coops and admire the people who run them because they take a lot of work and commitment, no matter what form they take. It’s a great thing for families to have these kind of options when it comes to our children’s education.
If you homeschool, I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experience with coops and similar groups. I’d also be happy to answer any questions in the comments, so fire away if you have any!