In all my years of homeschooling—first as a student in the ’80s and ’90s and now as a mom and teacher—I’d never been part of an official homeschool co-op. Call me crazy (“Me llama loco,” whispers the Must Learn Spanish program running in the back of my mind), but I never felt the need to supplement our own eclectic and free-wheeling course of study with outside help, particularly one that might cost extra time and money.
That finally changed, as we signed our kids up—all six of them!—for a local co-op this fall. Due to some upcoming changes our family will be facing, we decided that our kids would benefit from a chance to broaden their academic and social horizons. It wasn’t a particularly hard process finding a local group that was a good fit for our family, as several friends are involved in or have participated with this specific co-op.
You get to share the teaching load. This one is a big deal, especially if you have kids spanning several grade levels. Homeschooling, day-in and day-out, can be wearying and draining. Working with other families helps to share the burden somewhat. I can’t emphasize enough how nice it is to have a day “off” from being the lead teacher.
Your kids can learn from a variety of teaching styles. Not only do you get a break from teaching your kids; your kids get a break from learning from you! On a more serious note, though, rotating teachers and classes allows others to come in and share from their areas of expertise.
Your kids get to experience a bit of classroom culture, learning to take turns, sit quietly, work with others, deal with annoying child-proof scissors, etc. (Of course, you can implement these demanding disciplines in your own homeschool, but I’ve found that my kids tend to respond more positively to outside stimuli.)
It can pose an additional cost. Some small and informal co-ops run on a completely free basis, but usually there’s going to be at least a minimal cost to cover supplies, facility fees, and other basic expenses. We’re fortunate that our co-op is fairly reasonable. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some intensive and very rigorous co-ops that can be very pricey indeed.
It can require a significant commitment of time, over and above your regular school schedule. Many co-ops require parental participation, obliging you to be on-site and fully engaged during class time; some require even more preparation and study outside of class. Depending on how rigorous the curriculum is, it might impose a significant additional burden on your schooling and consume a lot of time.
You may not cover all the subjects you want. As with any collaborative project, the more people that are involved, the more accommodations you need to make for everyone else’s wishes, and the less likely it is that you’ll be focusing on the subjects that might be your first priority. Of course, you can turn this into a benefit by viewing it as an opportunity to learn things you might not otherwise have considered studying.
Human nature never changes. This shouldn’t have surprised me, but I was rather amused the first time my older girls described the drama and high stakes surrounding snack time (who had the nicest snacks, who brought boring snacks, whether to swap or share, etc.) Social drama lives on.
You have to wake up earlier on co-op days. One might construe this as an advantage, if one is an inherent optimist. Indeed, some people might do well with a little additional motivation to get an early start to the day. Eventually, this may transform our schedule and motivate us to get up early every day.
Going to co-op is fun. When we first announced that we were joining a co-op, there were groans. Our kids decried the notion of more work, more school, more studies, and more structure. However, with a few classes under our belts, the overwhelming response has been positive. One child even reported, “It’s like VBS for school!”
All in all, our co-op has been a great experience. It’s nice to have someone else plan cool field trips, dream up messy, crafty art projects for my preschoolers, and teach music and STEM while I hang out in the playground supervising PE for the toddlers.
Photo Credit: First image, iStock. Following photos courtesy of author.