If you belong to a homeschool network or read homeschooling blogs, you have probably heard about co-ops. But what exactly is a co-op? In its most basic form, a co-op (short for co-operative) is a partnership between homeschooling families that come together for a common goal. My two oldest children spent most of their homeschool life (from first to eighth grade) in some type of co-op, and it was continually such a great resource for them and for me.
Co-ops provide wonderful opportunities for your child to spend time with other kids. This not only allows them to learn with a group but also to make friends. One of the most common questions homeschool families get (especially before the Pandemic of 2020/21) is “But how do you socialize your child?” That’s where co-ops come to the rescue! Children who participate in co-ops aren’t usually divided into grades—they learn with children in a wider age range, doing group work and learning to share (materials and ideas), listen, overcome differences, and take turns. They are also learning with other adults that aren’t you. (That’s right—you don’t have to be the only teacher!) School time usually rolls into free play, and that’s just as valuable as what happens during class time. Kids learn to play with one another, to juggle personalities and have social experiences in a safe environment with parents only a few feet away.
Co-ops allow you to outsource. Despite the fact that I have often been my children’s educator, I eventually came to view myself as their education facilitator. Co-ops help grownups fill the gaps in their children’s education. Whether you are the parent who dislikes the mess of an experiment, or you can’t teach a language you don’t know, or you’re looking for a book club for your child to enjoy group discussions, co-ops can help fill that need.
Co-ops can also be great ways to widen your own homeschooling community as a parent. I have been a stay-at-home mom since my kids were born and have felt the isolation of deciding to educate my children very differently than my family and friends. When I joined our first co-op, I thought it would be all about my kids. What I didn’t realize was what a difference it would make for me—I learned so much from the other parents about homeschool philosophies, curriculum, health, child development, and education in general. I had help and support during the de-schooling process, and my eyes were opened to the potentials of child-led learning. Many of the other parents became my friends, and I stopped feeling so isolated in our homeschooling journey.
Co-ops are low cost (and sometimes even free!). While sometimes parents do decide to hire an educator to teach their group of kids, most often co-ops are taught by the parents who participate. Fees sometimes include rental space (if free space isn’t available), books, and materials, but there are often opportunities to teach in community centers, libraries, and private homes at no cost.
That being said, co-ops do come as a cost in time and effort. There’s travel involved to get to co-op. Usually, your co-op day will take over the whole day. There’s usually preparation or homework that you will need to schedule for the rest of the week. If you are also teaching a class, you will have to make time for lesson planning and research. This was great for my active boys and my A-type personality. I wanted to have weekly activities that kept my kids busy without me having to provide them with constant entertainment and screen time. Additionally, I wanted to be involved in the homeschool community.
Co-ops provide structure, community, and support. Having a consistent commitment that required us to attend and participate really helped our family stay on track with our homeschool. It also helped support me, especially when I was a new homeschool parent. I surrounded myself with people who understood the challenges of homeschooling, and they educated me, inspired me, and helped me feel valued.
Of course, this also means that you are now on more of a schedule. Co-ops typically meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, which means you won’t have as much flexibility as you do when you homeschool entirely on your own. This doesn’t mean you can’t miss a class, of course, but like any other commitment, taking the schedule seriously teaches your children responsibility and accountability.
Our family belonged to and organized several co-ops, and the experience we gained from them has been invaluable. I have made many friends and provided my children with opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to provide on my own. The co-ops taught me the benefit of group learning in an environment that was still flexible enough to tailor the lesson to the needs of individual kids. Once the pandemic ends and society becomes social again, a co-op could be a great option for you to add more socialization to your homeschool experience while widening your child’s exposure to a variety of subjects. Thinking about joining or starting a co-op? Click here for five things you need to know before you start.