Today I’d like to welcome my good friend Karen Lange. Karen is the author of the wonderful booklet The Only Homeschool Co-op Booklet You Need to Start Your Very Own Best Co-op Ever! You might remember the review and giveaway of this booklet that we had a little while back. Anyway, now we have it from the expert. If you think a co-op might be for your family this school year, you want to read this post. (This is part one. You will want to stay tuned for part two next week.)
Homeschool Co-ops 101
By Karen Lange
A learning co-op is a good way to enhance the homeschool experience.
Co-ops are easily personalized to children’s needs and interests. Opportunities abound: field trips (group discounts!), science labs, arts and crafts, sports, writing groups, community service projects, literary discussions, group music lessons, cooking, and more. Learning co-ops can be fun and rewarding, and when necessary, look great on a high school student’s transcript. The benefits are many; they can help boost confidence and build friendships, enhance learning, and aid in future educational and career pursuits.
When my children were five, seven, and nine, we started co-oping with a few families. It was informal and loosely structured, and we met in our homes two or three times a month. Our children did various projects, including what we called writer’s workshops. The moms gave a mini lesson on writing or grammar, and the children wrote stories and shared them by reading aloud. At the end of the school year, we assembled a booklet of their stories and artwork as a keepsake. We also studied history, built a model of the Plymouth Plantation, did art projects, cooking, and other things of interest. Our goal was to supplement what we were doing at home, have fun, and experience the good kind of socialization.
When my oldest son started high school, another mom initiated a co-op for junior and senior high students. That co-op started with seven families and was more organized than our previous ones. We met twice a month during the school year, first in one family’s home and later at a church hall. Our goal was to cover chemistry, ecology, and biology labs, as well as enjoy some social time. Over the years, we also covered government and history projects, went on field trips, worked on writing in various genres, and practiced public speaking. We even tackled a mock trial, a dinner theater mystery, and made a few yearbooks. This co-op was different from our others but both experiences were good and met our changing needs.
Large or small, structured or informal, there are great benefits to and options for cooperative learning. Any type, however, is more successful when considering the following points:
A) A minimum of one other family with students of comparable ages
I support children of all levels working together, instead of segregating age groups as the schools do. But even though your high school student gets along famously with the kindergarten set, you’ll probably want to pair up with a few older students if you want to do serious chemistry experiments.
Projects work well when the children are all around the same age, but they can work well with varied ages too, depending on what you want to do. Service projects, art, field trips, etc. can encompass a larger range.
B) Like-minded families with similar objectives
Parents must be on the same page and they must be willing to invest time and energy. I won’t kid you, even a simple co-op takes time and planning, so be sure this is something you think will fit into your family’s lifestyle. Co-ops are great but won’t be rewarding if you are stressed with an existing full schedule.
C) Co-op size
Large co-ops require more planning, organization, and time. They may need to run like a traditional school because of management requirements. The dynamics of developing relationships can be different. Often a large co-op will have classes, activities, and greater discounts that would be difficult for a small one to have. A large co-op may include students of a greater age range, like K-12, as opposed to a small teen one, for example. Often a small co-op grows into a large one.
Small co-ops can offer flexibility in a personalized setting. Fewer students mean less planning, maintenance, commitment, a lesser potential for conflict, and perhaps a greater opportunity to build friendships. Parental input can be greater, thus ensuring meeting individual student needs. Educational benefits of a small co-op, though, still equal that of a large one.
Both types work well, success stories among homeschoolers abound. It is a matter of personal goals and preferences.
When we started with the junior and senior high co-op, my two sons fit into that age range. My daughter was in fifth grade, however, and the co-op wasn’t offering anything for her. There were other parents in similar situations, and we decided that our primary focus would be to work with the older students to address science labs. Most of the families did not have younger students; so this suited the majority at the time. The handful of younger ones grew into our co-op, tagging along in the meantime.
The following year, other homeschool families in our area started a K-12 co-op. Our group chose to stay intact, as we preferred a smaller group with a limited grade level focus. Different approaches work for different families. Don’t be afraid to do what works best for your family. Brainstorm with like-minded parents to discuss the possibilities.
Karen Lange homeschooled her three children in grades K-12. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and creator and instructor at the Homeschool Online Creative Writing Co-op for Teens. Visit her website at hswritingcoop.bravehost.com or her blog at karenelange.blogspot.com.