Now that we’re quickly approaching the end of summer, many homeschooling families are making decisions about how they plan to educate their children over the coming months. In the early years of the homeschooling movement there were few options for parents. While many families belonged to support groups and there were plenty of books and magazines that offered information and support, most families handled the actual homeschooling duties completely on their own.
These days, there are countless options for families that desire to reach outside of their individual homes for educational options. There are online classes, community classes and activities, early college options, and a wide range of athletic and extracurricular activities. Perhaps the most significant change in the homeschooling movement has been the development of homeschool co-ops. Ranging from informal playgroups to formal classes that resemble private schools, co-ops offer a variety of opportunities for families wishing to expand learning opportunities for their children.
Here are the Top 10 Reasons to Join a Homeschool Co-op:
10. Cost Sharing
While homeschooling can be an extremely cost-effective way to educate a child, there are plenty of “bells and whistles” that can add significantly to a family’s budget. In particular, high school can be a time when costs skyrocket as many families seek to enroll their children in specialized classes to prepare for college. When my kids were in high school, we belonged to a co-op that paid a professional chemistry teacher for a once-a-week chemistry lab. The kids were all studying the same high school chemistry curriculum and enjoyed participating in the weekly labs together. The teacher agreed to grade the students’ homework and tests, and the entire semester cost significantly less than it would have cost to enroll in a comparable class at a local high school or community college. In addition, were were spared the expense of individual families purchasing the costly lab equipment, spreading the costs between multiple families and then passing the equipment down to subsequent classes and families.
9. Help With Difficult-to-Teach Classes
I firmly believe that any determined parent, with enough effort and motivation, can provide a great education for his or her children, one that includes a wide range of subjects. Nevertheless, there are times when parents feel unqualified to teach certain subjects or would prefer to draw on the expertise of others. Our co-op was blessed with exceptionally talented parents and our kids benefitted greatly from their expertise and real-world experience. One mom, who was a medical doctor, taught biology. A dad, who was an engineer for a major defense contractor, taught high school physics in the evenings. Though they didn’t have traditional teaching credentials, these parents were able to inspire our kids by explaining how the sciences had application to the real world. In an organized co-op, parents can pool their intellectual talents. At times, this alleviates the pressure of feeling the need to master every subject.
We all know those homeschooling families whose kids are perfect. They have stellar test scores, the parents keep meticulous logs of every assignment, milestone, and grade (with the accompanying scrapbook for each child), and their kids happily sit at desks six hours a day, diligently completing their school work.
The vast majority of homeschooling families don’t really resemble that standard — a standard perpetuated by the annual parade of perfect families at the homeschool conventions — because they’re normal… and human. There are times when normal families let math slide for a few weeks or yield to the siren call of the Great Outdoors in the spring so they don’t finish the history book they vowed to complete by the end of the year. While rigid goals should never master our families and flexibility is one of the keys to a successful homeschooling experience, some parents appreciate the accountability they find in a homeschool co-op and they like having other parents checking up on their kids and making sure they’re staying on schedule. Meeting with other families on a regular basis can provide an extra layer of accountability that many families desire.
7. Exposure to a Variety of Teachers
Children can benefit from exposure to a variety of teachers and teaching styles. While most moms are perfectly capable of teaching their children without assistance, learning English or history or art from a teacher coming from a different perspective or whose teaching style is dramatically different can expand the student’s horizons and provide new insights into the subject matter. I confess that I was never the “arts and crafts” mom. I have alway been uncomfortable around paint and hot glue guns frighten me, so I always appreciated the artistic co-op moms who
forced my militantly anti-craft boys gently introduced my athletic boys to the more artistic side of life over the years and helped them to create some really sad adorable arts and crafts. Some of these moms were dramatic and creative teachers who provided a stark (and needed) contrast to my quiet, no-nonsense style.
6. Exposure to Classrooms
We first joined a co-op when our boys were in 6th and 8th grades. Before that time they had never owned backpacks, had never written their names on their papers, had never packed lunches for “school.” (They had also never dealt with the whole peanut allergy “thing,” but that’s a whole ‘nuther issue.) Could they have successfully navigated their first day of college at age 18 without having ever done any of these things? Of course. These are not rocket science-level skills. Other skills — like how to actually behave in a classroom full of kids with one teacher in charge — are more subtle and take practice. My kids had been in Sunday School since they were in diapers, so they knew what was expected in a classroom situation, but for children who have had no such experience, a co-op can provide a wonderful opportunity to hone the social skills necessary to succeed in the classroom. In addition to learning the expectations for a classroom situation, kids in co-ops often learn valuable public speaking skills and can experience working on group projects with other children.
5. Socialization and Moral Support for Moms
We talk a lot about the socialization of homeschooled kids, with people often fretting that the children will not be able to thrive in our civil society unless they are properly socialized in a public school classroom (full of antisocial, often deviant children). That myth aside, we don’t talk very much about the mothers (or fathers) who choose to stay home with their kids and how the decision to homeschool can sometimes be isolating and lonely. As much as we love and enjoy our children and feel blessed to be able to homeschool them, it’s not always easy being at home with children — especially small children — all day, every day. A co-op not only benefits the children, but it provides a social outlet for the parents. Having a regularly scheduled time to meet with other parents — even if it is “for the children” — can provide a needed respite from the daily grind of homeschooling.
Meeting with other parents in a co-op can also provide important moral and spiritual support. Twenty years ago there were actual support groups for homeschoolers, in part because there was a very real legal threat to parents who chose to take their children out of school and in part because homeschooling was still relatively new (as was the internet) and parents depended on one another to figure out how homeschooling worked. With the explosive growth of both the internet and the available resources for homeschoolers, the number of support groups has dwindled, though the need for that moral support and encouragement for parents remains. Even though the purpose of a co-op usually isn’t for parental support, it can be a wonderful side effect — even a lifeline — that occurs when parents congregate to organize classes for their children.
4. Parental Brain Trust
The basic framework of homeschooling is simple: parents teaching their children at home. In reality, homeschooling can be a lot more complicated and a co-op can help parents to navigate the challenges that arise over the years. While going it alone can be admirable, there is no reason not to take advantage of the natural brain trusts that develop whenever homeschooling parents congregate. I do not exaggerate when I say we would not have survived our fourteen years of home education without the assistance and guidance of parents who shared their collective wisdom and knowledge with our family. They passed on information about learning disabilities, the legal aspects of homeschooling in Ohio, information about testing and assessment and how to navigate high school transcripts and diplomas. Though there is no “right” way to homeschool, the collective knowledge base that has accumulated over the years in the homeschooling community is an invaluable resource. A homeschool co-op can be a great place to share and expand those resources.
3. Objective Assessment of Your Kids
We all have blind spots when it comes to our kids. We think our methods of parenting and homeschooling are best — we’ve made our parenting decisions because we think they’re superior to the other choices, after all. Because of that, we sometimes have a tendency to overlook deficiencies or flaws in our children or our homeschooling methods that other parents can help to illuminate in a co-op situation. I recall more than one conversation with a co-op teacher who gently told me things I didn’t want to hear — but needed to hear — about my children and their educational needs. I also had conversations with other parents about their kids. In the right circumstances with trusted friends, this can help your kids and your family to grow in a positive direction.
2. Socialization for the Kids
Obviously, co-ops are a great opportunity for socialization (the “S” word in homeschooling circles), especially when children get to the teen years and crave more opportunities to make friends and expand their social circles. Since most homeschool co-ops are organized by like-minded families and activities are well-supervised by parents, kids can interact and have fun without many of the social pressures and dangers found in a traditional school situation.
There are a number of activities that require more than a homeschool van full of kids from the same family, so co-ops can and do organize a wide variety of group activities, all of them offering opportunities for socialization. Co-ops offer sports teams, Science Olympiad teams, spelling bees, National History Day group projects, homeschool balls, and dozens of other activities that require large groups or organized teams.
1. Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
We love our comfort zones. They’re safe and predictable and rarely does anything rock our world. But it’s not a bad thing to be stretched and pushed beyond what’s easy or safe. For many families, exposing our lives and our families to other families and other styles of education and teaching can be frightening — but it can also be refreshing and exhilarating! For parents who feel burned out or at the end of their rope, trying something new, like a co-op, can breathe fresh life into the family and strengthen their resolve to continue homeschooling.
Next week: Reasons Not to Join a Homeschool Co-op