Culture

The Top 10 Reasons to Avoid a Homeschool Co-Op

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I recently wrote about the top 10 reasons to join a homeschool co-op, where I discussed many of the positive aspects of joining with other families in a collaborative effort to educate your children. But like most good things, there can be drawbacks and parents need to consider both sides of the equation before signing up for a co-op.

Here Are the Top 10 Reasons to Avoid a Homeschool Co-Op:

10. Peer Pressure

One of the benefits of homeschooling most often cited by parents is the avoidance of peer pressure. Children can learn in peace without having to worry about pressure to dress or to act a certain way. Most homeschooled kids I’ve known over the years have been refreshingly unconcerned with how they’re supposed to dress and act — what brand of shoes they should wear, for example, or what bands they’re required to like so they will fit in with the crowd. And of course, the odds of a homeschooled kid being offered drugs at school is pretty much non-existent. But it’s an unwritten law of the universe that groups of young people spending a lot of time together tend toward conformity and homeschool co-ops are no exception. While the peer pressure in homeschool co-ops has a tendency to be more innocuous than what you’d find in your average public school (often leaning toward geek culture), it exists nonetheless and parents should consider to what extent they want their children influenced by their (often immature) peers.

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9. Comparisons and Competition

Competition can be good and healthy and even an important part of a child’s maturation process. But there’s also a simplistic beauty in allowing children to learn at their own pace without comparing themselves to other children. Kids in schools learn early on who the “smart” kids are (as measured by standardized tests or the ability to sit quietly at a desk) and which kids struggle academically or socially. Kids in traditional homeschool settings aren’t segregated into slow reading groups or gifted classes, but unfortunately, co-ops often recreate the same competitive environment seen in schools. It doesn’t take long for the homeschooled kids (and their parents) to sort themselves academically and it’s not always an encouraging and beneficial learning situation for the children.

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8. Conflicts Between Parents

As a general rule, wherever two or more homeschooling families are gathered together there will be disagreements — sometimes about issues of seemingly biblical proportions. Education and parenting styles vary greatly in the homeschooling community and parents who choose to home educate tend to be rather opinionated to begin with, so it’s often difficult for them to agree on the best way to run a homeschool co-op. How much focus should be placed on academics? Should there be strict standards of behavior? How much input should parents have into the curriculum? What religious components should be included in the classes? And what to do about the girl with the peanut allergy? All of these questions are potential areas of conflict that, ideally, should be resolved before the day classes begin. Sometimes parents discover that it’s not worth the effort to deal with the various strong-willed personalities — or the drama — that can show up at a co-op.

7. Loss of Family Time

It used to be that homeschoolers stayed home to educate their children (notice that home is prominently featured in the word homeschooling). These days it’s not unusual for homeschooled children to spend a great deal of time away from home, attending classes, participating in a wide variety of extracurricular activities, or doing their school work in the minivan on the way to their various classes and activities. The result, of course, is a loss of family time. Before deciding to join a co-op, parents need to seriously consider the time commitment involved and decide if the benefits of collaborating with other families is worth surrendering valuable family time. If you’re simply recreating the public school rat race under the guise of homeschooling, your family may not reap the many benefits homeschooling can offer.

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6. Financial Costs

Joining a co-op can add significantly to a family’s education costs. While individual families can control their curriculum choices and, for the most part, how much they pay to educate their children, co-ops often have specific requirements and costs involved. Many charge a membership or administrative fee upfront. Often there will be costs associated with the building or room rental, costs for books, and sometimes even costs for paying teachers. There are also costs for things you don’t need at home like backpacks, lunch boxes, and assigned school supplies.

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5. Co-Ops Are a Lot of Work to Organize

In its simplest form, a homeschool co-op can be a few families getting their kids together for a weekly playgroup. It gets more complicated when more families are added or there is a desire for more structure. Some co-ops have complicated organizational charts that define the duties of everyone involved, manuals that explain expectations for students and parents, and complicated fee structures. Trying to meet the competing needs of a wide variety of homeschooling families through a co-op can be complicated. More often than not, the burden of such an effort falls on one or two moms and it can be an incredible amount of work. Organizing the logistics of everything from teaching and room assignments to curriculum choices to behavior guidelines is extremely time-consuming and the larger and more structured the co-op, the higher the demands on the families in leadership. In a perfect world, the work and the responsibility for running a co-op would be distributed equally among families. In reality, the burden usually falls to just a handful of people who sacrifice time with their own families to create opportunities for other children and families.

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4. Teachers with Different Values

Many families homeschool because they want to be the primary cultural and religious influencers in the lives of their children. Though it’s obviously a more controlled situation than a public school, where parents and children often have no control over who their teachers are, children in a co-op will likely be exposed to some viewpoints that the parents disagree with. Even the most like-minded parents find they will occasionally diverge on important issues, and so parents need to decide whether their children are mature enough to handle the resulting conflicts that can arise. Many parents welcome their children being exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints from a very young age, while other parent prefer to wait until children demonstrate a certain level of maturity before exposing them to controversial topics and conflicts.

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3. Teachers with Different Standards

Parental standards in homeschooling come in all shapes and sizes. Some parents are meticulous sticklers for details, exacting near perfection from their children and running their homeschools like strict military academies. Other families are far more laid back, allowing their children to learn at their own leisure, following their natural curiosities and interests without strict adherence to a curriculum or standards. While most families fall somewhere in between these two extremes, families who join co-ops can have different standards and expectations, sometimes leading to conflicts. If the teacher’s style is more laid back, parents may feel their kids are falling behind. Other parents may feel like a demanding teacher is placing unnecessary pressure on their children. While the variety in teaching styles can be good for children, not all parents welcome the change from their favored style and routine.

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2. Loss of Independence

The truth is that many homeschooling families are fiercely independent. They believe they’re well-equipped to make the best decisions for their children, particularly in the area of education. They don’t feel the need to farm those decisions out to experts — or to other families. By joining a co-op, a family forfeits a certain level of independence, whether it’s for one subject or the entire curriculum. Instead of completely controlling the child’s education, someone else is helping to make decisions about how they’re taught and what they’re learning.

1. Loss of Influence Over Your Children

Anyone spending time with your children will have an influence on them. The more time your kids spend outside your sphere of influence, the more likely their views, character, and behavior will be shaped by others. There are many benefits to joining a homeschool co-op and collaborating with other families, but they must be weighed against the prospect of losing influence over your children. If your kids attend co-op classes for an hour or two a week, the influence may be minimal. If they’re spending five days a week being taught by other parents and in the company of other children, it’s only natural that others will shape their worldview and their opinions. One of the major benefits of homeschooling is that parents get to shape and direct the upbringing of their children in a much more significant way than if the kids are spending the best hours of their day outside of the home. Every hour children spend at a co-op is an hour they’re under someone else’s influence. Many homeschooling parents, understandably, choose to delay devoting large chunks of time to the outside influence of co-ops until their children reach the teen years.

I would love to hear your experiences — good or bad — with homeschool co-ops! Please feel free to share them in the comments section below.