As we head into the end of the homeschool year, it seems like a worthy time to contemplate the many benefits of belonging to a homeschool co-op. As well as the occasional downsides.
What is Co-op?
The main purpose of co-op is to provide a place where, once a week in our case, all the children in the group can come together and learn. At the beginning of the semester, the children or their parents choose various classes to fill a four-class block.
The goal is to make a schedule with enough variety in both subjects and difficulty, that everyone can find an appropriate, interesting and enjoyable way to spend the day. With the added bonus of getting out of the house and making friends.
We belong to a fairly large homeschool co-op that welcomes all types of families. There is no requirement that you belong to a certain religion, so we bill ourselves as a “secular” co-op. Of course, there are many people within the co-op who practice one religion or another, and, admittedly, some practice no religion at all.
We have decided, as a group, that that is perfectly all right. We try above all to be welcoming and tolerant. Not that we always succeed. Still, in a town chock-full of religious homeschool co-ops, we offer an alternative.
We meet in a large building with ample space for classrooms, and a good-sized green area, for the friskier among us to run around on. We have two class periods, then lunch, and then two more.
Can Any Child go to Co-op, Even those with Special Needs?
Every year except this past year, I have taught at least one class. I have been involved in the management of the co-op as well, but only briefly, as it proved to be a bit too much for me.
This year, because of health issues, I took a break and acted as a full-time aide, or assistant, for my son with autism. My son requires supervision to participate meaningfully in the co-op’s classes. But with adequate oversight, he has learned to help cook several meals, make jewelry with polymer clay, and experiment with dry ice and bubbles. And that’s just one semester’s worth of learning!
It does fall upon the parent to communicate with the class instructors and stay, if necessary, to make sure there is sufficient support to address the needs of the child. When you take your child to co-op, it is ultimately your responsibility, as the parent, to ensure that they are doing ok. I have had to take my child home once or twice, when, I am ashamed to say, his behavior was not appropriate for any learning environment.
Some co-ops might not be especially welcoming to children who have significant differences. In my experience, ours is.
A co-op where children sit in neat rows and are expected never to drop a pencil or issue a squeak—such a co-op would not be a good fit for our family. If such co-ops even exist. Which I doubt.
Why go to Co-op?
Co-op benefits both the parents and the children in many ways.
- You get out of the house, once a week, rain or shine, because you’ve paid for it.
- Your sedentary children get a breath of fresh air. Magically, whenever two or more of them gather together, they all begin to run.
- You get to meet other parents who are trying to homeschool. No matter what your level of experience, you can always learn something from another parent.
- You get to take a break and let someone else teach the “hard” subjects, whether that is art (too messy) or science (too exact.) You know the one. The one that’s not your favorite.
- You’ll probably get to spend a small portion of your time just hanging out while your child is in class. Our co-op requires a minimum number of hours of volunteer work during the co-op day, but it’s not all the hours in the co-op day.
- You will end up learning something new, often out of necessity, when you are asked to teach it.
- Your child will have the benefit of multiple extremely creative and energetic instructors, with wildly varying experience and talents. Which is just the breath of fresh air they probably need, after homeschooling all week with you!
Are there any Downsides?
I wish I could say no.
Of course, there are! Any human endeavor has downsides.
- It will cost you. Co-op, even a co-op completely run by volunteers, has to pay for rent, insurance, and various other minimal expenses. You should expect to pay your fair share.
- Occasionally, there will be drama. We have had very little in the way of drama in our four or five years of existence, but there has been some. You can expect there will be personality conflicts, loyalty battles, and even attrition, if a really big blow up occurs. But if you have a good co-op and conscientious people running it, it will bounce back, and sometime, fences can even be mended.
- Childhood sicknesses can spread at co-op. The usual suspects: lice, flu, strep, the common cold. And there is a fair contingent of anti-vaccine sentiment in the homeschooling community, so there is the danger of being near others who have not been vaccinated, if your child is especially susceptible.
- Like any childhood activity, at co-op there is the chance that your child may be hurt, either physically or emotionally. Our co-op is not a school or a drop-off center. Parents are there the entire time, available in the building in case of emergency. Keep an eye on your child and be aware of where they are.
- Everyone has to contribute. Paying your fees is not enough to gain entry into a co-op like ours. Everyone must volunteer a set amount, or it just won’t work. The beauty of that is that there is always work to do, whether it be teaching, or co-teaching, or being a hall monitor, or setting up or breaking down. And some fearless few must stand up to be officers and help make leadership decisions so that the organization will stay healthy, efficient, and responsive to its members.
I’m sure I haven’t come close to listing all the pros and cons of homeschooling co-ops in general. I only know that it has been a very interesting, enjoyable, and fulfilling experience for me and both of my sons. So here’s a shout out to all those who once again made it a great co-op year! Thank you and see you next year!