10 Essential Elements of a Thriving Homeschool Co-Op
by Joy Kita
The pleasures of homeschooling our children are many, the rewards great, and the challenges plentiful. Busy days of math and science supplemented with designated chores and carefully planned recreational activities consume our time. Our days blur into one another, and before we can catch a restorative breath, we find ourselves stuck in the deep rut of our daily grind. This is not burnout or a breakdown; it is the plain reality of homeschool life. Changing course and trying something new can restore the simple pleasures that teaching our children at home inspires. A homeschool co-op run and operated by like-minded families is an excellent way to find clarity of purpose.
Co-ops offer a variety of options for homeschooling families. As a thriving learning atmosphere, a co-op provides a safe place for children to grow intellectually and spiritually as parents collaborate to promote confidence and independence in their children. Having other parents teach unfamiliar subjects alleviates some of the pressure to “get it all done.” Parents also have an opportunity to develop new friendships and a setting in which to receive that much-needed encouragement to keep pressing onward.
Finding a co-op that suits a family’s needs may be a challenge, but the rewards are tangible results that serve to sustain us through difficult days. If there are no available co-ops within a reasonable distance, creating one can be a rewarding experience on multiple fronts. Do not be fooled into thinking this is a project too large or overwhelming to tackle. Initiating a thriving co-op yields results with a manageable amount of effort. Consider the words of an unknown author who once said: “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.” Let’s look at some of the essential components of a successful homeschool co-op:
1. Strong Communication
Do not be afraid to use a variety of media to get your message out. Often you can combine several methods, including websites, emails, and phone calls. Clearly communicate the needs of the group and its purpose. Families will join because of shared goals that are clearly communicated and frequently affirmed.
Parents need words of affirmation, whether they are teaching classes or simply helping in the classes. They need to know they are heard and that others care about their needs. Working alongside each other and offering valuable input and ideas is essential in order to build up your volunteers. Be open to their ideas, provide clear examples, and be willing to discuss expectations.
3. Purpose and Goals
This is where your paper trail begins. Create a purpose statement that identifies everything you are trying to accomplish. Write up a standard set of guidelines for participating families to follow. Depending on your facility, additional rules and regulations may need to be set in place.
4. Good Ideas
This is the meat and potatoes of your organization. Never underestimate the power of creativity, a natural force that transforms minds and transcends the ages. Encourage those who do not feel they excel in this area to vocalize their thoughts, and brainstorm with the group often.
5. Parent Participation
The general rule of 20/80 where 20% of the people do 80% of the work has no place in a co-op. These groups can succeed only if all parents are willing to faithfully volunteer their time and resources for a common purpose. This is where clear rules and guidelines and a strong purpose statement become essential.
Finding the right venue to conduct your classes is important but does not need to be a complicated process. If your group is small enough, meeting in a variety of homes on alternating days suffices. If your group becomes too large to fit in the kitchen or family room, look to local churches for support. Most churches are usually looking for ways to interact with and support community members.
Strong leadership is an essential element of any organization. Wonderful ideas and grandiose dreams are good, paramount even, but without someone to follow through on the more mundane aspects of a co-op, those ideas are useless. To direct the group, you will need at least two people, which lessens the pressure and helps promote fairness. A good leader should always be looking to mentor others.
A co-op is a mosaic of families with different needs and desires. Even with a shared purpose of educating children there always will be unique factors to consider as you are trying to accommodate everyone’s needs. Consider families with many children. Does the co-op have enough options for older students? Perhaps they can be youth helpers in the nursery, or perhaps they could use a study room for independent work projects. Will you bend the rules for sick children? How about doctors’ appointments? Determine the hard lines and soften the others.
Take the time to build up a library of homeschool resource books, educational textbooks, Christian novels, and fun games. There are many different ways to do this. Some reading programs offer credits toward new books. Save up credits and buy wisely. Libraries often give away older books. Provide a donation box for parents to share what they no longer need. Have a fundraiser and use the profits to purchase curriculum.
Do not take things too seriously. Doing so may sabotage the project before it can begin to thrive. Celebrate the end of a semester with a party. Have Christmas cookie exchanges and talent shows. Encourage the children to brainstorm as they compose a group song that they sing each week. Encourage teachers to use creative motivational teaching methods such as “building” an ice cream sundae with completed homework.
Excitement is contagious. Demonstrate sincere interest in, and gratefulness for, the classes and in what is being taught. Infusing the group with enthusiasm is easy if the leaders have genuine affection for learning and a passion to inspire others to join the party.
Co-ops are as unique and diverse as the families who join them. They are a rich source of information and a launching pad for great thoughts and ideas. There is strength in community, and co-ops are a foundation for thriving, Christ-centered fellowship.
Joy Kita is a mother of four and is the blessed wife of Stan. She has been homeschooling for seven years and is currently the director of a thriving co-op with more than eighty children. She is a fiction author for children, specializing in adventures for boys. She tries to stay motivated by her all-consuming love for the Father.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.