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7 Questions to Ask Yourself before Starting a Homeschool Co-op: An Interview with Nancy Manos

July 10–14, 2017   |   Vol. 131, Week 6

It’s no secret that homeschool co-ops can provide amazing experiences for your children. But starting your own co-op? That might seem pretty intimidating. Can you do it? Can you do it well?

Join our guest Nancy Manos on this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat to learn everything you need to know about starting a homeschool support group.

In this podcast, you’ll learn:

  • When to start a homeschool co-op (and when not to start one)
  • 7 questions to ask yourself before starting
  • Crucial details you shouldn’t overlook
  • The key components of a successful co-op
  • How to identify and address potential group issues

“It’s really important to be talking with one another as the parents running the co-op. Share your hopes and expectations with the other moms openly and honestly.” — Nancy Manos

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It’s no secret that homeschool co-ops can provide amazing opportunities for your children. But starting your own co-op? That might seem pretty intimidating. This week on Homeschool Heartbeat, learn everything you need to know about starting a homeschool support group.

Diane Kummer: My guest today is Nancy Manos. She is a homeschooling mom and the executive director of Arizona Families for Home Education. Nancy, welcome to the program!

Nancy Manos: It’s great to be here!

Starting with confidence [0:29]

Diane: Well Nancy, it’s no secret that homeschool co-ops and support groups are an integral part of the homeschooling community. But starting your own local co-op can seem like a daunting task. How would you encourage a parent who would like to start a co-op, but isn’t sure that she can do it?

Nancy: Co-ops certainly have become a common factor in today’s homeschool landscape, haven’t they? The first thing I would say is you don’t need a co-op to successfully homeschool, but they can be a huge enrichment to your homeschool journey.

So there are lots of ways for it to be successful. The first place to really start is to pray. Ask God what he’s got for your homeschool, and what he wants you to do for this school year. And then, I would say, make a decision to start a co-op from a place of confidence and strength, with a desire to enrich your homeschool experience, instead of feeling fearful and like, “I have to start a co-op for it to be successful.”

For my family, we homeschooled our daughters all the way through high school, and one of the best things we did was to have a few small group co-ops that I started with several friends, and it really just added to the depth and the richness of our homeschool experience.

Diane: In your experience, Nancy, are there any circumstances when starting a co-op is a bad idea?

Nancy: There are definitely some circumstances. I would say, if you’re already stretched too thin or you’re on the go too much already, it probably isn’t a good idea to add one more commitment. It really can be stressful if you’re already over-committed in other areas. If you have young children, it might be disruptive to their nap-times, or them needing to be home for a period of time. Also, if it interferes with your ability to keep up with your own homeschooling and your housework and taking care of your family and getting dinner on the table, it might not be a good time to add a co-op.

7 questions to ask yourself [2:26]

Diane: Nancy, what are the most important questions parents should ask themselves before deciding to start a homeschool co-op or support group?

Nancy: The first thing I would ask is, “Will this enhance our homeschool experience?”

And then I would ask, “Can I add this and keep up with my other responsibilities and stay on top of our own homeschooling?”

You also might want to ask, “Will I be able to stay committed and follow through for the whole co-op?”

It’s helpful to ask yourself, are you in a stable, strong, healthy season of your own life? It’s really nourishing and rewarding to pour into others when we’re doing well, but if you’re already stressed or depleted or struggling, adding more responsibilities can really drain us.

It’s good to ask, “How will this benefit my kids? Will my family be blessed by this activity?”

It’s also really good to ask, “Do I work well with others?” Because a co-operative, it’s co-operative learning, you’re working with other parents and children. Do you handle conflict and challenge well?

And then I would say the most important question is, “What do I hope to accomplish?” Knowing what you’re doing and where you’re headed are key to having a successful co-op.

Don’t forget the details [3:38]

Diane: Nancy, once a parent has asked the right questions and decided to start a homeschool co-op, what’s the next step? How do they actually get started?

Nancy: It’s really helpful to find others who are like-minded in their educational philosophy, parenting style, and worldview, and then also who have children who are similar ages and have similar interests to your kids. Having conflict over basic philosophical issues of parenting and worldview can create a lot of stress that is not necessary.

Talk with other moms and pray together, and then make decisions about what, when, where, and how. Things like: decide what you’re going to study, brainstorm, find common interests, things that would be most beneficial to that group of families. Ask the question, “When we’re done, what do we want to have accomplished?”

So you’ll want to decide when you’ll meet. Are you going to meet once a week, every other week, once a month? And then it can be helpful to start with a short-term commitment like six weeks or eight weeks, and be sure to put an end date on your commitment. You also want to decide where you’ll meet: Are you going to meet at one mom’s home, or are you going to rotate homes? And then decide how you’re going to divide up the workloads and who’s responsible for what aspects of the co-op.

Diane: Nancy, what are some logistical details that parents should be careful not to overlook when starting a co-op?

Nancy: I would say: Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s really important to be talking with one another as the parents running the co-op. Share your hopes and expectations with the other moms openly and honestly. Have a specific purpose for your co-op. It should be a valuable, beneficial experience for everyone involved. Make sure there are clear expectations for parents and the kids, and some clearly defined objective. Have a plan for dealing with conflict and discipline issues.

I would say, guard unity in your group. Don’t let strife or offense go unresolved. Be sure to let your yes be yes, and follow through on your commitments. You need to be prepared and show up on time; that’s the way to honor each other. Listen to each other. We need to be quick to forgive and be humble with one another. We need to encourage each other—the moms and the kids—to share their gifts and talents and abilities. And then most importantly, have fun. Go prepared to enjoy learning with your kids and with other families.

The key components of a successful co-op [6:06]

Diane: Nancy, in your experience, what are the key components of a successful homeschool co-op?

Nancy: Well, I think having defined goals and objectives with a clear plan is really helpful. If you don’t know where you’re going and what you hope to accomplish, will you know when you’ve gotten there? Probably not.

Choose families that you enjoy spending time with. This should be enriching to your homeschool experience. Be sure to follow through on your commitments. Pray together. And make it fun for your kids, and have fun yourself. This shouldn’t be a burden to the moms, it really should by a joy. And I would say that a successful co-op is one that when it’s all done you look back and say, “That was beneficial and enriched our homeschool experience.”

Thinking ahead [6:50]

Diane: Nancy, for parents thinking about starting a homeschool support group, what are some of the biggest problems you’ve seen crop up in these groups—and how can they be avoided?

Nancy: Probably the biggest problem I’ve seen is a lack of clear expectations and a lack of communication. When you’re not talking to one another about what you expect, then missed expectations come and people get frustrated. If you have people in the group that don’t know how to deal with conflict, then it just creates an unhealthy situation.

But there are times when you need to have a plan for dealing with younger children, and will you have activities for them, and those kinds of things. If you’re meeting in your home and there are toddlers running about, if they’re running through the rooms and they’re disrupting what the older kids are doing, then it can really take away from the learning that’s supposed to be happening.

Also, just, conflicts between moms can be a problem. Have a plan to really [answer], if something comes up, “How are we going to nip that in the bud?”

Diane: Those are great things to consider, Nancy. Now, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard about starting a homeschool co-op?

Nancy: The best piece of advice that I personally have received was [the question]: What do I want to have accomplished by participating in this co-op? And being able to look at the end from the beginning really helps with planning and goal-setting and conflict resolution, and having a really successful homeschool co-op depends on all of those things. Friendship, prayer, and communication are key.

Diane: Nancy, that is fantastic advice. Thank you for sharing all of that insightful information, and thanks for joining us this week on Homeschool Heartbeat. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you, and I know your advice will be helpful and relevant for many of our listeners. Thanks for tuning in, everyone. I’m Diane Kummer, and I’m cheering you on.

Nancy ManosPhoto of Nancy Manos

Nancy Manos and her husband James have two daughters whom they homeschooled preschool through high school. The Manos’ home education journey was a rich, rewarding, sometimes challenging experience, and Nancy is passionate about encouraging others in the homeschool adventure.

Nancy serves as the Executive Director of Arizona Families for Home Education, Arizona’s statewide homeschool organization.

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