Joining a new homeschool co-op can be a rather daunting—and sometimes disappointing—experience. When I first started homeschooling, I felt too overwhelmed by littles to even consider joining a co-op. I later discovered that there are multiple kinds of co-ops, including those where you can pay for classes and simply drop off your kids. We tried a year of this type, but it wasn’t a good fit for our family. Over the next two years, we sought out and signed up for two more co-ops, but for different reasons, both ended up canceled before they ever began.
Despite this string of mishaps and misfits, I tried again this year, and this time we struck gold. We recently completed what I’m considering our first “real” year of co-op, and I now understand why homeschool circles always seem to talk about joining one. Without a doubt, joining a co-op has been the best decision we’ve made in our homeschooling journey.
But what exactly is a co-op? That can be a tricky question to answer, because as mentioned, not all co-ops are the same. Some are only a few steps away from private school, where you pay for individual classes, drop off your child once or twice a week, and that’s about all parents have to do.
Others are primarily a social group, where folks arrange meet-ups and activities in which various homeschool families can participate.
Then there are more “traditional” co-ops, where parents must teach certain classes (usually once a week), but in trading your teaching skills with those of other parents, your children can receive instruction in many subjects while you teach
only a few. This type of co-op (as well as the pay-per-class type) may vary in cost, and in whether the classes cover core subjects or electives and extracurriculars.
With so many variations, choosing a co-op can be rather overwhelming! I won’t delve deeply into how to decide, but I will say that your choice will depend on your budget, your available time, and your overall goals in joining a co-op.
So why might you want to join a co-op? Here are my top six reasons.
1. Your kids can socialize with other homeschoolers
With our involvement in church, sports, neighborhood friendships, etc., I have rarely felt like my children were starved for socialization. However, I underestimated how much they would appreciate hanging out with other homeschoolers, which most of their friends outside co-op are not. It has been extremely beneficial for my kids to make more friends who share a similar lifestyle and to see that they are not so alone in this “weird” world of homeschooling.
2. You can connect with other homeschooling parents
Although I know an abundance of homeschoolers, I have still sometimes felt a bit lonely and disconnected from the homeschool world without regular, in-person connection. I have deeply appreciated not only the conversations with like-minded women (sharing
both struggles and wisdom), but also the feeling of camaraderie among these moms as we work together to teach our children. I didn’t realize how isolated I can feel until I experienced the alternative!
Note: These next few points apply mostly to co-ops that offer academic classes, particularly to the more traditional co-ops that I mentioned above.
3. Your kids can build confidence and classroom experience
One of my teenagers is naturally quite self-conscious and has often had unrealistic academic expectations of herself. After a year at co-op, the difference I’ve seen in her has been rather astounding. I think she’s finally realizing that she is not the only one who makes mistakes and that contrary to her perception of herself, she is really quite bright. (Having this recognized by your peers and outside teachers is, of course, an entirely different thing than hearing it from your mother.) There is also value in the classroom experience itself—not only in the listening to lectures and the answering of questions, but in public speaking and class presentation opportunities that children don’t get at home.
4. You can teach something you love more in depth
I taught high school literature this year—a rather intimidating prospect at first, but it was my favorite part of co-op. I’ve taught literature to my children before, but it has often been a subject that I have let fall by the wayside when
our schedule got tight. Teaching literature at co-op not only forced me to be more intentional about it, but also allowed me to delve much more deeply into the books than I would have done for my own children alone. Plus, literature is one of those
subjects that I feel is best learned (and most fun to teach!) through discussion in a larger class! This class was a challenge for me, certainly, but I loved it and look forward to teaching again next year.
5. You can choose not to teach something you don’t love
This was honestly one of the primary reasons I joined a co-op! My older children need to learn science, but I don’t feel qualified (or have the interest) to teach them. My kids love crafts, but I do not enjoy supervising them. So I joined co-op, and I got to focus on something I loved and avoid something I disliked! Win-win!
6. You gain more accountability for both teachers and students
As mentioned above, there are some subjects my kids would never have learned as in-depth at home simply because I slack off a bit. Likewise, some of my kids tend to slack off on their work when only I am watching. Having another teacher and fellow students looking over your shoulder can provide motivation to do better!
So how does one find a co-op? As I discovered, it may take some trial and error. I found our current co-op through local homeschool groups on Facebook, which you can easily search and join. There you can ask for recommendations, or simply look around during the late winter or spring for co-op advertisement posts.
You can also check to see if your state’s homeschool association has any listed recommendations. Another option is to look into whether a widespread co-op organization like Classical Conversations has a group in your area. Finally, if all else fails, sometimes hitting Google with “homeschool co-ops in my area” may render a few hits!
Is co-op for everyone? Maybe not. Even if I’d known what I know now, I likely wouldn’t have joined one in my earliest years of homeschooling. But especially as my kids get older, I feel that co-op is bound to become an essential part of our homeschooling.
As of this writing, it’s been ten days since our final co-op class, and my teenagers are already counting down the days until we start again. I think that about sums up the situation!
PS, If you are looking for a group in your area, try searching by zip-code here, or if you are a group, consider listing it on HSLDA's website!
Photo credit: iStock. Following images courtesy of author.