Welcome to Day Five- Homeschool Co-ops
When I began my homeschooling journey as the mother of a 5 year old, 3 year old, and 1 year old, there was a local homeschool group that offered a co-op. And I knew several people who joined that group. But the reason I was homeschooling was that God used the uniqueness of my oldest child and his learning challenges to show me that the demands and expectations of a traditional classroom would not be the right setting for him. I could not see that a co-op be any different. And so we did not join.
Year after year, I faced the same decision. To join that group and participate in that co-op or not. But year after year, God showed me that He called ME to homeschool my child(ren), not keep them home but let other people direct their learning. So year after year, we did our own thing, even though sometimes I secretly envied (and sometimes still secretly envy) my friends who knew exactly what they were covering that year and what their daily schedule was because the co-op told them what needed to be done each week.
As my students have gotten older, more and more local resources for co-operative education have arisen. Living near a big city, we have several really large, respectable "schools" that homeschool students can attend one or two days a week and then work the rest of the time at home. They largely use resources I like, and they are Christian in nature. But my eldest's learning delays have always kept us from pursuing them...that and the RIDICULOUS amount of money they charge, especially when you multiply it out per student. I'm talking between one and two thousand PER student. No thanks, I can do that for free at home!
But that's not to say we've never done any learning with others.
For years, we have been going to a weekly Precept Bible study. They have a class for the adults, and classes for homeschool kids, and other than the cost of the books and taking turns bringing snack, it's free. So once a week, my kids go and meet with their friends and their wonderful teachers and discuss God's word. I love Precept's inductive method, and I think their learning is augmented by group activities like gameshow style quizzes, etc. In fact, one year they even created their own Veggie Tales inspired comic book for their study of Joseph. I will treasure that book forever!
When I reviewed IEW, I hosted a small group at my house for all the kids to come together and watch the DVDs. They then wrote their assignments at home, and their mom was responsible for critiquing their work. Even before IEW, a friend had done a writing group at her house for a while, and I hosted the younger siblings for a creative writing group at our house.
Two years ago, we also had the chance to do a science co-op at a different friend's house. She put together all the materials (we did Apologia's elementary level Anatomy and Physiology) and was generally an AMAZING teacher. All I had to do was work the microscope. There was a cost involved for copies, and I traded out some photography as an extra gift since her efforts blessed us so much. Doing that allowed us to cover two sciences in one year, as we were already doing Botany when that began.
Last year, we began doing a Sonlight American History Co-op with our closest friends. When we decided to offer more than just one age group (it started out just for Core 100- 7th to 10th grade), we opened it up for some others to participate. But then not too far into it we experienced a devastating event that tore friendships asunder and largely ended the co-op, so that didn't go so well for us. And honestly, it wasn't going great before that. Having never done Sonlight before, many of us weren't prepared for the serious amount of reading involved, especially if you have kids in multiple Cores. Losing one day to physically being in the co-op meant all the reading, map work, questions, and spelling had to be done in 4 days, and that was a LOT to do. Especially for our family since we have another half day out of the house at Precept.
At the same time, one of those friends offered for a few of the kids to come to her house and do Apologia's General Science with her daughter. That worked out well for us as the kids involved all seemed to enjoy the reading and experiments more when done with friends. It also allowed my daughter to understand a level of science that I would have deemed too advanced for her on her own.
So to co-op or not to co-op? Personally, big schooly type of co-ops have never been my thing, but a lot of that is about meeting my kids', particularly my oldest child's, needs. We've enjoyed the smaller, more intimate type though. The ones where it's just a group of friends getting together to do something everyone would be doing on their own anyway. I've found that co-operative learning often pushes ME to do things that I wouldn't do with my kids otherwise. Those more fun, hands-on type things that we all enjoy but that I just can't seem to justify the time for in our normal day (like the jello cell in the photo above). Somehow in a co-op setting they seem a lot more like an intentional part of the learning, but in a private setting they seem like something we can skip.
One last thought. I have never, even for a moment, considered participating in a co-op for the sake of "social interaction". We live in a small city not far from a much bigger city. We participate in church activities, Precepts, and individual activities for the kids like soccer, scouts, sailing, piano, aerial class, art, AWANA, community theatre, etc. (although some of that has been through the years, NOT all at the same time). We don't live under a rock, and my kids have the opportunity to socialize with their peers often enough-sometimes too often! More importantly, by being with me day in and day out, they get to socialize with people of all ages at the grocery store, or the gas station, or the library, or when voting or donating blood...you get the idea. I might feel differently if I lived in a very rural setting and co-op was our one chance to check in with humanity, but it's not. And for us, with the children God has given me, co-ops are something we will continue to evaluate on a case by case basis. Every family is different, and YOU have to do what is right for YOUR family :-).
To see what my Crew Mates had to say about Co-ops (some of them participate in some BIG ones, I know), click one of the links below: