Posted by : Karen Sunday, July 03, 2011

It's come up in a number of forums from people new to this journey, and people wanting to embark on doing something new with others, so I thought I'd give it a go and attempt to explain co-ops! I remember well during the 'research and devour' phase of my journey how clueless I felt about many things! So here's a smattering of insight on co-ops:

Simply, a homeschool co-op usually refers to a group of families coming together regularly to share a time of learning and socialisation.

Most of the co-ops I know of (and let's be honest here, the three I know of in the Western Cape!) involve between 5 and 7 families, who meet once a week. The venue usually rotates between members' homes, or can also involve an outing (this year our co-op visited a farm and a cheese factory) and in our co-op, we generally tend to do something along the lines of art/craft/dance/singing.

Usually, groups come together as they share the same curriculum, or are looking for opportunities for their children to socialise, and in all cases I think the co-ops have provided a support network for the mothers involved. In America it also seems quite common to hold co-ops at a neutral venue, but it seems these are for older children, and then subject specific classes are also offered to a range of children.

Christine Alcott, (an author over at, writes this of the advantages of a co-op:
  • Children get a chance to learn in a group setting, rather than a more traditional approach.
  • Children get a chance to meet and socialize with peers
  • Homeschooling families get to know one another.
  • Support - meeting with other people trying to do what you are doing, who know your challenges and frustrations, is priceless
  • A wealth of knowledge - sharing teaching responsibilities means sharing gifts. Maybe you are weak in history. At a coop, someone else may offer classes in World History, Ancient Egypt, or WWII. What a great exchange!
  • A wider view - A group can often do more than an individual. A family alone may not be able to get group rates to museums, plays, and other events. A coop as an entity can often qualify for these things.

aving advantages usually means having disadvantages, as well, and she goes on to explore these:
  • Responsibility - Coops are not "Mom's Day Out". Parents must usually help plan or teach. Teaching a science class for 15 children may involve a lot more preparation than teaching the same material for your own child. This can be difficult.
  • Philosophy - Many coops have a basic philosophy concerning their purpose in education. It is important to make sure your own style or beliefs are compatible with those of the coop. For example, if you do not attend church, a faith-based coop would not normally be a good match.
  • Personalities - Being a part of any group means being able to get along with others. Make sure you can get along with group members. You do not have to be everyone's best friend, but if there is someone you will clash with terrible, this can be a hard situation.
  • Committment - Coops are smaller groups, and usually rely on members to remain members, at least for the duration of a set of classes. Do not join unless you are serious about committing, at least for while (Read more at Suite101: Homeschooling Coops: Pros and Cons | )
She also presents some ideas of what to do before you join one -
  • If you find a coop you are interested in, get to know some members. Find out what their experience has been with the coop. If you can, visit a class during the coop. See what kind of structure and order there is. Do the children seem to be engaged? Having fun? Do the parents seem organized?
  • Read the coop's mission statement or registration form. Consider if their philosophy works with yours. Understand fees involved. These might range from a small fee-per-class to more hefty yearly or semesterly fees. Are the fees per child, or per family?
  • Understand what is expected of each family. Make sure you are willing to make that commitment.

Are you feeling inspired? Go on over here  or here to read up on some tips to follow if you're wanting to start one. Frugal Homeschooling has also posted a comprehensive page on all you need to know about co-ops too - a must see! One need not have to do it once a week either - this lady designed one to replace a week of the American summer camps which can get pricey.

Personally? Although I've only been a member of a co-op for about 5 months, I've loved watching my kids find their feet and make new friends, and I've loved the brainstorming that happens between the moms when a moment can be snatched to talk. I would recommend finding one to join, or even starting one - and remember, if you're struggling to find people to commit to a once a week even, try something once a month to begin with.

Good luck!

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