Posted by : Karen Thursday, September 29, 2011

Along this homeschool journey you will find that not only you, but your children also, need companionship and support. This Carnival post seeks to explore some of the ways in which you can find support, encouragement and fun for your children along this path.

our co-ops almost always involve food!
Co-ops are wonderful set times in the week when children (with or without moms) get together to share some designated activity/craft/story time/playtime together. Co-ops provide an opportunity for homeschoolers to learn to work together with a group of children (larger than their own family), and whom they may not be as familiar with – something I want for my children along this journey.

bike riding happens a lot at one mom's house!
I've read all the arguments on homeschooling forums re the “socialisation” issue, which can become quiet exhausting. And although I have much to say on this matter, (enough for its own post!) let me leave it at this: for me, co-ops provide a much needed forum for my children to grow in many ways that they cannot just with our own family homeschool routine.
Our co-op has been described by some as being “hard core” (!) in that we are geared towards a craft or activity (it can range from an outing, to painting cushion covers, box construction – you get the picture!) every week, whilst other friends of mine hold a very “low-key” co-op where the emphasis is mostly on playing after a very small craft. The nature co-op takes will depending on the the age of your kids, the shared vision you hold as moms and the desired outcome you want from your time together at co-op. They beauty of it? You get to decide!

And truthfully? Co-ops change. They're as organic as our individual homeschool journeys. What you start out with at the beginning of a year may not be what you end up with as you look back! In our co-op, we had 3 babes in arms at the beginning of the year, all of whom have grown up remarkably during the course of the year and who now need their own little activities. As moms, we've had to keep talking to one another about what we want our co-op to be, and the form we want it to take. Co-ops work if they are able to adapt to the changing needs of the group.

Two golden keys if you're not a part of one and are thinking of pulling one together? 
Communication and commitment.
You'll need to learn to co-operate with the other moms way before your kids have to learn to co-operate with each other! Communication – being able to hear one another and to verbalise what you want is essential in making it a successful endeavour.
And our co-op has delighted in watching our children form friendships with one another as we are committed to being a part of it, every week, bar illness or holidays.

enjoying a Science experiment...
Some other keys to running a co-op?
  • Compatibility – when drawing together a group, have an evening where you can freely discuss what it is that you want from the group, and how you want to achieve that. You may find that people whom you really like as individuals may have completely different goals to you, or ideas of how something should be run that might make you feel uncomfortable. Are your own learning styles and those of your children compatible with others? Being different in this area is not necessarily a problem, as long as you are aware of this at at the outset – after all this happens in the classroom and later the work place! The key about co-op, for moms and children alike, is learning to get along, to co-operate. And this can take time – for moms and children alike.
  • Consistency - Although in our own co-op we oscillate madly, we keep trying (note, trying!) to keep some things consistent from week to week. Perhaps it can be the opening song, or they way in which you close off your time together as co-op? Kids welcome a routine, however simple it might be.
  • Size – each time a family is added to a co-op the dynamics change – not only because of the number of children , the noise levels and the dynamics of their interactions with one another, but also the number of moms. Think about where your co-op is going to be held – what will it be like on a rainy day? I would recommend starting small and then adding families on when you've found your stride, if you want it to be larger. It's much harder to go from a large group to something smaller.

Wendy from Loving Learning takes you on an inside look at her co-op. I loved the hands on activities on South Africa culture both here  (mmm milk tart!) and here (mmm bobotie!), and aslo wonderful to see how their co-op is supporting an incredible journey!

Taryn over at Hayes Happenings also gives you a sneak peek into her co-op, the real nitty girtty so to speak, as well as a look at ideas of how you can structure support groups and/or social opportunities for your children according to what they/you need - weekly or monthly.

Nature Clubs are another version of co-ops, but this time the focus is very much on exploring and enjoying nature. I love Nikki's post on a recent nature club outing over at Our Journey in Him - do yourself a favour, and spend some time looking around her archives to see what else they get up to! Great outing ideas too!

one co-op member teaching his personally created
recipe to the others!

Support groups are essential – I still have a copy of my fist post I ever wrote on the Homeschool Kitchen Table eloop years ago! It was a genuinely heartfelt list of questions that I needed answers to in making sense of homeschool. From that single email, I made a friend who has led me into many of the homeschool friendships I have today. Being honest and vulnerable sometimes takes courage, but those further on this journey are always willing to help you are on your way.  Taryn (Hayes Happenings) has written this informative and helpful post of the eloops available to South African Homeschoolers, as well as details on how to join them. Facebook also has a Homeschooling SA group, as well as a Western Cape one. There may very well be a group for your province too - if not, why not consider starting one?! Lindy has posted honestly over at Homeschooling in South Africa about how lonely and isolated she felt near the beginning of her journey, but by using the eloops and stepping out and creating a support network, she found a much needed community. She also has some helpful tips to bear in mind. Trys over at Homeschool Blogger has a wealth of both local and international links that would be useful to both new and seasoned homeschoolers.

You are never as alone as you think you are!

one from the archives - Aragorn at one of the early co-ops!

This post features on the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers where South African home schoolers share experiences, ideas, philosophies and much more.  You can join the carnival too by heading to the South African Carnival of Homeschool Bloggers sign up page.

10 Responses so far.

  1. Thanx for hosting this carnival & sharing your experiences. Without these support groups I would have been "lost" this year...

  2. Taryn says:

    Brilliant post! Thx for sharing! Loved reading this and when I get home from nature club today I'll be reading some more!! Thx! T

  3. Lovely post K, thanks for hosting. Love the photo at the end-we still have those bags! I think it is due to your great sewing skills that M's one has lasted so long ;-)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for all the valuable information. I know of two support groups in my area, but both said they can't take in another mommy and kids. I'm not so much worried for myself because I have made wonderful friends on the net wrt. HS, but other than four non-HS friends who we will try to meet every 2nd week, my boys are a bit cut off, all of a sudden. One mommy did offer to help me set up a new group, but there won't be any HS "veterans" so I'm a bit apprehensive.


  5. Karen says:

    @Trys - I couldn't agree with you more - support groups are so helpful in this journey!
    @Taryn - hope you enjoyed nature club!I'm looking forward to starting one next year!
    @Nikki - Can't help but smile!
    @ Elize - where abouts do you live? Not sure how to contact you directly so I do hope you read this! Sometimes, not having 'HS veterans' can be a good thing - and before you know it you will be a homeschool veteran yourself! Consider starting (yes, taking that great leap of faith and courage), and then invite a mom from the closed group (or from those that live in your area) to visit once off, as like a honorary member/invited speaker for wanf of a better word - hope that makes sense. Happy for you to email me, if you'd like to talk this through more!

  6. Anonymous says:

    You go girl! (thumbs up)
    Miss J ;-)

  7. Donette says:

    Thanks for a great post. I am very interested in researching/learning more about nature clubs. Maybe next year will be a good time to start one.

  8. What do you do in a town where there are very few homeschoolers and those that you know aren't interested in getting together on a regular basis? My kids often feel lonely and so do I. The only social interaction my kids have are from Cubs and Scouts.

  9. Karen says:

    @ Donette - now that makes two of us! Perhaps I'll write a post specifically on nature clubs - we can journey on that discovery together!

    @Kathleen - that's got to be hard. I can only imagine how lonely, and frustrating that must be. Here's a few of my thoughts:
    I'm not sure where you live, but try approaching the mainstream schools to see if they'll allow homeschoolers in some of their co-curricular activities? One of our schools allows homeschoolers to join in their sports program for a nominal fee.
    As for creating a community of like minded people - keep on persevering! Sometimes I've seen only once I've got to know someone really well, that their initial coolness towards me was actually just painful shyness. Perhaps it could be something like that? Thankfully, although it doesn't make up for live flesh and blood, there is this cyber alternative. And finally what about bulding on the relationships they've got at Cubs/Scouts? Invest there and then let that grow?
    Thinking of you...

  10. Thanks Karen for your support and thoughts. They are much appreciated. I will take all your advice to mind.

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