Gone are the days when you are the only person in the world to homeschool, where there is only one curriculum to use, and there's no support anywhere for your decision.
Now, a simple search of "homeschooling" online will yield a ton of results that can leave you feeling overwhelmed. That's great, in the sense that there are so many options, methods, and curriculum choices so parents are able to tailor their children's educations. But it can become overwhelming if you are trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing.
This is where homeschool co-ops fit in for my family. I know plenty of families that thrive with the homeschooling/co-op life style. But, it just wasn't a fit for us. Here's why. . .
1. Time and Place
You have to meet usually weekly (possibly twice a week, depending on the ages of your children), at a certain time, at a certain place. This was a no-go for my family. When we began homeschooling, we had just left public schools to homeschool our children and we just wanted to be at home. No deadlines, no commitments, no being on someone else's schedule. For the last 3 years I had been waking the kids up and rushing them through morning routines so I could get them to school on time. I didn't want any part of that sort of thing, even if it was weekly.
We wanted every ounce of flexibility that homeschooling offers a family. Plus, we began homeschooling when I was about 6 months pregnant with our 4th child, so maintaining our flexibility was important for major life events like that.
2. School Zone
Coming out of public schools ourselves, my husband and I were ready to "detox" our own brains, as well as our daughters', about what education should look like. The co-ops we found mimicked the traditional school environment: classes grouped by age, teachers/leaders/tutors in charge of those classes, meeting for a specific day and time, pledge of allegiance to begin class, etc.
Now, I have no doubt that wonderful things can be learned in this environment. They most certainly can--in fact 3 family friends of ours have their children in different co-ops and their children are learning some pretty AMAZING things! However, the setting was all too familiar for us and we wanted to school our children away from that traditional set up.
3. Curriculum Choices
This was big for my husband and me. We'd already been down the road of having no say, no choice at all in what books we'd use to teach our children. As a matter of fact, my girls rarely brought school books home; it was always a worksheet ripped out of the book, so we could never quite tell what book it was or what the scope and sequence was. So, choosing for ourselves what we would use was important, and we didn't want to be bound by what the co-op had chosen.
The other thing that concerned me was the rate of learning with those curriculum choices....what if my child needs to slow down to really be able to master a concept? What if my child needs to move ahead because he or she has already mastered a concept? I didn't want to be told that we must be on such-and-such lesson, by this day, because that's how the program works, or because that's more convenient for the group.
Many co-ops are on par with the price of private schooling. So, put very simply: it was not an affordable option for our family. And, that became even more apparent to us as the Lord blessed us with more children. Co-op costs are just not in the budget.
Now, I realize that all co-ops are not created equally and that each one is run a bit differently from the other. Therefore, this is not meant to be an all inclusive run-down of how every co-op is structured. But these seemed to be the recurring themes that concerned us most amongst the popular ones in our area.
Now, lest you get the wrong impression, I don’t think a co-op is necessarily a bad idea.
Let me tell you about the co-op of my dreams. . .
- Meeting with two or three other like-minded families, maybe once a month or every other month
- Relaxed environment, like my home or theirs, or at the park, or where ever we decide
- Doing one or two subjects or projects with all of our kids, together, no matter the ages
- For example, I might teach a health lesson with a hands-on activity one month, while the next mom might choose arts & crafts for the next
- More enrichment based, rather than curriculum based
- Maybe we get together to go on a field trip sometimes
- Other times we get together to simply fellowship, to talk over a potluck lunch, to let the kids play
- Share our tried and true tips and tricks of parenting, homeschooling and family life
I don't know if this would technically qualify as a co-op, maybe it's more of a support group.
Whatever it is, it is what I would call ideal.
Have you decided to use a co-op for your family's homeschooling? Why or why not?
**Originally written here for Our Homeschool Forum.**