For most of our homeschool years we have not involved ourselves in a co-op. However, there have been certain seasons when we have found them a helpful addition to our curriculum. As we enter into a new year, many people find themselves beginning planning for next school year. Since we are still teaching and running a household the planning can be a long process, and it is beneficial to take your time and digest the resources, information, and opportunities that surround you.
Sharing from personal experience, I thought it might be helpful to put into writing some of the important considerations in choosing a co-op.
The top three I think are the most important — schedules, cost, and family fit.
Scheduling – Take some time to consider all of the scheduling ramifications of a co-op. You will be committed, each week on a certain day and time to be somewhere, whether it is all day or just an hour or two. This can be a great thing, but make sure it fits in your daily routine and your weekly schedule. Make sure you understand the commitment before jumping in. And, can you back out at the end of the semester if it isn’t a good fit? Especially if the co-op requires volunteer hours or the teaching of a class, all of those will fall on you as well.
Cost - Be sure to add up all the expenses — class fees, books, registration fees, per semester costs, etc. At one point I realized that instead of my child taking one class I would rather spend a little more on what we were doing at home and just enjoy staying put.
Family fit – What are your kids’ ages? Do they have programming available for everyone? Are you kids interested in the classes available? Are you still juggling naps? Consider each child and their needs and developmental ability to make sure it is a workable fit.
Reasons to skip it (at least for now) –
Takes you away from each other – One of the huge joys of homeschooling is time together. Some homeschoolers spend much of each day in the car chasing opportunities for different children. Not wrong to take advantage of a beneficial time of learning, but sometimes you might find the greater benefit in staying home. Sometimes.
Immaturity and other issues- Another one of the many reasons that I homechool is that some of my kids would not have fit well into a classroom at the state designated age for kindergarten. They needed to run a bit still. Different kids at different ages will benefit more or less from a more structured class environment. Most co-ops are a little more flexible than a traditional classroom, but it is still important to consider the suitability of the situation to your child’s personality and level.
Husband’s perspective- Always seek unity. I don’t rush into anything without talking it over with my husband. Sometimes he leaves the choice to me and is fine either way, but other times he has a stronger opinion about our participating, or not, in a particular activity. I always value his perspective on the situation and want to make a decision that we both are comfortable with.
Other considerations –
Accountability - I think I hear this the most often for why people joined a co-op. They just wanted someone else on a regular, but not daily, basis keeping them and their child on track. Other homeschoolers are in exactly the same place as you and there is something wonderfully enlivening about seeing them once a week and knowing that the rest of the week they are grinding away at the assignments as well. Academic excellence is an important goal and if the co-op will gently keep you on that path, then that is a great reason to join.
Tough subjects — whether it is a subject you hate or one you just plain ol’ don’t understand, a co-op can be a real life saver in certain subjects. Whether it is high level math, speech, writing, or high school science (Physics played a role in our co-op consideration), you might find a co-op a great fit for filling your teaching gap.
Educational philosophy- They might not have to agree with your completely, but you will want to at least be compatible. Be sure you understand their approach and how it affects their classes (worksheets and books chosen, topics of study, class structure, etc.)
Time commitment – you will usually be required to assist, teach, or fill volunteer roles. Don’t forget about transportation times. This will cost everybody’s time if you have other kids at home that you are teaching.
Doctrinal statement – This may or may not apply to you, but this was a significant factor in our decision. Do they have one? Must the teachers agree to it? Must the families agree to it (one parent or both)? Are classes taught from a clear, stated worldview? Do you fit with it, or are you just “ok” with it?
Size and experience- Pros and cons both ways here. I prefer small and personal, others prefer large with lots of choices. Some might like fresh and innovative, others might prefer established and with a track record.
Behavior expectation- what do they expect in class and how do they enforce it? This is important to know if your child happens to be the one that struggles in a new setting or if he might be influenced by the “other kid” who does.
And, a few NOT good reasons to join a co-op :
(these may be way down on your list somewhere, but they will hopefully never be the driving force behind your decision to seek out a co-op)
Socialization - Hopefully you are as sick of hearing this as I am. Your kids need you, not a group of peers to show them how to relate in this world. Yes, they need to work that out with others at times, but you don’t need a weekly commitment to a co-op to accomplish that.
Default -Everyone’s doing it. Um, if everyone jumped off the cliff . . .
Insecurity - Do seek out other homechool moms that can encourage you in your journey, but don’t assume that you need someone else teaching your child for them to get an adequate education. There are lots of resources that you can use right at home in a subject that you struggle with. Trust who God has made you to be and His wisdom in placing these children under your care. You can do it!
There is not one perfect co-op and even amazing co-ops don’t necessarily make a suitable fit for every family. Take your time and get to know the co-op, the leadership, some of the members, and even the facility. It does not matter if they worked well for others, what matters is if it will improve your homeschool or take away from it.
I know my bias comes through in this post and as much as we love what we have received and been able to offer through our current co-op, I am more of a non-co-op person. I just love being at home with my kids learning and living life together. But, I also know what an amazing tool a suitable co-op can be in your homeschooling arsenal, so weigh the decision, and enjoy another year of homeschooling whether it’s all under your roof or a little here and a little there.