What every homeschooler needs to Know Before You Join a Homeschool Co-op
Chapter excerpt from Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out
By Carol Topp, CPA
There are so many advantages to belonging to a homeschool co-op such as socialization, shared teaching, support, encouragement and fun! But perhaps you are asking, “Are there disadvantages to belonging to a co-op?”
Joining a co-op is a little like getting married. After the wedding and the honeymoon comes the marriage. Marriage is indeed a blessing, but it is best if you are well prepared and approach it with your eyes wide open. The same is true with homeschool co-ops. Life may be great for a while in your co-op with a harmonious group meeting all your expectations. Great! At this point you’re on your honeymoon. Soon little annoyances may creep up, or things may not go the way you had expected. You may become disappointed. The honeymoon is over, with only the hard work of marriage (or co-oping) there to greet you!
Never fear. Like being married, the problems of co-oping can be resolved if you know what to expect. As a matter of fact, having unmet expectations is the number one complaint of dissatisfied former co-op members. In this chapter, I will discuss some of the disadvantages of co-oping.
Unrealistic or Unmet Expectations
Like a spouse, no co-op will meet all your expectations. Before joining a homeschool co-op, you should examine your motivations and desires in joining a co-op. Ask yourself, “What is most important to me and my family? What do I want most out of this co-op experience?”
Perhaps you most desire social relationships for your children. Then when you are dissatisfied about the start time, the amount of homework or the lack of singing for preschoolers, focus on your strongest desire. Is that expectation being met? If so, release the other, lesser expectations. As you contemplate these thoughts, I suggest you write them down.
What I want most from my co-op is:
When I joined a homeschool co-op, I wanted group interaction for my children as well as classes that I was not teaching at home, like art and speech. Since the co-op met those expectations, I was happy. On the other hand, some co-op members were not as satisfied with the experience. Among co-op members’ varied expectations, some may be obvious and clear, while some of our hopes go unstated and often misunderstood.
One of our co-op members felt very strongly that our co-op should meet in a location close and central to all of our homes. In other words, her primary expectation was of a geographically tight community. While this may seem a bit Utopian with a group of 37 families, it was her desire. More importantly, she thought that others shared the same assumption. How disappointed she was when the co-op board decided to change locations! Our new location was not close or central anymore (but it was a great facility and less expensive). This member felt strongly enough about her hopes of being close geographically that she left our co-op and formed a small co-op of her own. Ultimately, this new co-op ended up a better situation for her because it met her expectations.
Ironically, surrendering control may seem like an advantage to some people who will gladly hand over certain subjects like algebra, biology dissection or foreign language. Of course, turning over teaching responsibility for difficult subjects can be a relief. In fact, access to advanced classes may be the reason you sought out a co-op to begin with!
While granting teaching responsibility to others may seem beneficial, turning over control is another matter. Face it: homeschoolers like control! We like to direct our children’s environments, their exposure to the world, and their friendships. We pick carefully the curriculum they use. I once met a woman who really wanted every subject her child studied to be firmly grounded and rooted in Scripture including Bible verses for every chapter of science, etc. While this woman may have found her perfect curriculum for use at home (there are several to choose from), she would not have enjoyed a co-op because she would have had to relinquish some control.
If releasing control over certain subjects is an issue for you, then you can do one of two things: Release your hold, praying frequently, or find a co-op that will use the curriculum you desire.
Too Much Like School
Some co-ops have a very school-like structure. My co-op met in a building owned by a small Christian college. The rooms had chalkboards and desks, giving a very school-like feel. Many of our parents and teachers liked the building and classrooms because it was efficient to conduct classes in a schoolroom. If you are a free spirit or an unschooler, you may not feel comfortable in a classroom setting. Before joining, visit the co-op in action to get a sense of the surroundings and the environment. You may decide that the benefits outweigh the negative feelings of a structured environment, or you may conclude that you can live with a little structure once a week.
In a co-op class you might not be able to spend as much time on a subject as you might like. New York teacher John Taylor Gatto said it best in Dumbing Us Down:
The third lesson I teach is indifference. When the bell rings I insist they drop whatever it is we have been doing and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.
Homeschool co-ops like Mr. Gatto’s public school are frequently structured around the almighty clock. We move kids to the next class on schedule so that they get the most out of their experience that day. When dealing with large groups, a co-op must rely on structure and timetables to keep things running smoothly. A small co-op or single subject co-op can be more flexible and free form. Decide for yourself how strongly you feel about being under a time constraint. The structure may even be a benefit to you or your children. In cases like this you can see how even potential challenges can ultimately benefit you and your children in your co-op experience.
Belonging to a homeschool co-op can have some challenges, but challenges can bring benefits. What is a disadvantage to co-oping for some people such as surrendering control, can be a benefit for another homeschooling mother. Some co-ops may seem too structured for one family, while another family could benefit from more organization in their lives. Joining a homeschool co-op will take commitment, but hopefully it will be time and money well spent.
It may not be problem-free to start or run a homeschool co-op, but most homeschool parents find that co-oping is worth the commitment and expense! Homeschool co-ops are becoming more and more popular because they are meeting the needs and expectations of homeschooling families. I hope you go into this adventure with a full understanding of the costs and benefits. In the following chapters you will read a lot of stories and advice from homeschool leaders. It is my hope you can learn from their experiences and lead a happy, successful homeschool co-op.
Carol L. Topp, CPA author of Homeschool Co-ops: How to Start Them, Run Them and Not Burn Out is a homeschooling mother and Certified Public Accountant who uses her accounting skills to help homeschool organizations. She has served as treasurer of her own homeschool co-op. She and her family live in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her website is www.HomeschoolCPA.com