Homeschool Co-Ops – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
When I started homeschooling, I visited a couple of local support groups, and joined one. That served our needs for a little while, until I discovered that a local church had a homeschool co-op. That seemed like a fun idea, so we tried it for a couple of years. Since then, co-ops have become increasingly organized and schoolish, at least where I live. Some of them hardly involve the parents at all. I thought I might share some of my experiences and see if they ring true with you. Maybe my comments will help you discern whether this might be a good choice (or not) for your family.
What is a co-op?
A homeschool co-op is a group of families that usually meets once a week (although it could be more often) for group teaching. The one that I participated in had three time slots – two for classes and one for gym. During the class slots, one mom would teach the older children, and another would teach the younger children. That way, each age group had two classes. These were always planned by whoever taught them, and moms could use whatever materials they wanted. We learned how to play a recorder. We made life-size paper replicas of our bodies with removable paper organs. There were classes in geography, Spanish, and Bubble-ology. All the moms stayed, and all helped or taught. That is a true co-op. There are a lot of hybrid versions of this nowadays, but if mom leaves or is not involved in the teaching at all, it is not a true co-op.
What we liked.
One of the best things about participating in a co-op is the community, as you might guess. I think I enjoyed it more than my children did. Since homeschooling can be a lonely endeavor, the anticipation of seeing other moms each week helped me through a few rough spots. As a fairly new homeschooler, it served as a lifeline. My kids made some friends, and having free gym time each week helped get the wiggles out.
What we didn’t like – Different levels of teaching skill.
While my kids made some friends and loved running around in the gym, they didn’t always enjoy the classes. Not every homeschool mom is skilled at teaching a group of 10-15 kids. Each mom has a different style of teaching and she brings that into the co-op. We had some moms who had a very eclectic style, some who used boxed curriculum, and a few moms who favored a classical style. It can be a good thing for older kids to be exposed to different teaching styles, but smaller children have greater difficulty adjusting. It is also challenging to teach little kids who can’t cut paper, can’t sit still, and can’t focus. At least their mothers were nearby to help them.
There were creative moms, who used lots of hands-on activities and experiments, and moms who sat there and just read, expecting the children to remain motionless and attentive. Some of the classes were about things that my children knew already. Those times made it hard for me to justify their attendance, especially if I wasn’t scheduled to teach. I admit that we did skip out some weeks.
You have to teach!
The premise of a co-op is that every mom teaches at some point in the year. I often found myself expending more energy on those group classes than I would have if I were only teaching my own children. This is probably the most challenging aspect of participating. We often think of how nice it is that we can have a break one day a week and just wipe down tables and serve juice. However, at some point, each mom is usually asked to teach. I do not enjoy teaching groups of small children. Prior to the co-op, I had spent some time with 3- to 5-year-olds in children’s ministry. That was the most exasperating experience! However, I do enjoy teaching children older than age 8, especially middle and high schoolers. In a co-op situation, though, the luxury of avoiding certain age groups isn’t always an option.
The Ugly of Co-ops – Cliques and even bullying among the moms.
Yes, it’s true. The moms formed cliques. If the moms that I befriended weren’t there or were teaching for that session, the other moms ignored me. I tried talking with them, but one mom talked incessantly about herself and her problems, and the others nodded in agreement. Her son and my son were friends, so I didn’t want to make too much of it. Maybe the other moms were long-time friends and didn’t realize the impact of their actions.
Another mom scrutinized me and my kids, outright, on a regular basis. It was obvious that she had an opinion about how children should behave and what method of homeschooling was best. My two oldest children have an ADHD diagnosis and have always been very active, curious people. They didn’t behave badly, but they did challenge the “why” of things and, of course, struggled to sit still. Her disapproving looks, “tsk, tsks” under her breath, and offhand comments to me, offended me. Read more about my thoughts on homeschool bullying here and here. Thankfully, my children didn’t experience bullying by other children at this co-op and they learned to avoid this particular mom.
After two years, we stopped participating in the co-op and I have been wary of them since. I have occasionally offered classes in my home, and that has met with moderate success. I eagerly participate in support groups and field trips, but I am often disappointed by what I hear and see at many so-called “co-ops.” My older children have participated in outside paid and volunteer classes, but inevitably, we encounter problems: literature courses that don’t challenge the teens to analyze the books, only spit back fill-in-the-blank answers; community writing classes that include students that embrace LGBT ideas; volunteer educational science programs led by adults who play mind games; and camps where children swear and the instruction is minimal.
Isn’t this why we homeschool, to avoid this type of stuff? It’s why I homeschool. I want to build relationships with my children that equip them to deal with the world we live in, but still provide Christ-centered learning. Co-ops can be helpful, but we need to be careful.
Julie Polanco is the homeschooling mother of four children, the oldest having graduated in 2016. She is a frequent contributor to The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and is the high school botany instructor for www.schoolhouseteachers.com. Her book, God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn, is now available for pre-order through your favorite bookstore! If you send her a copy of your receipt, you will receive a personalized note from her and a digital exclusive. Go to her website, www.juliepolancobooks.com where she regularly posts about the writing life, homeschooling, Christian living, and her book projects.