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When we tell people that we homeschool, they usually ask whether our children have ever experienced the standard classroom setting. We always reply, “yes, of course, during their co-op time.” After the confused look subsides, they follow with “what is a homeschool co-op?”
The idea behind a co-op is that you provide the primary instruction to your child throughout most of the week, then at a designated time, you meet with a group of other children. In this group, the children will be provided instruction from a “teacher,” who is usually another homeschooling parent, but can also be a teacher or activity leaders.
Informal Homeschool Co-Op
In the informal model, homeschooling families may meet at the home of another homeschooling parent, at the park, at a museum, or the library. The “teacher” would lead them in some sort of activity, like creating art or music. The teacher may even provide math instruction, or instruct them in another academic topic that they may have expertise in.
The co-op we belong to here in the Tampa Bay Area is definitely an informal one. We rotate between the homes of the different members and agree ahead of time on the subject matter that will be delivered. Jon is a musician, so when we met at our house, he led them in a lesson on music theory and taught them basic rhythms.
The week before, we met at another parent’s house who is an artist, and she taught them color theory and led them in the creation of some beautiful watercolor art.
Another type of informal co-op we take part in is our PE time. For this, we simply meet at the park once a week and allow the kids to socialize together and exercise. The group continues to grow, and the children are literally growing up alongside each other, just like in regular school. We have special park meetings to celebrate holidays, like our Halloween Costume meet-up, or the “Valentine’s Day Love Party.” We also go on field trips together.
Our particular co-op is secular in nature, but there are a number of them out there that enrich their learning with religious studies and even worship.
Formal Homeschool Co-op
In this type of co-op, things are more organized and can even cost money. There are plenty of for-profit agencies that provide organized homeschool instruction in a classroom setting. Many provide lessons that are written and delivered by licensed teachers. Some formal co-ops meet several times and week and assign homework and even give tests.
The formal option is nice for those who aren’t good at record keeping or may be concerned about meeting state guidelines. Some states are extremely stringent when it comes to homeschooling, and require portfolios to be turned into the county in which you live. Attending a formal co-op would probably help with the record-keeping aspects and to give a parent who is new to homeschooling a little piece of mind.
We have attempted to enroll our children in a formal of co-op, but it was too much like regular school for our liking. The children were strangers and so was the teacher, and the co-op met at an actual brick and mortar school. For some families, this may help to alleviate the stress of planning and delivering lessons, but both my wife and I have a background in education so we actually enjoy being directly involved in this aspect.
Homeschool Co-Op Near Me
If the idea of a co-op sounds good to you, your very next thought will be “is there a homeschool co-op near me?” The answer is, most likely, yes. It really depends upon your area. In some rural areas, you may not have the same access to a co-op as those in more populated areas, but a great place to start would be Facebook or good old-fashioned Google. Many co-ops have a Facebook page dedicated to the group, where the members can discuss upcoming events and lessons. It’s an extremely convenient way to stay in touch and to bounce ideas off of each other. Otherwise, you will find the name of a local group and you can call them to learn about any requirements or meeting times. Also check email lists, local homeschool groups, and your library to find co-ops that may be a good fit for your family.
We found our wonderful co-op on Facebook, and it has been one of the best things for our children. We’ve gone camping, to beach days, museum days, and we attend weekly park days with the gang. It’s a supplement for what we already do with our kids.
Overall, the idea of a co-op is splendid. I would strongly suggest it for any homeschooling family who is interested. They are a great way for your children to meet other kids, to get a taste of the standard classroom structure, and to help ensure they are getting a wide variety of knowledge from different sources.
Plus, it’s just plain fascinating to see how your child behaves when they are outside of their element. Hopefully, I answered the question, “What Is a Homeschool Co-Op?” We wish you the best of luck!
For more on homeschooling basics, see our entry called How To Homeschool.