Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Co-ops

Silently, I watch them. The whole room erupts with laughter and conversation. Children run about the room, sliding into chairs. Moms throw arms about each other greeting friends. Smiles abound. I feel overwhelmed and left out; a stranger in a room full of happy people.

It is our very first day of co-op and I know only one other family. There are at least twenty other families and multitudes of children. I wait as the morning opening commences. There is a welcome, worship, prayer, and announcements. Led by teenagers, the worship music softens my apprehension. Room assignments are reviewed during the announcements. I listen intently. I don’t want to be lost on my very first day. The assembly begins to break up as each teacher and student make their way to first classes. I inhale deeply, gather my supplies, and join them.

Five years later, I still remember this initial apprehension and anxiety I felt on that very first day of co-op.

Today, we belong to two co-ops. The first one meets two Fridays a month and offers classes like physical education, art, creative writing, and music. This is the co-op setting described above. It is our fifth year participating in the Friday co-op group. The second co-op we participate in is a science co-op. We meet Wednesday afternoons each week. Parents teach, assist, or gather supply materials for the classes. This fall, we began our second year of science co-op.

Co-ops vary greatly in size, organization, and purposes. Therefore, joining a co-op is an individual decision. Each family must weigh the benefits and responsibilities of belonging to a particular co-op.

Five questions to consider before joining any co-op are:
  1. What do you hope to get out of a co-op experience? And, does this particular co-op offer you these benefits?
  2. Does the co-op offer classes of interest and benefit for your family?
  3. Does your family have the time available? Include not only the time of actual co-op meetings, but driving time and any prep work or homework / out of class projects that parents and students must complete.
  4. What will your family be required to contribute to the co-op? Is this something you are willing to do?
  5. What is the financial cost to join?

For the first two years of ‘official’ homeschooling, we did not belong to any co-ops. For us, at that time, the benefits of a co-op were not as great as the cost to our family. We waited until the benefits outweighed the costs. When we finally decided to join a co-op, I wanted to get the most out of our time.

Five ways to get the most out of a co-op experience are:
  1. Mingle - Get to know the other moms. Spend some time asking questions and advice. Some of the moms in our co-ops have been homeschooling for many years and are a wealth of information and wisdom.
  2. Don’t double teach - If a child is taking an art class with appreciation and instruction, then the child probably doesn’t need a full blown art class at home, too. Sounds like common sense, but there were some years I actually did double teach!
  3. Volunteer - Co-ops don’t just happen. Lots of work goes into making a co-op run smoothly. Try to help in the areas you are good at, but don’t be afraid to try something new.
  4. Attend extra activities if possible - Generally, a family in our co-op hosts a get together or organizes a field trip in addition to co-op at least once a school year. Attending these extra events helped us strengthen our co-op friendships.
  5. Commit to the co-op - Arrive on time. Be fully there, participating in the events, classes, and fellowship that the co-op offers. This may sound silly, but there were years when I was only partially committed to the co-op. I wasn’t fully invested, and I missed out on some of the greatest benefits to a co-op.

Each year, we reevaluate our family's co-op participation, measuring the benefits against the cost, 
and plan accordingly.

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