Friday, August 3, 2012

So, You Want to Be in a Co-op

The Schoolhouse Review Crew is gearing up for the new school year with a Back to Homeschool Blog Hop.  While I haven’t been participating every day, I thought I’d share what we have done for the past few years with a “co-op".”

The phrase “co-op” has come to mean a nearly all-day event where many homeschooling families come together at a common location to share the teaching of a variety of subjects – courses from literature to sewing.

We’ve never participated in one of these BIG, formal co-ops – however, had the opportunity presented itself, I’m sure we would’ve jumped at the chance.  Before a Classical Conversations community emerged two years ago, the only established co-ops were geared towards high school students and their siblings.  We just aren’t there yet!

A little more than four years ago, I recognized that I needed a little bit of accountability in our homeschooling and that meeting with another family might be just the “umph” I needed to make sure geography maps were created, hands-on activities were created, and art was drawn. Additionally, I wanted to create learning opportunities (public speaking, group projects, crafts and celebrations) for Ben with a same-aged learning partner.

I *finally* met another mom who was cycling through Tapestry of Grace at the same pace I was, and we decided to try to meet weekly to do hands-on projects with our oldest students, alternating our meeting locations to each other’s homes.  {We initially allowed the little siblings to have a playdate during this time; most recently, they’ve had some of their own grammar-level work.}  It worked SO well and helped both my friend and I to accomplish more both together and separately.

The next year, we added another friend and her two daughters. We’ve been meeting together weekly for 3 full years now!  We have two 8th graders, one 7th grader, one 5th grader, two 4th graders, one 2nd grader and two 1st graders.  At this point, the kids have done a lot of growing up together and look forward to our day of fellowship as much as we three moms do.  Not only have they learned history, geography and literature together, they have created constitutions for imaginary countries, monetary systems for a city in the woods, plays, movies and stories together.  And don't forget the obligatory game of Sharks and Minnows or Capture the Flag!

We used to meet for only a half-day, but as the years went on, we decided to add lunch, then afternoon playing and more visiting and fun.  I’m grateful when we can get in home in time to order a pizza for dinner!

So what do you do if you do NOT have a big, honkin’ co-op to attend?  What if big, honkin’ co-op is not your style?

Create your own.

{It doesn't have to be that hard.  Promise.}

Our group has a common theme of Tapestry of Grace, but there are a million other common threads to bind a couple families together.  Art, music, science experiments, book clubs, lego clubs, robotics.
Boys. Teen Girls.  What. Ever. 

Last year (Ben’s 7th grade year), I knew I wanted a bit of accountability for science.  I asked a few moms who I knew were using the same science program that I was using, and we had a “co-op” for science experiments.  We met bi-monthly to complete the science experiments for each module, with the moms facilitating the experiments alternately.  Sometimes, the boys came to our class with the experiments completed (especially when it was a multi-day experiment) and other times we did the experiment together as a group. Already involved in other groups and coops, we kept to a fairly strict time frame and could return home to finish up lessons before dinner time. In all, we were out of the house for a maximum of two hours from door-to-door. 

So, what is my advice if you’d like to have some co-operative learning?
  1. Expand your idea of what a co-op means.  Do you have to meet at a church?  Does it have to be a lot of families? Does it have to last all day?{I know a few moms of girls who have gotten together to do an American Girls "co-op" -- what a great idea!}
  2. Pray.  Seek God’s guidance in how to best meet the spiritual and educational needs for your children. 
  3. Ask.  Seek out families that share similar beliefs and goals.  Ask them if they’d like to share in the teaching of a subject or two. Sometimes, starting small can lead to other opportunities.
  4. Talk.  Make sure you talk about your expectations for this new partnership.  You should be able to reach common ground about the subjects you are teaching, what to do with siblings, where to meet, how often, and what expectations you have for your children.  Talk about all these things upfront.
So, what does this year have in store for us?  Well, one of our history group families is moving out of the area, so we won’t be able to meet as often as we have been able to for the past 3 years.  We’ve decided to use technology to our advantage and are having our older, dialectic-aged students meet with several other families in an online co-op weekly.  On a monthly basis, we’ll all gather together to have a Big History Day – picking out a theme from the previous month’s studies to explore more in depth with hands on crafts, food of the era, music and art of the time period.  We’ll be studying the 20th Century, so I think it will be a GREAT time.  {SHHHH} I’m thinking we’re even going to learn some of the dances of the time period too.  Think:  Jitterbug!

Click on the graphic at the top of this post to read what others have to say about the Blog Hop topics!
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