When I first began my homeschooling journey, I was pretty confident that I would find the right path for my kids. Sure, I read a few books and visited some online forums to hear what other people had to say but I never felt like I had anything to worry about. As they began getting older, I did go through a time where I felt a little unsure of myself. I loved school and there were certain things I was afraid the kids might miss out on. Being a bit of a perfectionist, maybe more than a bit, I decided to try joining a local homeschooling co-op to see if it would provide the things I was worried the kids would miss out on. My two oldest boys had very different experiences and through their experiences I learned a lot about the good and bad about co-ops. That was some years ago and I have seen how many other co-ops are run. I wanted to take a moment to give all of you, newbies especially, some of my take on the pros and cons.
Since I always like to end on a positive note, I'll start with a few of the cons:
Lack of control over subject matter and how it's taught – This of course depends on how involved you are. If you volunteer to teach a subject, you have control.
Mismatch to your child's learning style – My 2nd born hated how the reading teacher was teaching in the co-op we were in. And I mean HATED! Of course I pulled him out but I believe it delayed his desire to read. Please learn from my mistake on that one ;-)
Price – Some co-ops are not free and can be pricey. I still marvel at one I am aware of that people pay some pretty decent change for and one of the classes has the kids play with Legos for two hours. If you want to give the power of your child's education to someone else, and pay for it, make sure you have a clue about what is going on there.
Behavior – Just as in school, you have no control over who shows up. Homeschoolers on the whole tend to be great kids but there are plenty, just as it is anywhere, where the parents only pretend to be involved in their child's life and they are using the co-op as a place to dump their kid. And just as in school, these are many times the kids that crave the most attention and will do what they need to do to get it.
Schedule – This is an important one for us, isn't it? Since you have to be at the co-op for certain times, you have to cater your and your family's life to it.
Philosophy – This is the biggest complaint I have heard form people. There are many co-ops that are faith based. While they are very often open to those who don't share their philosophy, you may find that the central beliefs do matter very much to those running it and those values are intertwined into subjects taught. If that is what you are looking for, great! If not, ask questions and see if it's truly the right fit for you.
Here are some major pros:
Shared responsibility – If the co-op you are in welcomes direct parent participation, and most do, then you can share ideas for classes, subject matter and clubs. You can even volunteer to teach one of the classes. It can be a real community effort.
Variety of offerings – Sometimes you can find classes at co-ops that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else for free. The co-op we were in had parents that were karate and dance instructors at night. They offered classes for the co-op at no extra charge during the co-op meeting times.
Matching your child's learning style – One of my kids really enjoys learning through exchanging and sharing ideas with others around him. He also likes the accountability that someone else besides me and my husband can give him. This style is tough for some homeschoolers to admit even exists, nevermind the obvious issue it presents if someone is completely adverse to co-ops, teaching group classes in their home, or sending their child to school. For those people I say, stop and really let it sink in that this IS your child's style whether you like it or not, learn to be okay with it, then for the good of your child, do something to cater to your child's style better, even if it puts you way out of your comfort zone. I have found that this is most often THE reason why kids end up going to high school after homeschooling. Parents don't think there is another way.
Less effort to accomplish more – If you are lucky enough to find a co-op where all parents want to be actively involved, you will see that the ones that volunteer to take on certain subject areas are choosing what they are already good at. One parent may love math and know how to make it fun. One may enjoy history or science and have backgrounds in them. If you aren't strong in an area, don't have the money to buy a great curriculum you want to use, or have the time to brush up on a subject in order to teach it well, then you can lean on these other parents. It turn you can contribute your other strengths instead.
Piece of mind – I list this as a pro because sometimes it's a tough road always being on your own and not knowing for sure if you are doing everything you can to set your child up for success. Co-ops can offer that support directly through your interaction with other parents and also in knowing that it was a group effort with other like-minded parents.
Keep in mind that every co-op is unique. Some only last a year and others many years. It's only as good as the members and the participation of them. If you can't find one that meets your needs and that is the way you'd like to go, start one! Even if it only has a few members, as long as everyone is sharing responsibilities it can be successful.
One final note, since I know I will receive emails asking if I am in a co-op, I will answer it here. We are not. I give it fair consideration every year depending on where each of my four kids are at and what co-ops are running around me. This year I felt it was best to set up our own clubs at the house and am having no trouble getting sign-ups... and it's only July!!! This does take some work since I am doing all of the planning myself but it will be worth it. I am able to give the kids exactly the things they are asking for and present it in a way they I know THEY will enjoy. When I do this, it's even more fun inviting others who will enjoy it too to join us.
As a Parent Coach and Mentor, my passion lies in empowering parents to make the best decisions they can for their children and their families as a whole. As a well-trained coach, I can be your facilitator and accountability partner for long-lasting, meaningful change that has a permanent, positive impact for your family. By focusing on the values that you hold most important in your life, I can help you create and maintain the type of parenting relationship you want to have with your children, now and into their adulthood.
I am a homeschooling mom of four children in Massachusetts. I am also the author of a book called The Herbal Beverage Book, which can be found on amazon or directly on my website. When not coaching, writing or spending time with the family, I enjoy Hayao Miyazaki films, new and classic Dr. Who episodes, anything related to American history and a great glass of mead.
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This blog is a collection of thoughts, articles and perspectives I have at any one time. While I am pretty consistent in my beliefs, life changes and evolves along with experiences. You may feel a connection with me through my writing yet I never want any of my readers to misunderstand that the connection you feel is with a perspective I have shared and not me as a person. I am continually humbled that I am able to connect with my readers, and I hope to continue to be able to for many years to come, but it doesn't make us connected in any way beyond this. If you connect with what I write and know me as an acquaintance, this in no way reflects that I have any knowledge of you, your situation in life or that I am writing with you in mind. It is merely that I have shared a human experience that most likely very many others have had has well. This also goes for anything I post on my Twitter account, Facebook Page and Facebook personal page. I wanted to make this disclaimer as clear as possible so you know that any misunderstanding you choose to have is not my responsibility.