Uhhh ... what's a co-op? The kind I'm talking about aren't for vegetables or chickens.
A homeschool co-op is a local organization where families collaborate in a group so that their kids can learn together. Often, the parents volunteer to take turns teaching in exchange for enrollment. They can be as large as a community college and as small as two families. Costs seem to vary from free (provided you're helping with teaching or hosting) to moderate (still cheaper than outsourcing). Co-ops might meet one day a week or more. They are wonderful for creating a micro-community of learners; you get to know each other well, you work together, grow up together, play together, and think together. They have built-in support groups. The kids get to study in a dynamic social setting, with other teachers and peers, which can be a nice contrast to time spent at home.
I carve out a whole day in our schoolweek for Co-op, because we get so much out of it. We adjust the rest of our responsibilities to fit into four days instead of five. For example, my kids are exercising some math concepts at Co-op, so I feel comfortable letting them skip 20% of their math lessons, as long as they are not struggling with the material. Or maybe, we take a semester break from science at home because they are taking Zoology, Simple Machines, and the Scientific Method at Co-op.
Apart from gaining extra knowledge, they are also happier. Co-op gives them goals, a break from routine, something interesting to talk about, nice friends, weird friends, a chance to learn herding skills like raising their hands and keeping their shoes on, and the thrill of learning and teaching alongside someone.
We participated in the Memphis Homeschool Enrichment Cooperative for two years and loved it. In fact, I'm going to keep this post brief simply because I miss everyone so much. It was full of amazing, amazing people. If you don't have a co-op in your area, give me a call, and I'll convince you to start one :)
My friend Alicia started the one in Memphis (I pretended to help, but she created it and nursed it from the very beginning) and would also be a good resource if you're considering starting something.
We met one morning a week and each taught one 45-minute lesson. The kids were divided into groups based on age or ability, and were able to take 3 classes each. Even the babies had a place to play and moms to watch after them, which made it easier on the teachers.
Here's the sample schedule from their website to give an idea of the structure. We began with 8-12 families, but this schedule shows a more robust enrollment of 24-28 families:
The classes rocked. Rather than make assignments, courses were selected based on the wishes of the students, the preferences of the parents, and the capabilities of the teachers. Since core subjects were presumably studied at home the other 4 days a week, we had the freedom to offer enrichment classes.
A diarama about koalas from [C.]'s zoology class.
When you put a group of incredible people together, you get a collection of incredible ideas:
Here is that list without descriptions of the courses offered and their runners up moving from the eldest age groups (high school) to the youngest (infants):
Epoch, Ukulele, Critical Thinking and Logic, Not Your Average Communications Class, Genetics, Communication Confidence, Home Sweet Home, SafeSitter, Chess, Logic, Civics, World Geography, Shakespear, Into the Wardrobe, Creative Cupcakes: Beginning Cake Decorating, Caring Quilts, Greek and Roman Mythology, Mock Trial, Pee Wee Psychology, Ancient Civilizations, Creative Writing, Human Anatomy/Psysiology, Poetry, Civil War, Literature, Photography, Music Theory, Beyond "Google It": Research Skills, Meet the Masters: Art History, This is My Country, That's Greek to Me!, Economics, Order in the Court, Geography/Heritage, Creative Writing/The Little Prince, Essay Writing, Banned Books, Health/Nutrition, Atoms, Philosophy, Euclidean Geometry, Ergonomics, Weather, Movement, Fitness, Literary Elements, Health and Nutrition, Geology Rocks!, Art, Nifty Fifty States, Tennessee History, Outdoor Survival Skills, Fun With Music, Leatherworking, Upcycling, Exploring Machines (using K'nex Education), P.E., Eat Your Way Around the Globe (Global Cuisine), Botany 101, Knitting, using a loom, Beginning Guitar, Basketball Skill, Drills and Games, The Lewis and Clark Expedition, Book Club, Art Through the Ages, What's Cooking, Social Shuffles: Line Dance an Hip Hop, Astronomy, Physics, The Thinking Toolbox, Alchemy 101: Transform one food into another, Brain Games and Thinking Skills, Intro to Poetry, Crazy Stories With Vocabulary, Cultural Exploration, An Eric Carle Author Study, If You Were a Pioneer on the Oregon Trail--A Live Game, It's a Small World, Detective Club, Zoology I and II, Map Making, The Human Body, American History, Old Fashioned Games, Simple Machines, The Scientific Method, Art, Taste of America, It's Alive! Life Science, Memory Songs, P.E., Geography, Spanish, American Girl History, Chess, Art Around the World, Elementary Latin, Money, Landforms, Math Games, Gross Motor Math, Tea Party/Manners/Sewing, Math and/or Word Art, Things That Fly, Little Engineers, Fairy Tales, Simple Astronomy, Learning with Literature, Botany/Art, Theater, Show & Tell Public Speaking, Dr. Seuss, Art, Music, Science Exploration, Kindermusic, Gross Motor/Fine Motor, Theme Weeks, Music in Motion, Fun with Legos, Storybook Theatre, stART=Stories Plus Art, Circle Time, Books Alive!, Hands On Science, Amazing Animals, Folktales, Five in a Row/Before Five in a Row, Creatures, Rhythm and Movement, Puppet Show, Music Makers, When I Grow Up: Community Helpers, Curious George, Let's Pretend, Story Time, Mathletics, Singing Time, StoryTime, and Playtime.
The possibilities are endless You can turn anything into a 12-week class if each session is only 45 minutes. I really loved teaching; I really, really did. It was a lot of work, because I tend to over-prepare when people are watching, but my own kids got the benefit of everyone else's creativity and preparation. The other founding parents (as well as those that joined us along the way) sacrificed so much for the whole group. We had fun forging something new.
We went on field trips together, did service projects, and held events like wax museums and science fairs.
Listening to presentations by students pretending to be historic Americans at the wax museum.
I learned a lot about how not to prepare a science fair project. We'll be more seasoned next time :)
This was a family project for Co-op's "Famous Landmark" presentation day. It's a model of Mont Saint-Michel (that's what happens when you pull out Sculpey in front of a dental student) ...
... which we then flooded to demonstrate how the tide helped the island remain unconquered during The Hundred Years' War.
The temptation is to post lots of pictures of class projects, but then I'll get really sentimental (and breach the privacy agreement :). Hooray, for the yearbook committee!
I do want to add that my favorite moments in Co-op were the lazy ones at the park, where we all met to "just play" after classes. It just wasn't the same as a playdate, because we had common experiences to play on. The magic never would have happened had we not just spend our mornings exploring ideas together.
We had happy, busy kids with full tummies who'd worked hard and were surrounded by friends, which meant the moms got to relax and talk to one another. That's when the kids would really play-- and perhaps when they really learned the most. (Like that day they built a pulley system into the swingset so no one would have to pump or ask for a push.)
One such afternoon, I glanced around, wondering why exactly all the kids were waving sticks and running in one direction. Fortunately, it wasn't Lord of the Flies, because amidst their battle cries, I heard their charge: "FOOORRR NAAARRRNNNIAAAAAA!!!"