Organizing a Homeschooling Co-Op
How to Spot and Solve Disagreements Before They Derail You
Starting a homeschooling co-op can be extremely rewarding. We explained how co-ops can help your kids form friendships in an earlier blog post, but it can helpful in all sorts of ways. A co-op can give your kids access to classes they wouldn’t normally be able to take, and it can provide much-needed companionship for parents.
Still, it’s an intimidating prospect. Homeschooling is hard enough, and setting up a co-op almost sounds like school administration. In this post, we’ll give you a simple test you can use to determine whether a hypothetical co-op has legs.
Hidden Obstacles to Organizing a Co-Op
In my hometown, there was a very prominent homeschooling co-op that had gotten big enough that even students who went to public school had heard about it. Students could take classes on a small campus that the co-op owned, they could use school materials at home, they could take online classes, or any combination of those three. Some of the classes were pretty standard—English and civics, for example—but the co-op also took advantage of its members’ specific knowledge to offer classes in areas like Indian poetry and Constitutional law. I always envied my friends who got to take classes there.
Still, there were some people who held onto a healthy amount of distrust about the co-op, because it seemed suspiciously like “school”. They wanted something less formal, and they wanted more control. That’s the kind of problem you’re often up against when you try to organize a homeschooling co-op. Some parents might want it to be the central part of while others might want it to be an informal supplement to their regular homeschooling. Some parents might want the school’s perspective to be Christian and others might want it to be secular. And so on. (There’s some good discussion of how to balance a Christian perspective with freedom of inquiry in this comment thread on the Pioneer Woman, for those who are interested.)
If you have substantial disagreements on any of these issues, it’s going to be hard for the co-op to last very long.
There’s an excellent, in-depth article on the nitty-gritty of starting a co-op on The Homeschool Mom if you have time, but we can give it to you in broad strokes. Before you start anything, you need to make sure you and everyone else involved in the co-op agree on two big issues.
Before you start anything, you need to make sure you and everyone else involved in the homeschool co-op agree on two big issues. @yesphonics Click to Tweet
Guiding Principles for a New Co-Op
Most of the disagreements in new co-ops seem to break down into two categories: educational style and formality. Or, in other words, what are you going to teach, and how are you going to teach it?
Educational style is self-explanatory: you need to decide the content of pedagogy. The more detail you can talk about this in, the better. It might be tempting to say that teaching is going to be eclectic and leave it at that, but it’ll head off problems down the line if you can sit down with all the parents before teaching starts and nail things down. Will there be any religious content at the school level, or are you leaving that to each family? Will anybody be using methods like Waldorf or Montessori, and if so, is that okay with all the parents involved? This is also a great time to nail down how you’ll introduce philosophy to the curriculum—something that we highly recommend, and have written about in some detail already.
Formality is a little trickier. There’s often a large disconnect between parents here. Everyone assumes they all want the same thing, but in fact some of them think of the co-op as an “enrichment” opportunity—that is, it can offer socialization, as well as instruction in things like art and languages that they might not be able to offer at home—while others think of it as the main part of their homeschooling.
Settle both those conflicts, and you’ll be left with a much better idea of what kind of “program,” for lack of a better word, your co-op is. Okay, now we know it’s a weekly meeting that includes core classes like math and history, and religious content is allowed if everybody’s briefed on it beforehand. Or, now we know it’s a monthly meeting, strictly for enrichment, where students can share what they’ve worked on in the last month. Each of those programs might be called a “homeschooling co-op” on paper, but they’re vastly different in practice. That’s the kind of variance that you have to compensate for when you organize a co-op.
Beyond this, the process is probably not going to be as difficult as you think. One of the many things homeschooling has on conventional school is the total lack of red tape, which is what can make conventional school administration such a nightmare. Subtract all of that bureaucracy, and solve any disagreements around formality and educational style, and you’re left with the core of what’s great about homeschooling: parents and students exercising their individual liberty.
That’s an important thing to keep in mind when you’re thinking about homeschooling in any form: you’re exercising a fundamental right in a uniquely American way. Homeschooling is an exercise of individual liberty, and co-ops are part of a tradition that comes down to us from Locke and Jefferson. If debates about what to teach in your co-op are getting particularly onerous and you need to be motivated, think about that. Good luck.