If you’ve homeschooled for any length of time chances are you’ve heard of, participated in or organized a co-op of some sort. We’ve had our fair share of co-ops over the years, some of which I have even organized. For many, the thought of making all the preparations for a co-op may seem daunting and incredibly overwhelming, but by following a few simple tips I’ve found that the process runs rather smoothly.
- As an organizer the first thing you should do is brainstorm and list goals YOU have for the co-op. What needs do you have for your family that you hope this co-op will fill? What is YOUR purpose for organizing a co-op? Are your reasons purely social? Do your kids need to make new friends? Are your reasons academic? Are you having a hard time teaching all the subjects you want to cover on your own?
- Once you’re clear on your vision for the co-op, it’s time to get other families on board. Keep in mind that it will be easier to stay on track if you have a trusted partner or team of buddies, depending on the size of the co-op, to help you organize. Doing it alone is sure to lead to burnout.
- Next you need to think about who you will invite. Will the co-op be strictly by invitation only or will you send out an email blast inviting the entire local homeschool community? This is where outlining your goals ahead of time will be helpful. If you are looking for a small group of like-minded families, perhaps invitation only would be your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re interested in meeting new families you may consider running an ad with your local homeschool group.
- What age range will be permitted? Is this a co-op suitable for all ages? Or is the co-op geared towards a specific age range? Will childcare be arranged for younger/older siblings or will the parent be responsible for making other arrangements for the care of siblings not participating?
- What subjects will the co-op cover? Who will teach each subject? Will you require the moms to teach or are you going to rely on guest speakers or trained instructors? If so, keep in mind that there will probably be a cost involved.
- Will participants be required to purchase textbooks or other materials to participate?
- Where will you meet? In our area, the local parks are more than willing to allow homeschoolers to meet for free and use their facilities if it is scheduled in advance. How about the library, community room or a local church?
- Will the facility you meet at require that you carry your own insurance?
- How often will the co-op meet and for what length of time? Keep in mind that the longer you plan to meet, the more organized you will need to be. If you’re meeting for just a couple hours in the afternoon with a handful of families, chances are that things will roll along pretty well. On the other hand, if you are meeting for the entire day with or without a large number of participants, you’ll need to be really organized and have everything planned out in order to stay on track. It may also be helpful to set a trial period of one month, six weeks or half a year to determine how things go.
- Will all the classes be structured or will you allow a free time to play or mingle?
- Count all the costs. What about supplies, cost of rental facility, insurance, snacks, etc ?
- Will you require the parents to pay upfront at the beginning of the year or on a class by class basis?
- Who will be responsible for making purchases and where will you store supplies?
- Make sure your contact details are clear. Will you correspond by individual phone calls and emails or will it be easier to set up a yahoo group or Facebook page?
- Have a list of basic rules or expectations in mind and make them clear from the beginning. Are parents permitted to drop off their child and run, or stick around and help? How will you handle discipline if needed? Are children in the co-op permitted to bring friends on occasion? Keep in mind that this could increase costs and many classes will require material that has been purchased in advance. Will you have extras on hand for unexpected children?
- Have a cancellation procedure in place. During adverse weather, how will you handle cancellations? Will you cancel when and if the local school district cancels? Who will decide and how will you notify everyone?
- It may be helpful to send out a questionnaire before the planning meeting so you know what everyone is seeking. Sample questions could include the following: Names and ages of children participating. What areas will you be comfortable teaching or assisting? What are you hoping to gain from this co-op for your family? Can you tell me a bit about your educational philosophy? Have you participated in a co-op before? Please share some ideas that you have for the co-op.
- At some point you’ll want to schedule a planning meeting for everyone that is planning to participate so you can work out all the details. Keep in mind that some of the particulars should already be worked out and not everything should be open to debate. However, this is a great time to hash out what will be taught at each of the classes and to work out a basic schedule. Make sure everyone comes armed with their personal calendar, paper and pens.
Yes, organizing a co-op can be a huge amount of work at times, but it can also be very fulfilling for you and your children and is sure to create many lasting homeschool memories. What tips can you share when it comes to planning a great co-op?
Tonya and her husband Rod, have homeschooled their three children ages 16, 15 and 13 for the past 11 years using every homeschool method ever invented before settling on what seems to resemble the Charlotte Mason philosophy with an unschooling/relaxed flair. You’ll find Tonya writing about their homeschool and travel adventures at her personal blog Live the Adventure at the Facebook Fanpage for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and at The Company Front Porch.